Audiences of all kinds choose movies based on personal preference, and they like to do so without reading any reviews. This task is made easy because films can be categorized by genre. Genre is important to both the producers of the film, as well as the audience. Producers need to engage their target audience in order to be successful, and audiences need to be interested in that genre so they choose to watch the movie. Audiences have become acclimated to what each category represents and therefore, genre has become crucial in generating audience expectations. The majority of films are categorized under one genre, but some are considered hybrid films, encompassing at least two genres throughout. Casablanca, for example, is considered a genre mash-up film, or hybrid film, while The Sound of Music is strictly a musical. Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz, is set in unoccupied Africa during the early stages of WWII. An American emigrant comes face to face with a former lover only to deal with unanticipated complications. The Sound of Music, directed by Robert Wise, coincidentally also takes place during WWII, and tells the story of a young woman who leaves an Austrian abbey to work as a governess to the children of a Naval officer widower. Casablanca, as a mash-up genre film, encompasses a plethora of genres, including the musical genre, but consists mostly of war, given the setting of the film, with many other genres here and in between that play an equal role to the composition of the film. The Sound of Music on the other hand, is entirely a musical film, however, the setting also involves WWII, so there is a bit of a war genre to the film, along with propaganda. Do genre mash-up films really work? It seems as though there are aspects of many genres throughout every film, known as subgenres, otherwise the film might be uninteresting to watch. Even action movies may have bits of romance, and horror movies may have snippets of comedy. The larger issue is the size of the subgenres, and whether a larger subgenre takes away from the main focus of the film.
In Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, multiple genres appear throughout the film, beginning with the newsreel documentary genre, and ending with the romance genre with many others in between, including war, propaganda, espionage, and film noir. For some viewers, the mash-up of genres may not be as appealing to some as it might be to others. It can cause confusion, and disorient some, while it can simply entertain others. In this film, it is important to recognize each genre as they come together to produce a very successful film. We begin with the newsreel documentary genre. Following that, the film switches to an espionage when the Germans are trying to find men without papers, which happens to bring much more excitement because of the chase that occurs. Soon the film transforms into a propaganda film. Curtiz uses propaganda in the film in order to attract Americans so they can get involved in the war by showing “Free France” all over signs and billboards. We see an aspect of film noir in Casablanca during the scene where Ilsa pulls out a gun on Rick, as well as when Rick kills the captain wearing a fedora and trench coat. The musical genre appears while in Rick’s casino. It is clear there is a musical aspect because there are songs being played and sung on the piano. Because the film focuses largely on the romance genre, the musical aspect involved integrates the characters’ ambitious romance with visual and audible elements (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2011). The romance genre in this film is obvious. Two former lovers meet and must deal with unexpected complications. They fall into a love triangle, but the final decision of Rick to leave and fight in the war leaves Ilsa and Laszlo together. His decision shows an aspect of propaganda once again, however, by leaving to fight, his decision is considered romantic now that he lets the woman he loves be with another man; his struggles leave him with no other choice. Although the multiple genres in this film may cause confusion at times, the variety in this film has the potential to attract a larger audience, pleasing viewers with contrasting tastes. The mash-up genre in Casablanca works to its advantage. This explains the success of this iconic movie. Since genres set the expectation to viewers of what a film will incorporate, it is the producer’s job to please the audience according to these prescribed expectations, and with multiple genres, there is a greater chance of achievable satisfaction.
Musicals have been a big success in the filmmaking industry, and have fascinated many viewers and audiences around the world. In Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music, he achieves the difficulty of balancing the amount of singing and dancing without diverting the viewers attention away from the story. Early musical films had a simple solution to this obstacle; filmmakers would abandon the narrative almost entirely, while strictly focusing on song-and-dance numbers (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2011). As a conventional musical film, The Sound of Music was first a successful broadway show created by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and was transformed into a movie in 1965 starring Julie Andrews. This film is one of the most successful musical films in Hollywood, and harmonizes with most of the codes and conventions of musical films. In this film we see repressed characters, as their songs are their “emotions” or inner feelings. For example, the opening scene of the film involves Maria, played by Julie Andrews, singing “The Hills Are Alive” expressing her introverted desire to escape from the abbey, and live as free as the hills of Austria. This aspect of the film proves The Sound of Music to be an integrated musical, as the characters performing do not need an audience to make music, in comparison to a “backstage musical” which deals with a film usually involving two plotlines: one being a theatrical plotline where the characters are literally performing for an audience on stage because they are performers, and the second being their “backstage” lives. Another convention of the musical genre showcases love as a significant theme. Lovers are illustrated as destined for each other, and after a series of events that hinder the end results, they undoubtedly live happily ever after. We see this through Maria and her relationship with Captain Von Trapp. He is a recent widower, and Naval officer, who keeps a strict household as he raises his seven children. Maria comes in to be a governess of the children, and as the story progresses, it is evident that these two will end up together. One convention that deals more literally with the music in the film, is that there are a number of reprises, and songs are often repeated, many times with a variation of lyrics in order to demonstrate the development of the story, as well as the characters. Along with the reprises, there is commonly what is a called a big “9 o’clock number” at the end, which in this film takes place during the concert sequence. Generally, the songs performed are also occasionally repeats/reprises of previously performed songs, and here the songs include “Edelweiss” as well as “Do-Re-Mi” and “So Long, Farewell. It is interesting to note that in this scene, the film actually transforms from an integrated musical and takes on elements of a backstage musical, given that the family is performing on stage in front of an audience. In addition to the obvious musical genre, there exists a subgenre of war and propaganda. Since the film takes place during WWII, Wise’s decision to create a hind-sighted anti-Nazi film is part of the film’s widespread appeal. It carries one of the most accurate depictions of Austria the world has ever seen (Von Dassanowsky, 2013). We repeatedly see Nazi soldiers throughout the film, and hear “Heil Hitler” upon greeting. The propaganda in the film is focused towards an anti-Nazi ideal since Captain Von Trapp ultimately decides to flee Austria and not serve as an officer, but instead to take his family to The United States to sing. The Sound of Music became the biggest money-making box-office hit in history, and won five Oscars. The musical genre of this film encompasses practically all the conventions one would expect, and does so in an entertaining, artistic, balanced manner without being too cliché.
The Sound of Music as a musical film is minimally comparable to the section of Casablanca that demonstrates the musical genre. Of course, both films involve a musical number, singing, and some dancing, however Casablanca is not nearly as developed into a musical film, which is not actually so important to the plot of the film anyway. As mentioned previously, The Sound of Music is an integrated musical, while Casablanca demonstrates more of a backstage musical type. The casino atmosphere takes the role as the theater, with Ilsa herself acting as an audience while Sam plays the piano and sings along. Casablanca does not encompass many of the codes and conventions of a typical film in the musical genre, mainly because there is not enough time in the scene for repeats of songs and reprises to be sung. However, there is enough time to demonstrate the love/romantic aspect, which also takes place throughout The Sound of Music. Something to consider is the mash-up of genres in Casablanca versus the subgenres in The Sound of Music. We’ve established that in both films, there exists the genres of both war and propaganda, the reason being that both films take place during WWII. As determined in Casablanca, the war and propaganda genre of the film takes up an equal part of the film with the rest of the genres included, however in The Sound of Music, the war and propaganda aspects of the film act more as a subgenre because it does not overpower the rest of the film, although the war does have a significant role in the development of the plot. The romance genre takes place in both films, and probably in most films that anyone will ever watch. The purpose of the romance genre is to help to intrigue the audience and provoke the viewers to become more identifiable with the characters, or simply to be entertaining. What is more entertaining than the universal theme of love? Of course, both films could not take the title of a romance film alone, but there are aspects in both films that encompass the genre. Casablanca deals with forbidden love, a love triangle, and the sacrifices made for those cared about most. The love triangle between Rick, Ilsa, and Laszlo, leaves the forbidden love between Rick and Ilsa as a stumbling block. The sacrifice Rick makes to go to war and leave Ilsa with Laszlo shows the propaganda of romance. Likewise, The Sound of Music deals with a love triangle, yet it is not so obvious. While Maria works as the governess of the children, Captain Von Trapp has been previously widowed and is engaged to the Baroness. The end result, however, does not include the Baroness in the picture, as the captain and Maria fall in love and live together happily ever after.
The purpose of film genres is to be able to categorize films based on artistic composition. Genres are differentiated by characteristics of style, technique, narrative content, as well as other elements. The significant feature in the idea of a genre is that genres have become crucial in generating audience expectations, which demonstrates how audiences are accustomed to what each genre illustrates. Christine Gledhill notes in her theory regarding genre that “differences between genres meant different audiences could be identified and catered to… This made it easier to standardise and stabilise production. In relation to the mass media, genre is part of the process of targeting different market sectors” (Gledhill 1985, 58). The idea of a mash-up genre film works for Casablanca as it does not distract the viewer from the plot of the film, but it enhances the film as a whole. With multiple genres in a single film, Casablanca has the ability to draw a larger audience. The mash-up of genres gives the movie a chance to appeal to a larger selection of viewers without creating a confusing, disconnected story. Similarly, The Sound of Music is placed into the musical genre, but contains subgenres to enhance the film overall. The conventions of a musical film are all met in The Sound of Music, while the subgenres of war and propaganda strengthen the plot of the film without overpowering other aspects. The balance and equality of genres throughout are what makes a film successful and entertaining, and also comprehensive as a whole. The musical genre has evolved from being strictly based on song-and-dance to being able to create a fabulous feature film like The Sound of Music, which includes subgenres to make a substantial, well-rounded film.
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Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. “Genre.” Film: a critical introduction. 2005. Reprint. London: Laurence King, 2011. 381, 398. Print.