This November marked the publication of “An Introduction to Film Genres” (W.W. Norton), an innovative textbook for undergraduates engaged in the study of film, for which Lester Friedman, professor of media and society and chair of that program, was lead author.
The book contains 13 chapters, each devoted to a particular genre of film-slapstick comedy to western to sci-fi and everything in between. Each chapter is divided into four sections (a historical overview of the genre; an exploration of the genre’s recurrent typologies, themes and theories; an analysis of the genre’s dominant iconography; and a close reading of one representative film within the genre), and concludes with a series of questions to stimulate class discussion.
“We were looking for something that hasn’t been done, and there’s no book like this,” Friedman says.
“An Introduction to Film Studies” distinguishes itself from other books in the market, says Peter Simon, vice president and editor at W.W. Norton, “because it was written specifically with the undergraduate reader in mind, and its chapters all have a similar structure, thus making the text the first that can accurately claim to be a teaching text for courses in film genre. Other books in the field weren’t written or edited with the same attention to the needs of undergraduate readers foremost in mind.”
The book’s comprehensive structure is as accessible as it is unique.
“Genre is the oldest form of film classification-or classification within the arts in general,” Friedman says. “Go to Netflix-it’s organized basically by genre.”
For Friedman, teaching films within the context of a genre is so appealing and instructive because “we’re comfortable with general characteristics of genre. Genre is a successful combination of tradition and innovation, and I would argue that particular genres speak to particular human needs at different points in history. Certain eras are responsive to different genres. The western, for example, is in decline now, whereas sci-fi and horror have emerged as two major genres. There are cultural reasons for these shifts in audience taste.”
As lead author, Friedman contributed the introduction and a chapter on the combat film genre, but also acted as general editor, enlisting the contributions of the four other prominent scholar/teachers-David Desser (University of Illinois, emeritus), Sarah Kozloff (Vassar College), Martha Nochimson and Stephen Prince (Virginia Tech University)-and editing each essay.
“This book was written by a stellar team of scholars who were eager to bring their years of teaching knowledge directly to undergraduates,” says Simon. “This impressive team embraced wholeheartedly the notion of writing a truly accessible introduction to their field. Their enthusiasm for this task comes through in every chapter, and that’s exciting to me as an editor.”
“It’s exciting to work with the premiere academic textbook publisher in America,” says Friedman. “My hope is that this book will become the fundamental text for genre studies throughout the country-and beyond its borders.”
“An Introduction to Film Genres” is published as part of the Norton Mix: Film catalogue.
The texts in the Norton Mix: Film are designed not just for a single course but a “family of courses in the film studies curriculum that focus on film genre(s),” says Simon, who has been at Norton since 1990 and an editor in film studies since 1994. “Sometimes, those courses are built to introduce students to a number of genres. Other times, the course is focused on one genre.”
“Norton allows you to essentially create a perfect text for your class and needs,” says Friedman, who will be teaching his own text next semester.
Friedman joined the HWS faculty in 2005. He earned his B.A. from Alfred University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Syracuse University. His recent books include “Citizen Spielberg” (University of Illinois Press, 2006), “Fires Were Started” (Wallflower Press, 2006), “American Cinema of the 1970s” (Rutgers University Press, 2006) and “Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media” (Duke University Press, 2004).