University of Texas Press Society for Cinema & Media Studies

A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre Author(s): Rick Altman Source: Cinema Journal, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Spring, 1984), pp. 6-18 Published by: University of Texas Press on behalf of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1225093 . Accessed: 17/10/2011 21:25
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Thetaskof the theorist thento adjudicate not unsatisfactory amongconflicting approaches.Whybother theorize. will soon be publishedby Indiana University Press. and theory.whereby theoryis to be avoided pragmatic at all costs. as in of Often. theseuncertainties reflectconstitutive weaknesses curof Instead. No. as seen through the musical. French. andthusestablish alternate two of texts. On the contrary. Americans we to tendto see it as a last resort. pragmatism whenwe see one.According thisview. moregenrecriticism read. American ingtheirwork. His book on the problemsof genre criticism. 3. so much by dismissing butby constructing model a which the between reveals relationship positions. differing the Whereas Frenchclearlyviewtheoryas a firstprinciple.Everything to whenthereareno problems solve?We all knowa genre asks. Spring 1984 . the moreuncertaintynotein the choiceor extentof essential I critical terms. when by it wouldbe one thingif these contradictions simplya matterof were Now. analysts.they may are almost neverasked-let aloneanswered-in the fieldof cinema studies.the timefortheoryis nevertheless us. Theclockhasstruck upon we The I thirteen. Evenin this limited.Threecontradictions particular in seem worthyof a goodscratch.something turnto whenall else fails.whatappears hesitation the terminology a singlecriticwillturn intoa clearcontradiction studies twoor morecriticsare compared. and ComparativeLiterature at the Universityof Iowa. critical claimsandtheirfunction within broader cultural a context.genre for would called onlyin theunlikely be eventthatknowledgeable theory genre critics on is disagreed basicissues.history.however. Whenwe establish corpusof a genrewe generally the tendto do two at once. 6 Cinema Journal 23. rent notionsof genre. Scratch to onlywhereit itches. each correthings groups Rick Altman is associate professor of Film. fact. uncomplicated havefeltlittleneedto reflect on underlygenrecritics openly the assumptions to seemsso clear.A Semantic/Syntactic Approach To Film Genre by Rick Altman What is a genre?Whichfilmsare genrefilms?Howdo we knowto As as which genretheybelong? fundamental thesequestions seem. of Mostcomfortable theseemingly in world Hollywood classics. hadbestcallin thetheoreticians.I suggestthat these are not temporary bound disappear soonas we havemoreinformation better to as or problems. view.

No. the same films are mentioned again and again. The relative status of these alternateapproachesto the constitutionof a generic corpus may easily be sensed from the followingtypical conversation: -I mean. Spring 1984 When is a musicalnot a musical?When it has Elvis Presley in it. With the heavy influence of semiotics on generic theory over the last two decades.. Now there's a real musical. -Why not? They're loaded with songs and they've got a narrativethat ties the numberstogether. The contribution of Propp. it was in order to cover over a basic flaw in the semiotic understanding of textual analysis. because of the special place reserved for genre study within the semiotic project. I suppose. but instead in connection with attempts to arrive at the overall meaning or structure of a genre. 7 . however.On the other hand. don't they? -Yeah. it is perfectly includedin a particulargeneric corpus possiblefor a film to be simultaneously and excluded from that same corpus.g.spondingto a differentnotionof corpus. The fixity of the linguistic community thus serves as justification for Saussure's fundamentally Cinema Journal 23. and Todorov to genre studies has not been uniformly productive.This inclusive list is the kindthat gets consecratedby generic encyclopediasor checklists. and other arbitersof taste sticking to a familiarcanon which has little to do with the broad. If structuralist critics systematically chose as object of their analysis large groups of popular texts. one of the most striking aspects of Saussure's theory of language is his emphasis on the inability of any single individual to effect change within that language.On the one handwe have an unwieldy list of texts corresponding a simple.Because there are two competing notions of generic corpus on our critical scene. what little generic theory there was tended therefore to be confused with historical analysis.tautological to definitionof the genre (e. A second uncertainty is associated with the relative status of theory and history in genre studies. Before semiotics came along. or musical= film with diegeticmusic). Now. This exclusive list of films generallyoccurs not in a dictionarycontext. I guess you'd have to call Fun in Acapulco a musical. what do you do with Elvis Presley films? You can hardlycall them musicals. not only because they are well known or particularlywell made. 3.Here. Frye. generic titles and definitions were largely borrowed from the industry itself. we find critics.but it's sure no Singin' in the Rain. self-conscious critical vocabulary came to be systematically preferred to the now suspect user vocabulary. Levi-Strauss. theoreticians. tautologicaldefinition. western= film that takes place in the AmericanWest. but because they somehowseem to representthe genre more fully and faithfullythan other apparentlymore tangentialfilms. What may at first have seemed no more than an uncertaintyon the part of the critical communitynow clearly appears as a contradiction.

semiotic genre analysis was by definitionand from the start devoted to bypassinghistory. and genre history. 3. to existingoutsidethe flowof time. the first semiotics ran headlong into a set of restrictions and contradictionsthat eventually spawned the more process-orientedsecond semiotics. which has always accepted as given the timelessness of a characteristic structure. and thus on the 8 Cinema Journal 23.deployment.As long as Hollywoodgenres are conceivedas Platoniccategories. for it involves the two general directionstaken by genre criticismas a whole over the last decade or two. semioticiansof the sixties and early seventies blindedus to the discursivepower of generic formations. Genres were always-and continue to be-treated as if they spring from the head of Zeus. Preferringnarrativeto narration.2More and more.synchronic approach to language.and disappearance this same structure. A third contradictionlooms larger still. we are finding that genres are far from exhibitingthe homogeneitywhich this synchronicapproachposits. Whereas one Hollywood genre may be borrowedwith little change from another medium. while a third may go throughan extended series of paradigms. structuralist critics plungedheadlonginto the trap. they were unable to perceive the importantrole of genres in exercisinginfluenceon the interpretive community. Spring 1984 . however.and many anotherinfluential genre attemptsof Propp.as if the weightof numerous"similar" of texts were sufficientto locate the meaningof a text independently a specific audience. they never fully addressed the notionof interpretivecommunityimpliedby Saussure'slinguisticcommunity. change constantly. to compromisetheir sytems by the historicalnotion of analyst. it willbe impossible reconcilegenre theory. a FollowingLevi-Strauss. these theoreticians instead substituted the generic contextfor the linguistic community. Treating genres as neutral constructs.Levi-Strauss. as scholars come to know the full range of individualHollywoodgenres. When literary semioticiansapplied this linguisticmodel to problemsof textual analysis. No. those that see generic texts as between a specific productionsystem and a given negotiatinga relationship still hold to a notion of genre that is fundamentally ahistoricalin audience. which has concentrated on chroniclingthe of develoment.system to process. It is thus not surprisingto find that even full-blown the most advancedof currentgenre theories.Because they treated genres as the interpretive community. nature. It is in this context that we must see the resolutely synchronic Todorov. and surge recognizablybefore settling into a familiar pattern.none of which may be claimedas dominant. taking Hollywood'sideologicaleffect for a naturalahistoricalcause. and histoire to discours. a second genre may develop slowly. Far from being sensitive to concerns of history. growingnumberof critics throughoutthe seventies dwelled on the mythical qualities of Hollywoodgenres.Insteadof reflectingopenly on the way in which Hollywood uses its genres to short-circuitthe normalinterpretiveprocess.' Unwilling linguistic community.

The filmindustry'sdesireto please and its need to attract consumerswas viewed as the mechanismwhereby spectators were actually able to designate the kind of films they wanted to see. No. Looked at in this way. By choosing the films it would patronize.3It has the merit not only of accounting for the intensity of identificationtypical of Americangenre film audiences. and a growingnumberof journals.which remainsfaithfulto Levi-Strauss in narrativesystems. And even when the topic is limited to genre theoryalone. the audience revealed its preferencesand its beliefs. for a price. Will Wright.the ideological approachclaims that Hollywoodtakes advantageof spectatorenergy and psychic investment in order to lure the audience into Hollywood'sown positions. film-goingoffers a satisfactionmore akin to that associatedwith establishedreligion. an untruthwhose most characteristicfeature is its abilityto masqueradeas truth. the how nationalwill. Far more attentive to discursive concerns than the ritual approach. but it also encouragesthe placingof genre film narrativesinto an appropriately wider context of narrativeanalysis.MichaelWood. but to be implicitin every majorfield of current genre analysis. 3.Mostopenly championed JohnCawelti. and Thomas Schatz. we each individual might say that it characterizes genre as a specific type of lie. Simplifyinga bit.Whenever genres are discussed. thus inducingHollywoodstudiosto producefilms in reflectingits desires. the oppositionof an inclusive list to an exclusive canon surfaces. In nearly every argument about the limits of a generic corpus.however.Participation the genre filmexperiencethus reinforces and desires.The two are irreducibly argumentscontinueto represent opposed.a parallelideological approachwas demonstrating audiences are manipulated the businessand politicalinterestsof Hollywood.Frank McConnell.this ritualapproach by appearsas well in books by Leo Braudy. Far from being limitedto mere entertainspectatorexpectations ment.Starting by with Cahiers du cinema and moving rapidlyto Screen. with the studios simply serving. genres are simply the generalized.yet these irreconcilable the most interestingand well defended of recent approachesto Hollywood genre film. no agreementcan be foundbetweenthose who propose a ritual function for film genres and those who champion an ideological Cinema Journal 23.the divergentconcernsof theorists and historiansare increasinglyobvious. Spring 1984 9 . Jump Cut.this view has recentlyjoined hands with a more general critiqueof the mass media offered by the FrankfurtSchool. Curiously. the ideologicalapproachstresses questionsof emphasizing representationand identificationpreviouslyleft aside. identifiablestructures through which Hollywood'srhetoricflows. while the ritual approachwas attributingultimate authorshipto the audience. Here we have three problemswhich I take not to be limitedto a single school of criticismor to a single genre.to audience'sritualrelationship genre film. Whereas the ritualapproachsees Hollywoodas respondingto societal pressureand thus expressingaudiencedesires.

the lonely sheriff. For Kitses the western grows out of a dialectic between the West as Garden and as Desert (between culture and nature. and the like-thus stressing the semantic elements which make up the genre-and definitions which play up instead certain constitutive relationships between undesignated and variable placeholders-relationships which might be called the genre's fundamental syntax. 3. In his extremely influential introduction to The Fantastic. An entirely different solution is suggested by Jim Kitses. The western. like Frederic Jameson. shots. pragmatic. stock characters ("the tough/soft cowboy. as well as technical elements ("use of fast tracking and crane shots"). such as earth. and mimetic. In assessing theories of genre. Paul Hernadi thus recognizes four general classes of genre theory: expressive.wouldexplainthe circumstances underlyingtheir existence. No. is a "film whose action. as well as elementary genres to their complex counterparts. critics have often labeled them according to a particular theory's most salient features or the type of activity to which it devotes its most concentrated attention. yet overall it follows the same semantic model. undifferentiated generic corpus. thus paving the way for a critical methodology whichencompassesand indeedthriveson their inherentcontradictions. Marc Vernet's more detailed list is more sensitive to cinematic concerns. Jean Mitry provides us with a clear example of the most common definition. We find ourselvesdesperatelyin need of a theory which. and leather").4 While there is anything but general agreement on the exact frontier separating semantic from syntactic views. sets. and the conditions of existence in the Far West between 1840 and 1900. without any dismissing of these widelyheld positions. attitudes. while the syntactic view privileges the structures into which they are arranged. and the strong but tender woman"). who emphasizes not the vocabulary of the western but the relationships linking lexical elements. the values. situated in the American West. What we need now is a new critical strategy enabling us simultaneously to understand and to capitalize on the tensions existing in current generic criticism. Spring 1984 . The semantic approach thus stresses the genre's building blocks. 10 Cinema Journal 23. is consistent with the atmosphere. dust. water. locations. The difference between semantic and syntactic definitions is perhaps at its most apparent in familiar approaches to the western. Vernet outlines general atmosphere ("emphasis on basic elements. Mitry proposes.to fear logical contradictions but instead to respect the extraordinary energy generated by the play of contradictory forces within a field. Tzvetan Todorov opposes historical to theoretical genres. the faithful or treacherous Indian. Others. we If we have learnednot have learnedanythingfrom post-structuralist criticism. characters. community and purpose. Mitry's nearly tautological definition implies a broad. structural." Based on the presence or absence of easily identifiable elements. have followed Todorov and other French semioticians in distinguishing between semantic and syntactic approaches to genre. we can as a whole distinguish between generic definitions which depend on a list of common traits.

many argumentscenteringon generic problems plied have simplytalked have arisenonly whensemanticand syntactictheoreticians each other.spaghetti. and Unconquered(DeMille. The western thus takes place on the borderbetweentwo lands.individual. the "Pennsylvania varieties)representsa quandaryonly because criticshave insistedon dismissing one type of definition and approach in favor of another.Tautological Cinema Journal 23.In short. Conversely. Employingfamiliarcharactersset in relationships west of the Mississippi.in order to discoverwhetherthe proposedsemantic/syntactic approachprovidesany new understanding. on the other an exclusive pantheon. As a rule. betweentwo eras. Wide and Handsome(Mamoulian. But they do it in Pennsylvania. 3.the syntactic in approachsurrendersbroad applicability return for the abilityto isolate a structures. 1939). and with a hero who remainsdividedbetweentwo value systems (for he combinesthe town's morals with the outlaws'skills).and sci-fi In fact. choose the syntacticapproachand you do withoutbroad applicability. because they don't fit Mitry's definition? western"(like the urban.and in the wrong century. 1947) have definite affinitieswith the western. In termsof the western.This alternativeseeminglyleaves genre's specificmeaning-bearing the genre analyst in a quandary:choose the semantic view and you give up explanatory power. I propose a semantic/syntactic approachto genre study. and disseminatedseparately. where man encounters his uncivilizeddouble.and in fact that some of the most importantquestionsof genre study can be asked only when they are combined.1937). No. each unawareof the other'sdivergentorientation. semantic and syntactic approachesto genre have been proposed.that they can be combined.analyzed.future and past). Now let us returnto the three contradictions delineatedearlier. approachto generic analysisand definition. Spring 1984 1 1 . in passing we might well note the divergentqualitiesassociated withthese two approaches. Indeed. the split corpus that characterizescurrent genre study-on the one side an inclusivelist. and not vice-versa. To most observersit seems quite clear that filmslike High. these filmsconstructplots similarto their counterparts and develop a frontier structure clearly derived from decades of western novels and films. It should now be quite clear that each corpus correspondsto a different semanticdefinitions. imevaluated.I maintain past that these two categories of generic analysis are complementary.5 Now.in spite of the complementarity by their names. DrumsAlong the Mohawk (Ford. John Cawelti attempts to systematizethe western in a similarfashion:the western is always set on or near a frontier.the problemof the so-called"Pennsylvania western"is instructivehere.Whilethe semanticapproachhas littleexplanatory power. The western'svocabularyis thus generatedby this syntactic relationship. it is applicableto a larger numberof films.First. Are these films westernsbecause they share the syntax of hundredsof films we call westerns? Or are they not westerns.

it is only when we begin to take up problemsof genre historythat the full value of the semantic/syntactic approachbecomes obvious.a dual approachpermitsa far more accurate descriptionof the numerous inter-genericconnections typically suppressed by single-minded cinemaaccurately approaches. In fact. As I pointed out earlier. we have insulatedthat syntax.and so on.the critical corpus of the melodramahas largelybeen restrictedto the post-wareffortsof Sirk and Minnelli. I suggest that genres arise in one of two fundamental ways:eithera relativelystableset of semanticgivensis developed into throughsyntactic experimentation a coherentand durablesyntax.6 short. For every film that participates of activelyin the elaboration a genre's syntax the there are numerousothers content to deployin no particular relationship associatedwith the genre. quite obviously. As a working hypothesis. stress a narrowrange of texts that privilegespecific syntacticrelationships. outline a large genre of semantically similartexts." the musical is defined in terms of the so-called "Platonic ideal" of integration. Westernsand horrorfilms are often of referred to as "classic. by that is by a differentsyntacticpatternwhichthe genre adopts.Even in the relativelyfew cases where problemsof generic historyhave been addressed. Spring 1984 . most genre theoreticianshave followedthe semiotic model and steered clear of historicalconsiderations. In the first already existing syntax adopts case. To insist on one of these approachesto the exclusion of the other is to turn a blindeye on the necessarily dual nature of any generic corpus. Now. By simultaneously acceptingsemanticand syntacticnotionsof genre we avail ourselvesof a possibleway to deal criticallywithdifferinglevels of genericity. alongwiththe genre theorythat studies it. We need to recognizethat elements traditionally not all genre filmsrelateto theirgenre in the same way or to the same extent. No. In addition. from the flow of time. no major genre remains unchangedover the many decadesof its existence.It is simplynot possibleto describeHollywood withoutthe abilityto accountfor the numerousfilmsthat innovateby combining the syntax of one genre with the semanticsof another. 3. the genre's characteristicsemantic configurationis identifiablelong 12 Cinema Journal 23. critics have been extremely clever in their creationof categoriesdesignedto negate the notion of change and to imply the perpetualself-identity each genre. In orderto mask the scandalof applyingsynchronic analysis to an evolving form.genre In theory has up to now aimed almost exclusively at the elaborationof a the synchronicmodel approximating syntactic operationof a specific genre.intent as they are on explainingthe genre. while syntactic definitions.each characterized a differentbasicversionof the genre.with their goal of broad applicability. Lackinga workablehypothesisregardingthe historicaldimensionof generic syntax. as in the attemptsof Metz and Wright to periodizethe western. or an a new set of semantic elements. history has been conceptualizedas nothing more than a discontinuoussuccession of discretemoments.

After the slack years of 1931-32.the genre increasinglyrelatedthe energy of musicmaking to the joy of coupling. When we analyze the large variety of war-timefilms that portray the Japanese or Germans as villains.the musical's characteristicsyntax can be shown by the generic historianto grow out of the linkingof specific semantic elements at identifiable points. Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. No. for example. the strength of the community. interrelationships This continuitybetween history and theory is operative as well in the second type of generic developmentposited earlier.thus justifyingthe previously beforea syntacticpatternhas becomestabilized. are not likelyto fall into the trapof equating Star Wars with the western (as numerousrecent critics have done). A measureof is thus developedbetweenthe task of the historianand that of the continuity theoretician. Or take the developmentof the sciencefiction film. the genre first began borrowingthe syntactic relationshipspreviously establishedby the horror film. with music regularly reflecting the sorrowof death or parting. By maintainingsimultaneousdescriptions we accordingto bothparameters. Again it is the interplayof syntax and semantics that provides grist for both the historicaland the theoreticalmill. mentioneddualityof the generic corpus. for the tasks of both are now redefined as the study of the between semantic elements and syntactic bonds. But whatis it that energizesthe transformation a borrowed of semantics into a uniquelyHollywoodsyntax? Or what is it that justifiesthe intrusionof a new semanticsinto a well definedsyntactic situation?Far from postulating a uniquelyinternal.formalprogression. and the Far pleasuresof entertainment.In dealingwith the early developmentof the musical. however.relatingfilm analysis.or the serial Through Don Winslowof the Navy simplytransferto a new set of semanticelements the syntax of the righteous cops-punish-criminals genre which the gangster genre of the early thirtieshad turnedinto startingwith G-Menin 1935.by taking seriouslythe multipleconnectionsbetweensemanticsand syntax. At first definedonly by a relativelystable science-fictionsemantics. thus miss the extent to which films like All the Night.I wouldproposethat the relationship betweenthe semanticand the syntacticconstitutesthe very site of negotiation Cinema Journal 23.In cases of this first type. we establish a new continuity. we tend to have recourse to extra-filmicevents in order to explain We particularcharacterizations. In short. genre theory. and genre history. Spring 1984 1 3 . we might well followthe attempts during the 1927-30 period to build a backstage or night club semantics into a melodramaticsyntax. even thoughit sharescertainsyntacticpatternswiththat genre. only to move in recent years increasingly towardthe syntax of the western.while maintaining the substantially same semanticmaterials. description of the way in which a set of semantic givens develops into a henceforth relativelystable syntax constitutesthe historyof the genre while at the same the time identifying structureson whichgenre theorydepends. 3. the musicalbegan to grow in a new direction. from being exiled from history.

The filmsof John Ford. for example. 3.the successful ritual/ideological"fit" is while almostalwaysone that disguisesHollywood's potentialfor manipulation its capacity for entertainment. Hollywooddoes not simply lend its voice to the public'sdesires.betweenHollywood and its audience. No. Bible. championsof Ford's understanding of Americanvalues have stressedthe communitarian expression transparent side of his films. I would claim.most genres go througha period of accommodationduring which the public's desires are fitted to Hollywood'spriorities(and vice-versa).within the same general one corpus.Just as Minnelliand Sirk dominatethe criticismof melodrama.7 The corpus of nearly every 14 Cinema Journal 23. only thefilm noir has failedto attract criticsof both sides to a shared corpus of major texts-no doubt because of the general inabilityof ritual stance. starting with the influential Cahiers du cinema study of YoungMr. Lincoln. when critics of opposingpersuasionsdisagree over a major issue. The structures of Hollywoodcinema. within a particularsemantic environment.and thus betweenritualand ideological uses of genre. with critics of both camps towardand eventuallybasingtheir argumentson the same narrow gravitating range of films. each supporting point of view. that small groupof texts most clearlyreflectinga genre's stable syntax.A similarsituationobtainsin the musical.they are rarelyquotingthe same passages. playing up Whenever a lasting fit is obtained-which it is whenever a semantic genre becomes a syntactic one-it is because a common ground has been ideological investment of those very same films.are suited to the special bilingualism requiredof a durablegenre. while others. serve to mask the very distinctionbetween ritual and ideologicalfunctions.The strikingfact aboutritual and ideologicalgenre theoreticians.however. where a growing body of ritualanalysesof the Astaire/Rogersand post-warMGMFreed unit films is matched by an increasing number of studies demonstratingthe major genre has developed in the same way. If it takes a long time to establish a generic syntax.is that they regularlystress the same canon. critics to accommodatethe genre's anti-communitarian This general agreement on a canon stems. Because the public doesn't want to know that it's being manipulated. when Catholicsand Protestantsor liberalsand conservativesquote the Thus. On the contrary. Often. it is becauseonly promising certain types of structure. From Sarris and to and Bogdanovich Schatz and Wright. from the fundamentallybivalent nature of any relatively stable generic syntax. Of all major genres. Spring 1984 . like those of Americanpopularmythologyas a whole. and if many seemingly formulasor successfulfilmsnever spawna genre.two separateand opposedcanons. have shown how a call to community determined can be usedto lurespectatorsinto a carefullychosen. Hitchcock has become nearly synonymous with the thriller. ideologically subject position.have playeda majorrole in the development of ritual and ideological approaches alike. nor does it simplymanipulatethe audience. it is because they have established.

nor solely to its status as apologyfor the Hollywoodenterprise. film productionduringthe studio years. is this sleightof hand.corresponding the normalextent of the concept "horse"withinthe language. No. by developingnew syntactic ties. therefore. Balzac'sLa Recherche de l'absolu. For the nineteenth century.one that is far too complex to permit full treatment here. Spring 1984 1 5 . horrorfilmsborrowfroma nineteenth-century literary traditiontheir dependenceon the presence of a monster. a few remarks may be in order. that most clearly characterizesAmerican this strategic overdetermination. order.that theorydistinguishes the primary. In the western. do we locate the exact border between the semantic and the syntactic? And how are these two categories related?Each of these questionsconstitutesan essentialarea of inquiry. they clearly perpetuatethe linguisticmeaningof the monster("threateninginhuman being"). attemptof some humanscientistto tamperwith the divine order.This to primarylevel of meaning. or Stevenson'sDr. the appearance of the monster is invariablytied to a Romantic the over-reaching. 3. Within a single text.is matchedby a series of othermeaningsderived of from the structuresinto which the westernsets the horse. a region where the audience'sritualvalues coincidewith Hollywood's of ones. Opposition the horse to the automobileor locomotive("iron horse") reinforcesthe organic. The approachto genre sketchedout in this articleof course raisessome questionsof its own. the same phenomenonmay have more than one meaning depending on whetherwe considerit at the linguisticor textual level. Just where.Why ratherthan. A reasonableobserver might well ask why my approachattributessuch importanceto the seemingly banal distinctionbetweena text's materialsand the structuresinto whichthey are arranged. the horse is an animalthat serves as a methodof locomotion. Jekyll and Mr. sense of the term "horse" already implicitin the language. for example. In texts like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.8 Briefly. The development a specificsyntax withina given semantic ideological context thus serves a doublefunction:it bindselement to elementin a logical audiencedesiresto studio concerns.the more cinematicdivisionbetween this distinction elements and the technical means deployed in representingthem? diegetic The answerto these questionslies in a general theory of textual signification between whichI have expoundedelsewhere. Hyde. Nevertheless.found.linguisticmeaningof a text's componentparts and the secondary. In doing so.but to It its abilityto carry out bothfunctionssimultaneously." pre-industrial In the same way. at the same time accommodating The successfulgenre owes its success not alone to its reflectionof an audience ideal. a studiedsyntax equates Cinema Journal 23. for example. or textual meaning which those parts acquire through a structuring process internalto the text or to the genre. for example. but at the same time. they generate an important new set of textual meanings. non-mechanical thus transferring that concept from the paradigm"methodof locomotion"to the paradigm"soon-to-be-outmoded carry-over.

Spectatorresponse.but also to the historicaldimensionof generic functioning.attributing both the monstrosity being outsidenature. in This position. to name but a few).but withan equallyoveractivetwentieth-century body. With the horrorfilm. and the secondary. The distinctionbetween the semantic and the syntactic. however.and big caper films. Spring 1984 . 3. This distinction is stressed in the approachto genre presentedhere not because it is convenientnor because it correspondsto a modish theory of the relation between language and narrative. has been a cliche of the last two It decadesto insistthat structurecarriesmeaning. The Hollywoodgenres that have proven the most durableare precisely those that have establishedthe most coherentsyntax (the western. In proposingsuch a model. thus establishingwith the same primary"linguistic"materials(the monster. No. linguisticelements of which all texts are made.Againand again.that makingmusic-at the linguisticlevel primarily way of making a living-becomes in the musical a figure for making love-a textual meaningessential to the constitutionof that syntactic genre. may seem to be impliedby my model. If I locate the borderbetweenthe semanticand the syntactic at the dividingline between the linguisticand the textual. as definedby established religionand science.It is in this a way.phallicrather than scientific in nature. it is thus in responsenot just to the theoretical. death)entirelynew textual meanings. in the way I to have definedit here.so generic meaning comes into being only through the of the repeateddeployment substantially same syntacticstrategies.the musical).but because the semantic/syntactic distinctionis fundamentalto a theoryof how meaningof one kind contributes and eventuallyestablishes to meaning of another. for example.a different not syntaxrapidlyequatesmonstrosity withthe overactivenineteenth-century mind. thus corresponds a distinctionbetweenthe primary. I believe. the syntax impliedhere is that of the genre. Just as individualtexts establish new meanings for familiarterms only by subjectingwell known semantic units to a syntactic redetermination.those that disappearthe quickest depend entirely on recurringsemantic elements. textual meaningswhich are sometimesconstructedby virtue of the syntactic bonds established between primary elements.whilethe choice of structured elementsis largelynegligible the processof signification. which does not appearas generic syntax unless it is reinforcednumeroustimes by the syntactic patterns of individualtexts. We must of course rememberthat. I may leave too much room for one particulartype of misunderstanding. while each individualtext clearly has a syntax of its own. is heavily conditioned by the choice of semanticelements and atmosphere. never developinga stable syntax (reporter.catastrophe.but is in fact not borne out by my research.because a given semantics 16 Cinema Journal 23.fear.most openly championedby Levi-Straussin his cross-culturalmethodologyfor studyingmyth. the monster is identified with his human counterpart'sunsatisfiedsexual appetite.to of man and monster. the chase.

Beyond Genre:New Directions in Literary Classification (Ithaca:Cornell University Press. 1975). America in the Movies. Leo Braudy. ThomasSchatz. Notes. His term thus approximatesthe sense of "global meaning. 1975). Tzvetan Todorov. There is thus a constantcirculationin both directionsbetween the semantic and the syntactic. and the Studio System (New York: RandomHouse. The World in a Frame: What We See in Films (Garden City: Anchor Books. This interpenetration the semantic and the syntactic throughthe agency of the spectatorclearly deservesfurtherstudy.g. 1. In time. Especially in VladimirPropp. 3. in western texts. No. 1972). Perhaps syntactic approachto genre raises numerousquestionsfor which other theories have created no space. 1969). "The Structureof Myths" in Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books. Grammairedu Decameron (The Hague: Mouton. Michael Wood. as I hope I have shown. Frank McConnell. Morphology of the Folktale (Bloomington:Indiana Research Centrein Anthropology.The Six-Gun Mystique (BowlingGreen:BowlingGreen University Popular Press.commuused in a specific culturalsituationwillrecallto an actualinterpretive been the particularsyntax with which that semantics has traditionally nity in other texts. is matchedby a paralleltendency to expect specific syntactic signals to lead to pre-determinedsemantic fields (e. Tzvetan Todorov. "Magical Narratives: Romance as Genre. the semantic/ study. The Fantastic.such as the general problemof the "evolution"of genres throughsemanticor syntactic shifts. 1981). between the linguisticand the textual. Will Wright. and The Fantastic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1975)." while mine is closer to "lexical choices. 2. 1980). or Santa Maria. this new modelfor the understandto ing of genre willprovideanswersfor many of the questionstraditional genre more importantstill. Whereas he stresses the overall semantic impact of a text. It Had Slipped My Mind (New York: Delta. It should be noted here that my use of the term "semantic" differs from Jameson's. I am dealing with the individualsemantic units of the text. while-at least until recentlya betweentwo malesthroughout text has impliedconfrontation and alternation of the semantics of the duel). set up by a semantic associated signal. Paul Hernadi. regular alternationbetween male and female characters creates expectation of the semantic elements implied by romance. Suffice it to say for the present that linguisticmeanings(and thus the import of semanticelements)are in large part derivedfrom the textual meaningsof previoustexts. John Cawelti. 1971) and Adventure. Filmmaking. The Spoken Seen: Film and the Romantic Imagination (Baltimore:Johns HopkinsUniversity Press. 1976). I believe. FredericJameson. Hollywood Genres:Formulas. Still other questions. Even Stephen Neale's recent discursivelyorientedstudy falls prey to this problem:Genre (London:British Film Institute. ClaudeLevi-Strauss.1958). 3. deserve far more attentionthan I have given them here. 4. Sixguns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western(Berkeley:Universityof California Press." New Literary History 7 (1975): 135-63. Spring 1984 17 . 1975). This syntactic expectation. 1963). 1977). Mystery and Romance (Chicago:Universityof Chicago Press." Cinema Journal 23.

8. 1981): 39-51. Will Wright. 18 Cinema Journal 23. 10-14. The Hollywood Musical (Bloomington: Press. 148-61. and Jane Feuer. No. Rick Altman(London& Boston:Routledge & Kegan Paul. both of whom attempt to confront the interdependence of ritual and ideological and Utopia. "IntratextualRewriting:Textualityas LanguageFormation. 111-12. CharlesF. 7. Christian Metz. Horizons West (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. "Entertainment The Musical." in Genre: components. Jim Kitses. 1981). Wendy Steiner (Austin:Universityof Texas Press.1976). 276. Indiana University 175-89. 1974).5. Language and Cinema (The Hague: Mouton. 6. Spring 1984 .ed. 1982). 1963). 1969). ed. Sixguns and Society."in The Sign in Music and Literature. Dictionnaire du cinema (Paris: Larousse. Altman. The Six-Gun Mystique. 3. Jean Mitry. This relationshipis especially interestingin the work of Richard Dyer and Jane Feuer.See in particularRichardDyer. Marc Vernet. Lectures dufilm (Paris:Albatros. John Cawelti.

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