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Introduction into a Genre Study

Any movie in genre study is as important as any other. Some are more interesting, certainly some produce better results when studied than others, but there is democracy in genre.

Some genres are more interesting, but none is “better” than the other: there are Westerns and Space Operas and High School Pictures. A number of pictures involve generic mixtures. Movies come from movies, and any given movie repeats things from hundreds of others. The several ways repetition functions in genre give a hint of its blind force and mercurial flexibility.

Every genre produces a sense of new scenarios. Each genre describes, devises its scenarios so they differ from those of the other genres. This in turn relates to the way each genre works, resembling but differing from all other genres; and this is determined in part by the genre’s source, its heritage, its individual evolution.

Everyone is an expert on movies; even more people claim to be experts on movie genre. Genre study is one of those things that goes without saying: you know like they did in the old movies. To let anything go without saying is a mistake if you are attempting to make study serious. Such a sentence as – “Star Wars” is a Western – is not a serious statement.

A movie’s genre is its chief label. One can then refine that label by more labels: subgenres, sub-subgenres, ramification of place and profession, conventions of character and story line (boy meets girl, boy loses girl). In this case we could even make a checklist of types, situations and elements included. It might make a system, but the system wouldn’t tell us much about the way film genres work.

Any movie is formed by generic language, with exchanges, transfers, transformations, exceptions. Genre is not stereotype or cliché; genre is a dynamic flow of interchangeable parts involved in combinations which resemble organic growth, not a set of laws.

Every movie is the product of its historical context, and the exchange between movies of whatever period is paramount in genre study; this is how movies talk to each other, and to us.

What are the genres? We may choose to name them this way; the three great families of genre are:

  1. Western

  2. Women’s

Some British critics call Women’s Pictures Melodrama, but this term is useful in dramaturgy, but Women’s better suggests how this powerful genre affects all the other genres.

  1. War

War Film is Combat Films of World War II. Movies about other Wars don’t belong in this genre because they are not defined, do not work the same way.

The next three major genres are translations from drama or fiction:

  1. Comedy

  2. Musical

  3. Costume

Four more are simply great subjects:

1) Crime

2) Spy/ thriller/ private eye

3) Action/ adventure

4) Horror

Science Fiction and Epic complete an even dozen major genres.

There are many more genres: they are the great movie places – city, jungle, outer space; great movie conveyances (also great subjects) – the car, the train.

There are motifs that move from genre to genre – birth and death and marriage and theft; there are events – dream, chase – so intrinsically filmic that when they appear in a movie, sometimes only for a moment, the movie tilts in their direction.

There are Family Pictures and High School and Inventor. Finally there are auteur genres.

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