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What exactly is a "genre" film.... and why so easily dismissed?

david lincoln brooks

almost 4 years ago

How come any film that has:

a plot
a budget
recognizable actors
popular appeal

…….is dismissed as a “genre” film?

And if that is what we must call them, when did they earn such a bad name on this website?

Must everything be someone’s Saturday afternoon Super-8 of non-sequiturs to have "cred’ ?

Jirin

almost 4 years ago

A ‘genre’ film is a film that follows a formula proven to bring in money.

There are some excellent genre films, and I think ‘Cinephiles’ dismiss them too easily. But, the unoriginality in their very definition makes it harder to make them great films.

Bobby Wise

almost 4 years ago

There’s nothing inherently unoriginal in the definition of a genre film. The idea that it is somehow harder for them to be great films feeds into that easy dismissal you speak of.

Fraser-​Orr

almost 4 years ago

By definition, genre films are going to use cliches and be a little predictable. Usually, this is done by the makers of the film in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the audience. It makes the film blander and less interesting, but also more accessible. There’s generally nothing of any uniqueness, beyond the very superficial, in such films. But since we know what’s going to happen and they can be exceedingly well made, they’ll be very entertaining and popular.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with genre films, and I don’t think you’ll find many people on this site making that claim. If watching a genre film or any mainstream Hollywood picture makes you feel good, you shouldn’t worry about what anyone on an internet forum thinks about it. But if you want something more interesting, that can actually blow your mind and show you reality at a deeper level, then you have to go into more challenging works, that may or may not be eight hour Super-8 films about gay cowboys eating pudding.

Aibohphobia

almost 4 years ago

Seeing genre films as products appealing to the lowest common denominator is a little cynical a la the Frankfurt School, if you ask me. All genre is is a limiting way of organizing intertextuality. Films can engage with the templates provided by other texts and still be interesting and “show you reality at a deeper level,” if that means anything…

Bobby Wise

almost 4 years ago

If we want to talk about an “art film” as the opposite of a genre film, they also use cliches and can often be very predictable.

Genre films can be incredibly unique. And why would a film be popular by default if we know what’s going to happen in them?

There is no de facto rule that states genre films are less interesting/challenging or less able to “blow your mind” or “show reality at a deeper level” than art films. That kind of thinking is useless dogma. There are good genre films and bad ones, just as there are good art films and bad ones.

M I

almost 4 years ago

I think the reason the arthouse crowd is so hard on genre movies might partially be because genre geeks embrace even the shittiest genre fare. I literally saw several reviews by popular outlets that proclaimed Watchmen to be a masterpiece when it came out. They’re also the types to embrace a piece of shit like Kick-Ass and other hollow movies of the like.

Sanjuro

almost 4 years ago

There’s no reason the genre film can’t be great.

However, if you have a film that fits perfectly into the definition of one single genre then, unless it was made 90 years ago, there’s a very high possibility that is was just ‘made because the genre sells’.

If you look at any great so-called ‘genre film’ you’ll notice that there are almost certainly elements of other genre films mixed in and generally it’s only been slotted into that particular genre because it’s easier to sell that way.

Obviously this leads to problems with dashed expectations and fallout from bad word of mouth when you market something like the Truman Show or better still, The Bedsitting Room as a comedy.

So, genre as a theory is fine. Genre as a marketing tool makes snobs like us highly cynical.

A great film on the other hand, is simply a great film.

Mention Kurosawa to a lot of people in Japan and you’re often met with the response ‘Oh, you like Jidai-geki’ which is a genre that tends to apply equally to both films and really bad TV shows. At which point you either explain the difference and come off as a snob, don’t explain and come across like an samurai obssessed old man or say no, actually I don’t and confuse everyone.

Didn’t Bordwell write something arguing that ‘European Art Film’ was just as much a ‘genre’ as anything else?

Fraser-​Orr

almost 4 years ago

“Films can engage with the templates provided by other texts and still be interesting”

All films do that, I think calling something a genre film means a little more.

“There are good genre films and bad ones, just as there are good art films and bad ones.”

I’d certainly agree with this, and they probably both have a similar ratio of good to bad.

I’m just talking here in terms of what the very best genre films do, compared with the very best art films.

What defines something as a genre film is the very fact that it is in some way repeating other works. When you watch a movie like this, the style it’s using is already to a large extent understood. These are the good guys over here, and the bad guys over here. We’re strapped in firmly to conventions we can understand, in order to go through a rollercoaster of excitement, fear, sadness, laughter etc.

I’d say the best films, whether art films or not, are those that invent a genre unto themselves. Look at the way Bresson, Kiarostami, Tarkovsky and Cassavetes invent there own styles of performance, editing and composition. For me, these are the best kinds of films.

“Didn’t Bordwell write something arguing that ‘European Art Film’ was just as much a ‘genre’ as anything else?”

That doesn’t surprise me at all, given that Bordwell is the type M I is talking about, who embrace even the shittiest movies as being part of a valid movement.

david lincoln brooks

almost 4 years ago

So….. are the Westerns of Peckinpah and Leone……….genre films, to the degree that they essentially quote a filmic milieu oft-seen before? Or do they “quote a genre, then subvert it” ?

@AIBOHPHOBIA (I appreciate the palindrome)

I am intrigued by your thoughts, but need you to define, please: “intertextuality” and “texts” in the sense that you are using them.

david lincoln brooks

almost 4 years ago

Are there any, let’s say, modern “chick-flicks”, in the tradition of such stale fare as MAID IN MANHATTAN ………. which ostensibly appear to quote the genre… but ultimately subvert it (and in so doing, perhaps divest themselves of the dreaded “genre” label) ?

Does an aspiring actor need to pay his dues by “doing genre” before he can aspire to something loftier? (I guess a Parker Posey, to name one, might have been lucky enough to circumvent this)

It seems to me that the 90’s and Oughts have produced some films which seem to have a foot both in “genre” and in “art”. Say, for example, AMERICAN BEAUTY or THE ICE STORM or BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. or FIELD OF DREAMS….. even ZOOLANDER or BORAT.

Are they to be commended………. or are they sly sell-outs….and all-the-more loathed because of it?

Fraser-​Orr

almost 4 years ago

David: I’m not sure that quoting a genre and subverting it will get you a better film. It depends whether you’re doing it just as a trick (Tarintino), or to actually express yourself.

I’m not sure how any of the movies you mention are genre films, except Field of Dreams and Zoolander. Though I wouldn’t argue that any of them are great works of art, either.

Amos

almost 4 years ago

Well, the thing about genres is that they come with a set of conventions, so if a filmmaker simply follows all of the conventions of the genre, you’re probably not going to end up with a good film. But those same conventions are what allow for some really great films. I think Kubrick works as a good example because pretty much all of his films fit snugly into genre description. 2001, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, etc. are all films which create their effect because of working within a genre. Kubrick doesn’t simply reject genre conventions but uses them to interesting uses.

“I’d say the best films, whether art films or not, are those that invent a genre unto themselves. Look at the way Bresson, Kiarostami, Tarkovsky and Cassavetes invent there own styles of performance, editing and composition. For me, these are the best kinds of films.”

This gets at the question of what constitutes a genre. I don’t think inventing a style is inventing a genre as genres usually require strong narrative conventions. Also, directors can do that while working within genres like I think Kubrick did.

I’m not sure a director can simply follow genre conventions and make a great film. Douglass Sirk definitely followed many genre conventions but did so in so much excess that he subverts them.

Miasma

almost 4 years ago

Well put, Amos. I was going to mention, as well, that Kubrick is essentially a genre director. I wonder if perhaps what differentiates “genre films” and “art films” (distinctions I already balk at) is more aligned with intent… working independently, moving towards one vision, working with a studio… things like that. But then, old Hollywood produced plenty of excellent films which could be “genre” and… much more. Double Indemnity may be a genre film, but I think it is a great film. All I’m interested in is something I consider great… pigeonholing it beyond that doesn’t interest me.

Aibohphobia

almost 4 years ago

DLB:

A text would more or less be what linguists call an “utterance” — a film, a novel, a song, et cetera.

Intertextuality is the idea that texts exist in relation to preceding texts and engage with aspects of these texts. Genre theory is a simplistic way of approaching this. Robert Stam writes succinctly about this, so I’m going to pull from him:

“Intertextuality theory is best seen as an answer to the limitations both of textual analysis and of genre theory. The term “intertextuality” has a number of advantages over “genre.” First, genre has a circular tautological quality: a film is a western because it has the characteristics of a western. Intertextuality is less interested in taxonomic essences and definitions than in the processual inter-animation of texts. Second, genre seems a more passive principle: a film “belongs” to a genre as an individual “belongs” to a family, or a plant “belongs” to a genus. Intertextuality is more active; it sees the artist as dynamically orchestrating pre-existing texts and discourses. Third, intertextuality does not limit itself to a single medium; it allows for dialogic relations with other arts and media, both popular and erudite."

I think the passivity he mentions is why people look down on what they perceive to be genre films. Certainly, less noteworthy films might utilize preceding texts less interestingly, for less purpose, to less effect. It approaches mimicry. But, as Stam writes, the genre paradigm makes it seem that every film fitting certain characteristics does so at the cost of any truly creative content. Naturally, that isn’t true, and so the genre paradigm is deceiving.

I have an example floating in my head about the similarities between “The Da Vinci Code” and the vastly superior “Foucault’s Pendulum,” but since the Eco work came first it doesn’t make any sense. So never mind. It’s 2:30 AM :)

MARK IS SUSPEND​ED IN GAFFA

almost 4 years ago

Fraser said:

“By definition, genre films are going to use cliches and be a little predictable. Usually, this is done by the makers of the film in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the audience. It makes the film blander and less interesting, but also more accessible. There’s generally nothing of any uniqueness, beyond the very superficial, in such films. But since we know what’s going to happen and they can be exceedingly well made, they’ll be very entertaining and popular”

The same could be said about lavish arthouse movies about a nobleman, his wife and his mistress.

I take it people are (generally) talking about action, horror, sexploitation and sci-fi when discussing “genre” films. This has long been a complaint about Australian cinema, we don’t really do “genre” films anymore.

Brian Trenchard-Smith is a British filmmaker who made numerous popular genre films in Australia during the seventies and eighties. Australia doesn’t have a present day equivalent in this regard.

Polaris​DiB

almost 4 years ago

To restate much of what has been already said in words with different context:

Genre is an attempt at classification. It is a way of communicating to the audience in advance what should or could be expected from the piece they are about to see. Thus genre is used by marketing as a way of promoting some texts, while used by producers as a way of building some texts, which is where the problem of disrespect comes from, as any template used to create something becomes recognizable by those familiar with the template (this stays true even for things like the Hero’s Journey, architypes, and # act plot structures). For people who have spent a significant proportion of their time and energy searching out things that deviate and undermine the popular templates, they can come to be very cynical about genres.

However, genres are arbitrary, and even any movie attempting to adhere strictly to genre rules will either manage to deviate in some ways, or will show its adherence in poor production value and lower returns. Genre theory is only an attempt to look at a broad range of movies dealing with a specific format, function, outcome, or theme, and pretty much any academic text on genre you read will have an introduction debunking the idea of “genre” in the first place as both an acknowledgment to the inherent failures of such an approach and a safeguard against those who recognize those failures. Thus “genre essays” are a genre of essay that typically, as to their genre, attempt to deconstruct the idea of “genre” before constructing an argument for genre. It’s really quite funny if you think about it!

Anyway, arbitrariness does not mean meaninglessness. Genre can be helpful for understanding different approaches to visual storytelling, it can help you use audience expectations against them by following the rules to a point and then twisting them into something else, and most importantly, it can help you state political, moral, or other themes directly to an audience without the audience feeling it is being lectured. This would be why some enthusiasts of particular genres will tend to enjoy films of that genre despite any lack of quality (be it in originality, production value, carefulness of theme, or whathaveyou), because something of that genre directly relates to an idea they are passionate about. For instance, I am an unapologetic glutton of time-travel narratives. I recently watched the Guy Pierce The Time Machine flick on tele, and though it’s unoriginal, a remake, not really all that deep, and a bit repetitive, I still enjoyed seeing how they presented the shifting ages, the alacrity with which they use paradox to drive him, and heck, there’s a bit of the ol’ Steampunk in me that wanted to play with that machine, too.

Which is why even getting too upset about the marketing and demographic production side of genre is not really worth the time, because after all it goes both ways—one uses marketing and genre in trying to decide what one wants to watch next, even if in avoidance. “Oh this is just a horror movie… fine, I’ll get something else instead.” See? It works.

“If we want to talk about an “art film” as the opposite of a genre film, they also use cliches and can often be very predictable.”

Which is why art film is a genre—a genre of film appealing to people who desire to see something more personal, meaningful, or creative than a standard predictable fare, though how much that tries to be personal, meaningful, or creative ends up using the codes and languages of other films to express what it’s saying? Originality isn’t even really all that much about coming up with something entirely new, it’s presenting what already is in a way that hasn’t been seen before. I’m carefully sticking to terminology, in fact, that connotes movies and viewership as opposed to getting into other artforms’ genres, because in the case of cinema we’re also dealing with something that requires an object to create a subject—without anything to film, there isn’t anything to see. Thus filmmakers use what is there to say what (they believe) hasn’t been already said, or, in the case of decidedly genre cinema, use what is familiar to illicit a particular desired response—even if that response is deep pocketfuls of cash. Hey, pardon people for living—if that’s all a producer is concerned about, that’s the producer’s problem, not the viewer’s—the viewer has a choice to watch whatever he or she wants.

—PolarisDiB

Miasma

almost 4 years ago

Yay Polaris! What’s left to say?

Joks

almost 4 years ago

The idea that ‘art film’ is a ‘genre’ like anything else is a way for critics and so called intellectuals to undermine its claims to superiority—a pseudo-political act—and sneak in trash through the back door.

if art film really is a ‘genre’ nowadays it’s because nobody has done anything new or interesting with it. It’s like when people talk about the ‘avantgarde’. Avantgarde, as a genre, is a contradiction in terms.

Miasma

almost 4 years ago

(answering my own question)

Frankly I’ve always found “art film” to be an elitist and confining term, and one that tends to signify a lack of fun. “Slow down… be quiet… get serious… because you’re about to WITNESS ART.” The term is equivocal to when people claim a film is “slow,” clearly quite arbitrary and subjective.

Breathless could be shown to modern Americans audiences and billed as an Art Film. Now you may agree or not, but personally, I think it’s almost wholly a genre film – an absolutely silly, inane genre film… which, in essence, makes it a great comedy. So how to pin it down? I say genre film – but I’m the last person who will sell something to anybody else…

When I think “art film”, I would tend to liken it much more to what would be considered experimental. But the more we discuss this, the less I like a single one of these definitions…

Joks

almost 4 years ago

^^the problem with thinking of ‘genre film’ is it tends to be synonymous with creative laziness. The problem is not with the genres themselves, but with the industries that produce them and the artists need for compliance with the rules and standards. I’m sure there are plenty of super creative interpretations of genres that we will never see because of the conservative industry. The artists themselves are not usually the problem. It’s the producers.

There are also artistic genre films. e.g 2001, Solaris etc etc. They tend to blur the lines between the two categories. And from a certain perspective, they tend to be the most favoured because of this.

Polaris​DiB

almost 4 years ago

I believe Joks’ response is in no way contradictory to my own.

—PolarisDiB