Friday, March 10, 2006
THE MYTH OF GENRE
Genre is visible. People know if they are watching a western or science fiction. But invisible ink is about the inner workings of story, not the costumes the characters wear.
Among the people who know me, I am known as the guy who doesn’t like any film that comes out. This isn’t true. It’s mostly true. Anyway, they rack their brains trying to figure out what it is I do like and why. They think it might be subject matter or a certain kind of tone or maybe a particular genre. But there is always some wild card film that blows their theory.
Among people I work, with I am known as a person who can go easily from writing one genre to another. They can’t figure out how I do it. It’s simple. I just try to tell a story and tell it well. That is the same thing I want from other storytellers as well.
I believe that thinking of stories in genre terms only makes one think of how stories are different from one another instead of what they all have in common. Good drama doesn’t understand the boundaries of genre. It doesn’t care if someone rides a horse, a car, or a space ship, as long as you care about the rider.
Genre is concerned with the external. Some stories have been told in completely different genres with only cosmetic changes. Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, a samurai movie, became the basis for the first Star Wars film. Another Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai, became a western.
Kurosawa himself took William Shakespeare’s King Lear and set it in feudal Japan. Patrick Stewart took that same story and set it in nineteenth-century Texas for his television production, King of Texas.
The classic musical Westside Story is Romeo and Juliet updated and set in the world of rival street gangs in 1950s New York.
The John Wayne western Red River is a retelling of the classic sea epic Mutiny on the Bounty. Same story, different genre.
Genre is irrelevant to the dramatist. A dramatist should only be concerned with drama. If one genre can help you tell your story better than another, use it. No genre is better or worse than another.