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What is meant

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What is meant by terms such as 'generic instability' or 'generic constellations'? Discuss a film from the module which crosses the definition borders suggested by these terms. Classifying films according to genre was one of the earliest methods of organising the production and marketing of films by Hollywood. It allows for standardisation and product differentiation in a market flooded by competitors. However genre is more than an industry device. It is a fluid and changing state of film conventions. It is virtually impossible to find a film that belongs to a single genre as most incorporate many different styles. 'Silence of the Lambs' (1991), for example, may appear to be the classic example of a horror movie yet it includes the sub genres of psychological drama, crime and thriller. In this way it is seen to be 'generically instable' or forming a 'generic constellation'. Genres, although possessing distinctive patterns can alter depending on their use and relationship to other genres (Corrigan and white, 2004, 290). 'Silence of the Lambs', produced by Jonathan Demme, demonstrates how filmmakers can use generic constellations and instability to distance a credible film from the seemingly un-credible genre of horror. The use of genres in films, like stars, emerged from the Hollywood studio need to identify audience anticipations and vice versa (Cook, 2003, 290). Genres have a recognisable repertoire of conventions such as plot, characters, setting and narrative development: "[Genre is] a category or classification of a group of movie's in which the ...read more.


Horror films effectively centre on the dark and forbidden, through strange and alarming events. The genre explores our primal nature and its fears: nightmares, vulnerability, terror of the unknown and fear of sexuality. Whatever dark, primitive, and revolting traits simultaneously attract and repel us are featured in this genre (www.filmsite.org). Many of these factors are present in the Silence of the Lambs. Buffalo Bill's sexual deviance, Lector's cannibalism and the gruesome images of skinned corpses are key examples. As a rule horror does not constellate with other genres easily yet the generic constellation of horror and psychological thriller was extremely successful for Silence of the Lambs. Throughout the film there is a contested balance between horror and psychological thriller. The generic instability is created by the battle between the opposing sets of conventions contributed by the genres. This is particularly apparent in the penultimate scene of the movie where unwitting hero Clarice Starling stumbles into the layer of Buffalo Bill. As an audience our emotions swing from unbearable suspense to overwhelming terror as we wonder where the psychotic killer will emerge from and fear for the safety of the female protagonist. It has all the pleasures of a horror film yet its' generic constellation provides security to the viewer who wishes to distance himself from the low calibre horror fan. The promotion and mise en scene pre release sought to provoke an association with gothic, a more sophisticated sibling to the horror genre: " Some critics have seen ...read more.


The film intentionally plays upon confusions between representations of fiction and reality. By the nature of generic constellations films will often go through a series of generic instabilities in context with new audiences and social beliefs. 'Silence of the Lambs' was initially classified as a thriller, crime and psychological movie but as time has progressed it has gradually reduced to psychological horror. The process of generic instability is typically forgotten, hence our belief that classic Hollywood operated via pure genre films (Altman, 2001, 140). It seems generic instability and generic constellation relate to the idea that genres are fluid, ever changing states of cinematic convention. In order for films to be creative and original genres need to constellate and/ or become instable. Although audiences view a film with a set of generic expectations they want the film to work autonomously within it's selection of genres. There is no such thing as a pure genre film or 'X factor' that optimises what creates a horror, romance or western genre. This is evident in Silence of the Lambs. The movie works superbly as a horror and a psychological thriller. It is hard to distinguish where one genre ends and anther begins and surely this is a sign of a successful generic constellation? Although critics and filmmakers avoided the classification of horror it has illustrated that the genre can be as legitimate and respected as any other. It also important to remember that although genre has important economic and cinematic influences it cannot be accorded sole determination over the end product. ...read more.

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