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August Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
tunnel.jpgTV Series: The Tunnel
Remake of Danish-Swedish TV series The Bridge, but this time, a British and a French detectives must work together to resolves crimes. It casts old European enmities in a new light.mefistofele

CD: Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
Not very known opera of Arrigo Boito, Verdi’s greatest librettist. Based on the tragedy Faust by Goethe. Excellent performance recorded in 1995, at Teatro alla Scala.

Jamie’s Picks
Thor-Ragnarok-Poster(2)Movie: Thor: Ragnarok
The best of the Thor movies; Taika Waititi brings his signature style (also directed What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to the superhero movie to great effect. This movie is hilarious and so much fun. I told my husband in the middle of it that I never wanted it to be over!room on fire

CD: Room on Fire by The Strokes
A classic album for early 2000’s pop rock. Punchy and catchy on the surface with somewhat melancholy lyrics. This album cemented The Strokes as a giant in indie rock.

Jessie’s Picks
black pantherMovie: Black Panther
This movie takes place after “Captain America: Civil War” and follows the new Black Panther as he becomes King of Wakanda. The great cast brings to life the complex characters of the wondrous kingdom of girl waits with gunWakanda.

Audiobook: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
Based on the true story of one of the first female deputies, this mystery series debut has humor, intriguing characters, and suspense. A good read for fans of historical mysteries!

Kim’s Picks
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Talk about a debut. One-time trapeze artiste Burt Lancaster gets the lead role in this classic 1946 film noir featuring screen siren Ava Gardner and a host of great supporting and character actors. The action takes place in New York, Philly and Pittsburgh, where Edmond O’Brien’s insurance investigator orders a steak sandwich that looks more like creamed chipped beef on toast and proceeds to eat it with a knife and fork.

Audiobook: The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the the earth is weeping.jpgAmerican West by Peter Cozzens
This is a full-scale treatment of a long and violent episode in U.S. history. The major players are here: Sherman, Sheridan, Miles, Grant, Red Cloud, Captain Jack, Cochise, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse. The battles and massacres are here: Sand Creek, Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee. The tribes are here:  Modoc, Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Crow, Lakota. Cozzens investigates the effects of the press, racism, and the misunderstandings that ensued when a stone age and diverse culture confronted a more homogeneous and increasingly technological society convinced of its Manifest Destiny. One of many takeaways: cessation of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s construction was not caused by Indian attacks, rather the stock market Panic of 1873.

Mary’s Picks
the money pitMovie: The Money Pit
Great comedy from the 80’s. Classic Tom Hanks when he was just life of pibecoming famous.

Audiobook: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
When reading you first think this is just about a boy’s adventure stranded in the ocean, but by the end realize the story is much more complex with a lot of symbolism.

Stephanie’s Picks
white oleander.jpgMovie: White Oleander
An emotional drama centered around crime, foster homes, and the love between a mother and daughter.a colony in a nation

Audiobook: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
Deft and thoughtful exposé on race and the “Two Americas” that we inhabit.

All quoted summaries from

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Musings on Film Genre: The Minimalist View

Film genres blog post (1)

During recent decades it has been customary for film critics to scatter movie genres willy-nilly, e.g., “Buddy Movies,” “Disaster Films, “Epics,” “Biopics.”  But aren’t these really subgenres or components of already existing genres?  Buddy movies are usually Comedy or contained in the Crime, Mystery & Suspense genre.  Disaster movies are encompassed within Adventure & Historical; or Drama; or Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.  Epics come under Adventure & Historical or Western, maybe War.  (Think The the great ziegfeldDevil at 4 O’Clock, How the West Was Won, The Longest Day).  Biopics are about real people but can take place in any time period, and the person in question could be a western lawman (Wyatt Earp), a medieval world conqueror (Genghis Khan), or a scientist (Louis Pasteur).  Biopics do not constitute a genre.  They are Drama—unless they are Western, like Wyatt Earp.  Or Adventure & Historical, like Alexander the Great.  Or Musical, like The Great Ziegfeld.  A biography of a singer or dancer is a Musical—as long as there is singing and dancing.

So what makes a film genre?  Writer Neil Gaiman contends that subject matter does not a genre make, but perhaps he’s applying this only to literature.  For the cinema, the number of movies made on a certain subject seems entirely appropriate to genre definition.  In other words, if hundreds or thousands of movies deal with, say, the winning of the west, the Western becomes a genre.

For in-depth, highfalutin analysis of film genre, see Film Genre Reader (1986) edited by Barry Keith Grant.  This investigates classification, the auteur, conventions, and so on.  In “Chapter 9. Genre Film:  A Classical Experience,” Thomas Sobchack refers to An Illustrated Glossary of Film Terms in which Harry M. Geduld and Ronald Gottesman “define genre as a ‘category, kind, or form of film distinguished by subject matter, theme, or techniques’.”  For those authors there are 75 film genres!

The minimalist, while not denying overlap, recognizes only 8 authentic film genres:

Adventure & Historical
Crime, Mystery & Suspense
Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
War (Combat)

Let’s look at each.

Adventure & Historical.

Sometimes action is equated with adventure and the genre called Action Adventure, but action is not a genre because it can permeate such other genres as Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror; War; and Western.  Even Adventure, which might be defined broadly as a perilous journey where the characters overcome natural and/or man-made obstacles, is compromised on occasion by films in which the protagonists do not move.  For instance, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) takes place in King John’s castle and nearby Sherwood Forest.  Garden of Evil (1954) is a Western first although it involves theraiders perilous trek. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is certainly Science Fiction yet it meets the criteria for Adventure:  again, a perilous trek.  Pirate movies fit here, don’t they?  But what about Pirates of the Caribbean?  Voodoo, ghost crews, and various oceanic monstrosities must relegate this franchise to the Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror genre.  Strictly speaking, Raiders of the Lost Ark is not Adventure.  A major supernatural element inhabits each Indiana Jones outing.

What about using true events to signify Adventure?  That ties it strongly to Historical.  What of The Last Valley (1970), which takes place during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) but is based on a novel?  Ditto A Tale of Two Cities (1935), which uses the French Revolution as backdrop but Dickens’ fictional characters in the prime roles.  Alexander the Great (1956) certainly covers a lot of geographic territory, so it’s Adventure and Historical.

“Costumers” is old lingo for historical flicks and is almost an insult in that such films may have little or no action. Think Forever Amber (1945).


If one wants to be truly minimalist, everything is either Comedy or Drama although Musical would subsume them both.  Many modern films are touted by the studios as comedies but are in fact in the crossover realm, Comedy-Drama.  See, for example, The Apartment; The Courtship of Eddie’s Father; Soldier in the Rain; The World of Henry Orient; Goodbye, Columbus; Crossing Delancey; Manny & Lo; The Family Stone.  The Comedy-Drama is hard to balance.  The Landlord (1970) begins amusingly but descends toward a gloomy denouement.

Comedy is rife with subgenres:

Black/dark comedy (The Loved One, Eating Raoul, Harold and Maude)
bringing up babyComedy-western (Along Came Jones, The Paleface, Cat Ballou, Texas Across the River, The Hallelujah Trail)
Romantic comedy (It Happened One Night, When Harry Met Sally, Notting Hill)
Satirical comedy (Dr. Strangelove, Being There, The King of Comedy)
Screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve)
Service comedy (Operation Mad Ball, Imitation General, Don’t Go Near the Water, The Last Time I Saw Archie)
Sophisticated comedy (Trouble in Paradise, The Philadelphia Story, The Palm Beach Story)
Spy comedy (Our Man Flint, The Silencers, The Last of the Secret Agents?)

Question:  Is Being John Malkovich a Comedy or is it Drama?  Science Fiction?  Fantasy?

Crime, Mystery & Suspense.

It’s all about murder.  Other than comedic spoofs like Our Man Flint and The Silencers,anatomy of a murder.jpg espionage films fall here.  Trial films are properly in Drama because the crime itself is tangential to the story and usually not seen, e.g., 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder.  Film noir is not a genre, it is a style.  Terror movies without supernatural elements go here, e.g., Psycho; Die! Die! My Darling; Manhunter; The Silence of the Lambs.

Subgenres include heist (The Asphalt Jungle, Five Against the House) and prison (Brute Force, Riot in Cell Block 11) films.  Should prison films that do not feature riots and whose plots are not predicated on murder (Caged, Chained Heat) be designated Drama?


streetcar.jpgWe know it when we see it, presumably.  Definitive dramas include The Good Earth, Kings Row, Gentleman’s Agreement, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Executive Suite, The Rose Tattoo, The View from Pompey’s Head, Sweet Smell of Success, Look Back in Anger, David and Lisa, The Sterile Cuckoo, Love Story, Play It As It Lays, The Paper Chase, Norma Rae.

Modern age biopics fit here, e.g., A Beautiful Mind.

Musical.wizard of oz

The musical genre is easiest to identify.  If there’s singing and dancing, it’s Musical.  Musical subsumes into its bailiwick all other subjects.  Thus The Wizard of Oz is Musical first, Fantasy second.

Tricky:  is a musical biography in which there is little or no singing a Musical or Biography, thus Drama, e.g., The Glenn Miller Story, The Eddy Duchin Story?

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror.

Horror here is Supernatural horror, not merely “terror,” e.g., Psycho, Homicidal, The the thing.jpgSilence of the Lambs.  Those fit into Crime, Mystery & Suspense.

Science Fiction and Horror often overlap. Frankenstein is generally considered Horror, but the good doctor uses scientific means to create the monster.  Fantasy, too, may have elements of supernatural horror. The Thing from Another World (1951) is about a UFO and its dangerous passenger found in the ice, but the occupant acts like the Frankenstein monster—or Dracula, as it grows offspring using human blood.

War (Combat).

For the minimalist, War is the modern combat film, the hard helmet school as it were, thus beginning with World War I. Films dealing with pre-WW I battle belong in Adventure & Historical, e.g., The Crusades, Spartacus, Waterloo, Zulu, Kingdom of Heaven.

Subgenres include aerial dogfight (The Dawn Patrol, The Blue Max), submarine (The Enemy Below, Run Silent, Run Deep), POW escape (The Colditz Story, The Great Escape),great escape wartime planning (Command Decision, The Man Who Never Was), and wartime espionage (Pimpernel Smith, The Man Who Never Was, The Counterfeit Traitor).  Casablanca probably goes here even though there’s no real espionage going on.  People are fleeing the Nazis, not spying on them or waging a guerilla war, at least during the time of the film itself.  Should War be divided into Combat and Non-Combat? From Here to Eternity is, except for the attack on Pearl Harbor finale, a Drama of pre-World War II army life.


The Western, a distinctly U.S. genre, can be defined by geography and/or time period.  A Western should take place in North America, i.e., the United States, Canada or Mexico.  South America and Australia might deserve some consideration. See 1955’s The Americano with Glenn Ford and 1990‘s Quigley Down Under with Tom Selleck.

The time period is more problematic. Is The Alamo Western or Adventure & Historical?  northwest passageThe actual siege took place in 1836 in Texas. What about films set in the Colonial period? Northwest Passage or The Last of the Mohicans, for instance?  There are Native Americans in these films. But they are more properly Historical (based on a novel based on a good deal of fact). One often sees Civil War films classified as Western, but they are really Historical. However, there is a subgenre of movies in which Yanks and Rebs join forces to track (Major Dundee) or fight off the indigenous tribes (Under Two Flags).

Does the presence of Native Americans automatically make a film a Western? If so, the Floridian-set Distant Drums and Seminole are Westerns.

It is difficult to designate a starting time for Westerns. One might use the Civil War’s conclusion and the rapid expansion into the interior, but that was already underway almost as soon as Europeans entered the Continent, and the Oregon Trail became a way west for settlers in 1836.  (Trappers and traders had been out there for many years.)  Bad Company (1972) takes place during the Civil War, when the Union is rounding up young men in the hinterland and on the frontier for the army.  The protagonists, played by Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges, fleeing conscription, hightail it across the Mississippi and into the West.  The end of the Western?  Purists scoff at the notion that films set in the West and feature automatic weapons and cars (Big Jake) are to be included, but who can deny The Wild Bunch (1969) a honored place in any discussion of great westerns?  Or The Professionals (1966)?

Genre Crossover

Musical-Comedy.  What predominates?  Musical.  Again, if there’s singing, it’s a Musical.

To recap, biographical films cross genres, from Musical (The I Don’t Care Girl, The Eddy Duchin Story, The Rose) to Adventure & Historical (Alexander the Great, The Last Emperor, Lincoln).  Therefore Biography is not a distinct genre.princess bride

The Princess Bride is Adventure and Comedy, or, perhaps, amusement.  Adventure wins out.  Or does it?  There’s a perilous trek.  However….how about Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror with an emphasis on Fantasy?

Comedy-western or western-comedy?  For the minimalist, comedy takes precedence.

Discussion Questions

Where does King Kong (1933) fit?  The title character is a giant ape.  Are his nemeses, dinosaurs, which once lived, science fiction?  Is the film fantasy?  Maybe the genre of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror can encompass it.  Placing it in Adventure might not be out of bounds.  The Historical part sounds wrong, though.  It’s not based on fact.

Is Mark of the Vampire (1935) Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror?  In the end it is revealed that there were no supernatural blood-suckers.  So does it belong in Crime, Mystery & Suspense?  There is a murderOthers of this disreputable ilk include Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956), Macabre (1958) and I Bury the Living (1958).

How many songs must a film have to be a Musical?  Are a half dozen enough?

Elvis Presley’s Follow That Dream (1962) features songs but is otherwise a cute comedy apollo 13with darker elements (gangsters).  So it remains Musical, right?  Or Comedy-Drama with music that makes it Musical-Comedy?  It boggles the mind.

What is Apollo 13 (1995)?  It’s fact-based, therefore not Science Fiction.  It’s a prime candidate for the Adventure & Historical genre.

Does a jungle setting relegate a movie to Adventure?  Not necessarily.  The Naked Jungle (1953) mostly takes place on a plantation.  Only the army ants are going anywhere.


As this analysis demonstrates, most films fit without undue pressure into one of eight specific genres.  Others are more intractable.  Perhaps what is needed is a very large chalkboard on which, like mathematicians and theoretical physicists, film aficionados draw arrows and other symbols to establish relationships between genres.  Nevertheless, the nagging suspicion is that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is no final answer.

Written by Kim Holston