Cinema, like all industries, is about the production of goods and services. The vast majority of films are produced as commodities to be consumed, for profit. Films are big business, subject to the 'laws' of commercial supply and demand. The industry will make films as long as people want them. As with other industries, profits are maximized through efficient production methods, accurately matching supply to demand, and effective marketing. From an industry perspective, genres have several uses which help fulfil these economic imperatives.
If genre films are particular types of film, it follows that such films require particular types of scripts, acting, locations, props and costumes, and often need specialist equipment and production staff for the actual shooting and editing. In effect, genre films lend themselves to specialization at all levels of the production process and this increases the likelihood of being able to maximize profits through the efficient use of existing resources. Genres are about standardization, an industrial practice. The film industry aims to identify successful formulas and recycle them, albeit in different guises.
Directors and stars will often work on particular types of film, and the industry will use the reputations and expectations attached to directors and stars to help market films and create demand (see Chapters 11 and 9 on Stars and Authorship). Genres enable the industry to divide up the range of films that can be made; the market is demarcated. Market research and the monitoring of audience trends inform the industry of what types of film are likely to do well at the box office; genres can therefore be targeted at the audience that exists for particular types of films.
The flip side of the industry using genres to target audiences is of course that the audience in turn uses genres to target particular films. Being able to identify the genre of a film enables a cinemagoer to determine whether s/he is likely to enjoy a film or not. This raises the question, however, of why audiences gain pleasure from genre films. Considering the predictable elements in genre films, we can assume there are certain narrative themes and visual elements that audiences are attracted to. This attraction can be analysed at a psychological level, at the level of subjectivity, while also being linked to the social world, the objective world of social relations, cultural values and ideology (see Chapter 12).
If we accept that there are certain attractions that draw audiences to see genre films, how is the attraction maintained over a sustained period of time? Pleasure is often gained through obtaining what we want and in the case of genre films, having one's expectations met results in pleasure. We get what we want and our knowledge of the genre's characteristics is confirmed. In other words, we seek repetition of a past pleasure; we will, to a degree, be able to predict what will happen, what characters will do. The use of recognizable character types and plots can also make a film easierto understand. However, as noted earlier, difference is also an integral part of genre production. The audience gains pleasure from the introduction of variations on a theme and through identifying the ways in which conventions are reinterpreted and reinvented within the general parameters of the genre.
Though we should not ignore those films which, because of their non-adherence to generic conventions, cannot easily be categorized, it must be noted that non-genre films constitute a minority of films made and distributed and that, by and large, such films are not hugely popular.
Tom Ryall's (1978) approach to genre has de-emphasized the importance of identifying particular genre characteristics and has concentrated on the relationship between film, filmmaker and audience and the role that all three areas have in the production of meaning, albeit within the general conventions of a genre. Although a film may be placed within a particular genre, the film-maker makes decisions about how to use the conventions, and ultimately the audience interprets the film for itself. Ryall also highlighted the importance of the production context of a genre film in terms of finance and ownership, which then needs to be placed in the overall social context of production and consumption. Thus for Ryall there are a number of variables such as film, film-maker, audience, studio, industry, economy and ideology, all of which need to be borne in mind when evaluating the function and effect of genres. In other words the genre conventions to be found in a film and how they are used are the result of a multiplicity of influences.
Steve Neale (1980) similarly focuses on industry, film and audience and their relation to genre, while also emphasizing the function of expectations, conventions, repetition and difference. However, Neale is not interested in the categorization of films as such and sees overlap and flexibility between genres as the predominant feature. He also sees the need for a psychoanalytic approach to genre study in order to identify the ways in which pleasure, identity and the relationship of the subject to society are reflected, reinforced or shaped in genre productions. Thus the determining potentials of the subconscious and of ideology are important in Neale's perspective, which takes account of audience desire and its origins in relation to the functions of genre films.
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