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Film Genre

What is a film? Ideally, a film is a means of mass communication and social improvement. Moreover the audience seeks identification when they go to see a film. As a very strong means of mass communicates, it is supposed to convey a meaning, a message to the society. A message with which the audience can identify and can look for enhancement. When films related to a particular subject or a theme are produced in quantity, with difference in treatment, a genre of film is said to have been born. Such genre existed in Germany to favor the Nazis. The public was shown that Nazis are Gods

and their words only have to be followed. A similar genre of films also came into existence after the second world war. This was known as ‘film noir’. People in Europe and America were so deeply affected by the war that they only saw frustration and disgust everywhere. In the late 1930s, films which depicted wrong deeds like crime and theft as the main activity of the protagonist were produced for the first time. Their box office success paved the way for many films which were produced on similar themes. In fact, these films reflected the sad and frustrated mood of the people.

These films did well at the box office and a genre of crime thriller films was born, later captioned as ‘ film noir’. With the help of three films made in this era, this essay tries to prove that genre of films limits and adversely affects our understanding of films. The three films are a) Touch of evil b) Scarlet Street and c) You only live once. These films were based on themes related to crime, death, murder and thefts. It showed the evil side of the human face, in a rather bold fashion. In fact the protagonists were involved in all these activities. These films are a proof to the fact that genre of films tend to distort our understanding of films.

The first film, ‘You only live once’, released in 1937, is one of the earliest films in film noir genre. Directed by Fritz Lang, this film revolves around the protagonist being falsely accused for crime, and to fight with injustice. When he wants to live like a good man of the society, he is falsely accused, and sentenced to death by the judiciary. The paradox of this situation is that he was punished even though he was totally innocent. Crest fallen by injustice, he tries to escape from the prison, and that is from where the vicious circle of one crime leading to another, begins.

Every time he tries to escape one punishment, he ‘lands into worst predicament then the one he left behind’. ( You only live once) The entire films is a sequence of events, wherein the main character suffers at the hands of judiciary due to false evidences and weak decisions. To counter, he decides to commit crime. This is a classic example of how an innocent, truthful to law citizen is turned into a seasoned criminal. The excellence of acting exhibited by Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sydney is the remarkable aspect of this film. ‘Without their intense acting this film would have been long forgotten’.

(You only live once) remarks the film analyst. They have brilliantly displayed the intensity of love for each other and the emotions of an innocent couple, which wants to live life in the purer way, but are thrown into the dirt of crime world. This film is a one of the pioneering films which gave birth to the film noir genre. The second film ‘Scarlet Street’ was released in 1945 and was directed by Fritz Lang. This film is considered to be one of the masterpieces of film noir of that era. A bank clerk, who is also a part time painter, saves a lady from an assault by her lover. They get

acquainted over a cup of coffee and start living together. A fugitive enters the scene here, and plans with the lady to steal away the paintings an sell them under the lady’s name. The original painter, a bank clerk by profession is stranded with dire consequences and faces tragedy. ( Carvalho Claudio ) Most film critics consider this to be a classic of film noir genre. The empire magazine, in an online review states that, ‘Rarely has a noir victim fallen under a fatale’s spell so willingly or broken free with such merciless violence. Played with consummate skill by Edward G.

Robinson, Cross is initially made to seem an amiable sap. But gradually, Lang’s contempt for his impotence emerges and there’s no pity whatever in his decline and fall after he allows Johnny to take the rap for Kitty’s ice-pick demise’. ( Scarlet Street) The third film ‘Touch of Evil’ was produced in 1958 from writer director Orson Welles. It dealt with racism, betrayal of friends, sexual ambiguity, frame-ups, drugs and police corruption of power. He central character of this film is a policeman who has all the touches of evil in him. Other characters also have the shades of evil in them.

The film is full of the so called devil elements. It is set on the USA-Mexican border, and explosion of a bomb in a car is at the center of this film. Dramatic events unfold as he film proceeds. Its all about the thugs kidnapping a female, attempted murders and police trying to track the criminals. This film is so full of the so called wretched elements that Orson Welles had refused to associate himself with it. It is interesting that the original film, released I 1958, had many scenes which were not approved by him as the director, and were added I his absence.

These were the scenes which were full of crime, obscenity and violence. “This film was bastardized without his approval” are the words used by a prominent film critique, Tim Driks. It was in 1998, that the re-edited version of the film was released, which included changes as per the original instructions of Orson Welles. This film was considered to be an outright box-office disaster after its release in late 1950s. It is considered to be one of the last piece of film noir, when related to the similar films of 1940s and 1950s. The highlight of this film was its technical superiority.

The camera work was just brilliant and the opening sequence of three minutes has been accepted as a historic masterpiece of camera movement. ( Driks Tim ) These three films can be taken as an example to discuss the impact a genre has on our understanding of films. These types of thriller films, showing the darker side of life in the post second world war era, were in fact reflections of the real state of the society and the mentality of people. There is no doubt that they portrayed the gloom and the darkness which prevailed in the minds of all people across many continents.

This is why the audience immediately identified with such themes and these films soon became money minting machines. The more such films were produced; such themes became a common identity of films in general. The common man started believing that cinema means thrill. Film noir defined cinema as a language of thrill, crime, rape, murder, and all the negative shades of life. Cinema is a reflection of society, cinema is a means of making money, cinema is thrill, cinema is technical brilliance, but cinema is not just that much. Cinema is much more than what a genre of films suggests to be.

This is precisely the point to be driven at home in this paper. What is the effect of film genre? If this question is well thought of, then one can surely conclude that a genre of films sticks to a particular type of thematic treatment. As in the case of film noir, the entire range of produced under a particular genre, closes in on a particular theme, resulting in variations which differ in their story, style, content and technical aspects. The subject matter essentially remains the same. What is the thematic matter in all the three films stated above? There is a gap of many years, between their

release dates, yet, the thematic contents are really very similar. Orson Welles, the director of ‘ touch of evil’, has also given ‘ Citizen Kane’ to this world, which was, is and will remain an all time classic in the history of cinema. This very well explains the role played by the film noir in our perception and understanding of cinema. Any amount of watching, analyzing and understanding if film noir, will never expose us to the thematic contents of films like ‘Citizen Kane’. It is beyond the widest scope of film noir, to bring out a film based on the thematic contents of ‘ Citizen Kane’.

The crux of this discussion is that genre of films, tend to restrict the thematic exploration. While this paper is restricted to only three films of film noir genre, there are many more such genre, revolving around a particular thematic canvas. On the other hand, a proper understanding of films can be developed only when films from all sectors are seen, analyzed and understood. Development of appropriate understanding of films in general, is a very hard subject to define. However, it requires experiencing a very wide range of variety of films, made at different times, by different eminent film personalities.

While film noir may be reflecting the darker shades of life, the series of films made by Charlie Chaplin may open a entirely new gate of thematic exploration, where sarcasm and comedy are the main thematic contents, very vividly explored by Charlie Chaplin. These films also are a genre in itself. It should be very clear by now, that no particular genre helps in developing a comprehensive understanding of films. The understanding of a viewer who has seen a wider variety of films is far better than the one who has been restricting himself to a genre. In other words, genre of films tend to underrates the power

of cinema, as a powerful language for mass communications. All the three films stated above, can be used to back this statement. Here, it is difficult to resist comparing the scenario to the mathematical set theory. This theory has a universal set and its subsets, as the base. Similarly, an overall understanding of films is like the universal set, and all genre of films are its subsets. Individual films, which do not fall under the sub set of genre of films, form other subsets of the universal set. By understanding the genre of films, one has only understood a part of the whole, which is much larger.

Moreover, films which are a part of a genre, are produced with the box office on the mind and not the social relevance or the power of films as a medium of communication. In such a case, there is a severe distortion of films as a medium. Like, the film “ Touch of Evil’ was so distorted at the time of its release that Orson Welles had refused his association with this film. It was subsequently re-edited. Such maneuvers to please the masses, invariably result in an output which is poor in quality. As a result, films are often symbolized with ‘cheap stuff ’.

When a bandwagon of films like ‘The touch of evil’ hit the box office, and it had happened in the case of film noir, the very concept of cinema is changed to a medium which ‘ thrills’. When films are understood as medium which thrills only, it is a gross misunderstanding of this powerful medium. Conclusively, it can be said that understanding of film genre, in a way, restricts our understanding of cinema as a medium which carries a very heavy responsibility on is shoulders, and that is well being of all living beings on this world. To understand the full relevance, significance and its power, a much larger exposure than genre of films is required.

Film genre, not only limit our understanding, but even obstruct a fuller, comprehensive understanding of films in totality. References : 1. Driks Tim, Touch of evil ( 1958), retrieved on 24 December 2007 from : < http://www. filmsite. org/touc. html > 2. Carvalho Claudio, Plot summary for scarlet street, retrieved on 24 December 2007 from : < http://imdb. com/title/tt0038057/plotsummary > 3. You only live once ( 1937), retrieved on 24 12 2007 from ; < www. crazy4cinema. com/review/filmsy/f_you_live_once_html# > 4. Scarlet Street, wikipedia the free encyclopedia, retrieved on 24-12-2007 from: < http://www. wikipedia. org >

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