The Moving Image Genre-form Guide
- Brian Taves (Chair)
- Judi Hoffman
- Karen Lund
Table of Contents
Of all the types of subject access to moving image works, genre
studies has emerged as the most frequently used and theoretically
developed system. Today, genre serves as a shorthand for archivists,
scholars, and filmmakers, having become the single best recognized
and intrinsically appropriate way to categorize film and television
works into readily understood classifications.
Genres are recognizable primarily by content, and to a lesser
degree by style. Genres contain conventions of narrational strategy
and organizational structure, using similar themes, motifs, settings,
situations, and characterizations. In this way, the makers of moving
image works use recognizable patterns of storytelling that are
readily understood by audiences. Typical formulas range from the
varieties of Hollywood feature films to modes of nonfictional discourse.
While developing terminology for application to the moving image
holdings of archives and libraries, the Moving Image Genre-Form
Guide follows the traditional methods of film and television
scholarship as closely as possible. The vast and steadily growing
literature of genre studies has been relied upon: hundreds of books
and many more articles authored on genre theory, as well as analyzing
specific genres. In addition, the many genre and content lists
that archives have developed over the years were examined, along
with such other indexing tools as the retrospective indices to
the writing on film, the terms in each volume in the American Film
Institute Catalog series, and commercial guides to videos. Nonetheless,
with the broad range of types of moving image works, there is no
single, ready resource to appropriate for a guide to such terms
in their archival application.
Utilizing this range of previous work, a committee within the
Motion Picture/Broadcasting/Recorded Sound Division has compiled
a comprehensive, practical guide to moving image genre and form
terminology ever created, covering some 150 terms, all fully defined
and exemplified. However, in addition to fulfilling the needs of
archivists and librarians, a guide to genre-form terms must also
satisfy such other interested groups as moving image scholars and
filmmakers. In order to be widely comprehensible to researchers,
a guide should offer terms and definitions conforming to general
classification practice. Since searches of online databases will
be increasingly conducted over the internet, instead of with the
assistance of reference librarians, the Moving Image Genre-Form
Guide aims to promote the likelihood of outside researchers
finding the desired bibliographic records through use of the basic
terms in the field.
The conventional focus of academic genre studies is on such standard
fictional genres as Western, Gangster, and Musical films. Because
Hollywood's theatrical and television output and their formulae
are the most codified and easily recognized, the range of genre
terms in the Moving Image Genre-Form Guide has a certain
inevitable bias in this direction. However, a list of genre terms
for archives must cover many unique types of material that are
less often discussed by scholars or within the industry, but will
still encompass substantial groups of archival holdings. Archives
handle the widest spectrum of material produced around the world,
and for many different types of markets, from theatrical releases
to Industrial to Educational. While genre studies usually focus
on fictional formulas, archives must also deal with, for instance,
all types of nonfiction genres, from Documentary to Propaganda
to Ethnographic to Interview to Travelogue. (Although this taxonomy
is generally structured along a fiction/nonfiction axis, an absolute
dichotomy between the two has proven impossible, and some works
straddle the polarity, from REDS to YOU ARE THERE.) Some categories
most productively conceived in a broad generic sense, such as Avant-garde
and Amateur material, have also been included within the Moving
Image Genre-Form Guide. The range of categories available
must be inclusive, developing a degree of specificity and practical
exactitude for nearly every type of material appropriate for a
Within archives, this list is usable in a MARC-based cataloging
system or a particular in-house system, as well as a manual catalog.
The Moving Image Genre-Form Guide begins with an overall
list of terms, first of genres, then of forms, and finally formats,
then offers a page of examples of how the system, using the library
MARC format, would be applied to a variety of sample titles. Subsequently,
the first and largest section covers genre terms, complete with
definitions, notes, and examples, with form terms similarly treated
in the following section. Finally, format definitions are offered.
Throughout, see references are provided from common, valid terms
to the term used in the Moving Image Genre-Form Guide.
With each term, we have provided a definition, describing conventions
of story construction, character types, and setting, and, as necessary,
additional definitional notes that indicate related or overlapping
genres, and other considerations when applying the term. For nearly
every genre and form, a variety of examples from different periods
and nations are given. The examples are meant to be both typical
of the genre as well as to indicate its breath, themes, and significant
sub-types. The examples are usually broadly grouped into feature
and television as the two most common forms. Unless specified with
a date, indicating a specific version, reference to a title presumes
that all versions of that title are intended as examples. The guide
is designed as both an online and a paper document, to facilitate
searching by keywords and specific examples.
Most moving image works overlap with other genres, so although
the primary genre is the one in which a title appears as an example,
secondary genre headings that would be appropriately applied are
given in parentheses after each title. Since moving image works
are inherently varied and unpredictable, any particular title may
span or combine elements of several different genres, and so the
use of multiple genre headings is encouraged. For example, fictional
genres are assumed to be dramatic unless combined with a type of
comedy. As many genre terms as are potentially applicable to any
given item should be used, even at the risk of some redundancy.
This will increase the likelihood of the item appearing in any
particular search. The tendency of each work to span several genres
is demonstrated in parentheses following each example, listing
other genre headings. A combination of genres that becomes so frequent
or so structured as to form its own type should be advanced to
the overall genre list. We have tried to allow any genre formula,
as long as it is still definable.
There may be wide variations in the frequency with which a given
term is used, because of differences in specific collections, the
individual mission of any given archive and its anticipated users,
and the popularity of any given genre. Hence, a range of terms
of varying specificity are offered. Genre terms have been made
sufficiently broad and general to apply to the product of various
countries, crossing national boundaries. While individual nations
have indigenous genres and terminology for them, attempting to
cover all these specific international possibilities in a satisfactory
manner would be prohibitively complex.
Similarly, the definitions of genre terms must be sufficiently
fluid to allow for variations over the decades. Nonetheless, certain
terms are offered, like film noir, that are most identified with
a particular era. Even when genres tend to be period-specific,
occurring primarily in cycles (such as film noir in the late 1940s
and early 1950s, or college films in the 1930s), they are rarely
exclusively confined to a particular time. (Groups of works that
are only actually part of a cycle, and do not form a genre of their
own, have not been included in the guide.) For instance, the Moving
Image Genre-Form Guide suggests that the term film noir be
applied to similar films beyond its golden age, rather than only
applied to work made at a certain time. However, some genres have
been included that are necessarily limited in the period to which
they can be applied, such as Chase, Trick, and Actuality films
in the early years of the cinema, because they were key genres
of their time.
Inevitably, provisional solutions to some formidable theoretical
and methodological problems have been applied. For instance, genre
has been defined to encompass works directed primarily toward a
particular audience (training films, or those for children, or
specific ethnicities) or made by certain groups (from Amateur to
Experimental work), since such factors impact narrative or stylistic
conventions. Ethnicity as a generic factor would refer to a dramatization
of a specific ethnic experience (for example, an adaptation from
the Yiddish theater), or a work having a definite primary intended
audience (such as films for African-Americans exhibited at segregated
theaters). The sex and race of individuals behind or in front of
the camera would not be the primary factor in determining an ethnic
work, except when it impacts content or comes to be a governing
force in narrative construction, such as with an "all-black-cast" film.
Categories based on a filmmaker's gender, race, and so on, are
not included, since that would require historical research well
beyond what archives can undertake.
The very comprehensiveness that is the hallmark of the Moving
Image Genre-Form Guide will give it additional value beyond those
involved in cataloging and inventorying moving image works. The
issues encountered in developing such a guide encompass many of
the same problems that academia tackles in classes and research.
Just as the Moving Image Genre-Form Guide has followed the literature
of genre studies, this guide may also be able to make a contribution
to such scholarship. Since the archival perspective frequently
extends beyond some of the more abstract, theoretical discourse
and the possibilities traditionally recognized for critical generic
analysis, scholars may benefit from a project that necessarily
applies to all forms and periods, with a greater emphasis on marginal
genres. The Moving Image Genre-Form Guide may be of value in pinpointing
categories that are worthy of further study but have been previously
neglected or overlooked, as genres that have not received critical
recognition become evident in the cataloging of archival holdings.
There are entire undertheorized areas that must be incorporated,
such as genres specific to television, from Home shopping to Public
access. To facilitate recognition from researchers, we have included
categories for some little-known genres that represent significant,
unavoidable generic groups of archival holdings. Thus the Moving
Image Genre-Form Guide can achieve a positive and exciting
exchange between the academic and archival communities, in addition
to its practical value as an indexing tool to scholars searching
Because of a recent decision to include form subdivisions in
Library of Congress Subject Headings, the Moving Image Genre-Form
Guide advantageously integrates this element. Forms are defined
as the basic categories indicating a moving image work's original
exhibition and release parameters (such as length and medium),
and which are separate from its actual content, not necessarily
implying a particular narrative construction. Form terms include
Feature, Short, Serial, Animation, and Television, and can be associated
as needed with any genre, in a manner similar to free-floating
subdivisions. Having both genre and form allows such combinations
as "Western--Television series" or "Western--Feature," permitting
a greater clarity for both cataloging and retrieval purposes. (The
form subfield is also repeatable, so that multiple forms can be
placed together; for instance, OUTER LIMITS could be coded in the
655 field with the subfields "avv" for "#Science fiction#Anthology#Television
series.") Matching form and genre also recognizes the differences
in the way genre conventions are applied in various forms.
While the form indicates the work's original appearance, a third
field, format, such as film, video, or videodisc, indicates the
actual physical characteristic of any particular copy. For instance,
a videodisc of THE SOUND OF MUSIC would have the genre-form-format
heading "Musical--Feature--Videodisc." A video release of a television
show would have Television as its access point for form; I LOVE
LUCY transferred to video would be "Situation comedy--Television
series--Video" for the genre, form, and format. Form and genre
terms have been arranged in such a way that any archive or library
not wishing to use the format subdivision need not do so.
The standard library systems for subject headings, designed largely
for non-fiction books, frequently lack suitable descriptors and
headings for moving images, and are designed to apply only to what
the work is about, not the genre of which it is an example. Hence,
although genre has a certain overlap with subject access, genre
also covers aspects of moving image works that would be otherwise
neglected, addressing the storytelling or narrational strategy
and formula that is seldom accounted for in subject headings. The
subject heading "Gangsters" does not necessarily mean that the
work is an example of the Gangster genre. There is no equivalent
for the concept of such genres as Documentary, Musical, or Horror
that can be easily supplied by a subject heading--although all
three may clearly be regarded as genres through their use of a
particular formula and mode of address. Subject access does not
negate the need for genre access, and genre headings supplant some
of the inherent limitations on the use of subject headings for
moving image works. Genre headings are particularly appropriate
for moving image works because they cover a specific, key element
that otherwise would be lacking for scholars doing research.
Neither subject nor genre headings are mutually exclusive, nor
should subject headings be relied upon to supplement gaps on a
generic list. Genres often suggest certain subjects; a western
is expected to deal with the American west, usually in the 19th
century. A genre subdivision for westerns that involve cattlemen
would probably not be desirable; such regional or occupational
specifics would likely be addressed through subject headings. A
nonfiction film about World War II would fall under the genres
for war and documentaries, but could also have a subject heading
related to the particular event portrayed, and to its specific
time and place.
While the Moving Image Genre-Form Guide generally avoids
hierarchical structures with broad and narrow terms, archives that
specialize in specific types of moving image works, such as collections
of news, dance, or ethnographic footage, may need to develop more
specific, narrow sub-genres, and such proposals would be welcomed.
Three webs of narrow terms have been offered in the areas of Advertising,
Animation, and Experimental work, and placed in the appendix. However,
use of such specialized terms is optional.
New genres, new terminology, and trends in production are likely
to appear or be discovered over time. This Moving Image Genre-Form
Guide is designed to be modified with ease, and will remain
dynamic in response to developments in the field. Suggestions--whether
involving terms, definitions, notes, or examples--may be made to
the head of the Processing Unit, Moving Image Section, Motion Picture/Broadcasting/Recorded
Sound Division, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E.,
Washington, D.C. 20540-4692. These suggestions will be reviewed
in a timely manner, and this procedural framework will permit the
continuous evolution and updating of the Moving Image Genre-Form
Bibliography of Archival and Video Genre Guides
Genre List. British Film Institute, n.d.
Bowker's Complete Video Directory. New York: R.R. Bowker,
1995. Genre Index.
Cataloging Commission, International Federation of Film
Archives. Film Cataloging. New York: Burt Franklin, 1979. pp.
The Film Index: A Bibliography. Vol. 1, The Film as Art.
New York: Museum of Modern Art and the H.W. Wilson Col., 1941.
John C. Gerlach and Lana Gerlach. The Critical Index. New
York: Teachers College Press, 1974. p. xvi.
Michael L. Godwin and James M. Wall, compilers. Instructional
Manual for National Audio-Visual Conservation Center
for the FMS System. 2nd. rev. Sept. 1985. p. 18.
Patricia King Hanson, Executive editor. The American Film
Institute Catalog: Feature Films, 1911-1920. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1988. Index volume. p. 429.
Patricia King Hanson, Executive editor. The American Film
Institute Catalog: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1993. Index volume. p. 1073.
Sheila S. Intner and William E. Studwell, with the assistance
of Simone E. Blake and David P. Miller. Subject Access to Films
and Video. Lake Crystal, Minnesota: Soldier Creek Press, 1992.
Daniel Lopez. Films by Genre. Jefferson, NC: McFarland,
Richard Dyer MacCann and Edward S. Perry. The New Film Index.
New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1975. p. vii.
George Rehrauer. The Macmillan Film Bibliography. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1982. pp. 158-159.
Sarah Rouse and Katharine Loughney. 3 Decades of Television.
Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989. pp. xxiii-xvii,
Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever. Detroit: Visible Ink,
1991. pp. 923-932.
The Video Source Book. 16th ed. Detroit, MI: Gale Research,
Inc., 1995. Guide to Subjects Covered, pp. 3179-3187.
Tom Wiener. The Book of Video Lists. Kansas City: Andrews
and McMeel, 1993. pp. 5, 14, 21, 37, 45, 91, 104, 107, 115, 122,
Martha M. Yee, compiler, for the National Moving Image Database
Standards Committee at AFI. Moving Image Materials: Genre Terms.
Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1988.
The American Film Institute Catalog: Feature Films, 1921-1930.
National Center for Film and Video Preservation at AFI,
Washington, D.C. Drafts of 8/2/94 and 11/95.
Merged Audio-Visual System (NFSA). p. 441, 446-447.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956)
655 -7 #av2 # Adventure#Feature.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Comedy#Feature.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Adaptation#Feature.#migfg
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1989)
655 -7 #av2 # Adventure#Television mini-series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Comedy#Television mini-series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Adaptation#Television mini-series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Adventure#Feature.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Biographical#Feature.#migfg
DR. QUINN--MEDICINE WOMAN
655 -7 #av2 # Western#Television series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Medical#Television series.#migfg
FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE
655 -7 #av2 # Science fiction#Serial.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Medical#Television series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Soap opera#Television series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Prehistoric#Feature.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Science fiction#Feature.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Adaptation#Feature.#migfg
MEET THE PRESS
655 -7 #av2 # Interview#Television series.#migfg
655 -7 #av2 # Public affairs#Television series.#migfg
655 -7 #avv2 # Science fiction#Anthology#Television series.#migfg
655 -7 #avv2 # Historical#Animation#Feature.#migfg
655 -7 #avv2 # Musical#Animation#Feature.#migfg