Monday, February 14, 2011

Schatz - Hollywood Genres

Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.

Part I consists of two theoretical chapters. Part II has six chapters on different genres: Western, gangster, hardboiled detective, screwball comedy, family melodrama.

"...a genre approach provides the most effective means for understanding, analyzing, and appreciating Hollywood cinema."(vii) [because...]
1. It assumes the commercial aspect of filmmaking that prefers formulas
2. It recognizes cinema's close contact with audience, and the effect their response has on the development of both story and production
3. It treats the cinema as a narrative medium that uses familiar stories based on ongoing cultural conflicts.
4. It allows for artistry to be evaluated in terms of how well a filmmaker re-invents established forms

Stresses in the conclusion that his theories apply only to the studio system of the 30s-1960. Genre theory will have to adjust for New Hollywood, as well as television.

Film Genre is...
"a range of expression for filmmakers and a range of experience for viewers." (22) Keyword: range

In de Saussure's terms, Film Genre is to la langue what genre films are to la parole. (19)

Constantly evolving. Internal factors (genres take on their own reality that has nothing to do with, for example, the historical West) and external factors (cultural) change the genre. Henri Focillon says that genres pass through the experimental stage, the classic stage, the refinement stage, and the baroque stage. The audience plays a key role in these changes. Exceptions include gangster genre (internal evolution disrupted by threats of censorship and religious boycott) and war genre (can't be subverted during wartime).

Patterns of industry censorship (Leading to the demise of the classic gangster genre 96-99)
National Board of Censorship 1908 until the rise of feature films
1922 - Censorship threatened, studios form Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA which became Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA, in 1945) This was run by Will H. Hays.
1930 Production Code: unlike previously vague warnings and don'ts, the code emphasized the moral responsibility of motion pictures. Wasn't closely enforced until after 1934
1934 - Production Code Administration (PCA) created under Joseph Breen. Became the Hays-Breen office. Stipulated "The treatment of crimes against the law must not: 1. Teach methods of crime. 2. Inspire potential criminals with a desire for imitation. 3. Make criminals seem heroic or justified."

Variations on gangster film: gangster-as-cop, cain-and-abel (counter-balanced with strong prosocial figure)

Key Terms
myth - a unique conceptual system that confronts and resolves immediate social and ideological conflicts. (262) Thus, Westerns are mythic.
generic icon - a symbol whose significance resonates through a genre. Ex. White horse and white hat in Westerns. Compare to the burning sled in Citizen Kane which only has significance because it has been constructed within that specific film.
determinate space - contested community where social order is valued (Western, gangster, detective)
indeterminate space - civilized community where social integration is valued (musical, screwball comedy, social melodrama)
film noir - (as dubbed by French critics, 113) "visually, these films were darker and compositionally more abstract than most Hollywood films; thematically, they were considerably more pessimistic and brutal in their presentation of contemporary American life than even the gangster films of the early 1930s had been."

Interesting Quotes
"...movies are made by filmmakers, whereas genres are 'made' by the collective response of the mass audience." (264)

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