The Three Kings of Genre
We all look at genre as a way to classify movies, perhaps when we distinguish our favorites and when we describe a film to a friend. We may say that the film Wedding Crashers is a romantic comedy and the film Hairspray is a musical, but what really gives them that category? It all has to do with the subject or the theme of the film. For instance, gangster films usually center on large upscale urban crime, while science fiction has technology beyond the reach of contemporary science. It is to the point now that whenever we see such subjects in a film, we immediately make a connection to a genre. Genres also go beyond subject matter as well. For instance, some genres are defined by the distinctive emotional effect they aim for. Comedies usually aim for amusement, while suspense films usually aim for tension. When an audience feels these emotions they immediately draw the link between that emotion and that genre.
We also define genres by certain genre conventions, which give every film of a similar type some kind of common identity. There are thematic conventions, where a similar theme is conveyed in certain films. For example, we may recognize gangster films because they usually have the standard theme of the price of success. There are also conventions of technique, where similar characteristic film techniques are used to define the genre. For example, melodramas usually use poignant music to help exaggerate the plot, while horror films may use somber lighting to help create a more horrific setting. Finally, there is conventional iconography, which consists of recurring symbolic images that carry meaning. For example, Samurai films are known for having swords and kimonos present, while science fiction films are known for having spaceships.
The audience usually expects a genre to offer something familiar, while still expecting to get a different variation of it. A film that has a great sense of genre is Three Kings. When you first look at this film, you know it is a war film because of the convention iconography of guns, bombs, and the uniforms men are wearing. There are also conventions of technique used in the film as well. The filmmakers used hand-held cameras to give the film a more journalistic feel and also filmed a lot of their action shots with only one camera. Most action films usually use multiple cameras when shooting action shots, but the director, David Russell, thought that using only one shot made the film more believable. In a sense the film looked almost like a documentary because the characteristic film techniques made everything look so real.
This film is also considered a comedy given that it aims for the emotional effect of amusement. The way the characters talk to each other and interact makes the audience laugh. Even at the beginning of the film, Mark Wahlberg’s character is asking his fellow troops if it is alright to shoot an enemy. Nobody seems to be listening to Wahlberg as they are too attuned to their own personal issues, like the man with sand in his nose. This makes it funny because as serious as his question is in regards to taking someone’s life, his fellow troops are more concerned with other pointless matters. Also, after the war in Iraq is over they all have a big celebration. They make total fools of themselves as they dance and drink together. This adds fun and humor to the film and give the audience a sense of what the rest of the film will be like.
Finally, the film is considered a drama. A drama is usually seen as real characters dealing with emotional themes. The themes in this film is crime, corruption, and conflict. As you see many people die throughout the film, one scene that really stood out to me was the one after the main characters took the gold back from Iraq as part of the peace treaty. While doing this heist, they noticed that the Iraqi men had several hostages and they wanted to help save them. As the war was over and they promised to shed no more blood. They were suppose to leave Iraq and to not attend to what the Iraqis were doing. As they tried to help the hostages, the Iraqi men kept saying that it was not their problem and to just do what they came to do. The main characters would not listen and witnessed a helpless, innocent woman get shot. When she got shot, her husband and daughter also watched. It was such a dramatic moment. After the violence was done, you watched them both embrace the woman and cry hysterically. Even the main characters were effected by this terror.
These genres in Three Kings provide a social function. Not only do they present to the audience the familiar along with a new variation of the genre, but they exploit social values and attitudes. In this film, emotions are aroused by touching on social uncertainties, but they then are channeled into approved attitudes. For instance, people usually do not like the idea of war and death, but they are okay with seeing people die if they deserve it. People always hope the good guys in films prevail while the bad guys suffer. Such films show the difference between good and bad and set the depiction for society to follow. With these values and depictions that society learns from and utilizes, we know that genre is way more important that just the categorization of films.