What is Genre? (Part II)

In my previous post I defined genre as a category of film (usually American) that was made primarily for commercial reasons (usually in a prior era) and which transcended its commercial underpinnings.  Because the accolade of genre was usually bestowed by critics to films years after they were made, it would seem the term would only have significance to film historians—and perhaps it should.  Yet the term is frequently being associated with contemporary filmmakers.  It is not unusual to hear that a filmmaker’s next project will evoke another era, such as the 1940’s, and this is further reinforced when the film is made in black and white.  And if there were any doubt about what the filmmaker is planning to do, it becomes abundantly clear when critics praise him for having made a genre film and paying homage to long deceased directors.

You may detect that I might have a problem with a contemporary filmmaker unabashedly making a genre film.  Do I and should I?  Well, let me put forth a question.  If I bought my clothes in vintage clothing stores—and many do—what would people think when they saw me walking down the street in clothes of a bygone era?  That I have good taste in clothes?  That I am making a fashion statement?  Or perhaps that I am an eccentric who wishes that he lived in a previous century?  No matter how people would regard me, it will be entirely different than how the original owners of the clothes were regarded when they wore them in the appropriate era.  Bear in mind that the term genre is not synonymous with timelessness or classic.  What worked in one era may not work in another.  Audiences change.  In the 1930’s and 40’s, everyone went to movie theaters to see films.  Today, that audience is much smaller and younger.

Does that mean that contemporary filmmakers shouldn’t make genre films?  Not necessarily:  especially if the genre serves as an inspiration rather than a road map.  Quentin Tarantino is a very talented filmmaker who has had great success in re-inventing filmmaking  from another era for new audiences; his Kill Bill (martial arts), Inglourious Basterds ( World War II action films), Django Unchained (spaghetti Westerns), and  Jackie Brown (Blaxploitation) are a few examples.  As to their artistic merit, I will leave that question to the critics.

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