Understanding Film: Film Genres
"Cinema is not only about making people dream." - Nadine Labaki
Information at a Glance
- Live online course
- 2 hours a week
- Thursdays 18:00 - 20:00
- 10 weeks: April to June
- Tutor: Eleonora Sammartino
- Fees from £120 to £205
- Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
- Book from 1 March 2021
From the early silent period to contemporary digital platforms, genre has always played a key role in the making and understanding of cinema. This 10-weeks course will introduce students to different films genres through a wide range of examples, reflecting on how genres can be defined and analysing narrative, stylistic, and aesthetic conventions that characterise them.
Through this lens, we will examine modes of production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption in various historical periods and contexts. While the course will mainly focus on Hollywood, parallels will be drawn with other global cinemas, showing how genres circulate in popular culture. We will also discuss the relationship between cinema and the socio-historical, political, and cultural contexts in which films have been produced, distributed and consumed, with a special focus on gender, race, class.
At the end of the course, students will have a greater understanding of how film genres work, how they have changed in different contexts, and their role in the industry.
This course is open to all, whether you have previous knowledge of film history or have never studied it before. All classes will be supported through PowerPoint presentations and clips from popular and less-known films to analyse, for opportunities to discuss films together.
Online Access to Course
This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.
Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.
Course programme (may be subject to changes)
Week 1: Introduction to Film Genre
In this session, we will introduce the course, taking a look at some of its main themes and topics. We will then focus on the concept of “film genre”, exploring some of the main theories that have been formulated about it. We will start to outline how genres could be defined, looking at examples ranging from silent cinema to contemporary media, and consider the “usefulness” of genre in processes of production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption.
Week 2: Romantic Comedy
This week, we will focus on comedy. We will start by questioning whether it could be defined as a genre or if it could be categorized in any other way. We will then explore a specific genre within it: the romantic comedy. We will consider how different socio-cultural contexts have influenced the conventions of this genre, from the 1930s screwball films to the 1950s comedies with Doris Day, up to the most recent declinations in both Hollywood and the UK.
Week 3: Western
In this session, we will explore one of the genres that is commonly considered as quintessentially American: the western. We will outline the history of this genre, from its connections with literature and pre-cinema forms of entertainment to its emergence in Hollywood, further questioning its “evolution”. We will explore the foundational myth of the frontier, central to western films, and some of the key conventions that characterise the genre. The session will also consider how the Hollywood western has influenced and has been influenced by other global cinemas, from the spaghetti western to samurai films.
Week 4: Musical
Synonymous with Classical Hollywood, the musical emerged with the transition to sound and developed through the fundamental organization of the studios in producer-led units. In this session, we will explore some musical cycles across different decades and studios, such as Warner Brothers, RKO and MGM. We will also consider the difference between “integrated” and “aggregated” musicals. This will give us the opportunity to examine the representation of gender, race, and class, and the link between socio-political contexts and an “escapist” genre such as this. We will then explore the changing fortunes of the musical in the post-studio period, in close relation to other media industries, such as television.
Week 5: Horror
This week, we will continue to reflect on the definition of film cycles, as opposed to genres and sub-genres. We will examine various examples of horror films, like the Universal Classic Monsters, the sci-fi features of the 1950s, or the great popularity of the slasher between the 1970s-80s, tracing some of the main aesthetic and stylistic conventions that are associated with the genre. The session will also analyse the fertile exchange between Hollywood and other global cinemas in processes of remaking, with a particular focus on East Asian cinematographies.
Week 6: Film Noir
Is film noir a genre? Emerged retrospectively as a term through the critical reception of some Hollywood films in France, film noir will allow us to once again question the definition of “genre” and to highlight the importance of different uses of generic categories by critics and audiences. Through some key examples, like Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) and The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953), we will analyse formal conventions, such as lighting and mise-en-scène, tracing connections between Hollywood and European cinemas. We will further explore the relationship between film noir and the socio-cultural context of the 1940s-50s, and examine its legacy in contemporary cinema.
Week 7: Melodrama
In this session, we will continue to consider the importance of the critical reception through the case of melodrama, particularly its redefinition by Feminist Film theorists since the 1970s. We will outline the origins of melodrama in theatre and in cinema during the silent period, before moving to films from Classical Hollywood. In examining clips, we will consider the importance of formal elements in the creation of meanings and emotions, key to this genre. Finally, we will trace connections between the 1950s family melodramas, such as Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959), and European filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pedro Almódovar.
Week 8: Historical Drama
In this session, we will explore the wide-ranging reach of historical drama, looking at different forms and sub-genres across different cinematic traditions. We will analyse similarities and differences between historical epics, from the success of 1950s sword-and-sandals to the renaissance prompted by Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000), and costume/period dramas more popular on this side of the Atlantic. This will give us the opportunity to also consider how this genre negotiates discourses on identity (gendered, racial, national, etc.).
Week 9: Documentary and Experimental Filmmaking
In a detour from mainstream narrative cinema, this week we will explore documentary and experimental filmmaking. We will try to define documentary through various theories and practices that have characterised its history, starting from the first examples in the 1920s, and we will then consider the relationship between different technologies and the development of various modes of documentary. More independent forms of filmmaking will be highlighted through experimental or avant-garde films, such as those made by Maya Deren in the 1940s.
Week 10: Sci-Fi
In this last week, we will bring together the themes and topics of the course through the example of sci-fi. Arguably one of the first genres to emerge in the early silent period, sci-fi is still experiencing great popularity in Hollywood and beyond, with recent examples ranging from Hindi to Ethiopian cinemas. In exploring this genre, we will consider technological, historical, and socio-cultural developments that have influenced it as well as different contexts of production, distribution, and exhibition.
There is no requirement to undertake specific reading for this course, but if you would like to look in greater depth at the subject the following books are recommended:
- Rick Altman. Film/Genre. London: BFI Publishing, 1999.
- David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2010.
- Barry Keith Grant (ed.). Film Genre Reader III. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003 - or following editions.
Further optional reading material and suggestions will be provided by the tutor throughout the course.
Dr Eleonora Sammartino is an experienced teacher in Film Studies. In addition to Imperial College, she has taught at undergraduate level at a variety of institutions, including King’s College London, University of Reading, and University of Greenwich.
Eleonora gained her PhD in Film Studies at King’s College London in 2018, with a thesis on gender and the contemporary American film musical. She has worked for film festivals in Italy and UK and is currently part of the organising committee of FILL – Festival of Italian Literature in London, for which she has hosted film screenings.
All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.
All times stated are British Standard Time.
To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.
This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.
Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.
We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.
All courses lasting two hours have a 10 minute break in the middle. For one hour courses there is no break.
Course Fees and Rate Categories
|Hours||Weeks||Standard Rate||Internal Rate||Associate Rate|
|All fee rates quoted are for the whole course Please note there is no early-bird discount available for the April intake courses|
Rate Categories and Discounts
- Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.
- Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
- Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email email@example.com before completing the online enrolment form.
- Students (non-Imperial College)
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It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.
Applicable terms & conditions
Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.
|Hours||Weeks||Autumn term||Spring term||Summer term|
|20||10||n/a||n/a||w/c 26 Apr - w/e 4 Jul 2021 (10 weeks)|
Web enrolment starts 1 March 2021
Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:
- Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
- First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
- The booking process involves entering payment details before your course choice and applicant details are queried on an in-built questionnnaire which completes the process
- The following email notifications are sent
|What is sent||When is it sent||What does it contain|
|1. Payment confirmation||Instantaneously following submission of your online application||
|2. Enrolment confirmation||Sent in due course but likely not before the end of March. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received||
|3. Programme information||Usually sent Friday late afternoon the week before term starts||
|If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756
- Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the tutor, Dr Eleonora Sammartino, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Questions about your enrolment and payment should be sent to the Programme Administrator, email@example.com
If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.