The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

GENRE CINEMA

Cinema and Genre
RICK ALTMAN
GENRE BEFORE FILM
Borrowed from the French word meaning 'kind' or 'type' (and derived from the Latin word genus), the notion of genre has played an important role in the categorization and evaluation of literature, especially since the Italian- French Aristotelian revival of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In literary studies, the term 'genre' is used in a variety of ways, to refer to distinctions of different orders between categories of text: type of presentation (epic/lyrici/dramatic), relation to reality (fiction/nonfiction), level of style (epic/novel), kind of plot (comedy/ tragedy), nature of content (sentimental novel/historical novel/adventure novel), and so forth.In an attempt to lend order to this confusing situation, nineteenth-century positivism spawned scientistic attempts to model the study of literary genres first on Linnaeus' binomial classification of animals and plants (where each separate type is identified by two Latin words indicating genus and species), followed by even more insistent schemes to base the study of genre history on Darwinian notions of the evolution of genus and species. Culminating around the turn of the century, at the very time when cinema was being transformed from a newfangled curiosity into a lucrative world-wide industry, these appeals to scientific models failed to lend precision to the notion of 'genre', even though generic designators continued to be widely used as broad categories for the sorting and classification of large numbers of texts.
EARLY FILM GENRE
During the earliest years of film production, individual films were most often identified by length and topic, with genre terms applied to films in only the loosest of fashions ('fight pictures' in the late 1890s or 'story films' after 1904). When around 1910 film production finally outstripped demand, genre terms were used increasingly to identify and differentiate films. Whereas literary genre was primarily a response to theoretical questions or to practical large-scale classification needs (such as library organization), early film genre terminology served as shorthand communication between film distributors and exhibitors.The earliest film genre terminology was commonly borrowed from pre-existing literary or theatrical language ('comedy' and 'romance') or simply described subjectmatter ('war pictures'). Subsequent film genre vocabulary was often derived from specifically filmic production practices ('trick film', 'animated picture', 'chase film', 'newsreel', or 'film d'art'). As cinema production became standardized during and after the First World War, however, genre terminology became increasingly specialized, designating not the broad genres of the literary or theatrical tradition, but diverse subgenres of cinema's two major strains, melodrama and comedy. Before 1910, in the United States, distributors and exhibitors regularly used both a particularizing adjective and a generalizing noun to describe genres ('chase comedy' or 'western melodrama'). During the later silent period, the noun was often dropped, while the adjective took on a substantive role. Thus 'slapstick', 'farce', and 'burlesque' became separate genres rather than simply types of comedy. Similarly, cinema's debt to melodrama was disguised by the use of generic terms like 'Western', 'suspense', 'horror', 'serial', or 'swashbuckler' in the United States, ' Kammerspiel' in Germany, 'boulevard film' in France, and 'jidaigeki' (period film) or 'gendaigeki' (film of modern life) in Japan.
GENRE FILM IN THE STUDIO PERIOD
In dealing with genre terminology, it is important to distinguish among the different functions that the notion of genre may play for the various participants in the cinema process. Three roles in particular must be recognized:
1. Production: the generic concept provides a template for production decisions. As a form of tacit knowledge, it presents a privileged mode of communication among members of the production team.
2. Distribution: the generic concept offers a fundamental method of product differentiation, thus constituting a shorthand mode of communication between producer and distributor or between distributor and exhibitor.
3. Consumption: the generic concept describes standard patterns of spectator involvement. As such, it facilitates communication between the exhibitor and the audience, or among audience members.

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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823
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