Film Theory: Genre Approach–Formula, Function, Stars, Studio

Nov 2, 2022

Film Theory: Genre Approach

The issue: whether genre films could also be art films

Reservoir Dogs embodied this dilemma.  t was and it was not a  genre film

Mischievous conflation of the literary and lurid

Reservoir marked seismic change in the direction of indie films, which moved toward more genre-inflected cinema, albeit with transgressive, ironic, post-modern spin (Biskind, 121)


Formulas/Formats (contesting, breaking, violating formulas)

Ritual; myth

Values (values reaffirmed, and values rejected)




Pam Cook (1985: 58)

Genre comprises a repertoire of conventions running across plot, setting, characterization, modes of narrative development, closure, music/score, movie stars, visual imagery


Genre functions as marketing tool to persuade viewers to watch the product–the movie

Thrillers, melodramas, musicals, horror, comedy

Each genre attracts certain audiences.

But audiences may be reluctant to see films that are perceived as difficult, demanding, upsetting

Auteur cinema

Art films

Independent film



See Formula/Schemata

Basinger, Jeanine: War Film as Genre

Braudy, Leo



Ray, Robert

Schatz, Thomas

Sobchak: genre and defining rituals

Jane Feuer:

“It’s only when Hollywood genre films began to be seen from the perspective of their ideological and cultural meanings, rather than as star vehicles and pure entertainment, that Westerns, melodramas, film noirs became accessible to critical scrutiny and inquiry.” (Boggs, 425)


The most enduring musicals tend to evolve toward a revisionist phase.

Mocking many of the genre’s original values by subjecting them to scrutiny (Giannetti)

In studio era, musicals were love stories with happy endings

Then revisionist musicals: NY, NY; Cabaret (lovers go their separate ways, absorbed in their careers).

Ritual functions derive from C. Levi-Strauss

Genre’s stories and iconography portray groups (women, racial minorities) that threaten “normal life”

The film’s action is to contain and defeat these elements


Each game has its own formula. t’s easier to recognize genre film than to describe all the elements.

The variations are almost infinite

Still, 6 basic elements of genre formula:





Values reaffirmed

Conventions (thematic, stylistic)

The Western vs, the gangster formula.

Genre and Audience

Bruce Kawin:

The way that particular genres appeal psychologically to their audiences.

Audiences’ relation to horror, sci-fi in terms of myths, dreams, nightmares

Audiences go to horror films to have a nightmare, “a dream whose undercurrent of anxiety both presents and masks the desire to fulfill and be punished for certain conventionally unacceptable impulses

Sci-fi: appeals to the conscious

Horror: appeal to the unconscious

Strengths and Advantages

Boggs, 411

The characters, plot, conventions are established and they provide direct cinematic shorthand that simplify the task of storytelling.

Formulas are easy for auds to understand

The best directors did not simply copy conventions–Eastwood

They provide creative variations, refinements, and complexities that imprinted each film with rich, distinctive, more personal style

Genre films also simlify the act of watching

Thye are easy to watch and more enjoyable

There’s pleasure from recognizing characters, images,  sitations

e more genre films you watch, the more  keenly aware you become and more responsive to creative variations, refinements, complexities

Innovation then becomes exciting surprise.