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May 2000, Week 4


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John Dougill <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 24 May 2000 00:55:03 +0900
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Sorry for crossposting this, but I'm interested to see if I can get another
angle from this list.  I'm trying to gather some thoughts on Drama as a
genre, but interestingly I've found that there isn't much written in the
reference books to genre on Drama. The Virgin Encyclopedia ignores it in
its genre section, which seems pretty typical, and all of the academic
books I have on genre don't deal with it either. The Western, the gangster,
film noir, action, SF, horror, spy films, road movies, romance - loads and
loads and loads galore on those.  Yet a large number of films are
categorised under Drama and virtually no writings.  I wonder why?  Perhaps
it's because the characteristics of Drama are not so tightly defined
compared to the other genres, or perhaps there isn't so much depth for
critics to get their teeth into.  Anyway, I would have thought someone
would be able to find patterns in Drama worth writing about, particularly
on a psychological level, but the only angle I've been able to find so far
is through Jospeh Campbell and the Hero's Journey.....anyone know of other
ideas about Drama?

I've written a simple introduction in easy language for my Japanese
students.  It happens to be tied in with Forrest Gump which we'll be
viewing and discussing later.  If anyone cares to read it and make
suggestions or comments, I'd be grateful (preferably about Drama rather
than about Gump - I don't want to hash old arguments).


Part One: Drama
Drama is an unusual genre in terms of popular cinema.  As well as trying to
entertain, the films try to make people think.  They present life's
problems, both small and large, and show how people cope with them.

The focus of drama is on the human character.  It often takes the form of a
crisis of some sort, such as unemployment, discrimination, relationship
troubles, or dying.  A common subject is that of illness.  Characters who
cope successfully with suffering not only give a positive message of hope
but show the strength of the human spirit.  It is such a common 'recipe'
for stories that critics talk of films with 'Disease of the month'.

Conflict and change are crucial to drama.  The heroes search for a way
through a world of crisis, and in their fight against hardship they win the
sympathy of the audience.  In a sense they act as our representatives and
suffer on our behalf.

When the heroes of drama are put to the test, they need advice or some kind
of inner faith to support them.  This usually comes from an older person,
or someone who has faced a similar kind of challenge before.  In Forrest
Gump the advisor is Gump's mother, whose words remain in his mind long
after she has died.

Dramas can take many forms.  They may be set in the past (historical drama)
or in the future.  They may be serious in nature, or light-hearted like
Forrest Gump.  Some are personal in nature, whereas others are more
concerned with social issues.  Rain Man (1988 ), for instance, shows how a
young man played by Tom Cruise is affected for the better by spending a
week with his handicapped brother.  Philadelphia (1993 ) on the other hand
is concerned with attitudes to homosexuality and Aids, which it portrays
through the story of two lawyers.

Forrest Gump is both personal and social.  On the one hand it is the
biography of a man with a subnormal IQ and the lessons that can be learnt
from his life.  On the other hand it shows the changes in American society
between the 1950s and 1980s.  Though Gump's life is unique, he faces
problems similar to those that we all face at one time or another.  The way
in which he deals with them provides encouragement to us with our own

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