All entries for Tuesday 03 April 2007

April 03, 2007

Comedy Part 1: Comedy Conventions

Comedy Part 1: Comedy Conventions

Introduction

      Initially comedy seems to be a very easy genre to deal with, most people like ‘amusing’ films, however, one person’s sense of humour is another person’s misery. From the perspective of genre the ability to appeal to a wide range of people to gain financial success means that it is a very difficult genre to do well, either as a genre in itself or as an aspect of a multi-generic or hybrid generic film. What constitutes comedy and the comic is complex. Film comedy is frequently a genre hybrid. Comedy can be made as; ‘black comedy’ with a bleak sense of humour; it can be reliant upon slapstick, gags or sharp-edged satire; it may be parodic of other cinematic conventions.

      Comedies frequently rely far less than most other genres upon standardised narrative devices. A study of how the comedy genre operates throws the issue of narrative into sharp relief. The diversity of these comic forms is covered in part one of this three part section on comedy.

      Part two examines narrative and its functioning within comedy. Part three looks at how comedy can act as a release of social tensions through well-managed social transgression, and also considers how comedy can function as a critique of social reality in a way which other genres can find difficult to do.

Definition

      The diversity of comic forms means that a single definition of comedy is insufficient. The criterion of laughter isn’t enough to define a film as a comedy. This is because comedy is widely used in other genres for momentary effects. Think of the rather deadpan comic aspects of the Terminator films for example. These effects are a feature of the films rather than the central purpose. The Terminator films can’t be defined as SF-comedy. The term ‘comic’ means the ability to cause laughter. Even a real event can be comic. ‘Comedy’ is an aesthetic term with two distinct meanings:

      The Oxford Concise Dictionary definition is : ‘Comedy, n. Stage-play of light, amusing and often satirical character, chiefly representing everyday life, & with happy ending (cf. TRAGEDY);’ The key meanings here are: ‘Amusing’ and ‘A happy ending’.

Notably the word laughter isn’t mentioned in this definition although the expression ‘amusing’ can be seen as a partial synonym for laughter but it expresses far more than this.

Social Class , Comedy and Comic Conventions

      Historically both the content and the structure of comedy have tended to have a class bias. As far as content is concerned, where the upper classes are represented it is in their more private or trivial aspects of life. The enormous political power of these elites allied to the control of land, industry and the effects of this power on most people’s lives is ignored. Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2002) can be considered as comic from this point of view.

      In comedy note the importance of creating a happy ending and also the representation of everyday life which was normally concerned with the middle and lower orders of society.

‘...comedy was for centuries the most appropriate genre for representing the lives, not of the ruling classes, of those with extensive power, but of the ‘middle’ and ‘lower’ orders of society, ...whose manners behaviour and values were considered by their ‘betters’ to be either trivial, or vulgar or both’ (My emphasis: Neale & Krutnik, 1990: 11-12 ).

      A happy ending is a convention usually coexistent with other conventions, such as the constant generation of laughter through funny lines and situations. Where films have only brief funny moments but with a happy end both the film’s concerns and the structure can be close to the genre ‘we tend to think of as melodrama’ (Neale & Krutnik,199: 13). Under this criterion we can consider Thelma and Louise and Muriel’s Wedding (1994) as melodrama crossing -over with screwball comedies which are comedies about the 'battle of the sexes'.

      The majority of comedy films can be seen as being genre hybrids[1]. About a Boy ( 2002 ), The Full Monty, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Trainspotting, Shallow Grave (1995) range through a number of genre hybrid combinations from romantic comedies, to ‘black’ comedies. They have strong narratives as a vehicle for comic aspects. The stronger the narrative the more the film takes on either multi-generic or hybrid generic aspects.

Films like Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1978) are straight comedies. The longer-term success of this type of film relies upon the sophisticated use of a combination of comic conventions. This allows it to appeal to a wide audience base despite having a weak narrative and avoiding genre-hybridity. Instead of being multi-generic or hybrid generic it utilises parody to raise a laugh from a deliberate send-up of other cinematic conventions of representation particularly the historical heritage costume genre. It also uses political satire when for example King Arthur has a political debate with the peasant’s collective. Black comedy is combined with slapstick humour, simultaneously satirising the power of liberal democracies giving defiant people ‘a chance to change their defiant position’ before being quite literally disarmed like the Black Knight.

Historical Aspects of Comedy

      Originating in high bourgeois theatre from the late 18th century there has been a link between comedy and melodrama creating a tradition of ‘sentimental’ comedy. It was a hybrid genre which emerged in several European countries featuring characters of a lower rank than those suitable for tragedy. A major aim was to encourage the audiences to identify with the characters and to weep on their behalf rather than to laugh at them. In France this was called comedie larmoyante or tearful comedy. Neo-classical theory made a distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ comedy thus denigrating non-narrative forms of comedy. There are two fundamental divisions in the field of comedy as a whole. These are the criterion of the happy ending and the criterion of laughter. Narrative forms of comedy must have a happy ending and can have laughter. Non-narrative forms of comedy are only comedy through the criterion of laughter. Stand-up comics such as Ali-G and Paul Merton use non-narrative techniques of comedy.

      Narrative comedy has a clear beginning, middle and end revolving around a definite plot. Non-narrative types of comedy just aim to create laughter with the plot a feeble device to act as a vehicle for a continuous stream of gags and slapstick such as Borat.

      Comedy was very popular in early cinema which was a media form which appealed primarily to the working class mass audience. This situation changed as film technology and film-making techniques became more sophisticated. The use of narrative as a standard vehicle for comedy developed. Frequently the less sophisticated the audience the weaker the plot, and the narrative structure. Films such as Monty Python and Blazing Saddles (1971) break down this class based comedy by operating at a range of levels from slapstick to parody which depends upon a good level of cultural knowledge so that the audiences can understand the references.

More sophisticated comedies, such as the ‘bittersweet’ tragicomedies of Mike Leigh in Secrets and Lies (1996) for example, astutely play upon painful episodes and experiences of life. These serve to create an emotional ambiguity in the audience. Gags and slapstick don’t really exist in this register of comedy. The representations are usually of working class people often linked with those who have succeeded in, or are trying to better their positions in life. Their power emanates from the closeness to raw reality and are dependent upon a high level of reflexivity amongst the audience.

Comedy and Comic Conventions in Cinema

      ‘Comedy’ as an aesthetic term has two distinct kinds of meaning. It can refer to the genre as a whole. Alternatively it can refer to particular works - Some Like it Hot. (1959).

      The use of the indefinite article ‘a’ tends to imply a narrative form; The TV sitcom the Royale Family is comedy rather than a comedy, because it is non-narrative being based upon a continuous invariant location - the front room in front of the TV. This is a comedic form specific to broadcast media which can concentrate on series production.

      The generation of laughter can mark all forms as comedy. It can also mark all genres which leads to a considerable amount of genre hybridity. Hitchcock’s North by North West (1959) can be seen as a comedy-thriller for example.

Comedy, however, seems especially suited to hybridization, in large part because the local forms responsible for the deliberate generation of laughter can be inserted at some point into most other generic contexts without disturbing their conventions’ (My emphasis: Neale & Krutnik , 1990 : 18).

Parody

      Generic hybridization should be distinguished from parody. In contrast to generic hybrids, which combine generic conventions, parodies work by drawing upon other conventions to make us laugh.

      Parody need not necessarily be comic. When it is comic and occurs within the context of a comedy, laughter is consistently produced by gags and funny lines which specifically use as their raw material the conventions of the genre involved. Blazing Saddles for example isn’t a Western with comic elements or a comedy-western but a comedy which relies upon a knowledge of the Western amongst the audience to work effectively.

      Parody is a mode or way of doing comedy, not a form. Parody has its own techniques and methods but no particular form or structure. It can occur within a narrative feature film, a comedy sketch, a quasi-documentary. Parody is one of a number of modes available to comedy. Slapstick and satire are other modes.

Satire

Satire is often confused with parody however it draws upon and highlights social conventions compared to parody which works upon aesthetic conventions.

     

      Satire works to mock and attack. Sometimes prevailing norms are attacked in the name of other non-dominant social values. For example M*A*S*H uses democratic and humanitarian values to measure the undemocratic and inhumane practices used in the war being fought in Korea. The Korean war was long over but M*A*S*H had strong contextual relevance [2] as an analogy to the Vietnam war which was going on at the time. It stood against the self-professed norms of the US military and governmental establishment and also of war itself.

      Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) attacked the inhuman values of modern industrial society ‘in the name of disappearing values it associates with pre-industrial life especially rural life.

      Examples of films reliant upon satirisation are Muriel’s Wedding which can be described as a satire of small-town life and as a satire upon the social institution of marriage. One reason why parody can be confused with satire is that parody can be used for satirical purposes. The actual process of Muriel’s ‘white wedding’ can be seen as a parody of the aesthetics of a typical white wedding. The audience, Muriel along with her Bridegroom and the Groom’s coach all recognise that the arrangement is not a real wedding. It is purely a business arrangement which is convenient for different reasons for both parties. The aestheticisation of the wedding, which could have been done quickly in a registry office, is a parodic form which serves to satirise the stifling small-town ritual of white weddings prized by Muriel’s peer group. 

      Thelma and Louise satirises men and masculinity and the role they play in women’s lives. In analyses of audience response the film was popular amongst male viewer’s who didn’t associate themselves with the absurdity of the stereotyped male characters. Thelma’s husband is satirised as being generally incompetent using a gag comic convention of literally putting his foot in it as he steps on a pizza answering the police. The truck-driver is successfully satirised as his masculine fantasies literally go up in smoke. Both are made to look stupid. The police officer who stops Thelma and Louise for speeding is on the other hand parodic, stretching back to the policeman in dark Oakley’s striding ominously up to the victim in a long line of films from Psycho (1960) to Terminator 2. The policeman’s unceremonious bundling into the boot satirises through parody this version of institutionalised masculinity.

Slapstick

      Slapstick is another mode of comedy that can be found in a very diverse range of forms. The origins of the term stem from a type of prop which were a pair of paddles to create a lot of noise with minimum danger. This marked violent comic action of the kind to be found in pantomime, circus and ‘low’ forms of farce. The physical plus visual qualities of slapstick were crucial in the early comedy of the silent period. Slapstick is valued for the populist foundation of its aesthetic. Slapstick is inappropriate and inadequate as a vehicle for romance or its fulfilment. It lacks a plot structure that is capable of taking romance seriously. Narrative comedy can accommodate slapstick but the reverse isn’t the case.

Gags

      The term can apply to any kind of visual comic effect. They can involve a comic effect like a ‘pratfall’ where somebody falls over. In Life is Beautiful (1998), perhaps the darkest of ‘black comedies’, Guido falls off his bike into Dora for example. At the beginning of the film there are a variety of gags which lead the viewer to think that this is comedy which is pure farce as the brakes fail leading the car past a reception for royalty. Gags can be a part of the narrative or else entirely incidental to it. Thelma’s husband putting his feet in the pizza in Thelma and Louise for example.

Conclusion

      It is important to differentiate between comic and comedy and it is also important to note the differing forms of comedy which in more sophisticated products might all be present, which lends appeal to a wide range of audiences. It is usually the case that stronger narratives are less reliant upon slapstick styles of comedy and also that these comedic forms are more likely to be marketed as a genre hybrid. In the next section there is a more detailed account of the ways in which narrative works to increase comic effects.

     



1 [1]See under Genre as ‘Hybrid and Multi-generic’.

2 [2]See under Methods and Methodologies in Film Research / contextual Criticism’.


The Western: Creating and Re–creating the Concept of Genre

The Western: Creating and Re-creating the Concept of Genre

Introduction

         Despite the severe decline in the output of Westerns since the early 1970s this section has been included to emphasise the historical importance of critical work using the Western as a case study through which much genre theory developed. The work on Westerns as a genre has established a research paradigm or set of limits of thinking about genre which arguably needs revising. Neale’s work on the Western challenges this paradigm and argues that instead of being thought of as a ‘closed’ genre, Westerns need to be thought as an open-ended genre which is both hybrid and multi-generic. As Neale (2000) points out Westerns have occupied a pre-eminent position in writing of all kinds on genre in the cinema:

...the Western still features centrally in introductory accounts and in introductory courses on genre in the cinema fed in part by occasional attempts to revive it in Hollywood and by the resurgence of scholarly interest [1]

         Neale’s recent analysis (2000) problematises this early critical work and suggests that overemphasis on particular key westerns amongst critics has biased the critical output so that other issues surrounding genre theory in general and the study of the western specifically have become obscured. Neale further argues that decline of Western production means ‘its role as a generic paradigm, as a model or starting point for the study of Hollywood’s genres, is even more problematic now than it was before’ [2]

The Western and the Construction of American Identity

         It is hard to underestimate the importance of Westerns in American society, helping to play an important role in creating an American identity through a host of representations about the chain of events recreating popular, but not necessarily historically accurate views of the emergence and development of the United States.

The Western has a special relationship to America’s geography, America’s history as well as the construction of an American identity out of the European migrations creating a polyglot ‘nation’ whilst subjugating the earlier inhabitants of the country. As a broad genre the western plays a similar role in American society to the often mythical representations of the past which have formed the basis of what are described as national cinemas in Europe as constructed by ‘heritage’ films.

        

The Western genre and surrounding discourses have blended in various ways to create a ‘mythology’ that has been:

uniquely central to US history, US culture and US identity. This mythology is grounded in the notion (itself as imaginative as it is real ) that there existed a moving western frontier in the US between the seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries.’[3]

         Neale notes that frontier mythology is the framework for most Westerns but many touch on this minimally. There are many other films which contain elements of the frontier within them. There were hundreds of Indian (Native American) Westerns made in the late 1900s, 1910s and 1920s. Some have argued that they constituted a genre in their own right. These were comprised from a widespread number of themes. Some saw the native American originally described as ‘Indians’ as a ‘noble savage’. Others were about the loyalty and devotion of native Americans to the European settlers.

Problems with the Western and Genre Theory

         The central position of the Western in the development of genre theory has created two linked problems:

  • Work on the Western has strongly influenced theories about genre.
  • Research into the phenomenon of the Western films themselves has often been limited because of the dominant position of genre theory and criticism, which means that other aspects about Westerns such as their role in the construction of an American national identity has been largely ignored within film studies.

         The centrality of the Western in genre theory can be measured by its prominence in both conventional and unorthodox accounts of genre. There are problematic aspects of both the centrality of the western to accounts of genre, and problematic aspects of the western itself.

By using comparative research methods Neale has looked at a wide range of other films distinguished by genre methods of categorisation and comes to the conclusion that many of the characteristics of the Western are unusual rather than typical ways in which genres are constructed: ‘...this is especially true of its visual conventions , of its relationship to US history and US culture, and hence its susceptibility to various methods of formal, cultural, ideological and thematic analysis’ (Neale , 2000 : 66).

        

         Neale draws on Buscombe’s research of 1970 to point out that the visual conventions or iconography of the Western are highly distinctive and highly coded. Neale argues that this strongly marked set of visual codes is the generic exception rather than the rule. These exceptions of Western coding include the combinations of an iconography[4] or set of visual conventions including: clothing; decor; landscape. These conventions also include other aspects of its generic world such as the use of language and modes of transport. Overall Neale concludes that ‘ ... for all these reasons ...it [the Western] is hardly a suitable model for general conceptions and theories of genre (My emphasis)[5].

         This understanding of the range of visual conventions (iconography) has been seen as a very important aspect of the Western, playing an important role in linking the product with audiences and as well as being an important arena for doing case study work in developing genre theory. Neale’s survey of genres leads him to suggest that other critics who have written on other genres using iconography as a key element of their ideas have not been able to develop their arguments in such a convincing manner as those who have written upon Westerns.

‘Those attempting to write on the iconography of the gangster film, the thriller and the musical have usually been far less detailed, and therefore in my view far less convincing, than those writing on the iconography of the western itself’ (Neale, 2000 : 134).

         If Neale’s suggestion is correct, then visual conventions can be considered as a much weaker aspect of other genres than has frequently been argued.[6] This means that it is dangerous to use one model of genre as a model for all genres as it can close down ways of thinking about other generic categories. The logic of Neale’s argument also means that genres can be seen as both very specific in how they are constructed as well as sharing some common features.

Genre Hybridity in the 1920s Western

         Within the whole cycle of the Western genre hybridity - the sharing of other generic conventions - has been common. Neale draws on the work of Letraut, about 1920s silent Westerns. He points out that the films produced then were very different to later Westerns and therefore there wasn’t a ‘fixed nor substantive entity’ within the genre. There was a shifting array of differently stressed and diverse components and numerous alliances with other ‘genres, cycles and trends and from the specific and plural traditions these alliances call into play.’ [7]    

         These films sought to appeal to a variety of audiences ranging from children to adults and from the rural to the cities. There were a variety of hybrid terms used to describe the films such as :

  • Romantic Western
  • Western comedy drama
  • Western farce
  • Western mystery melodrama.

         It is also possible to discuss these films as a range of alliances utilising a wide range of cinematic conventions all of which are worthy of further research:

  • The alliance between the Western, visual action and acrobatic athleticism ( chases and stunts - rodeos)
  • The alliance between the Western, history and ‘realism’. These appeared in frontier epics with a stress on period detail and consistency, and in traditions of psychological characterisation and moral decision-making
  • Alliance between the Western and comedy [8]- comic sidekicks, comic situations, traditions of parody / satire / deployment of stunt and action regimes of bodily gesture.

         It is possible to see that a variety of themes traversed these hybrid genres - religious conversion, racial prejudice, revenge, land-grabbing villains. The relationship to the frontier myth is either distant or complex.

New Research Methods[9]: Reconstructing Genre Theories

         Some researchers have decided to avoid previously received wisdoms. For example, Stanfield in a partly published thesis in 1999 used different research methods based on archival research to re-explore the Western genre coming up with some quite different ideas to those written about previously which included an emphasis on the industry construction of the market. Stanfield’s research techniques included:

  • Archival Research:
  • Examining contemporary trade and newspaper resources
  • The films themselves
  • Cultural histories of the US of its popular cultures in the 19th and 20th centuries.

        

         As a result Stanfield argues that the role of the market [10] was very important. The B western was aimed at rural and small town audiences in which a variety of changing social and cultural relationships were examined through a variety of forms. ‘The singing Western’ was aimed at attracting female audiences for example. By comparison the A western appealed to metropolitan audiences and their concerns. The marketing ploy of romance through male lead stars to appeal to women was successful. This was a multi-generic approach.

         The market failure of Westerns in the 1930s was a combination of lack of romance, alongside an ill judged investment and deployment of new wide-screen technologies against a backdrop of depression. The subsequent relaunch of the Western included films designed to appeal specifically to women. A variation on this theme was the ‘City Western’ with well known male and female stars and dealing with adult themes such as drinking, gambling and sex.

         There was also a cycle of historical films which sometimes overlapped with the ‘city’ film. These were promoted as Americanised engagements with large-scale political and historical themes. They also helped to counter accusations that the censorship codes were preventing engagement with serious issues. They often managed to integrate romantic story-lines thus providing general appeal. The richness of content enables us to see these films as multi-generic.

Different kinds of research have provided a challenge to earlier models of our knowledge about ‘the western’ and upon our reliance on the use of the word ‘classic’ to imply that something which is pre-existent. As a matter of ‘common-sense’. The point about good research is that the of use different methods to allow for the possibility of opening up rather than foreclosing on generic categorisation. In this way previous knowledge can be refined or redefined dependent upon the research outcomes.

         Neale suggests that the models and terms devised at the beginning of the post-war period to discuss Westerns in which the hero’s troubled relationship with society undergoes modification are more straightforwardly applied to Westerns of this post-war period and the late 30’s such as Stagecoach (1939) which received its canonical status at this time.

         It seems doubtful whether these models of the Western genre can be usefully applied to films of the earlier period. This means that within what can be classed as a genre there can be huge shifts in the way these films are made, viewed and criticised. This is all part of contextual criticism [11]. In the post-war context some westerns were able to articulate contemporary post-war and cold war concerns such as:

  • Racism
  • The return of the veteran and their rehabilitation into civil society
  • The issue of national allegiance, especially in relation to the Vietnam war
  • The re-marketing and industry reconstruction of the genre using Elvis Presley and other rising pop stars to capture the growing teen market.

         Neale also raises the issue of whether critical preference for films such as The Searchers (1956) and The Wild Bunch (1969) has tended to obscure the existence of other socio-cultural and aesthetic trends and other film titles resulting in a closing down of research and discussion about westerns in recent years.

Conclusion

         Overall it can be seen from this section that the critical work around the Western has been foundational in the study of genre. At the same time this work has been rather one-sided in its approach to genre ignoring many features that are now increasingly recognised as important to genre studies. These include the notion of genre as process of negotiation between audiences and the industry. Westerns can be seen as both hybrid and multi-generic, as part of a widely differing marketplace and as forming an arena for public debate when socio-political events such as the Vietnam war became an important part of the popular consciousness. Soldier Blue, based on the story of a cavalry massacre of a native American village, is a good example of this. The film functioned to demythologise both the ‘history’ of the American nation established through the Western as well as relate to a current oppressive war through this exposure of the past.



1 [1]Neale, 2000 : 133.

2 [2]Neale , 2000 : 142.

3 [3] Neale, 2000 : 134.

4 [4]See also section on ‘visual conventions and genre’.

5 [5]Neale, 2000 : 134

6 [6]However the issue of mise-en-scene including fashion and stylisation in the section of popular culture shows that more complex research relating genre to visuality could usefuly be done.

7 [7]Neale, 2000 : 137

8 [8]See the section on Comedy and Genre for more on the workings of comic conventions in cinema.

9 [9]See also the section on ‘Methods and Methodology in Film Research’

10[10]See also the section on ‘Genres and Multiple Marketing Strategies’.

11[11]For more on contextual criticism see under ‘Methods and Methodology in Film Research’.


Genre the Everyday and Popular Culture

Genre the Everyday and Popular Culture

Introduction

            Genre, popular culture and the everyday have been three concepts historically linked and often made into a hierarchy which is very gender based. The concept of popular culture is itself a troubled one with accusations of elitism from some academics countered by accusations of crass populism by others. The Romantics criticised genre in ways which linked it with the everyday seen as repetitive and mundane, yet the role of romance in a wide range of genres aimed at markets segmented by age and gender can be seen as a desire to escape the everyday mundanities. A wider generic concern can expand Neale’s comment on the ‘women’s film’ genre as one which is strange and contradictory to think about other generic forms.

            Desire is often released by the culturally generic form such as romances. The character can move to higher things through romantic involvement but then the characters are reincorporated back into the everyday by becoming reconciled to it. David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945) is a good example of this. Below some of these concerns are examined in more detail. In conclusion, the spectacular and its links with the romantic are seen to perform this role of reconciliation for the audience providing an generically based industry continuously fired by individual fantasies of escape and need for reconciliation.

History of Genre and Popular Culture

            Originally most modern concepts of genre had a hostile attitude to cultural products perceived of as industrialised and necessarily repetitious. This attitude originated in the Romanticist movement of the 19th century. Strongly criticising mass cultural products as routine , repetitive and formulaic these critics were trying to create a clear division between ‘high art’ and ‘low’/popular culture. The work of Neale (2000) through detailed empirical studies of popular films argues that it is better to consider genre as a complex process within the greater complex of cultural industrial strategies. As a result it is more appropriate to consider genre conventions as loose and open-ended rather than as a system which forecloses upon the meaning and quality of a film.

Some theorists of popular culture consider the criticisms of genre as one of a number of critical constructions which devalued the intelligence of the mass audiences who consumed these cultural items. Genre theorists have been keen to revalue ‘popular culture’ by arguing that genre is a much more complex phenomenon than originally argued. Some of the original devaluation of audience intelligence revolves around the notion of repetition. Criticism often turns into a range of metaphors commonly used by those who consider themselves as “cultured” as a marker of social exclusiveness.

            The metaphor of repetition is very strongly associated with industrialism and its processes and it has also been strongly associated with the domestic environment. Industrialism has, for many, been seen as the way forward for humanity as a whole, making repetition positive for some theorists. This has been contrasted by the same theorists to the everyday or quotidian of the domestic environment which has been viewed as very socially conservative as time is seen as cyclical or going nowhere. This construction of time and domestic space is a highly gendered one. Time constructed as masculine linked to an industrialised workspace despite the repetition of the industrial processes is still envisaged as a form of progress. By comparison, domestic time considered as repetitive and circular is considered as feminised time and space without the possibility of progress[1].

            A slightly different variation on repetition has been seen by Romanticist critics as running counter to the “greater” things in life. They have been very much in favour of supporting the concept of “ Art for art’s sake”. Romanticists are associated with anti-industrialism. In the 19th century important critics divided into left and right-wing approaches to Romanticism. William Morris wanted more of a return to crafts conceived of as an organic form of production valuing the best of ‘popular culture’ of the time. This can be contrasted with the approach of Matthew Arnold whose ideas of ‘high culture’ strongly influenced British arts policy until the 1980’s, for his ideas were adapted by T.S. Eliot , F. R. Leavis and Lord Keynes who was responsible for establishing the Arts Council in Britain after World War Two .

            More recently feminist social theorists such as Rita Felski and media theorists such as Roger Silverstone[2] have been examining issues around the concept of the everyday. Both of these theorists are concerned to re-evaluate the everyday which is something we all usually take for granted thinking of it as almost “natural”. Both theorists come to similar conclusions which are that the repetitions of the everyday have a very important set of social, cultural and psychological functions, thus they are more positive about the term. In terms of child development repetition is very important in achieving a well-balanced child. In terms of media output a regular range of programmes helps us to receive and give meaning to our days and provides pleasure as well. These factors are described as ontological security. Ontology is about social being and here the expression means that people feel comfortable in the world and are able to function effectively when they have a strong sense of ontological security.

            To assume, as so many critics of generic output have done, that repetition is necessarily bad, creates a tendency to misread the complex processes and continuously shifting relationship of production and audience construction within the media world. In that sense nothing is ever quite the same. Critical positions which are totally anti-generic tend to assume a largely passive audience and as such is driven by an elitist view of the capabilities of the audience. Those popular films which can be said to be genre-based articulate a process which in an indirect way through the box-office relates to, informs and is informed by the desires, fears, needs of vast numbers of people.

The Spectacular and the Everyday

            The ways in which film as a form of ‘popular’ culture is consumed changed between the 1950s-1970s. The role of cinema as the primary form of mass media was eclipsed by television. The contextual [3] aspects of exhibition have changed beyond all recognition since the days of the classical Hollywood studio system. Consumption of films is still very popular. Frequently cinema release acts more as a form of promotion for the film. Shorter runs and the complex licensing arrangements, releasing the film through rental chains often owned by multi-media corporations, followed by satellite and cable release then retail shops and then terrestrial TV shows that a sophisticated hierarchical marketing system is in place to maximise profitability upon each film.

            Generic films aimed at a youth market tend to do well at the cinema. The audience are less tied to the domestic environment and have a relatively high disposable income. The youth audience is the largest group of regular cinema-goers. Audience analysis shows that the ways in which film interacts with the everyday is complex. More family oriented crowds at rental outlets such as ‘Blockbusters’ at weekends shows that cinema exhibition within the domestic environment at a time when the week is less structured by institutional requirements such as work and school means that longer films can be watched without breaking up weekday routines.

The changing market conditions mean that more people can get to see the same films. However, there is a price premium paid for watching in theatres where special FX can be best experienced. Spectacle is still a major attraction for Hollywood cinema. Visual spectacle and style can be thought of as a generic feature. Action movies are likely to be designed around an over-reliance upon special FX. The most successful films such as Titanic (1997) combine a multiple range of marketing strategies [4] including a multi-genre approach, high profile stars, high profile director, real-life disaster combined with special FX to attract a highly variegated audience keen to enjoy a high quality spectacular.

Conclusion

            The ‘Blockbuster’ is now major factor in the survival of the mainstream cinema as a distinctive media form with a major industrial base. The space of the cinema and the spectacular is an important industry feature which in helping fantasy breakout of the quotidian marked by repetition constructed as mundanity indicates that generally audiences are by no means strongly attracted by generic features of film alone. The blockbuster can be seen as working upon a widely differing range of socially constructed desires of romantic longing to escape the everyday.

            The marking of the everyday as unromantic by generically-based media industries provides the psychological space in which to develop products which are designed to construct a range of cultural and social practices constructed as ‘romantic’, whilst being careful not to overfeed those dreams. The social researcher Adorno can be seen to have made an important argument when he argued that there was a ‘fundamental symmetry’ between mass-culture and fascism: ‘both feed-off and reproduce immature character structures with high, almost childlike, dependency needs.’ [5]

            Use of special FX to create ‘magical’ aspects of narrative which have no relationship to reality of verisimilitude (narrative logic) are only viable because of the desire to escape yet this escapism must be resolved by the narrative closure into some sort of verisimilitude. In Charlotte Gray there is a classical romantic ending with an open but contented future ahead, in Titanic the irreconcilable differences of class must end in a heroic and tragic death made real by linking to historical events. In Minority Report reconciliation and a new stable family future beckon. Thelma and Louise have a slightly more difficult ending which can be read in a number of different ways. Verisimilitude says that they will die however breaking through the genre conventions by a non-specific ending allows for the possibility of a new form of the everyday and the possibilities for social change by breaching the conventions between rationality and irrationality as the space where generically based cultural products manipulate the imaginaries of their audiences.



1 [1]See Felski, Rita. 1999-2000.

2 [2] Silverstone, R. 1994.

3 [3]Also see under ‘Methods and Methodology in Film Research’.

4 [4]See also ‘Multiple Marketing Strategies’ section.

5 [5]Adorno quoted Crook, Stephen in Adorno 1994. P 10-11.


University Film Studies Departments UK

Film Studies Departments United Kingdom

For further advice on what to think about when choosing a film studies course check this Kinoeye entry

Introduction 

This posting is primarily to provide a quick links guide for potential undergraduate students of film studies in the UK. The listing doesn't distinguish between departments in terms of teaching quality or on any other grounds. It is up to the potential undergraduates to research these parameters for themselves. Given that this site is hosted by the University of Warwick clearly its own courses are prioritised. That's competition for you :-). 

Please note well: This posting is under continuous development as departments are registered in the course of other searches. As such it doesn't  currently represent a fully organised search.  It is just being posted as a courtesy to visitors.

Film Studies at University of Warwick

Department of Film & Television Studies

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/depta2z/film/

French with Film Studies

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/depta2z/french/r1w6/

Italian With Film Studies

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/depta2z/italian/r3w6/

German Studies can also incorporate a number of film modules:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/german/badegrees/germanstudies/

Film & Literature Course

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/depta2z/film/qw26/

UK Universities Film Studies Departments

Aberdeen University

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/prospectus/ugrad/study/subject.php?code=film_studies&prog=arts

Bangor University

Centre for Film Studies Bangor University

De Montfort University, Leicester

http://www.dmu.ac.uk/Subjects/Db/coursePage2.php?courseID=3146

Edgehill University

http://info.edgehill.ac.uk/EHU_eprospectus/leaflet/BA0018.asp

Edinburgh University

http://www.filmstudies.llc.ed.ac.uk/

Essex University

http://www.essex.ac.uk/filmstudies/current_students/courses.htm

Exeter University

http://www.ex.ac.uk/undergraduate/degrees/film_studies/film.shtml

Falmouth University College

http://www.falmouth.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=170&Itemid=302

Gloustershire University

http://www.glos.ac.uk/subjectsandcourses/undergraduatefields/fl/entry2008.cfm 

Kent University

http://www.kent.ac.uk/studying/undergrad/subjects/film.html

King's College University of London

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/filmstudies/

Lampeter (University of Wales)

http://www.lamp.ac.uk/fm/modules/part-one-modules.html

Lancaster University 

http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/cultres/degrees/ug/film-home.php

Leicester University

http://www.le.ac.uk/arthistory/ug/ba_film.html

London Southbank University 

http://prospectus.lsbu.ac.uk/courses/course.php?CourseID=1729

Manchester University

http://www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/combinedstudies/studyareas/areasofstudy/film/

Northumbria University

http://northumbria.ac.uk/?view=CourseDetail&code=UUFFTV1

Nottingham University

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/prospectuses/undergrad/school.php?code=000179

Oxford Brookes University

http://ah.brookes.ac.uk/filmstudies/

Portsmouth University

Film Studies

Languages and Film Studies

Queen Mary's College, University of London 

http://www.qmul.ac.uk/courses/study_degree_london_uk.php?dept_id=10

Queen's University Belfast

http://www.qub.ac.uk/film/

Reading University 

http://www.rdg.ac.uk/fd/index.htm

Sheffield Hallam University

http://www2.shu.ac.uk/prospectus/op_uglookup1.cfm?id_num=CUL012

Southampton University

http://www.film.soton.ac.uk/undergrad/ug.html

Southampton Solent University

http://www.solent.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/film_studies_ba/course_details.aspx

St. Andrews University 

http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/filmstudies/undergraduate/index.html

Staffordshire University 

http://www.staffs.ac.uk/courses/undergrad/filmjournalismandbroadcastmedia/tcm11012064.php

Surrey University

http://www.surrey.ac.uk/undergraduate/cmc/index.htm

Sussex University

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/mediastudies/

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/publications/ugrad2008/subjects/Film%20studies/17071

UCL (University College London)

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/filmstudies/

University of Cumbria

http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/Courses/Undergraduate/ArtDesignMedia/FilmStudiesJointHons.aspx

University of East Anglia (Norwich)

http://www.uea.ac.uk/eas/sectors/film/fshome.shtml

University of Ulster

http://prospectus.ulster.ac.uk/course/?id=3670

University of West of England

http://info.uwe.ac.uk/courses/viewCourse.asp?URN=14257&stream=

University of York

http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/tft/

Wolverhampton University 

http://courses.wlv.ac.uk/Course.asp?id=11628&type=1

UK Universities Language departments which have film studies modules 

Sheffield University Department of French 

http://www.shef.ac.uk/french/prospectiveug/modu


The New Hollywood Director & the Role of Genre

The Relationship of the Director in 'New Hollywood' to Genre: Birth of the American 'Auteur'?

Introduction

The concept of genre has been examined from a number of angles. It has become apparent that what appeared to be a relatively simple critical category is a lot more complex. Many examples of genre hybridity and a multi-generic industrial strategy have been noted. It has also been stressed that genres are live cultures. Genres develop and change under the direct influence of the full range institutional factors which comprise cinema – Producers/ Exhibitors / Audiences – as well as having to respond to wider changes in the media environment. The case presented here argues that the higher profile the film the less it is reliant upon genre as a part of its marketing strategy and the more important the role of the director.

The Changing Industrial Environment

‘New Hollywood’ remains the dominant cinema on a global basis. Historically there are a number of institutional changes which have reshaped Hollywood. The production base of films, the relationships between the various companies which make up the film industry as well as the systems of exhibition have also evolved. Classical Hollywood cinema underwent restructuring during the 1950s. Antimonopoly legislation, the rapid growth of TV and the growth of higher levels of disposable income amongst the working classes were the major contributing factors to the need for restructuring.

The break-up of the old studio system saw film companies being taken over by industrial conglomerates. At the same time a new mode of exhibition started to develop in America – The Multiplex. This was necessary to try and halt declining audiences attracted by TV and other leaisure pursuits.  The first was a 4 screen version opened by American Multi-Cinema in Kansas City in 1966. It took until the 1980s for the multiplex to consolidate its hold over the American exhibition system, it then started to export the model with the first in Britain opening in Milton Keynes in 1985. It had a restaurant brasserie and social club. Guaranteeing at least one U certificate film it was an important marketing strategy for cinema. Conditions of exhibition have often been underestimated by critics however the fact that in the 1930s many American cinemas were air conditioned was a major summer attraction for audiences. These market factors need to be added to concerns such as genre and stardom.

Television offered another way of distributing films and so the opportunities for joint production arrangements became possible. This could reduce financial risk for the film companies by sharing costs on lower level productions ensuring a good stream of finance and funding the administrative and marketing forces necessary to its core activity of making premium feature films.

From the perspective of the development of genre the growth of the ‘made for TV’ market gradually replaced the low budget studio output. An important feature of these films was that they were shot with a TV audience in mind thus action had to remain central to the screen. This was because the aspect ratios of the original TV screens were different to those of cinema screens. The rapid growth of the installed base of wide-screen television able to screen films in their original aspect ratios will gradually erode the technological limitations of the ‘made for TV movie’.

Economic crisis in the 1970s followed the changes in the institutional arrangements of cinema. The 1980s saw the flourishing of new technologies such as satellite and cable accompanying the deregulation of media markets in many countries. Film companies became less interested in production as such but more concerned with distribution which was a lucrative but lower risk aspect of the market.

More changes in the regulatory and economic relationships of the industry meant that the way became open for higher profile independent producers, and filmmakers who could play with higher budget movies which allowed them to expand their vision. Film companies by this time had become horizontally integrated into media empires which included TV, Radio, and music strands within the corporate conglomeration. This meant that a range of synergies between companies could be utilised to market films. This included: TV and cable distribution arrangements; the production and distribution of soundtracks; the production of DVD’s and videos; the sale of rights on associated computer games and toys,T-shirts and other marketing materials. Overseas distribution provided another income stream. Multi-media corporations like this include Time-Warner-AOL, and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV in America along with his extensive global media interests. Other sources of production income now include charging companies large amounts of money to feature their branded products within a high profile movie.

Role of the Director

This has meant that films hoping to be financially successful are increasingly reliant upon a range of strategies to reduce their risk . Film directors with a good profile are more able to make films that they want to make in the way they want to make them. This compares with the ‘Classical’ Hollywood period of production when the directors were largely at the mercy of producers who enforced tight shooting schedules and eliminated cost overruns. Several European émigré directors used to less industrialised ways of making films such as Fritz Lang who at the German company UFA regularly went well over the original budgets and schedules to get a film to his satisfaction. Many like Lang found it hard to adapt to Hollywood systems of production.

These European directors were considered as auteurs or authors who were putting their vision onto screen. Many of these directors created stars rather than depended upon stars. Josef von Sternberg was instrumental in bringing Marlene Dietrich to a wider audience. By comparison, Hollywood has always been dependent upon the star system as another marketing tool. Often there has been a symbiosis of stars with particular genres, John Wayne and the western and some war films, Clint Eastwood with westerns and more recently action-thrillers, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Siegel and Arnold Schwarzenegger with action-adventure.

Murray Smith (2002) teases out a useful distinction between the American concept of the auteur and a more European based conception of the auteur. For the latter the high-cultural traditions are seen as the most important aim of the film whilst in America these aims are attenuated by a desire to reach a much wider audience as well. Orson Welles as well as Martin Scorsese are examples of this type of director.

The role of the semi-independent filmmaker who has some power to negotiate their conditions is recently exemplified by Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2003) a film which he has apparently been longing to make for many years. There have been a series of high profile interviews with Scorsese in broadsheet newspapers, specialist film journals and TV review programmes.

In interview with Ian Christie, Scorsese responding to a question on how the film taps into 19th century revenge narrative like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ commented that the film echoes genre forms, but also includes social, historical and personal issues.

We complicated it because I was interested in the emotions. It evolved from a story about a boy who needs a father and a father who needs a son, against a backdrop of the frontier meets the city, or a western meets a gangster film, topped off with a ‘soupcon’ of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery – all of that in one Movie! (Martin Scorcese).

Described by some critics as an 'epic', Gangs of New York is strongly dependent upon being a multi-genre film. It combined with Scorsese’s own reputation, and featuring stars such as the highly bankable Leonardo di Caprio, and co-starring Daniel Day Lewis. It also stars Liam Neeson appealing to Irish audiences. Both the latter actors have played leading roles in historical films such as Last of the Mohicans ( 1992) and Michael Collins (1996), a fact that will broaden the appeal of the film.

Thelma and Louise is strongly associated with director Ridley Scott who was able to exert quite a high degree of control over the production process rather than being entirely controlled by the financiers because of his previous success with films like Bladerunner (1982). As a British director Scott has an outsider’s eye for weighing up aspects of society considered as everyday to indigenous directors. In this way a key element of American identity, its landscape, became a key part of the film’s aesthetic appeal. Scott also had a particularly dynamic way of making cinema relying on direct takes with the actors unrehearsed to gain spontaneity. Much of the film’s success can be attributed to Scott’s directing skills.

In an entirely different context Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1929-30) was the result of an attempt to place German national cinema in a prestigious position as the new sound map of cinema unfurled in the 1930s. The film copied the variegated production strategy which was by then the Hollywood norm. Sternberg was a well known American director of German descent. Sternberg was not the production company’s first choice but the best they could afford.

The Blue Angel starred Emil Jannings Germany’s most successful internationally known actor with an academy award in Hollywood. The comng of sound had cut short Jannings' Hollywood career because of his very thick German accent. Sternberg had been directing Jannings in one of the films cited which won him the Oscar. Alongside him the experienced but hitherto unrecognised Marlene Dietrich. The film was based upon a modern literary adaptation from the novel Professor Unrat by the well known author Heinrich Mann. As a genre piece it was a typical tragedy in a wider generic sense as well as belonging to the genre of literary adaptations The film involving the tragic fall of a professional also featured the sleazy side of life with a mise-en-scene of night-clubs and jazz and thus could be expected to have a wide audience appeal. UFA, the largest German film company, was strongly concerned with establishing a core of generic production this film can be considered as an attempt to launch a ‘blockbuster’ to break into the American marketplace.

As the strategy for The Blue Angel makes clear the blockbuster film can be seen as strongly hinging upon the reputation and skills of the director part of whose range of skills will include working effectively with stars, to a budget, operating in a multi-generic environment, which means being familiar with, but going beyond, straightforward genre formulas. On the basis of this example it can be seen that the more high profile a film is for the studio the more it is weighted towards the influence of the director and away from a simple generic base.

Conclusion

On the basis of the examples used here it is possible to see that the directors in ‘New Hollywood’ blockbusters are playing a more independent role than their counterparts from the days of ‘Classical Hollywood’. Nevertheless, this role is quite distinctive from that of the auteur in the European conception. In the latter conception auteur either has an extremely strong vision of the film, and can frequently be linked with conceptions of artistic ‘genius’ or at least an 'art' film. alternatively the European Auteur will have developed team-style working relationships with actors and crew. Examples of the latter are the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the contemporary British directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. Leigh is well known for having an improvisational style of working with his actors. The European auteur is far less dependent upon the star system and the other multi-marketing strategies on which the more industrialised approach of Hollywood depends.


Has Traditional Genre Theory Misrepresented Hollywood?

Has Traditional Genre Theory Misrepresented Hollywood?

Introduction

   Steve Neale (2000) is concerned to examine and critique some of the critical ‘givens’ which have arisen amongst commentators and theorists regarding the relationship between Hollywood and genre. Neale has investigated a wider range of films from the perspective of genre theory than has been done previously and has compared these with some of the business models in use at various time in Hollywood. On the basis of these findings he argues for a serious revision of the dominant theoretical position held by critics of both the ‘Old’ Hollywood studio system as well as post-studio ‘New Hollywood’. Neale highlights the central importance of the way the Hollywood production system has been commonly considered as central to the creation and maintenance of generic output as a foundational aspect of its industrial strategy.

‘As we have seen, the commercial and industrial nature of Hollywood has been viewed as responsible not just for the formulaic nature of its genres, but also for the existence of genre as such’ (Neale, 2000: 231).

   Below the key aspects of critical genre analysis to Hollywood are summarised then Neale’s commentary is reported upon in a critical fashion. This section concludes that Neale is correct to argue for deepening the analysis of the role and importance of genre within the marketing strategy of cinema. Neale’s comments upon aspects of horizontal integration within the wider media matrix such as radio are also important. It is argued here that the implications of his positions are not seen as a radical revision of the dominant positions held by critics on the role of genre within cinema. Rather it can be seen that it is impossible to consider cinema as an isolated aspect of the generic system of media production across mass media as a whole.

Traditional Accounts of the Relationship Between Hollywood and Genre

   Neale has summarised traditional accounts of genre and its role within the film industry stressing the following features:

  • Artistic products unlike mass products such as cars are ‘one of a kind’. Movies had to be different or nobody would return to the cinema
  • Mass products usually are accompanied by a range within the product. New lines and fashions are generated to create and develop the market
  • Hollywood genres offer a cost-effective equivalent to the lines and ranges marketed by other industries by producing a demand for similarities within the variety of product on offer thus degrees of difference are minimised
  • Hollywood’s products are always different and diverse and genres differ from one another but within the range/genre, the films are always similar
  • Genres thus perform a number of economic functions thus enabling :
                1. The industry to fulfil the obligations of variety and difference in the product:
                2. The product to be manufactured in a very cost-effective way
                3. The nature of the output and the demand for this output to be closely regulated to minimise financial risk and maximise profit.

                  ‘Old’ Hollywood Studio System

                  Originally generic film output has been linked to what has become known as the ‘studio system’, and the output of what is seen by many as ‘classical’ cinema. Key features of the studio system were:

                  • It describes the period of hollywood domination by the 'majors' between mid to late 1920s up to the end of the 1940s with a little overspill into the early 1950s
                  • There was an oligopoly of 8 major companies. Three produced and distributed films including independent ones. The remaining 5 were vertically integrated’. In other words they produced and distributed films but they also owned first-run cinemas and cinema chains
                  • The system of ‘block-booking’ meant that independent cinemas and cinema chains were forced to show most of their films or none at all
                  • This combination of industrial organisation meant that there was a relatively secure and stable marketplace. As a result the industry was able to sustain itself by making long-term employment contracts with stars, directors and technicians. The industry could plan investment on in-house facilities. This allowed for ‘factory-system’ features within the industry
                  • It is argued, by some, that studios tended to engage in genre specialisation which led to variation but also generic consistency and generic fixity over 30 years.

                  Neale’s Critique

                  Neale doesn’t want to entirely reverse these established theories on the role of genre; Neale is concerned to use other research methodologies and research results to argue that these features have been overemphasised and that the model needs revision. Overall he ends up by suggesting that much greater research into different aspects of Hollywood cinema will generate different sorts of knowledge about the relationships between Hollywood as a centre of cultural production and wider socio-cultural features of America itself. Neale divides Hollywood output into the studio and post-studio periods and comments upon the different content strategies and business models prevalent at these times.

                  ‘Old’ Hollywood Output as Hybrid and Cross-generic

                     Neale takes the output of Hollywood films in 1934 as an example. This came to over 95 feature films altogether. Neale notes that both the variety of films and the terms used to describe them were very varied: ‘Immediately striking also is the relative paucity of canonic genres and “genre films’’’ (Neale, 2000: 234). Neale suggests that, whilst terms such as ‘western’ existed, there are many broader categories such as ‘costume picture’ and ‘drama’ which rarely or never feature in genre theory. Nevertheless, these terms were among the top three categories of box-office hits according to Variety magazine (1950, 5: 18).

                  Neale’s comments are useful to identify gaps in genre theory. These comments in themselves don’t destabilise the key arguments of dominant critical genre theory. Neale’s evidence points to the importance of genre as a descriptor of various film products. The generic descriptors he has isolated points to the industry need to ensure that a broad audience appeal was maintained. Neale’s evidence supports the argument that even in 1950 audience was treated as a singular mass market rather than as a plural audience. At this time TV hadn’t gained a big hold on mass audience and the need to create a wider choice of content wasn’t necessary for the industry at this point.

                  Neale draws on the work of film historians who have examined the Hollywood studio practices and films differently to the genre-based theories. Genre was just one important part of a much wider range of strategic industrial initiatives. Multiple marketing strategies included the importance of maintaining a variable relationship between genre, star-systems, named directors, and script sources. These were usually adaptations of successful books, stories or topical events which had captured the popular imagination. How the relationship between these variables was constructed was dependent upon the individual product alongside the state of the market and the current availability of stars, directors and staff. A fundamental aspect of any marketing strategy was to ensure that the relationship decided upon in any one film would be designed to minimise financial risk in the view of the studio management.

                     Based upon the work of film historians Neale isolates the following points :

                  • Hollywood’s output was done on an annual seasonal basis
                  • This meant that cycles of films were emphasised. Cycles were used as units of calculation and on cyclical formulas as templates for films. (Long distance bus films are an example of these)
                  • Cycles were often linked to topical events such as prison breakouts
                  • The regular production of genre hybrids was a risk reduction strategy. These would not only appeal to fans of different picture types thus broadening the potential market[1]
                  • The use of stars as a marketing tool leads Schatz to talk of ‘star-genre formulations’ and star-formula combinations’ rather than talking directly in terms of genre [2]
                  • Some stars were associated largely with specific genres such as Boris Karloff and horror. Other stars such as Katherine Hepburn weren’t associated with any particular story type

                  The fundamental planning and output were budgetary which overlapped with categories of distribution and exhibition. There was class A and class B output. Class A output was subdivided further:

                  • Superspecials: prestige pictures & big budget musicals. Often road-shown[3]. Often produced by independents such as Selnick and Goldwyn’s Gone with the Wind (1939)
                  • Specials: bulk of these were class A films. Used pre-sold properties such as popular stars but lower production budgets. These usually opened on a first-run [4] basis in the metropolitan theatres owned by the big 5
                  • Programmers: These films had the lowest budgets. Typically based on original stories and minor stars often with short running times even as low as 50 minutes. Described as programmers they could fit the top or bottom of the double bills. They functioned as B films if at the bottom of a bill
                  • Another form of risk reduction was the creation of a series such as the Charlie Chan films.

                  The Post-studio Era

                     The vertical integration which dominated Hollywood had been declared illegal in 1948 and the big 5 production companies were forced to sell off their cinema chains. The industry as a whole underwent major restructuring adopting a different range of business strategies to remain in business. To ensure good levels of profitability, they concentrated even more on risk reduction. These strategies included:

                  • Making fewer more expensively produced films
                  • Abandoning B movies, shorts and newsreels. These migrated to become the ‘made for TV movie’
                  • Introduction of new technologies such as wide-screen and big-screen
                  • Making blockbusters to be road-shown at premium prices
                  • Co-productions
                  • International market development
                  • Audience reconstruction through differentiation ( teenagers for example)
                  • Diversifying income streams through distribution and / or screening films on television.

                     These changing structures in the 1950s and 1960s led to the development of what is now described as ’New Hollywood’ which has slightly modified these fundamental approaches. ‘New Hollywood’ creates the seasonal blockbusters which are now ‘blanket released’ rather than having a staggered release. These are the ‘economic cornerstone’ (Neale: 2000) of today’s Hollywood and are produced or co-produced by the majors.

                  Most of the recent blockbusters have been targeted at the teen and early twenties audiences. Therefore they differ significantly from the content of the output of the 1950s & 1960s. Technologically, special effects ( FX ) and surround sound have been significant. Income generation has been from spin offs - videos, computer games T shirts etc. Distribution through cable satellite etc. has expanded the media environment and given wider marketing opportunities.

                  Neale is keen to point out that there are no cast-iron formulas for success because film still remains one-of -a-kind and that consumers must be ready to take a risk before consuming a film. Films are previewed by test audiences who are surveyed for their responses. Unfavourable responses mean parts of the film may be re-shot [5]. Alternative endings are quite frequent. This has now led to a subsidiary market of ‘the director’s cut’.

                  Neale emphasises that the overall strategic approach of the industry is about risk reduction. With numerous differences between the generic output of ‘new’ and ‘old’ Hollywood.

                  The differences between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Hollywood ‘are differences in generic fashion, and in the nature of the series, cycles trends and target exhibition sites and audiences involved rather than in the strategies used to minimise risk’ ( Neale, 2000 : 245 ).

                  Commentators have remarked that Hollywood has been marked by ‘sequelitis’ and ‘prequels’. By comparison, Neale cites evidence that there were approximately 6 times as many recycled scripts in the 1940s as in the 1970s. Critics and theorists have also suggested that ‘new’ Hollywood has been more concerned with hybridity, pastiche and illusion than the ‘old’ Hollywood often linking this with the ‘multimedia synergies’ of the present. However, Neale points to many older films which make allusions to others, which are ‘… often invisible to contemporary scholars’. He also points out that the ‘old’ Hollywood was itself marked by a plethora of media output much of which was very new such as radio and comics thus providing: ‘an extensive field of multimedia consciousness, institutional crossover, and inter-textual cross-reference...’ [6]

                  Conclusion

                     ‘New’ Hollywood has often been considered as the driving force behind the reconstruction of the generic film using hybridity. Neale argues that early blockbusters such as Phantom Engine (1935) about a singing cowboy in space were more genre-hybrid than current blockbusters and suggests genre hybridity has always been present in Hollywood. Furthermore, Neale emphasises that genre as an industrial strategy is just one important element of a more complex and variegated industrial system than has previously been recognised.

                     Neale’s position partially corroborates the argument that blockbuster marketing strategy is less reliant upon genre and follows a multiple marketing strategy. A note of caution is needed here. Neale’s example of the Phantom Engine is not analysed in detail. Drawing conclusions without greater information about the marketing strategy of that film could lead to a wrong impression.

                     Much of the traditional genre theory still holds. It can be seen as a risk reduction strategy for an industry which must keep churning out product the industrially influenced analysis still seems convincing. Perhaps the critics of genre have overplayed their hands. The more sophisticated an audience the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with purely generic output. Marketing now has more complex ways to try and ensure commercial success.



                  1 [1]Neale makes much of this genre hybridity. ‘They also exemplified Hollywood and its products in ways which have barely begun to be explored ( and which genre criticism and ‘post-modern theory’ alike have served to obscure rather than illuminate’ ( Neale : 2000 : 238 ).

                  2 [2]For more on this see under ‘Genre and Multiple Marketing strategies’.

                  3 [3]This expression refers to the practice of releasing major films in cities and allowing them to run until the audiences started to fall away. Then the film was booked out to the next city. This helped to create a pre-existing market, reduced distribution costs, and helped maximise the market in any one place.

                  4 [4]First-run cinemas were the premium film theatres located in the biggest cities and the more affluent areas. They could keep films until the audiences began to decline. Then second run minor cinemas could take the films.

                  5 [5]Sassoon, Donald. 2002 points out that alternative endings have been used since the mass production of culture. Books were given different endings for the Russian market. Sassoon suggests Hollywood based itself upon this model. The onset of digital cinema will make this much cheaper, easier and give the potential for greater differences within the ‘same’ film.

                  6 [6] Neale, 2000 : 249 .


                  Genre and Multiple Marketing Strategies

                  Genre and Multiple Marketing Strategies

                  Introduction

                            It has been seen elsewhere that it is possible to create a generic category by ‘reading against the grain’ that is interpreting the content of the output of the mainstream film industry differently. It is argued here that genre is best viewed as an important marketing tool of the full range of media industries. All these specific generic forms are appropriate for the media format being used. Genre can thus be seen as part of the institutional framework of any media system. The different generic approaches from the different media formats ensure as far as possible that the specific media product sells well. It achieves this by fitting in with established and emergent conventions of the specific media industry [1] being considered.

                  Horses for Courses

                            It is always important to bear in mind the wider institutional context of particular media formats. In the case of film the A films with a big budget and high production values which were produced at the time of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1930s and 1940s have a strong similarity to the ‘Blockbuster’ movies currently being produced.

                  The Hollywood A movie and the ‘Blockbuster’ movie were dependent upon a combination of utilising well known stars, directors, a broadly-based genre format, as well as a successful script or topic in the popular imagination. It is rare that the genre format is a straightforward simple genre in these high-budget movies. The point of a high-budget movie is to attract the widest possible range of people to go and see the film. The danger of being overly specific about genre is that people think that the film has low production values and is aimed at a market of enthusiasts and cultists. This would mean that it is of no interest to anybody else and would limit its market[2]. From this it can be seen that an over-reliance upon branding a film as genre specific is potentially culturally exclusive and thus self-defeating. Within industry defined boundaries the more a film costs the wider its potential audience should be. The straight action-thriller film is very unlikely to ever have such a high budget as a multi-generic or genre hybrid film as its appeal is largely to boys, young adult males and a few men who have never grown-up. By comparison the continued success of Bond movies is now dependent upon special FX, spy/gangster thriller, comedy thriller, sex-romance genre hybridity is able to appeal to wider audiences.

                            The sort of films produced in the heyday of Hollywood classed as B or C films involving low production values based mainly upon formulaic genre conventions as a key marketing device were aimed at less sophisticated audiences, and more working-class audiences habitually went to the cinema as their major weekly night out. These sort of films could also provide screen content at low points in the season and functioned as training spaces for newcomers to the industry. Middle-class audiences were usually more discriminating and tended to go and view specific films which might have been genre based such as literary adaptions. The ‘made for TV’ movie has taken over the role of B and C movies.

                  Minority Report (2002) is a good example of a multiple marketing strategy which involves genre hybridity as one of its key components. The multiple marketing strategy involves six main elements designed to reduce financial risk to the minimum and to increase the chances of maximising profitability by making the film genuinely ‘popular’ across a whole range of identity divisions such as class, gender and ethnicity.

                  Minority Report: A Case Study of Multiple Marketing Strategy

                  The recently released Minority Report provides some evidence of how a multiple marketing strategy is conducted using the following tactics:

                  • The use and promotion of a well known semi-independent director in this case Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is associated with a long string of well made films which have a wide popular appeal and contain a generally liberal ethos, and in most circumstances are a ‘safe’ film to see and utilises the spectacular to generate excitement.
                  • The use of a very well-known leading Hollywood star Tom Cruise who also runs a production company, and also in the use of Max von Sydow who would have appeal to older audiences and European audiences as well as showing that there is in depth commitment to quality actors.
                  • The use of genre hybridity in the construction of the narrative. The film is a detective-thriller/ science-fiction/political-thriller/melodrama family tragedy. Sight and Sound has even described it as a ‘future-noir’.
                  • The use of special FX - Hollywood film history has always been concerned with being at the cutting edge of cinematic technology. This links both the circus and the spectacle, powerful contributors to cinema.
                  • The film has been constructed as a ‘12’ in terms of the censorship and regulatory structures, to maximise family viewing. The spectacular has always been an important element of film marketing and appeal.
                  • These structural features of the film link into the reviews system which is an integral part of the marketing of films. Reviewers are in league with the film industry and enter into agreements not to reveal crucial elements of any twists in the plot especially the ending. This encourages the common cultural practice of ‘non-revealment’ embedded within the audience itself. People frequently say ‘don’t tell me the ending’, or somebody reporting on their experience of a film says I won’t spoilt the ending for you’. Mystique is an important aspect of marketing and plays cleverly upon audience desire.

                            The content has a very wide appeal and it is important to a big multi-generic/hybrid genre film that a general idea of the content quickly becomes widely known. Minority Report has a particular contextual appeal [3] because of the post September 11 World Trade Centre attack, the subsequent build-up of anand execution of ‘regime-change’ in Iraq. The content is all about arresting and incarcerating people before they commit a crime. The film can currently be read by audiences as an allegory for major political crisis in the world 2002/ 2003 - the excuse for building up massive military presence on the borders of Iraq despite any clear evidence of even ownership, let alone intention to use weapons of mass destruction. This will appeal to more politically astute and sophisticated audiences.

                            The ‘human interest’ aspect of the film comes through the family and personal break-up of the Tom Cruise character through the loss of their son perhaps through a paedophile kidnapping. This strong subplot linking into current fears of paedophilia and child pornography especially on the internet. The possibility of revenge, redemption and the re-establishment of family runs through the film linking it to revenge tragedies long established in literature. Here unlike the traditional tragedy redemption and a certain feel-good factor ‘Hollywoodise’ the ending.

                            The representation of women is more troubled and ambiguous. Women are represented as being intelligent: it was a woman who invented the ‘precognitive system’. The wife of the leading character John Anderson - played by Tom Cruise - is also presented as being smart and determined, not only picking up on who the real criminal is but also having the ‘nouse’ to break into the high security police system and release her husband -the unlikely failure to remove John’s eyeball-identity seems a crucial flaw in the plot but that is not the point here.

                            There is an unfortunate linkage of a gendered construction of femininity and instability of both woman and technology as being likely to go out of control [4]. This is a common feature of SF genre films. Maria, in Metropolis (1925), the T1000 robot in Terminator 2 (1991) are just two other examples of the linkage of the ambiguity and danger to the masculine status quo of feminised technology seen as ‘other’. In Minority Report the key ‘pre-cog’ is a woman without whom the other two males are unable to function. The ‘pre-cog’ only ever acts ethically and the emphasis she makes upon human choice reinforces a key ideological prop of humanist liberalism against the strong cultural fears of technological take-over. This is a key element of cross-media science fiction genre. Nevertheless, the ‘pre-cogs’ are placed on the margins of society apparently for ‘their own good’.

                            The police-thriller aspect is obvious by being set in a police station, with tension maintained by an ever present time-factor. The ending supports the liberal ethos that the system in combination with ethical individuals will be capable of identifying and removing those who try to manipulate it unethically along the lines of films such as The Pelican Brief (1993).

                            The political-thriller aspects of Minority Report are highlighted in the title itself. The title is a crucial part of marketing strategy. This title has a particular resonance in the United States because there is in general greater freedom of access to information than in the UK. In th UK censorship through the Official Secrets Act ensures that formal state control has a much stronger profile. The possible mechanisms for the suppression of information which can be reviewed through the judicial system immediately gives the film a wider impact. This occurs particularly amongst the American middle classes and the more politically aware minorities who are always concerned with issues of civil liberties and freedom of information. This links to the constitutional construction which has developed a system of ‘checks and balances’ to ensure that an over-mighty subject abusing power, or corporate abuse of power is apparently always controllable.

                            The ‘romantic melodrama’ subplot ensures that there is a happy feel-good ending appropriate for the pluralistic target audience. This ending also gives some depth to a future which can come to terms with tragedy and deliver a future through reconciliation and human choice. Human choice to do what is ethically right is an important component of this type of film. It adds a greater intellectual and critical dimension to a format designed to have wide appeal. Audiences are effectively engaged with some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of the imaginary situation. In this sense the best cinematic output is capable of stimulating audiences to engage in situations which encourage an engagement with issues of citizenship. Frequently the best cinematic output follows a variegated production and marketing strategy and to reduce this purely to genre specificity can fail to reveal the more complex organisational approaches at work.

                  Cross-Media, Cross-Genre Marketing

                            Outside the notion of a closed world of film genres media industries have engaged with other media genres to gain marketing leverage. This has been done by identifying the key market for a product and targeting it.

                            A highly successful example of this was the marketing of Trainspotting (1995) by its distributors Polygram who spent approximately 50% of the production costs on marketing[5]. Polygram employed a design agency with a client-base in pop and rock music. Polygram also entered a business partnership with EMI to launch the soundtrack.

                            The film was adapted to appeal to trends identified within youth culture such as ‘laddism’ which was a reaction to feminism in the early 1990s still current in puerile and sexist ‘lads mags’. ‘Laddism’ itself is often read as response to the loss of traditional male jobs in smokestack industries. This links Trainspotting with films such as Brassed Off (1996), Billy Elliot (2000), and The Full Monty (1997). However, the take on work as a form of lost dignity is not a position taken in Trainspotting.

                            Another cross-media linkage into youth culture was through associations with the growth of ‘Brit-Art’ and ‘Brit-Pop’. Knowing links with 60s culture a youth culture ‘golden-age’ were self-consciously echoed by groups such as Oasis and Blur. As well as linkages with punk in the anti-heroes style.

                  ‘“Trainspotting” shares with Brit-art the combination of a flashy, self-promotional style; a dark and sometimes grotesque humour ...an effort to join cult cachet and mainstream success, intelligence and accessibility, complexity and directness. The most concrete connection between the film and Brit-art is the soundtrack presence of Blur and Pulp’ (Smith, 2002: 15 ).

                            Despite the relatively low budget the successful multi-marketing approach of Trainspotting played on generic plays across media formats to ensure an appealing commercial package that went far beyond simple genre formulations, by recognising the increasing sophistication and multiple audiences now found even in what was previously erroneously and simply dubbed as ‘the youth market.’

                  Conclusion

                            The production and marketing tendencies coming from Hollywood blockbuster globalised marketing is tending to downplay specific generic aspects of the films. Stardom, the spectacular and a multi-generic framework is the current marketing formula. Specific aspects of a film can be niche marketed to fragmented media audiences as a way of trying to unify audiences in sufficient numbers to visit the cinemas and ensure healthy after-sales from TV licensing, rental and DVD markets. It has been noted by a number of writers [6] that theatre release through the multiplex system is not just simultaneous but often takes several screens at once, with audience choice paradoxically becoming more limited despite the growing number of screens in the UK. Just as the shape of the film market has changed so has the role of genre from an industry perspective.



                  1 [1]Please note well the linkage here with analysis of the News as a generic form of both TV and Radio.

                  2 [2]See under ‘The Western’ section on role of the market for typical audiences of the B movie western.

                  3 [3]See under ‘ Methods and Methodology in Film Research / Contextual Criticism’

                  4 [4]For in depth analysis of this argument see Bukatman 1994.

                  5 [5]Smith , Murray 2000.

                  6 [6] Brown, Geoff, 2000; Hanson, Stuart 2000; Todd, Peter 2000.


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