Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Film Genre theory

Rick Altman proposed a new phenomenon called semantic/syntactic approach to film genre in his book Film/Genre, which was published in 1999. His aim was to problematise the discussion of genre
within film studies. He described how genres changed over time, to ‘genre as (semiotic) theory’; an approach which largely ignored industry practices. Genre is always a vague term with no fixed boundaries. Some films also cross into multiple genres. Most theory on film genre is borrowed from literary genre criticism. ‘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.

Altman argues that the uncertainty to define ‘genre’ is associated with the relative status of theory and history in genre studies. Before semiotics came along, generic titles and definitions were largely borrowed from the industry itself. He described “pessimistic world view” depicted in films such as Kisss Me Deadly (1955) and it’s alive (1974) as film genre.

Altman states that the themes of progressive film dramatize the demolition of values positively propounded in dominant cinema’s characterization of the role and narrative of social institutions. He described ‘narrative form’ as genre; the overall narrative structure is refined toward an exposure rather than suppression, as in the classic text-of ideological contradictions and tensions. Through these distinct mutations’ of classic narrative rules, represented in such films as Imitation of Life (1959 ) and The Locket, (1946) the system is both reflexively exposed and countered. According to Altman, the ‘visual style’ of films also depict genre. These films are basically characterizes by stylistic self-consciousness and formal excess, which are seen in varying degrees of specificity as supporting or implementing a vital part of their subversive commentary.

He pointed out that the identification of the progressive genre films depends heavily on the critical leverage imparted to the intrinsic intentional characteristics, which serve to distinguish these films from the ‘dominant classic cinema’ and often, from within their own generic categories as well. He adds further “difference” in context, which poses both the question of generic/systematic
evolution and of genre’s relation to classical narrative.

This essay connects the roles played by critics and audiences in describing and re-describing genre. Altman points out that, “genres thus are not neutral categories, but rather ideological constructs that provide and enforce a pre-reading. He recognized that the term ‘genre’ has different meaning for different groups.

Author: Satyendra Kumar

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