Categorizing films into different genres allows viewers to anticipate patterns and themes interwoven throughout the end product. Film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson exclaim, “Audiences expect the genre film to offer something familiar but also demand fresh variations on it” (Friedman 5). Audiences can use genres to form expectations before viewing a film. With horror movies we expect to be scared, and comedies we expect to laugh. However, what causes a film to be identified within a certain genre?
There is a simple definition that explains how in an identified art form, there is certain criterion that is met and relates to other subjects in the field to be categorized within the same “genre”. To the general audience, there are very general categories such as action, comedy, and dramas that are relevant with films. Yet, there are more sophisticated subtitles beneath these that can define a film’s category. An example of one of these genres is “film about film”. Unfortunately, film about film is usually an unrecognized genre.
This department includes films that have an overall plot that focuses on and relies on its characters creating film. For example, in King Kong (2005) the sole purpose of the characters going to the island where the beast lives was to shoot a movie. It included aspects like action, but this action could not be present without the film being centered on film. As expected, the genre of films about film might be questioned as irrelevant or not unique. This is mainly due to its lack of acclaim, but also its association with other genres.
Certainly a criticism can be made on how the genre relies on and ties into other mainstream genres like a comedy or action, but it is evident that the film could not stand-alone without film being the major subject of the cinema. This earns the title of a genre for this reason alone. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou(2004) we see forms of a film about film, drama, comedy, and even action. This dynamic Wes Anderson story about a documentary filmmaker avenging his friend’s death uses multiple genres. Theoretician Jacques Derrida states, “Every text participates in one or several genres” (Friedman 9).
Interestingly, they feed off of each other like teamwork, and cannot work alone without the help of each other. Films about film are directed by its characters making film and wouldn’t be the same without this quality. They are dynamic with their ability to range from documentaries to narrative, but while they give an expectation to an audience they still bring “fresh variations”. Truthfully, the action and comedy genres can act as big trees that absorb all of the sunlight leaving genres like film about film shriveled up in the shade.
This doesn’t mean, however, that this type cinema can’t sprout and grow into something special that has much to offer. These films relate to us on an unbelievably high level that must not go unnoticed. This category of cinema works with creativity, and making something magnificent. As humans, we are all creative beings. Creativity is all around us and without it; we would have no buildings, airplanes, cars, and frankly anything of that matter. Jonathan Gottschall in his book The Storytelling Animal explains, “We are, as a species, addicted to story.
Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories” (Gottschall 12). Humans have ideas naturally spawning in our minds, and occasionally these ideas are challenged and we get a sort of spark. Importantly, this type of challenge is something constructive that allows us to not only think outside of the box, but to create a box itself. This is the rule of which films about film follow. These films aim to relate to humans and the struggles with problem solving. People face obstacles that test their mental capabilities.
How we deal with these obstacles defines the beauty that can be created. These challenges give the characters the ability to have freedom of mind. The boundaries of the genre are set by the characters themselves interacting with each other and working together to make something unique. Films that fit as extraordinary examples and can be analyzed in detail are The Cameraman(1928),and The Five Obstructions(2003). In addition, films about film are not anything new to the movie industry. The distinguished director of his day, Buster Keaton, released his feature film called the The Cameraman in 1928.
This was one of the very first films about film to be put on the map. Part of the audience’s expectations of a genre film comes from past experiences with the genre. Lester Friedman exclaims, “Because both readers and authors view every genre movie with a history of reading and interpreting previous ones, no film exists in total isolation from the past” (Friedman 8). Film categories can shape and develop over time depending on the films that are made. Specifically, in this film Keaton sets a great example for the genre of film about film.
This comedic silent black and white film starred Keaton himself. Buster is a young man who aspires to be a cameraman, and has a crush on an office girl the film studio where he is trying to be hired from. Throughout the film we see Buster getting into horribly unfortunate situations like embarrassment, and an actual street war. In the end it is all an act to get hired and win over his love. This film is significant due to the director himself who has to go through the tough process of filmmaking portraying a character going through that exact same process.
It is positively a type of realistic fiction in that sense. The character would do anything including risking his own life to get the perfect shot and the perfect girl. The whole film centers on filmmaking with the main character rarely being seen without a camera in possession. This focus sets up the plot and how everything in the story plays out. This film set a precedent for the evolution of this genre. Not only is film expressed as the center of this genre, but character interactions and teamwork to create an end product.
What is exquisite about this is how the sky is the limit for these characters, and creativity is abundant. Likewise, in 2003 acclaimed director Lars Von Trier made a documentary style film named The Five Obstructions. Trier took his idol director, Jorgen Leth, and had him recreate a short film he made called The Perfect Human(1967) five times with different guidelines. First, we can immediately classify this as a film about film due to the film relying largely on the concept of film making and seeing a character having his imagination challenged.
Each time, the obstructions that Trier proposed were meant to hinder or constrain Leth from recreating the film successfully. In a movie review, The New York Times states, “His goal is clearly to shatter Mr. Leth’s nearly superhuman composure, to wrench him out of longstanding habits and techniques and to break down his aesthetic and psychological defenses. ” The audience is seeing first hand a person facing mental obstacles that must be overcome. Interestingly enough, these obstructions do the opposite of the expected causing Leth’s creativity to flourish.
Similar to The Cameraman, is we view these films from a profound level we can see characters over coming hardships to create an art form. Trier’s intent of this project is to help his friend expand his thinking and self-meaning. Leth was able to take his already original cinema and make it more and more unique with each rendition. Certainty, in a way these conflicts Leth faces projected him towards his accomplishments. From flying to different countries, to being “punished”, Leth does not quit. One obstruction forced Leth to create a cartoon or animation form of The Perfect Human.
Leth explicitly states that he hates cartoons and does not know where to begin. Fascinatingly, Leth creates a beautiful version of his short film with smooth and graceful animated motion pictures. The obstruction he disliked the most was formed into an outstanding work of art. That is why this film about film acts as such a special example of this genre. The plot is not only centered around film, but also a man who faces mental adversity that challenges his own work previously created. It is for sure a “fresh variation” of this genre.
Overall, by analyzing films about film it is evident that these types of films are a legitimate genre that deserves to be studied. These films are produced in different languages, cultures, and from a variety of differently styled directors. They focus on the simple art of filmmaking and how boundaries of creativity are only set by our minds. It is not easy to make something fulfilling, but with determination it can be done. In the film Day for Night(1973) we have a stressed out director who has to deal with his main actor dying, a heartbroken supporting actor, and an alcoholic mess of a supporting actress.
Nonetheless, the film is made and any conflict is either dealt with, or solved. In reality, we thrive off of this struggle, and it is what makes us human. An audience can watch a film about film and see themselves in it. We wright rough copies of essays for a reason, test ourselves, and practice for an upcoming game. As cheesy as it sounds, what doesn’t kill you, indeed makes you stronger. Film about film is a genre that deserves more respect; hard work and creativity will prevail.