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In art as in life, we sort people into categories, which can be described in various ways: personality traits, prototypes, stereotypes, or character types. For simplicity’s sake, I will call these character categories types, to distinguish this concept from others that are closely related but not identical to it. Types may operate at various degrees of generality, from highly specific genre types such as gangster’s moll and mad scientist to very general social types such as man and child. Traditional literary and film criticism has not been kind to types: as one influential study of narrative puts it, “insofar as a character is a type, he is less a character.”1 But insofar as type means category, we cannot help but think of characters as types—they permeate our whole experience of character. This chapter will try to show the necessity of typing to characterization, attempting to rescue the concept of the character type from the scrap heap of critical concepts and show its indispensability both to theorizing narrative and to understanding specific characters.
In chapter 3 I shall discuss characters’ personality traits which spectators infer on the evidence of their behavior or, less commonly, which narration states explicitly in dialogue. That discussion is complementary to this one: once a character’s personality has been identified in relation to narrative events, we can begin to think about what categories the character belongs in. However, while this description may have some theoretical purchase or may be a useful procedure for doing film criticism, as a descriptive chronology of film viewing, it is simply backwards. We don’t first perceive traits, then types; categorization of people doesn’t work in such a linear fashion. Types are actually more salient than traits because they are more richly associative.2 We tend to think more in types than traits, even if types are defined to some extent by their constituent traits. You don’t first see that a person is short, dressed for school, speaking in a high pitch, and calling an adult “Mom,” then reason that he must be a child. Rather, you see the traits and the type all at once, and the type offers you more useful information than the traits. Traits function in networks of generalized information about people; each type may be seen as a connection of associated trait nodes (and also of associated behavior or emotion nodes).3 Types can be divided into levels, from the most to the least specific: low, basic/middle, and high. Research has shown that middlelevel types—confusingly called
“basic”—are more salient than highlevel and lowlevel types. “Femme fatale” (middle level) is more likely than either “woman” (highlevel) or “bookstore clerk” (lowlevel) to offer a combination of rich, vivid, concrete and distinct associations that come quickly to mind. This means that the mind prefers to think in basiclevel categories; the first words children learn tend to be basiclevel terms. They are more likely to know “apple” than “fruit” or “golden delicious.” Middlelevel terms are useful for maximizing the associations generated by the specific instance. This has the effect of easing the cognitive demands on the social perceiver. If the world appeared to you largely in high level or lowlevel categories, it would overwhelm your ability to make efficient sense of it.4 Already, it should be clear why types are a useful concept for characterization. Categorization is something our minds do very well, and this process is of central importance to narrative comprehension. Filmmakers, as intuitive psychologists, recognize that our encounter with characters always involves typing. Sometimes, the type becomes prominent because of its inability to include its expected traits, or because of its incompatibility with other aspects of the character. When they are not trying to use types as aesthetic devices in their own right, as when they create imaginative hybrid types (e.g.,
the nymphomaniac nun in Hal Hartley’s Amateur), caricatured exaggerations of types (e.g., the broad supporting characters in PeeWee’s Big Adventure), or subversions of defining typetraits (e.g., the maternal police chief in Fargo), filmmakers stick to recognizable, middlelevel types for the sake of clarity and efficiency. It follows that types are an important aspect of characterization both because they are one of the significant cognitive dimensions of person perception, and because filmmakers manipulate typing for aesthetic effects. How, then, does this process of typing work? What influences this categorization? How do people sort instances—in this case, people or characters—into types? Not according to necessary and sufficient conditions, as in the classical view of categories and concepts. Character types cannot be defined formally by reference to traits that are both necessary for the categorization and jointly sufficient for it. This approach has been superceded not only in reference to personcategorization, but in many other domains as well. Most philosophers and psychologists agree that categories are typically fuzzy, especially around the edges. Membership is determined according to similarities between instances (or as Wittgenstein termed them, family resemblances). We determine that a person is a child by perceiving similarities between her and examples we have in
mind of children. Our categorization is probabilistic in the sense that we quickly sort people into types on the basis of what seems most likely. In ordinary encounters with others, we don’t have time or interest in making absolutely sure that our typing is correct.5 Some categories are understood by comparison with prototypes or exemplars—the more similar to these prototypes or exemplars, the more likely they are to be included in the category. These prototypes or exemplars have a large number of attributes characteristic of the category, and these attributes are weighted according to their salience. If an apple is an exemplar of the category fruit, it is more important that it is edible than that it is round, because edibility is a more salient characteristic of fruits than roundness.6 A prototype is an abstract (imaginary) instance of the category that has a full complement of its traits, while an exemplar is a real instance of the category. A prototype of a professional basketball player would have all of the characteristics that are associated with the category: young, tall, runs and jumps well, and physically fit. An exemplar of a professional basketball player would be Michael Jordan. There is some debate about whether people use prototypes or exemplars in their formation and activation of categories, and it could be that people use each one as necessary or appropriate. Either way, we judge an instance to be a member of a category by its similarity to other
instances, real or abstract.7 Increased similarity also means increased typicality.8 The more typifying traits the instance has, the more it seems to be a good example of the category. And salient traits that are dissimilar to the prototype or to exemplars make the instance seem less typical. Apples are more typical fruits than olives, partly because apples are sweet (a prototype trait) and olives are bitter or salty (both dissimilar traits). Sam Spade of Huston’s The Maltese Falcon is a more typical private eye than Philip Marlowe of Altman’s Long Goodbye because Spade has more in common with the prototype of the private eye than Marlowe does, and because Marlowe has some salient traits that clash with the private eye prototype (e.g., he looks after a pet cat, he lacks Spade’s toughguy demeanor). Indeed, Spade functions as an exemplar of the private eye, so Marlowe of The Long Goodbye is less typical because of his distinctness from Spade. Relations of similarity help us identify many categories, yet there are other relations that hold some categories together. Some are identified by applying an implicit theory about the world, for example, a theory about causal relations among things. The category “mother” can be understood in various ways, some of which identify a person as having given birth to a child. Ruby and Amy may be incredibly similar—identical twins,
even—but if only Amy has no children, only Ruby is a mother. “Food” is understood as giving nourishment when eaten. A wax hamburger might bear more similarity to a real hamburger in size, shape, weight and color than it does to a wax museum statue of Napoleon, but real hamburgers belong in the category “food” and wax ones do not. In one experiment, when researchers asked subjects whether a threeinch disc is more similar to a quarter or a pizza, most said a quarter. But when asked which it was more likely to be, the answer was a pizza, because we believe that quarters can be only one size, which is not three inches, but we hold no such beliefs about the size of pizzas. So category membership is not defined exclusively by similarity, since theories about the world (such as theories about the size of coins and pizzas and about the edibility of foods) come into play.9 Yet objects can generally be classified in many different ways, sometimes by relations of similarity (real and wax hamburgers may both belong to the category “hamburger” on the basis of their similarity), other times by relations of causality (real hamburgers and wax ones are not both food). It depends on the categories and on the situation. There are dozens of traits associated with mothers, and if you didn’t know whether or not a given woman had a child, you might categorize her as a mother (or, more likely, regard her as a maternal type) based on her similarity to your prototype or to an
exemplar—perhaps your own mother. Part of what makes typing interesting—and challenging to analyze—is that objects can be categorized in many different ways and into many different categories. Furthermore, just as there are different ways of categorizing, there are different kinds of categories. There are naturally occurring categories, like fruit and mother, and there are humanmade categories, like private eye and hamburger. Both of these kinds of categories can be understood by applying ideas about similarity and by activating causal theories. A hamburger is designed to be eaten, and we are more likely to judge something a hamburger if it seems edible (causal theory). A fruit is typically round and sweet, and we are more likely to judge something a fruit if it looks and tastes like an apple than if it looks and tastes like celery (similarity). People can be categorized into natural and humanmade categories as well. Infant, toddler, child, adolescent, adult, elderly: all are categories of age based on natural distinctions according to relative age. Even if some cultures and some languages carve the ages up differently and label them accordingly, all have some notion of young and old and some articulation along the scale from birth to death. But many of the markers of social identity are purely cultural or subcultural, such as occupation categories like bluecollar worker and corporate executive. So person categories fall into two kinds, and are understood in two ways. When making inferences
about other people, much depends on which kind of category is activated in a given situation and on whether categorization proceeds following from the application of a theory or from a contextual judgment of similarity. For example, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is both a police officer and a member of the criminal gang attempting a heist. The first type judgment we make in relation to him is to recognize that he is one of the gang. He dresses like them and is carrying out their collective goal. He has taken a bullet to the abdomen in the course of the heist, so we are inclined to sympathize with him and see him as just one of the guys. Part of the puzzle of the film’s narration and characterization consists of recognizing similarities and differences among the men and determining which will be significant. They all wear the same dark suits and ties, all talk a similar tough street lingo peppered with popular culture references, and are united by their task. Yet each of them has several distinctive traits. For instance, aside from their colornames, there are differences of temperament. Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is psychopathically violent; Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is highstrung, hyperverbal, and driven by professionalism; Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is empathetic but firm. Mr. Orange is one of the quieter of the group at first; he seems to be studying the
others. This seems reasonable given the situation: the men don’t know each other—not even their real names—and are brought together just for the one job. But after the credits sequence, when we see that he has been wounded, he speaks in a high pitch, with anguish and fear, writhing in pain in the back seat of the stolen car. He begs Mr. White to drop him off at a hospital so that he doesn’t die. We are hesitant to attribute this behavior to his individual disposition (see chapter 3 on trait attribution) and say that he lacks courage, since he is clearly in critical condition and cannot be faulted for risking being caught—or risking his fellow gang members being caught—to save his life. Yet he does not seem to be cut from the same cloth as the other men, whose verbal bravado and masculine aggressiveness seems more typical of street hustlers (or of their cinematic representations). Tarantino also gives us bits of casual business to flesh out the other main characters. Mr. Brown (Tarantino) begins the film with a sexually charged interpretation of “Like a Virgin;” Mr. Pink refuses to tip the waitress at the diner and makes a big deal about how he doesn’t believe in tipping, but gives in when the boss, Joe, demands that he pitch in his dollar; and many of the men use ethnic slurs in conversation at the table. Mr. Orange, however, is more taciturn and his character is thus sketchier in the beginning. By withholding some of Mr. Orange’s traits, Tarantino makes our typing of him more
tentative. The center of the narrative’s dramatic conflict is the presence of the undercover cop among the group. The enigma of the cop’s existence or identity is introduced early in the film and structures the spectator’s process of discovery of the characters. When the cop is revealed to be Mr. Orange, we are forced to rethink our typing. Mr. Orange’s distinctiveness is hard to identify since from the early part of the film, he is constantly writhing and moaning in pain. But as we learn about his preparation for the job, we learn that his difference from the other characters is based not on similarities or lack of similarities, because these features cease to be significant on a dramatic level. His difference from the others is based on a causal distinction between criminals whose purpose is to make money, and a cop whose purpose is to infiltrate their ranks and help stop their crime. Tarantino’s careful withholding of information about Orange forces us to type him using criteria of similarity at first; once the character’s goals are made clear, however, our evaluation of him changes completely.
Stereotypes One kind of person category is a stereotype, but stereotype is a somewhat confusing term.
Originally it referred to a printing plate much in use in the 19th century. In 1922 Walter Lippmann appropriated the term to refer to many different kinds of preconceptions about the world that impede people’s ability to see reality as it is. Its connotations were of fixity and standardization. Lippmann writes, “For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see.”10 This is echoed in Ernst Gombrich’s theory of the history of artistic representation in Art and Illusion, which identifies the idea of a “mental set” that guides our vision, and which changes over time.11 The difference between modes of representation in different historical eras is attributable to the artists’ differing mental sets. These are made up of stereotypes, the term Gombrich uses to refer to the artist’s visual expectations, which he argues are the starting point of representation: [The artist] begins not with his visual impression but with his idea or concept: the German artist with his concept of a castle that he applies as well as he can to that individual castle, Merian with his idea of a church, and the lithographer with his stereotype of a cathedral. The individual visual information, those distinctive features I have mentioned, are entered, as it were, upon a preexisting blank or formulary. And, as often happens with blanks, if they have no provisions for certain kinds of information we consider essential, it is just too bad for the information.12 A stereotype, then, is a set of expectations about some aspect of the world, and since the world is so dense with information, no set of expectations we have about it could possibly account for it all. The point of using these expectations to make sense of the world is
simplification—it promotes cognitive efficiency and frees the mind for other tasks. But in using these expectations, we sometimes miss important things that we might be better off noticing. While Gombrich and Lippmann use the term stereotype to refer generally to concepts, its most common usage today is in reference to persons. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of stereotype reads: “A preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception. Also, a person who appears to conform closely to the idea of a type.” Neither the OED nor Lippmann specifies that stereotypes consist of traits associated with a race, ethnicity, gender, or social identity in particular, though Lippmann does use the term to refer—among various other things—to national types. According to these conceptions, you could have a stereotype of your neighbor if you always see her as virtuous but simpleminded, failing to recognize any characteristics that may not fit your conception, such as her bad gambling habit and her proficiency at word games, or dismissing them as exceptions to the general rule. But in many academic fields—and colloquially as well—stereotypes usually refer to characteristics of groups of persons or to specific roles rather than to individuals. And
the term’s connotations suggest that the effects of group categorization are pernicious. As one oftcited social cognition text puts it, stereotypes are “the cognitive culprits in prejudice and discrimination.”13 The phrase “negative stereotypes” is common, but its alternative is not “positive stereotypes,” but rather no stereotypes at all. In most discussions, stereotype is assumed to refer to a constellation of traits that is harmful to the group under description because it derogates them. It is also assumed to contain false traits, whether they be exaggerations of statistically valid generalizations or absolute inventions. These include ethnic stereotypes of Jews being cheap, Irish being drunks, and blacks being lazy; or occupation stereotypes of lawyers being rapacious and librarians being homely. Much social cognition research is devoted to how stereotypes might be changed or counteracted.14 We must assume that there would be no reason for counteracting stereotypes that were oversimplifying—false, even—but not harmful, such as stereotypes of firefighters as selfless heroes. Yet it is in our nature to categorize, and the categorization of people has a significant social use value.15 Group categorization tends to have a selfaffirming and communal function, promoting the ingroup at the expense of the outgroup.16 This point is complementary to one in Chapter 4 about ingroup and outgroup differences in the recognition of emotion expressions, such as the facial expression of fear or anger. In
groups recognize their own members differently from outgroup members, and these relations are highly significant in explaining social and cultural variability of response to film and other media.17 People are more likely to activate a stereotype based on an out group categorization (such as a racial stereotype) when the member of that group has wronged or harmed them, or evaluated them negatively. We naturally know more about our group than about other ones, so our ideas about outgroup characteristics are likely to be wanting in some respects. People tend to see greater variability among members of the ingroup than among members the outgroup; the idea that the members of the out group all look alike has a basis in our cognitive structure. These facets of human psychology explain why stereotype categories tend to simplify or distort the characteristics of outgroups.18 Stated crudely as above, gross generalizations about ethnic groups are obviously false and those who subscribe to them are bigots. But stereotypes may function in more benign or neutral ways. For example, we might consider a stereotype of Muslims to include avoiding pork, a stereotype of lawyers to include working long hours, and a stereotype of women to include caring for children. Of course, some Muslims love bacon, some lawyers go home at 5 o’clock every day, and many women never care for children and have little interest in doing so. But stated as probabilities—that it is more
likely for Muslims than nonMuslims to avoid pork, more likely for lawyers than non lawyers to work long hours, and more likely for women than men to care for children— these are just truisms. Our use of stereotypes is typically probabilistic: you encounter someone new and figure that on the basis of belonging to category X they are likely to possess traits Y and Z but not A and B. The problem with social stereotypes is that they generally contain some truth and some falsehood, and although some may be invented out of whole cloth, many can be explained by causal factors and may be statistically valid generalizations.19 For example, the stereotyped association between African Americans and criminality has a causal basis in the economic disadvantages faced by American blacks and is supported by statistical rates of violent crime. The social problems of the African American community have multiple causes and are products of centuries of oppression; generalizations about African Americans that arise out of these problems are not necessarily false. But of course, it is only a fraction of any population that commits crimes, so associating criminality with all African Americans or all members of any group is simply wrong. As Steven Pinker argues, the problem with stereotypes is not that they are necessarily false, but that they deny people their individuality. No one should be judged on the basis of
their group membership alone and assumed to share all of the characteristics stereotypically associated with the group.20 Yet this very thing happens, often with amazing cognitive efficiency. The social cognition research on stereotype activation and application makes for depressing reading.21 According to this research tradition, stereotypes are not merely clusters of traits, but are cognitive structures applied in understanding others. They are made of patterned networks of associated links. Stereotypes can be activated automatically, without the perceiver intending to do so or even being aware of it.22 Although there are individual differences in the activation of negative associations, even among people who consider themselves to be nonprejudiced, fullblown stereotypes come to mind automatically when primed with negative cues about a group.23 Once activated, stereotypes function to bias future information about a person so that subjects are more likely to consider evidence that confirms the stereotype and ignore contradictory cues. Subjects are also more likely to attribute traits or behavior inconsistent with the stereotype to situational causes and consistent information to dispositional ones, thus reconfirming the stereotype.24 Social perceivers are also likely to misremember ideas they generated based on observed behavior as observed facts rather than inferences, confusing what they inferred with what they actually saw.25 This is one of the reasons
that eyewitness testimony is so notoriously unreliable: Gombrich and Lippmann were correct that people often see what they expect to see, even if it is not what is actually in front of their eyes.26 These cognitive functions of stereotyping are crucial to narrative comprehension because they efficiently orient and focus the spectator’s attention on the character’s most textually salient traits, which are especially important for the attribution of character causality to narrative events. Of course, sometimes we notice unexpected things that do not conform to a given stereotype. Stereotype inconsistency may arise when an individual has attributes that contradict those expected according to the stereotype. If you believe that Jews are rich, a poor Jew might challenge your view. But we often reconcile such contradictions by actively seeking to maintain, rather than revise or reject, the stereotype. We slot exceptions into subtypes, effectively removing them from the stereotype category and dismissing them from consideration.27 A poor Jew might be a recent immigrant from Russia driving a New York City taxi, and thus a subcategory of “recent Russian immigrant Jews” who are seen as different from the rest. Our cognitive structures are not easily transformed, though over the course of several generations in 20th century America, most ethnic stereotypes changed to some extent, so that Jews were more likely to be stereotyped as ambitious in the second half of the century, whereas earlier they were
more likely to be seen as mercenary.28 Although stereotyping is a universal, the content of an individual’s stereotypes is a product of experience and is variable according to the multiple influences of history, culture, and subculture. In addition to changing over time, stereotypes also vary from person to person and group to group. Although ethnic, racial, national, gender, and age stereotypes are generally well known among members of a given population, they are not all applied to the same degree or in the same fashion among all members. Moreover, the stereotypes themselves vary among different groups, so that conceptions of male and female may be quite different in one place than in another, or among members of various subcultures, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, etc. Of course, cultural approaches to cinema make much of this variation, assuming that members of different audience formations interact with texts according to their differences. I don’t deny this facet of culturally determined difference in responses to narratives at all. This is clearly an instance in which there is a natural explanation for cultural variation: it is in the nature of groups to see themselves differently from how they see others, and it is not hard to imagine that each ingroup’s conception of various outgroups is a response to specific conditions of the ingroup’s environment. Among groups A, B, and C, it would make sense if groups A and B hold differing stereotyped conceptions of C. If A and C are enemies, A might see
C as cruel. If B and C are rivals, B might see C as unfair. The movies have furnished dozens of vivid stereotypes that have perpetuated negative images of ethnic and racial minorities, such as Italian mobsters and Native American savages. These are combinations of two kinds of types: social stereotypes that preexist the movies and exist apart from narrative representation, and genre types that are developed in cinema and the other media. In practice, these two types of types are mutually reinforcing and interdependent, and it is widely believed that the stereotypes that circulate in society are products of the media. But typing also functions in more benign and ordinary ways, and is undeniably useful. Because stereotype is such a loaded term, I prefer to discuss person categorization in cinema as typing and reserve the term stereotype to refer to clear instances of prejudiced simplification or distortion. As with all of the natural processes that drive characterization, typing works two ways, in two directions: first are the bases of characterization that are our everyday processes of social cognition, which we apply to the comprehension of the narrative; second are art, narrative, cinema, or genrespecific patterns of textual convention and constraint that guide our experience. Each informs the other and depends on it. The typing process is one of both confirming and disconfirming judgments. It is often quite likely, especially in the highly artificial environment of a narrative, that a
person will defy some expectations as well as meet most of them. People who always act as predicted may appear boring, and characters who always act as predicted may seem much more so. But truly unpredictable people, and characters, are literally beyond comprehension.
Social and Genre Types I am proposing that characters are typed in two complementary ways, designating two points of origin for person categories. One is in reality, the other in narrative representations. Social types are person categories that precede narrative representation and could exist independently of it. Genre types are person categories that are familiar from a particular kind of story or from several kinds. An example of a social type would be a woman; an example of a genre type would be a femme fatale. Characters generally conform to social and genre types, but they also defy them. Characters are rarely—if ever—nothing but type. Nor are they unique creations unlike anyone you have ever met. Some categories of social identity inevitably become part of the character’s dossier, such as their age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, occupation. In cases that a character’s gender, for example, cannot be identified, this
becomes a crucial bit of characterization, and this very thing can be considered a category or type. In Boys Don’t Cry, the main character’s gender ambiguity is a defining trait. He is characterized by membership in the category of transgendered. This distinguishes him, for example, from the main character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, whose gender ambiguity is also a defining trait, but who is transsexual. It is very hard to defy categorization altogether, even in films like Boys and Hedwig that thematize gender as an unstable category that resists a binary understanding. We all belong in categories. It might be tempting to read this defense of categorization as an implicit defense of all categories as fixed, objective entities, or as a denial of the commonly held view (in the humanities, at least) that categorization is an ongoing process that changes according to history and culture. I am not claiming that categories are always stable and objective, that they are immutable, airtight, or easily defined. Some people disagree about the existence of certain categories or about the membership of specific instances in particular categories. Perhaps you consider Hedwig to be transgendered and I consider him transsexual. This disagreement hardly invalidates the use value or efficiency of categorization. I am merely claiming that it is in our nature to categorize, and that we do so all the time, especially when encountering new people. Carving person categories in
two is a practical means of making sense of how this process works in cinematic representation, but even this categorization could be done differently if the purposes or the theoretical orientation were different. My designation of these two person categories in cinematic characterization is not arbitrary, but it is a product of theorizing. Genre types are characters specific to a certain kind of narrative. In some discussions of genre in film criticism and theory, it is understood that a genre type is a lesser form of character than a nongenre type.29 Genre films are contrasted against non genre films, with judgments of aesthetic value favoring the latter. The characters in genre films are highly formulaic and predictable, and implicit in this judgment is the idea that the filmmakers deserve little credit for any imaginative work in making the characters. Western heroes are gunslinging cowboys on the side of right and law. Genre critics might celebrate those directors whose western heroes rise above the ordinary level of typicality (Ford, Hawks, Mann, Leone) but they do so at the expense of the ordinary western and its characters, who are seen to make up an undifferentiated mass of genre stuff. The general idea is actually correct: genre types share many traits in common, so to some extent creating genre characters does not require much imagination. But the characters in Ford et al. are not exempt from this description. The catch is that no character is a carbon copy of any other, or of a prototype; all films, from Bmovies to Oscarseason prestige pictures,
are made of a combination of conventional and original ingredients. This notion of genre types assumes all films to be generic to some degree, in some fashion. There are highly specific cinematic genres, such as slasher films and screwball comedies; there are genres that films share with novels and plays, such as thrillers and farces; and there are genres that are so big as to include any conceivable narrative form, such as the two supergenres identified by Patrick Colm Hogan, romantic and heroic tragicomedy, which he argues are universal narrative structures present in prototypical or canonical stories.30 Types of narrative dictate expectations for types of character: the typical protagonist in a love story automatically carries the trait of “potential romantic partner;” the typical protagonist in a thriller does not. All of these levels of generality may come into play in any given narrative. Just as all characters are to some extent types, so are most films and narratives, and certainly the vast majority of independent films. Boys Don’t Cry is a love story too, though it may not seem like an exemplar of the category. Films may belong to more than one genre and may contain types of several different genre categories. This is not just a matter of genrehybrid experiments like musicalwesterns or sciencefictionnoir, but of many ordinary films that are composites of genre material, including types. Indie films are a genre if by genre we mean category of narrative texts. In film studies genre
typically means something more specific within an industrial and critical context, demanding a particular iconography or emotional rhetoric, but in other media such as literature genre has much looser connotations—for example, the novel is sometimes referred to as a genre to distinguish it from the romance. There are types specific to independent film too and actors who have become associated with them: Parker Posey’s clever single girl (e.g., Clockwatchers, The Daytrippers), John Turturro’s beleaguered everyman (e.g., Box of Moonlight, Barton Fink), James Spader’s sexually repressed loner (e.g., sex, lies and videotape, Secretary). These types might not have the same range of associations or the iconic status of the western gunslinger or the femme fatale, but that just means that some types are richer and more vivid than others. Of course, many indie films are also genre films in the more conventional sense. Barton Fink is a movie about the movies, a genre that includes Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, Singin’ in the Rain, 8 1/2, Day for Night, and The Player. As such, it has some of the characters typical of the genre: the writer, the producer, the actor, etc. Of course, these are social types as well as genre types, but the image of the bombastic, cigarchomping Hollywood producer is a construction of Hollywood just as the Native American savages and the Italian mobsters are. Indie films may be romantic
comedies, family melodramas, or thrillers, and have the characters typical of these genres: romantic partners in comedies (e.g., Next Stop Wonderland, Kissing Jessica Stein), parents, siblings, and children at odds with each other in family melodramas (e.g., Happiness, Pieces of April), and violent criminals in thrillers (e.g., Blood Simple, Reservoir Dogs). Some character types belong to more than one genre or to genres at very high levels of generality. There is a type of minor character often seen in recent mainstream American films and television dramas who might be called the Black authority figure. She may be a judge or doctor or school principle. Her function is to place a racial or ethnic minority as the face of respected power and authority. This is presumably a gesture promoting multiculturalism, especially in films or on programs with few non white characters. The Black authority figure is typically reasonable and intelligent, but also tough and uncompromising, especially in matters of morality. Whether the narrative genre is courtroom suspense, soap opera, or fantasy, the type is consistent. (As a minor character, of course, there is less opportunity for exploring other dimensions of the type or of ways of defying it.) A given character may be an example of more than one type. In goforit sports
movies like Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Blue Crush, the main character is both the competitor type (driven and hardworking, not the most talented, often working class) and the romantic lead type. The idea of a competitor type and a romantic lead type are complimentary but not mutually inclusive; nor are they exclusive to one kind of narrative. The goforit protagonist type is a combination of these two. Genre types are closely related to social types, with which they sometimes overlap and from which they must often be derived. For example, many male or female genre types are based on male or female social types. This is not necessarily to say that they are based on real individual men or women, because social types may be no more veridical than genre types. Social types—including, of course, stereotypes—are themselves typically partial fictions, and genre types piggyback on them. There may be no real femmes fatales, but the women in film noir are based to some extent on social types of women that existed in the 1940s and 1950s, which themselves were products of partially accurate and partially inaccurate generalizations about real women. This also works the other way around. Many social types would be much poorer, in terms of the range of associated traits and the expectations generated by them, without types from narrative representations, i.e, without genre types. This is especially true of
occupation types, like police officer, doctor, car salesperson, and the various characters in legal dramas. Most people meet many more fictional surgeons, judges, and detectives than they ever do reallife ones, and when they meet reallife ones their expectations are influenced by their exposure to media. Hence the phrase, “You’ve been watching too many movies!” The interest most media scholars have in stereotypes is aimed at examining and counteracting this process whereby people mistake the types encountered in representations for information about realworld people and groups. In any given representation, it may not be feasible to discriminate among social and genre typing. The distinction between these categories is theoretical, not practical. In some cases, there are clear filmspecific types (e.g., the maniacal genius villain of Hollywood action films is a type rarely encountered in real life) and types that clearly originate in society (e..g., most age, gender, ethnic, national, and racial types). Yet these social types are informed by media representations, so that adolescents’ conceptions of adolescence comes not only from experience in the world but also experience in the world of representation. It works the other way, too. The maniacal genius villain is typically male, is almost always an adult and a criminal, and is often a foreigner. These are all social types that together make up aspects of the genre type.
Typing in Process: Passion Fish Characterization by type is significant for understanding character psychology for a number of reasons. Most basically, the range of associations quickly and automatically generated by typing—which we might think of as a typically fast and dirty kind of cognition—both opens up and constrains the range of inferences to be generated. These may be folk psychology inferences about intentional states. Some of the associations that come with a given type often refer to goals, desires and plans. We assume that lawyers try to win cases, that doctors try to heal the sick, that car salesmen try to sell cars; we attribute the causes of behavior to these desires based on our typing. But since typing is part of what defines and characterizes narrative situations, emotion inferences are also dependent on typing. To take but the most obvious example of typing and emotion, women are often assumed to be “more emotional” than men, an idea that suggests that many emotions are both more likely to occur in women and that they are more likely to feel them strongly. Although this may seem empirically dubious, such types are socially powerful and filmmakers utilize them in creating characterizations. Typing often functions to establish a situation, and the other aspects of social cognition generally often proceed with some type attribution already in mind. This is
because of the automaticity of characterization by type; it is virtually impossible to represent a person in cinema absent some typing information. The only way I could think to do so would be by having a character who is only referred to by name, never seen, and whose name has neither denotative nor connotative meanings suggesting a gender, nationality, ethnicity, age, etc. The character would have to be characterized so minimally as to generate too few associations or causal relations to be typed into any group. Such a character would be of minimal interest to spectators, but as soon as any more of him or her was represented, the character would automatically become an instance of one or more types. This automaticity ensures that typing generally (though not always) precedes all of the other aspects of characterization temporally in the comprehension of narrative. Direct characterization and inferential, indirect characterization alike occur on a momentby moment basis. While there are more global inferences covering largescale goals (like the overarching goals that lead from the opening scenes to the ultimate denouement in many narratives), and while there are emotions (or more likely, moods) that seem to pervade the whole representation, most folkpsychology inferences and most displays of emotion occur in circumscribed instances, in reaction to specific events.31 These interior states last for short periods of time. You are angry when someone insults you, but the emotion
typically lasts for only a few seconds or minutes.32 But typing is more of an ongoing process than emotion or folkpsychology inference. Once typed a certain way, the categorization informs comprehension of everything to do with the character and his situation unless some contradictory information comes along. Furthermore, while typing informs the other aspects of the process of characterization, the other aspects are not likely to inform typing very often, though some film do strategically invite us to adopt one type attribution only later to demand that we revise or reject our judgment on the basis of developments in the narrative situation. This kind of development is a function of the “primacy effect” which I discuss in Chapter 6. This is the principle that the first information that a film gives us about a character biases our interpretation of all of the subsequent information.33 We shall see that by exploiting the primacy effect, John Sayles’s Passion Fish is able to present distinct character types during its initial exposition only to complicate our understanding of characters when later on the film introduces other ways of typing them that complicate our initial assessments. In Passion Fish, the two main characters are MayAlice (Mary McDonnell), who has recently been left paralyzed by a car accident, and the nurse she hires to look after her, Chantelle (Alfre Woodard). We infer based on these roles that MayAlice is angry and sad, and that she hopes Chantelle will be able to help her. As for Chantelle, she is
introduced after several other nurses are made so exasperated by MayAlice’s recalcitrance that they quit. We see her not only as a nurse but as the last nurse on the agency’s list to send to MayAlice, the lowest on the pecking order. We infer that she needs the job, that she wants to please her employer. As a nurse, we infer that she is compassionate and that she sympathizes with the sick and infirm. MayAlice’s and Chantelle’s mental states are not represented directly, yet both characters are vivid and richly detailed. MayAlice’s anger and fear, her resistance to therapy, her strong individualism, and her propensity to alcoholism are all explained by her typing as an independent, welloff white woman and as the victim of a catastrophic accident. Her quick temper and substance abuse may also by regarded as typical of May Alice’s showbusiness profession: she is an actress on daytime television. Chantelle’s determination to do her job right, her preference to keep private her personal life, her frankness and general skepticism are all explained by her typing as the nurse, the employee, the working black woman. It doesn’t work the other way around, though. Determinations of type are not initially products of inferences about intentional states and emotions. That is to say, you don’t first recognize that MayAlice is angry or that she wants some wine and move from those data to a typeinference referring to her social status. This is not to say that no emotion or intentionality data are informative in relation
to typing. A frequently angry character may be typed as easy to anger, and a character who often believes falsely that people are conspiring against her would be typed as paranoid. But note that these would be types that refer to mental states themselves. Types that refer to social realities or genre conventions are harder to conceive as products of represented or inferred intentional and emotional states. That is, you don’t ordinarily type someone as a gangster, an Indian, a police officer, a child, a romantic partner, etc., on the basis of character psychology. Ordinarily, it works the other way around: you get character psychology on the basis of the typing. Typing is also significant because of the expectations it generates about narrative design, specifically about character trajectories (a.k.a. arcs, see chapter 6). In Passion Fish, the relationship between the two main characters is established early on as unbalanced and a bit contentious. At the same time, the roles of caregiver and care recipient inform all of their interactions. The audience expects that Chantelle will help MayAlice rehabilitate and learn to get along in the world without the use of her legs. At the same time, MayAlice is the employer and Chantelle is the employee. We expect Chantelle to try to satisfy MayAlice and to heed her wishes. And while MayAlice is a white woman of independent means, Chantelle is African American and has to work for a
living. We also expect their racial and class differences to come into play. In any good story, some expectations are met and others are not. The characters in independent cinema are often more surprising than those in Hollywood films. They may have more contradictory traits or more complex combinations of traits. This frustrates the process of typing but also adds interest to it. Passion Fish is a fine example of this tendency. The central trajectory of the main characters’ relationship is a narrative of reversal: at first Chantelle takes care of MayAlice, then it becomes apparent that May Alice is also taking care of Chantelle, and that she is strongly committed to being Chantelle’s friend and helper. This reversal is the product of the narrative’s most important surprise: we learn that Chantelle is recovering from drug addiction and that she has a daughter who has been taken from her custody Keeping her job and doing well at it are requirements for Chantelle keeping her on the path to full recovery and to getting her little girl back. . Thus a parallel is established among the women’s traits that transcends their typing and brings them closer: both are addicts, both have suffered through life changing traumas, and neither can afford to fail at recovery. Critics have commended Passion Fish for taking the characters and situations of contemporary melodramas (such as soap operas and diseaseoftheweek movies) but representing them with far more subtlety, nuance, and complexity than is conventional.34
This referencing is accomplished simply by the choice of subject matter, but also by interpolating texts that reference these highly emotional, conventionally feminine genres, such as soap operas and the melodrama What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; it is also significant that MayAlice is a soap actress. To some extent this compliment is backhanded and sexist, as it gives Sayles credit for making the best of a bad genre while implicitly it questions his choice of material and assumes that a film about female friendship is automatically of less interest than one about baseball players or coal miners, to name two other Sayles subjects (in Eight Men Out and Matewan, respectively). At the same time, it is an implicit recognition that by subtle manipulations of traittype expectations, Sayles is able to surprise us with characters whose defiance of conventional expectations lends the narrative credibility and emotional resonance that outdoes many of his other, more didactic films. In part, Sayles is able to achieve this because, unlike most of his films, Passion Fish is centered on a dyad rather than an ensemble, and so achieving nuanced, complex characters is a different kind of challenge than in films like Return of the Secaucus 7, Matewan, City of Hope, Eight Men Out, and Sunshine State. Each character is on screen for far longer in Passion Fish than in any of these other films (I return to discussing
ensemble films in Chapter 6). Each of the characters in Passion Fish belongs to more types; in turn each one confirms or defies type expectations in various ways. In Passion Fish, Sayles accomplishes with two characters what in other films he does with a half dozen or more: presents characters of multiple dimensions. This is a matter, to a large extent, of spinning each character into a variety of types, some of which fit better than others into the total characterization. While the main characters in Passion Fish are genre types familiar from women’s pictures, and while the initial narrative situation may sound clichéd, the film itself was never taken to be a soapopera or diseaseoftheweek movie. This was not the category that most critics and spectators used to identify it when it was released in 1993. More likely, it was understood as an independent film or a John Sayles film, or more simply as a drama and a film about two women. There are elements of the characters in Passion Fish that are typical of all of these categories. The patientnurse dyad is typical of disease movies. The strongwilled individual is typical of Sayles and of indie films. So is the character coming to terms with her identity. Passion Fish has none of the truly iconic Hollywood genre types seen in some indie films, such as prohibitionera gangsters in Miller’s Crossing. Its characters still instantiate genre types, though they are not as rich
and vivid as genre types as those in films by genreobsessives like the Coen brothers, for whom genretypicality is a central preoccupation of characterization. In general, independent films have a distinctive approach to typing, based on an implicit suspicion of the notion of fixed categories and on an interest in exploring issues of social identity, as I discussed in Chapter 1. This interest is especially marked in a writer/director like Sayles, whose progressive politics informs all of his storytelling. In independent cinema, the process of typing is complicated by the incompatibility of multiple types and by the introduction of surprising types that occasion reevaluation of the character. We have seen that in Reservoir Dogs this is accomplished when Mr. Orange is revealed as an undercover cop. Of course, mainstream narratives are also full of surprises, and the surprises in Reservoir Dogs are not all that radical (or for that matter surprising—we probably suspected Mr. Orange from pretty early on). The distinction in indie films is that a wider and more diverse complement of social and genre types is introduced for main characters, and with more types comes greater potential for friction among them. It is partly from this effect that characterization is made prominent as a feature of the text, and that character is made to seem more interesting. But as indicated in Chapter 1, there is also an tendency in independent cinema of
making characters clear emblems of a particular social identity, such as a racial, ethnic, or gender identity. Much independent cinema, and especially independent cinema that is politically engaged, is driven by multiculturalism, by a desire to explore the specificity of particular cultural and subcultural experiences. In this vein, independent films are often just as concerned with exploring the dimensions of a single identity and the contradictions inherent within it as with multiplying types as in Reservoir Dogs and the Coen brothers’ genrebending films. In Passion Fish, both of the main characters’ cultural identities (Cajun and AfricanAmerican) are made prominent, and both are explored through an effort at recognizing their complexity. In MayAlice’s case, there is also a concern to understand a character’s ambivalence with her culture. These approaches to typing, both the multiplication of types and the exploration of specific cultural identities, are partly achieved through the film’s narration, in particular its delayed and distributed exposition, whereby events preceding the beginning of the plot are referenced later on. It is also partly a function of changes undergone by the characters. That is, some of the typemultiplication and typeexploration is a feature of information being introduced only selectively, and some is a feature of new types emerging either to complement or to supplant old ones. Essentially, the more we learn
about the characters, the more we see them as multidimensional and contradictory. Characterization in Passion Fish is not an additive process of accreting traits and types, but a transformational process wherein each new type introduced can effect a reshaping of the character, a new conception and understanding of her. MayAlice is the one introduced first, and the film begins as her story. She is introduced first as a white, American woman (about midthirties, certainly neither young nor old) and a spinal injury patient. We subsequently learn that she is a soapopera actress, that she has no immediate family, that she is from the Louisiana Cajun country, though she has no trace of an accent, and that she is fairly well off. She then takes on the role of employer to a series of livein nurses, none of whom can stand her unpleasant demeanor and hostile behavior. As the first half of the film continues, she takes on more types as we observe more behavior and meet more secondary characters: alcoholic, amateur photographer, old friend, colleague, potential romantic partner. Some of these new type categories stand in a contradictory relationship to other, earlier established ones. Her romantic relationship with an old married friend, Rennie (David Strathairn), is unexpected given her inability to experience sexual pleasure and her earlier, angry statements about this inability. Her photography is represented as a creative outlet that replaces her soap acting, which in contrast seems less personal. She begins to make
peace with her Cajun roots, which we learn she had earlier tried hard to repress and forget. Instead of having no family, Rennie and Chantelle become a surrogate family. MayAlice’s recovery arc is a reversal, substituting types given a positive valence for negative ones. Chantelle’s characteristics are based on a different constellation of type categories. First, she is a black woman, about MayAlice’s age, working for MayAlice as her nurse. Quickly we discover that she is not like MayAlice’s other nurses in one important respect: she is more committed than they are to doing her job well no matter what obstacles she faces. We assume that she has no significant other and no children because none are referenced in any dialogue and none appear at the house. When she begins a romantic relationship with Sugar LeDoux (Vondie CurtisHall), a black cowboy with several children, it seems clear that although Chantelle is single and available, she is very wary of getting involved with anyone. But then her exhusband appears, and then her father and daughter. Delayed exposition again surprises us. We learn that she is a recovering addict, a daughter, a mother. We learn that she grew up well off, not poor, in Chicago. Chantelle’s recovery arc is characterized by admissions and revelations, a coming to terms with who she is. Characterization in Passion Fish relies on a strategic order of exposition for its
effects. The primacy effect emphasizes certain type assignations, but later on a “recency effect” balances the primacy effect by demanding a revision of our assessment of the characters.35 Sayles saves MayAlice’s creative and romantic characteristics for later in the film, instead beginning with her as an angry accident victim who has to give up a career and a busy life in New York for an isolated one in Louisiana. Her only interpersonal relations are with members of the health care professions. With Chantelle, it’s a different approach. Sayles saves her most personal material, her own trauma, for later in the film. The effect is to put Chantelle on equal footing with MayAlice in terms both of suffering and of recovery, but to save this symmetry for the latter part of the film. For each of the main characters, a relationship could derail or spur her recovery, and so each approaches her male counterpart with a combination of desire and trepidation. This reinforces the parallel between the main characters. As well, it is significant that the film ends with the women together, but without closure in the romance subplots. The film has many secondary characters, most of whom appear in only one or two sequences, and two of whom, Rennie and Sugar, are more recurring and significant. In general, secondary characters have fewer characteristics than primary ones, and as such often seem simpler and more straightforward. In Passion Fish as in many films, one function of secondary characters is to refine
and clarify the characterization of the leads. As I shall discuss in Chapter 6, Characters’ are understood in comparison to other characters’, so that a character who seems racially insensitive (as we judge MayAlice’s old acquaintances) may make MayAlice seem enlightened by comparison. This process that is especially significant in the ensemble dramas in which Sayles generally specializes. When these friends come to visit, we also get a glimpse of the milieu of her upbringing. She is much less “Southern” in her accent and mannerisms, and she relates to Chantelle in a much less patronizing way (the old friends assume her to be a servant), suggesting that racial prejudice was a problem among local whites that MayAlice either avoided or overcame. A similar comparison occurs when MayAlice’s former colleagues from the television show visit. We notice how she is one of the actresses, sharing their camaraderie but a bit bitter over her part being taken by someone else. This sequence also affords the opportunity to compare Chantelle with Dawn, an African American woman of roughly her age, who also grew up in Chicago (Angela Bassett). We learn here that Chantelle grew up well off (better off than Dawn), which sparks our curiosity about how she wound up working as a nurse so far from home. The loveinterest characters, Sugar and Rennie, are each portrayed as slightly oddball. Sugar is a black Louisianan who speaks French, trains horses, wears a cowboy hat, and comes off as a kind of Lothario, but also dotes on his adolescent daughter. He is
typical for indie films in his atypicality. He certainly seems to Chantelle to be an incongruous combination of traits. Rennie is married to a biblethumper who forbids television and music in their home. He has many children with her, yet he spends long periods away from them. He does not share their piety. But he does seem to give some credence to local superstitions. When he takes Chantelle and MayAlice out in his boat, he catches a fish for their lunch and as he is gutting it he tells of how the locals believe you can see your future by looking in its belly. In it are two passion fish, and he has each of the women make a wish, according to custom, of who they want for a lover. Rennie seems to occupy a middle position, neither adopting all of the traditional local beliefs, nor being a devout Christian. Like the other characters, he is caught in between differing, contradictory social roles. He seems romantically available to MayAlice, but also seems committed to his family. It is typical of the film that it does not make this contradiction into a source of real dramatic conflict, instead allowing him to occupy both roles. The effect of vivid, lifelike characters in Passion Fish is achieved by just this sort of device of the multiplication of types: Rennie is both the family man and the lover, the believer and the skeptic, someone who feels a sense of belonging to place and someone restless to escape. As spectators, we approach the film armed with types, and the film is all too eager
to oblige us, offering characters who fit more of them than we expect. This is the effect of freshness that the film’s admiring critics identify. Ultimately, by combining these various types, by using the techniques of delayed exposition and surprise, and by introducing the secondary characters who contrast with or complement them, the characters are given greater specificity than one would expected in a mainstream Hollywood film.
Conclusion As with all of the techniques of character construction, typing depends on spectators to seek coherence, to make things fit together as best they can. This means two things. First, typing needs to cohere with the other techniques of characterization. It must inform and be informed by what we know about characters’ mental states and observed behaviors. Second, typing needs to be internally consistent—to have as little contradiction and as much consistency as possible. The search for coherence is a global desire of narrative comprehension, just as it is a primary sensemaking strategy in social cognition, 36 and categorization is a way of making things cohere, or appear to cohere. Avantgarde art often seeks to frustrate our desire for this, but independent and
mainstream cinema, each in its own way, more often seek to exploit it. Categorization can be seen as one strategy of making the world seem to hang together: rather than seeing an infinite mess of disparate entities, we experience reality in meaningful chunks with clear patterns of interrelation among them. Just as films are sorted into genres, characters are sorted into types, and these two modes of categorization are clearly related by correspondent categorizations. We simply could not make sense of cinema without these categories. Some theorists of genre and genre types criticize the categories used in cinema for appearing to be natural, immutable or fixed, while beneath this surface of coherence is a welter of contradiction.37 While there may be some truth to this notion on the level of appearances, on the level of the function of types it fails to appreciate the cognitive utility and the aesthetic potential of categorization. The significance of cinematic types is that that they are useful and meaningful, and that it is natural that we would create them.
Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, The Nature of Narrative (London: Oxford, 1966), 204.
Susan M. Anderson and Roberta L. Klatzky, “Traits and Social Stereotypes: Levels of Categorization in Person Perception” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (1987), 235246
Elanor Rosch, et al., “Basic objects in natural categories” Cognitive Psychology 8 (1976), 382439; Nancy Cantor and Walter Mischel, “Prototypes in Person Perception” in Leonard Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology vol. 12 (New York: Academic P, 1979), 352. Edward E. Smith, “Categorization,” in Daniel N. Osherson and Edward E. Smith (eds.), An Invitation to Cognitive Science: Thinking Vol. 3 (Cambridge: MIT P, 1990), 3353; Kunda, 1552.
Smith. Kunda, 1532. Ibid.
Gregory L. Murphy and Douglas L. Medin, “The Role of Theories in Conceptual Coherence” Psychological Review 92 (1985), 289316; Pinker 3089.
Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922), 81.
Ernst Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (London: Phaidon, 1959), 53.
Fiske and Taylor,161.
Walter G. Stephan, “Intergroup Relations” in Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology 3rd ed., Vol. II (New York: Random House, 1985), 599658.
Hillary Anger Elfenbein and Nalini Ambady, “On the Universality and Cultural Specificity of Emotion Recognition: A MetaAnalysis” Psychological Bulletin 128 (2002), 203235.
Fiske and Taylor, 159167; David L. Hamilton and Jeffrey W. Sherman, “Stereotypes” in Robert S. Wyer, Jr., and Thomas K. Srull (eds.), Handbook of Social Cognition 2nd ed. (Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994), 168 (89).
Fiske and Taylor, 166. Pinker, 313.
One influential study is Patricia G. Devine, “Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (1989), 518.
Kunda, 317325. Ibid, 335. Hamilton and Sherman. Ibid.
A clearinghouse of information on this topic can be found at Gary Wells’ Eyewitness Identification Home Page (Wells is a leading researcher in this field): http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/gwells/homepage.htm.
Kunda, 384391. Ibid, 391.
This scale of valuation may be passé in academic film studies, but it lives on in the cinephile community surrounding festivals, art houses, and cinematheques, where saying that a character transcends genre is a kind of compliment.
Patrick Colm Hogan, The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), 98121. The notion of moods pervading a whole narrative is discussed in Greg M. Smith, Film Structure and the Emotion System (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), 4251.
Meir Sternberg, Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978), 38; Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, 38.
For example, see Roger Ebert, “Passion Fish,” Chicago SunTimes, 29 January 1993, URL: http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1993/01/839268.html. In an interview, Sayles confirmed this reading of Passion Fish as taking a soapopera situation but treating it a way that would defy the audience’s genre expectations. Trevor Johnson, “Sayles Talk” in Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader (London: BFI, 2001), 215219.
Recency effects are not nearly as strong as the primacy effect, but it is of course possible for later encountered information to bias earlierencountered information in certain cases of “strong contrast effects.” Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross, Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, 1980), 172.
For an argument connecting social cognition with coherenceseeking, see Paul Thagard and Ziva Kunda, “Making Sense of People: Coherence Mechanisms” in S. J. Read & L. C. Miller (Eds.), Connectionist Models of Social Reasoning and Social Behavior (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1998), 3-26.
Rick Altman, Film/Genre (London: BFI, 1999).
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