“Apparently no strictly logical distinctions can capture the variety of factors which create the genres we have” (Nicholas and Price, 1998) This quote demonstrates the complexity of allocating a particular genre to a film, as various aspects need to be considered. Although concrete groupings such as horror, science-fiction, crime and drama exist, the majority of movies contain more than one aspect which renders them difficult to categorise. For example, the difference between an ‘action’ and a ‘thriller’ film can be very fine. Should the length of footage of fight scenes determine them?
Should the scale and intensity of adrenaline felt by the audience throughout the story line be considered? Apart from the concrete distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, many subcategories are used. Some genres are based on literature, such as ‘melodrama’ and ‘comedy’; others on the plot, for example the ‘war film’; and still others on media such as ‘the musical’. Furthermore, some genres are categorised by their budgets, censorship rating, racial identities, location, status amongst many others (Stam, 2000). Genres are a way of characterising a film in the simplest way, interpreting and judging without evaluating them.
This allows viewers an easier choice when choosing which film to watch since the field has been narrowed down for them. Patterns such as in the plot, theme, and cinematographic technique and which branded star is used in the film are some of the ways the genres are often grouped. These are very commonly broadened because of the other forms of genre groups sometimes jumping in and out of a film are known as sub-genres. In the second edition (Nathan Abrams, 2010) of ‘Studying Film’ it is pointed out that not only are repetitions a requirement in identifying particular film genres, but so are their differences.
Viewers take into account not only similarities but also variances between previous films they have seen. Thus when comparing a few films of the same genre, it is important to note that in spite of the recurring themes, each film will have its own individual plot. The use of genres and ‘putting films in boxes’, as it were, can lead to problems for the movie industry as story lines become repetitive, predictive and formulaic, perhaps causing some viewers to no longer hold the genre in such high regard.
For this reason it is imperative that difference be a vital ingredient within categories as well as between them to provide more variation, innovation and flexibility within their general parameters. Films are automatically divided up using the genre categorisation, for example when you walk into a DVD store and looking for a film, they’ll be physically divided up through their classifications; Horror, Sci-fi, Crime, Drama, Action, Thriller, Social Realism and more.
They might also classify the films by their rating, which in a sense is also a measurement of genre. Whether the film is a U classification for children, a rated 15 film or even a rated 18 film, these sub genres always crop up in promotional campaigns are also known for being genre specific; trailers in the cinema are also grouped together, like when watching a comedy, the trailers being shown in the previews will also be comedy. There are just a few examples as to how genre is divided without making overly noticeable to the audience.
Martin Loop (cited in Barry, 2007) argues that genre in Hollywood does not really exist since so many films that are apparently made by an ‘auteur’ were simply influenced by society, and that Directors use different elements from different genres and the trends at the time to make their films. Taxi Driver narrates the story of Travis Bickle, an ex-marine unable to sleep at nights, so he decides to get a job as a night-time taxi driver. Played by Robert de Niro, Travis begins to date a woman working in the presidential campaign office of Charles Pallantine, but after taking her to watch a porn film they split up.
Travis becomes increasingly paranoid and results in him buying an arsenal of weapons. After meeting a young prostitute ‘Iris’ played by Jodie Foster, he soon decides to make it his mission to save her from the life she leads. Thwarted in his attempt to assassinate Charles Pallantine, Taxi Driver’s climax occurs when Travis shoots and kills Iris’s pimp Matthew, played by Harvey Keitel and his henchmen. After the massacre Travis finds himself wounded and attempts to shot himself but comes short of bullets.
The film ends with Travis being portrayed as a hero in the media for saving Iris’s life and taking her back to her parents. Travis’s search for to find meaning in his life is what motivates and drives the narrative forward. Taxi Driver is almost based exclusively on restricted narrative through the subjective consciousness of the narration of Travis filtering the narrative information through a single character. The camera emphasizes this by keeping a closed door to what is happening around him to a certain extent and seems to follow him almost obsessively as the film progresses.
Has its genre made it more of a success? Maybe Taxi Driver being in the ‘Drama/thriller’ genre has enabled it to cross over two genres thus attracting a greater audience. Films are different from books or poems in that they are not simply constructed by a single person but require input from various people including a director, a producer, a screenwriter, actors and studio representatives to name a few. The notion of auteur theory, (translated from the French meaning ‘author’) in the filmmaking industry has therefore been heavily contended (Simpson, 2012).
Andrew Sarris, the leading American proponent of the theory claimed in the 1950s and 60s that great filmmaking inspires the type of artistic expression and creativeness one would expect from a major literary author. For this reason we should be able to herald directors as ‘auteurs’, crediting them with ownership of the whole works. Critics maintain, however, that this notion completely ignores the rest of the film crew. A single ‘author’ does not appear to ascribe to movies due to the multiple actors involved. If each role plays an integral part in the process from beginning to end, how can one role claim the title of sole ‘author’?
Furthermore, on what basis could ‘authorship’ be claimed? The tendency has been towards extending the title to the director; however perhaps not every director can be considered an ‘author’ if their work is not worthy. Sarris’ arguments have since been used to defend film as equivalent to the other arts; an important development considering earlier perceptions of the industry to be ‘less worthy’ of an artistic status. In this way perhaps in order to qualify as an ‘art’, a film needs an author. This label is particularly important for intellectual property rights and for status and identification.
Nevertheless, the notion of ‘authorship’ also causes problems in other art forms; a composer is considered the true owner of the music he writes, but what about the music when it is used in performance at a concert or in a theatre piece? Having briefly outlined genre and authorship and their surrounding issues, this paper will seek to compare the theories to the film of Taxi Driver (1976)by Martin Scorcese to see how well they hold up and whether Martin Scorcese can shed further light on how genre and authorship should be defined in the movie-making business.
http://www. cs. grinnell. edu/~simpsone/Connections/Film/Author/index. html http://www. filmreference. com/encyclopedia/Academy-Awards-Crime-Films/Auteur-Theory-and-Authorship. html Studying film 2nd Edition, Nathan Abrams, Ian Bell, Jan Udris, Bloomsbury, 2010 Film History and Introduction, Kirsten Thomson, David Bordwell, McGraw-Hill, 1994
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