The musical and it’s narrative

According to Dyer there are three kinds of musicals:

1. Those that keep the narrative and the musical numbers clearly separated: (mostly where the numbers appear to be part of a show like Cabaret)
2. Those that retain the division between narrative as problems and musical numbers as escape (where one more or less can tell when the musical number will appear as it tends to be cued – The Wizard of Oz)
3. Those which try to dissolve the distinction between narrative and numbers, thus implying that the world in which the narrative takes place is also utopian. (Moulin Rouge – utopic world of artists and performers being more sensitive – yet one can argue that MR combines all three!!)



Entertainment and Utopia

**Notes on Richard Dyer’s text “Entertainment and Utopia” taken from Steve Cohan’s “Hollywood Musicals; The Film Reader

As an opening to his text on musicals “Entertainment and Utopia” Dyer states that “Musicals were predominantly conceived, by producers and audiences alike, as “pure entertainment”. By “entertainment” we understand that is something:

–    Produced for profit
–    Performed before an audience
–    Performed by a crowd whose role is to provide pleasure
–    Therefore: entertainment = pleasure
–    Therefore: entertainment (should) = money

Hollywood musicals are “one of a whole string of forms – that are usually summed by the term ‘Show Biz’.
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A semantic/syntactic approach to film genre

When a corpus of a genre is established two things tend to happen:
1.    A list of films is compiled that respond to a simple tautological definition of genre (ie. Western = film that takes place in the west, cowboys, etc)
2.    Critics, theoreticians that stick to a cannon that has little do with the tautological – Same films tend to be mentioned over and over – (kind of fanatic approach, leaning towards a classic cannon of films)

Contradiction lies at the heart of which movies belong where – opposed to the simplicity of their definitions.

The uncertainty is also associated with the relative “contradicting” status of theory and history genre studies.
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How are genres useful?

1. As a marketing device – to draw audiences to the theater – if one person enjoyed “Spider Man” then they will most likely want to see “Hulk“, therefore investors are more keen to invest….
2. Reference tool – people understand (implicitly) more or less what is at stake with a particular genre because they have a frame of reference.
3. Category used to define and analyze films. However, not to evaluate as it does not give value – it gives a sense – “I do not like horror” it does not mean however that horror is bad, or a bad genre.

What can we say about genres and genre theory?

1. Lacks a scientific precision in its definition
2. They developed in an informal way
3. Everyone (critics, producers, audiences, actors) have contributed to the formation of genres and to the shared sense that some films may relate to others
4. Genres change over time (directors and actors may add a twist to their work (in form or style) that adds to a different viewing of the genre). This constant change makes it difficult to define the boundaries
5. Genres social role can also change over time and challenged (example Lars Von Trier’s take on the musical with his film about death penalty “Dancer in the Dark”, questions the whole idea of musicals as escapists forms of entertainment)
6. Genres are easier to recognize than to define (as definitions are not set on stone)
7. Patterns in filmmaking appear quite regularly and these can create new genres or sub genres.
8. Genres can mix between themselves – adding to the challenge of their definition.
9. Audiences change and so does the genre (changes to fit the needs and the desires of the audiences)
10. The existence of genres allows to communicate to the viewer information about what they are about to see, hence simplifying or adding complexity to their movie watching experience
11. Most film genres and subgenres became established after one film was popular and then imitated.
12. New genres and subgenres are also established this way but they usually trace back influences. (for example “gross out” movies like “There is Something About Mary” are influenced by movies like “Porky’s“)
13. They do not remain successful for a long time – they have cycles. These cycles occur when a successful movie makes bursts of imitations. However action and horror movies have always been popular among audicences.
14. Genres are mixed by cross cultural references (for example the case of Sergio Leone’sspaghetti westerns” and Hollywood’s action movies taking from Hong Kong movies)
15. Genres are bound to cultural factors – there are genres that are typical to a society (Colombians for example, love funny films that make reference to our own customs “costumbristas”)
16. Social change also affects the development of genres, hence genres can dwell and reflect upon social attitudes (example – “Planet of the Apes“, a Sci- Fi that deals with racism, fear of “otherness”, ‘specisim’)
17. Society can also affect the content of a movie and as such of the genre (take the new genre of “social conscious movies like “Blood Diamond” and “Hotel Rwanda” that have sprouted recently)

What tools help us define genre?

What elements can we refer to when we need to differentiate between genres?

1. Subjects and themes
2. Presentation (in the musical for example – musical = signing + dancing)
3. Emotional effect (horror = fear, comedy = laughter)
4. Genre conventions of narrative and style
5. Plot elements
6. Thematic meanings (example: road movies = on the road, searching for something)
7. Film techniques (dark, light somber, mysterious, or happy, colorful)
8. Genres can also be defined through conventional iconography (recurring symbolic images that carry meaning from film to film, ie the cars in the old gangster movies, the space ships in Sci-Fi, the suits in Film Noir. Actors can also work as icons like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger = action movies)
9. Elements of its form like costumes, music, etc.

Rick Altman and the notion of Film Genre

What is generally understood by the notion of film genre?

Most theory on film genre is borrowed form literary genre criticism.
Nevertheless in the last two decades it has established itself as a separate field of studies, since more and more scholars are dealing with the topic.

The term “genre” has been identified by many critics as one which can perform many tasks at the same time. Such tasks being:

1. Provides the formulas that derive production.
2. Constitute the structures that define individual texts
3. Programming decisions are based on primarily generic criteria
4. The interpretation of generic films depends directly on the audience’s generic expectations.

Hence: “Genre” serves a precise function in the overall economy of cinema. However, the term “genre” is not your average descriptive term but one that encompasses multiple meanings.

1. Genre as a blueprint, as a formula that precedes, programmes and patterns industry production.
2. Genre as a structure, as the formal framework on which individual films are founded.
3. Genre as a label, as the name of a category central to the decisions and communications of distributors and exhibitors
4. Genre as a contract, as the viewing position required by each genre film of its audience.

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