Pet peeve: Medium versus genre


Everyone has a pet peeve, some little thing that really gets under one’s skin. For me it is the widespread misunderstanding of the distinction between medium and genre, specifically when used in relation to silent film.

Silent film is not a genre.

A genre is an artistic category which shares form and characteristics. The Searchers and The Toll Gate are westerns. It and Roman Holiday are romantic comedies. The Thief of Baghdad and the Harry Potter films are fantasy films. They share certain character types, tropes, and philosophies.

A medium is an instrument of expression. Oil paint and watercolors are not the same medium. Photography, music, theatre, cinema, and dance — all different mediums, different tools of expression.

Silence and sound are different mediums, different ways a filmmaker can tell a story. Silent film itself is not a genre. How can anyone claim a heady drama like The Passion of Joan of Arc, a gothic horror like Nosferatu, and a gag-filled comedy like Grandma’s Boy hail from the same genre? How are Within Our Gates and Show People cut from the same thematic cloth? They’re not.

Anyway, yeah. There’s your rant for the day.

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