Toward a Post-Structural Influence in Film Genre Study: Intertextuality and 'The Shining.'(Genre)

By Metz, Walter | Film Criticism, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Toward a Post-Structural Influence in Film Genre Study: Intertextuality and 'The Shining.'(Genre)


Metz, Walter, Film Criticism


I. Introduction

In a 1977 essay, Thomas Schatz identifies what he considers to be "the structural influence" in film genre studies. Applying the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, Schatz details the "mythic function" of American film genres (95). Schatz argues, "This conception of the genre film as a unique functional structure is closely akin to the work of Claude Levi-Strauss in his structural analysis of myth" (96). In my present essay, I suggest that we ought to consider what possibilities an as yet unidentified post-structural influence might have had, or could have, on film genre studies.

In her essay in this issue, Janet Staiger identifies one such post-structural influence, that of literary scholar Thomas O. Beebee. Staiger sees Beebee's identification of the "structuring absences" of a text as a post-structural move: "A poststructuralist thesis would argue that every text inherently displays what it is not." I cover a different terrain of post-structural theory with the intention of identifying an influence on film genre studies beyond Beebee's attention to textual lacunae. The significance of my version of post-structural genre theory will lie in the way it illuminates the competing political identity issues such as class, gender, and race within the genre film.

After defining what I mean by post-structuralism and identifying some genre critics who engage in post-structuralist reading strategies, I will detail the potential of this approach through an analysis of The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). The Shining is a timely text to choose: as I write, an ABC miniseries of the Stephen King novel is about to air. Horror fans have long waited for this new version of "The Shining," as they believe Kubrick ruined the horror elements in King's novel.(1)

On the other hand, the academic film studies community tends to revere the film as a political critique of the American nuclear family.(2) This split in reader response occurs due to the differing framework of genre expectations. The King fans enter the film fully expecting a generically stable horror film, while the academic critics interpret The Shining as a melodrama detailing. the disintegration of a middle-class American family.

In this analysis, I am less interested in the actual generic status of The Shining and more interested in how the film's generic status opens up two stable choices for readers' interpretations of the film's goals. Thus, my choice of The Shining does not merely forward the often made claim that the "New" Hollywood hybridizes genres, in this case the horror film and the melodrama.(3) I fully agree with Janet Staiger's claim in this issue that the distinction between the genre hybridity of the "New" Hollywood and the genre stability of "Classical" Hollywood is merely a convenient critical fiction. I suggest that instead of arguing over the generic make-up of particular films, we ought to be examining how the presumed generic status of a film demarcates strategies for interpretation.

James Naremore has suggested a similar approach to film noir in his recent essay "American Film Noir: The History of an Idea." Naremore claims that "the Name of the Genre. . . functions in much the same way as the Name of the Author" (14). Drawing from Michel Foucault's post-structuralist critique of authorship, Naremore suggests a similar critique of the stability of genre, coining the concept of "the genre function." The genre function replaces concern with the actual generic make-up of a text and instead concentrates on the effect the perception of the genre has on the interpretation of the text. In the case of my analysis of The Shining, I am concerned with the way the genre functions of horror and melodrama serve as unifying fictions for two sets of interpretive communities to make sense of a politically polysemous and perhaps contradictory text.

II. An Intertextual Approach to The Shining

In his 1977 essay, "Ideology, Genre, Auteur," Robin Wood calls for a re-conceptualization of genre theory. …

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