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“Are Genres Stable?” by Rick Altman Essay (Critical Writing)


The present analysis is devoted to the fourth chapter of Rick Altman’s work “Film/Genre,” which is concerned with the question of whether genres are stable. The author briefly describes the previous developments in the interpretation of genres (which involves the idea of them being historical phenomena and, later, stable and recurring ones) and poses the questions on the permanence, coherence, difference, and change in the area. Altman seeks to answer these questions through the analysis of suitable primary and secondary sources.

The first argument that the author cites consists in the use of nouns and adjectives in the names of genres that tend to change (in particular, lead to the liberation of the adjective, as a result of which it becomes a noun), get new meanings (as in the case of epic poetry and epic films), and split in multiple subgenres (as in the case of comedy and probably the majority of other older genres).

The author analyses these cases and suggests that to become “liberated,” an adjective has to stop being added to any other genre and become connected to a particular type of material while also becoming accepted by the public, even if the latter condition is carried out by the public unconsciously. This preliminary analysis allows the author to suggest that genre could be considered as a process (or a by-product of this process), which can be regarded as the main thesis of the chapter.

The author proceeds to show that Hollywood was never interested in the strict differentiation of genres because it would not be economically feasible; however, it would be economically reasonable to develop new “cycles” of films that may in time become accepted as a full-fledged genre. Naturally, such a development would make it less feasible for the studio that has created the future genre, but it would also push the studio to create new proto-genres. Altman’s then proceeds to develop several models of the genre process and finishes with the suggestion to regard it as something non-automatic, non-imminent, non-linear, and non-finished.

The primary sources that the author has chosen include posters and particular films that are briefly analyzed to prove the lack of Hollywoods’ interest in strict genre differentiation. There are a few direct references to other works on genre or film research, and, apart from that, the author refers to the general scientific achievements (for instance, the discussion of the historical development of the approach to genre and discourse). Also, Altman uses the Linnaean taxonomy to categorize discourse more illustratively.

As a result, the author employs previously constructed theories. However, Altman’s chapter can be regarded as a grounded theory in the field of genre research, and while it uses some other works to back up the ideas, it is a novel approach to the phenomenon. In particular, the clear expression of the thesis within the chapter rather than in its introduction can be regarded as a consequence of the grounded theory format of the work.

Altman’s style can be characterized by several defining features. First of all, the author’s personality is distinctly visible (in particular, Altman may even employ the pronoun “I” on certain occasions), but it does not appear to affect the discussion with subjective conclusions. Indeed, the author relies on logic and not emotions and, to achieve this end, offers abundant examples and highlights the key conclusions and preliminary hypotheses for the reader to follow the argumentation.

Also, the author occasionally uses the pronoun “we” to engage the reader and invite them to consider the arguments. It may also be highlighted that the author often avoids assertions, choosing to write about things that are suggested by the conclusions of this chapter, not proved, which suits the format of a grounded theory (Altman 59-62). Also, the paper has several sections and employs lists, which helps to organize it in a logical and easily understandable way, and uses visual highlighting elements (in particular, italics) to emphasize a point. It is also noteworthy that the chapter is supplied with a separate section on noir genre development that is used as a more extensive example of the author’s point.

Finally, the chapter sports pictures of the posters that are analyzed by the author, which improves its illustrative abilities and, again, and help to engage the reader. In general, the style of the author is aimed primarily at ensuring the logical and concise development of the theory, but it is also clearly reader-friendly with multiple features that are aimed specifically at the improvement of the works’ readability and engagement qualities.

Works Cited

Altman, Rick. “4: Are Genres Stable?” Film/Genre. Ed. Rick Altman. London, United Kingdom: BFI Publishing, 1999. 49-68. Print.

Carol. Ex. Prod. Tessa Ross, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Danny Perkins, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton, Robert Joliffe. London, United Kingdom: Number 9 Films. 2015. DVD.

Moine, Raphaëlle. “In the Genre Jungle.” Cinema Genre. Ed. Raphaëlle Moine. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 1-27. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, October 14). "Are Genres Stable?" by Rick Altman. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/are-genres-stable-by-rick-altman/

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""Are Genres Stable?" by Rick Altman." IvyPanda, 14 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/are-genres-stable-by-rick-altman/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Are Genres Stable?" by Rick Altman." October 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/are-genres-stable-by-rick-altman/.


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IvyPanda. ""Are Genres Stable?" by Rick Altman." October 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/are-genres-stable-by-rick-altman/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Are Genres Stable?" by Rick Altman." October 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/are-genres-stable-by-rick-altman/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Are Genres Stable?" by Rick Altman'. 14 October.

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