Chapter 5: Outlines and Concept Maps
Lab Activity 23: Concept Maps
To map major and minor details that support the central idea.
Step 2: Read the following passage from a college humanities textbook. Then return to the Lab Manual and map the details.
Major Film Genres
The history of art abounds with certain spectacular eras in which many important works appear all at the same time. The movies had existed for about half a century when the audience for art recognized that a new form had arrived and needed to be taken seriously. By then, there existed a variety of film genres, such as westerns and gangster films, all popular with audiences, all with set formats designed for quick and easy production to take advantage of public hunger for entertainment. Some earlier film genres are rooted in their own time and are of interest primarily to film historians because technical advances and changing social contexts have made them hopelessly dated. The genres of current popular films include film noir, romantic comedy, comedy of manners, film musical, westerns, horror films, disaster films, slice-of-life realism, social realism, documentaries, and fictional biographies.
Film Noir. As appealing as the gangster was the private eye, a pay-for-hire investigator—sometimes a former gangster himself—who knew every dark corner of the city and every murderer lurking in the shadows, someone who shot just as straight as the criminals themselves and who, like them, could kill without a moment's reflection. He operated just outside the law but was forgiven, even admired, by the audience because he never killed for personal reasons. Identifying with him was easy and unambiguous. He was hired to find the bad guys, and he did so, even if his methods were straight out of the gangster's handbook.
One example of film noir is The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart. Bogart plays the part of Sam Spade, who shoots to kill if he has to. He has no illusions about the world and the kinds of people who inhabit it, but he has his own principles and his own code of ethics, even if others do not. The death of his partner involves him in a labyrinth of dangerous intrigue, murder, and deceit as he seeks to solve the murder: "When your partner is killed, you're supposed to do something about it."
Romantic Comedy. A completely different genre is the romantic comedy. A movie theater has been the perfect place for romance, where couples can look at other couples on screen, secure in the knowledge that no matter what kept them apart for most of the film, they would surely end in each other's arms.
Of course, the man and the woman on the screen are apt to be better looking, better dressed, and richer than the couple on a date. The characters—often a man and a woman who love each other—become enmeshed in a ridiculous disarray of circumstances that very nearly, but not quite, terminate the relationship. An example of a modern romantic comedy is When Harry Met Sally starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. While on a cross-country ride, these two college classmates and recent graduates begin with casual conversation, which turns to sharp repartee, a battle of wits between a woman who believes that a nonsexual, friendly relationship can exist between the sexes and a man who argues that sex will always be the main issue, whether talked about or not.
The Comedy of Manners. In the Depression era, the comedy of manners, long popular on the British stage, came to Broadway. The label of this genre, which originated in the 17th century, has a twofold meaning. First, the plays showed the audience how truly educated and articulate people actually spoke and behaved. Second, the behavior was often scandalous, a clear violation of manners, and therefore hilarious.
In The Philadelphia Story the "scandal" is that the heroine, Katherine Hepburn, a divorce engaged to marry a wealthy, respectable, and dull second husband, is still in love with her first husband, played by Cary Grant, who shows up for the coming nuptials. Class difference, a common theme in the comedy of manners, is evident in The Philadelphia Story. The heroine's choice of husband is a self-made man, obviously proud to be forming an alliance with old money. He believes that his marriage will advance his career in business and politics, but he doesn't fit in. Eventually, the "right people" triumph. Wit triumphs as well.
Musical Comedy. The stories in musical films were often similar to those in romantic comedy. The man and woman were kept apart until the final embrace, except when they sang and danced together.
Singin' in the Rain is generally considered the greatest musical Hollywood ever made. For a change, the plot is believable. It deals not with the usual banter between hero and heroine but with what actually happened when movies first acquired sound. Gene Kelly, the star of the film, dances in joyous abandon on every kind of surface, including a rain-soaked street. The plot, with elements of the Cinderella story, is comical as well as delightfully fantastic. The heroine is a talented young singer, Debbie Reynolds, whose voice is dubbed to match the lip movements of a silent film star with a squeaky, high-pitched voice unsuited for the new medium. Still, she is uncredited and underpaid until the deception is revealed. In the famous title number, Kelly sings about the happiness of being in love as he splashes and dances through the puddles of a rain-soaked street, umbrella in hand. The film proved to be glorious escapist entertainment for the public without sacrificing the integrity of plot and characterization.
The Western. No film genre is more associated with Hollywood than the western tale of good and evil. In one film after another, bad guys menaced the decent folks in a town that often seemed to be the same studio back-lot set, complete with horses, a stagecoach, the jail, the general store, the saloon, and a dusty main street, the scene of a thousand shoot-outs. The cowboys, sheriffs, outlaws, and marshals acted their parts to the delight of loyal fans.
In 1939, as Americans were heatedly debating how much the country should be involved in the war that had already begun in Europe, James Stewart, in Destry Rides Again, plays a newly appointed sheriff who, significantly, will not carry a gun. The bad guys are the ones who drive law-abiding farmers from their lands, after which they gamble and drink at the local saloon, where the main entertainment is provided by a husky-voiced, scantily clad woman named Frenchy.
Two other important characters, indispensable in the western, are the Good Girl, a teacher who will eventually be worthy of Destry's affections, and the sheriff's sidekick, a lovable drunk whose irresponsibility immediately wins the audience's affection. The sheriff manages to maintain order and restrain his temper until his sidekick is shot and dies in his arms. At that point Destry stands up, straps on his gun belt, and goes off to avenge the death and clear the town of evil. During the gun battle in the classic western finale, Frenchy deliberately sacrifices herself by shielding Destry and taking the bullet meant for him. As always, an immoral character cannot be allowed to win the hero.
Horror and Suspense Films. Even though the sights and sounds of screened horror may cause some to close their eyes and cover their ears—or step into the lobby for a few minutes—audiences keep coming back for more. The desire to be thrilled in the theater is very old. Long before the invention of motion pictures, audiences watched terrible things happen to actors on stage, safe in the realization that the mutilations and executions were make-believe. Shakespeare and his contemporaries provided natural catastrophes in the form of howling winds and shipwrecks. They showed scenes of eye gouging, amputations, and other forms of torture, sometimes right in front of the audience. In Greek tragedy horror, violence happened offstage but was reported in often frightening detail by an onstage messenger, whose job was to make audiences shudder as their imaginations filled in the details.
Films can show the gory details, magnified; and creepy background music makes certain that viewers are kept on the edge of their seats. Look! There goes the innocent victim down the dark street where the killer waits. Suspense builds as the camera zooms in on an ominous object, such as a pair of shoes walking along a deserted pavement, or just the fierce eyes of an obsessed murderer, or, even better, a ski mask.
Too bad Hollywood cannot today find a master such as Alfred Hitchcock, who directed suspenseful masterpieces such as Notorious, Psycho, and The Birds.
Disaster Films. The film of natural disaster came very much into vogue in the 1970s, possibly to offer horror on an epic scale and possibly to revisit the old Hollywood versus evil mythology. Instead of psychotic villains hiding in shadows to pounce upon the unsuspecting, audiences in the safety of darkened theaters, the devastation of fire, tidal waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes could thrill audiences. Many of these films contain an underlying warning that nature is not to be trifled with.
The disaster film usually begins with scenes of normal life, of unconcerned people carrying on happy activities. The happier they are, the greater the suspense. For example, the 1997 version of Titanic builds on the suspense, even though audiences know, like the Greek audience of the past, what catastrophe will strike. Aristotle praised tragic drama for the relieving of emotional tension it allowed an audience to experience without having to undergo real pain. Perhaps the disaster film has a similar effect on large audiences.
Slice of Life. If monster and disaster films show city streets filled with horrified city dwellers attempting to flee catastrophe, slice-of-life films display the opposite. They are not melodramatic, and they are not epic. None of their characters symbolizes political struggle or a call for social action. They are small films, with few characters, usually confined to ordinary events within a family.
For example, in the American film You Can Count on Me, incidents are low key. The young working mother has a job, a son, a boyfriend, and the usual problems of living on her salary and arranging for child care. The visit of her brother disrupts her schedule and her insistence on the right way to manage money and bring up her child. When the brother takes his nephew to a neighborhood bar, viewers wait for violence to erupt. It doesn't. The boy enjoys the excitement of being allowed to make a pool shot in the midst of a rowdy crowd, a treat his mother would never allow. By examining her life through the eyes of her brother, the young woman makes a decision about whether to marry her predictable boyfriend. At the end of the film, she is somewhat wiser, but her life will continue much as it had before.
Social Realism. During the Depression, in addition to the escapist musicals and romantic comedies were a number of films made by serious directors intent on confronting social problems and improving on the techniques of their predecessors. Frank Capra (1897--1991) created films about bigotry, political corruption, and the abuse of workers' rights, with attractive, plain-talking heroes. An immigrant himself, the son of a fruit picker, he had firsthand knowledge of poverty, but he also had profound respect for the United States, the land of opportunity.
In Capra's most popular film, It's a Wonderful Life, the desperate bankrupt hero is saved at the last minute by the contributions of grateful townspeople whose homes the bank has spared. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the main character tries to distribute an inheritance of $20 million to the poor and must fight a legal battle to prove his sanity. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the hero is an idealistic junior senator, unaware that a political machine has sponsored him because of his boyish appeal to voters. Gradually learning that his sponsors are ruthless and willing to do anything to control him, he engages in a marathon filibuster to block the passage of a bill he was supposed to support.
Documentaries and Docudramas. Nonfiction "factual" films, or documentaries, are often respected for their efforts to tell the truth about an important issue. Few attract large audiences, however, because the genre sounds dull compared with one that tells a fantastic or funny story. One of the least dull filmmakers is Frederick Wiseman, who specializes in showing familiar institutions in a very individual way. Although his material is completely factual, he manages to inject his share of dramatic tension. High School uncovers what really happens on a typical day: the bells, the regimentation, the strict enforcement of institutional rules.
A composite of documentary and drama is docudrama, which attempts to enliven the issue by focusing on what audiences expect: narrative rather than exposition.
Fictionalized Biography. Films that claim to be about actual people do not always stay close to the facts, and ironically, most of the films that bend the truth are about people with famous names. Fictionalized biographies seem to do whatever they like with their subjects, and audiences are often misled.
Viewers of Peter Shaffer's play and movie Amadeus saw a work that focused on the unfounded legend that Mozart was poisoned by his arch enemy, Antonio Salieri. History presents a different, if less dramatic, story.
—Adapted from Janaro & Altshuler, The Art of Being Human, 7th ed., pp. 335–353.