Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Year 13 Media - Genre Booklet to help with your study of 'Horror'

Genre Booklet

Film Genre Handout

GENRE and 'The notion of the evolutionary process'

Influential film scholars, such as André Bazin, John Cawelti, Christian Metz and Thomas Schatz, described genre development as an evolution. A film genre goes through stages similar to a life cycle with birth, evolution and eventually and inevitably decline. Thomas Schatz, perhaps the most important advocate of the evolution theory describes four stages of a genre evolution:

1) The experimental stage (where conventions of a genre are established),
2) The classical stage (where genre conventions are reinforced),
3) The age of refinement (where the saturation of conventions gives way for a subversion of the classic conventions),
4) Opacity (which is a stage of self-conscious formalism, which often also gives way to parody).

What is very critical about the evolution theory is the idea of the evolution itself and a genre reaching and going through a “classical” stage. In this stage, as suggested, a genre evolves its characteristic and most refined elements, its harmonious sophistication. André Bazin describes the western Stagecoach (1939) as “the ideal example of the maturity of a style brought to classic perfection” and identifies the western films that followed Stagecoach as “superwesterns” that look for “some quality extrinsic to the genre. 

What comes after the classical phase? Critics have already suggested that a genre turns into a self-reflexive, parodic stage and, when the audience gets tired of this repetitive pattern or when the genre dilutes, it finally disappears. Are all new revivals a genre can experience in the history of cinema just cyclic nervous twitches of a former elaborate, “classical” genre form and represent a “post-“ or “neo-“ version of these genres? This idea must be questioned. Cinema is too young an artistic phenomenon and has only just reached age 100. Can it be that all genres had already gone through their evolutionary processes, that they all had already reached their classical phases, and that they all now and in the next decades and centuries in the history of cinema only will represent deconstructing and hybrid versions of what once was a pure and classical film genre? The cinematic evolution theory might work with genres whose commercial and cultural success had obviously peaked in the past already, such as the western or the musical genre. But genres such as horror, science fiction or more generally comedy obviously endure and appear in cycles, thus, defying an evolutionary process.

"Genres are constantly in the process of mutating in order to maximize their box-office potential and satisfy audience demand. This factor ultimately accounts for the genre’s cyclical appearances and disappearances within different eras and when audience demand wanes, the genre disappears altogether." Altman

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