Film Ma Thesis        

UNDERCOVER: A Hero in an Identity Crisis? (part 2)

1. 4 Research hypothesis

From the literature overview and theoretical framework there are several key points which I would like to emphasize in the context of my study:
• Moving image content is considered to be reliable evidence about culture and society and is a reflection of social and cultural values and beliefs.
• Contemporary theories view genre as ongoing, dynamic process and genre hybridization is pushed by authorial creativity, technological factors and new audience's preferences. Hybrid genres are common phenomenon in contemporary film production.
• Authorial creativity plays an important role in promotion of genres and emergence of new ones.
• Genres conventions change according to the ideology of the time and genres are perfect parameters of social values and beliefs.
• Genre analysis provides useful tools for analyzing aesthetic quality of film, as well for analysis of hidden meanings.

Leitch says that „strong genres" can be defined by mise-en-scene, while „weaker genres" are based on typological situations, characters, or presentational features (Leitch, 2004:2). This study seeks to answer what kind of characters undercover films employ. The plot, visual style, and narrative conventions are important in analysis of this hybrid genre and this study will provide a systematic analysis on these important elements as well. Through the use of genre analysis methodology, the study seeks to prove that:
- Sample films investigate undercover in an overlap between ganster and detective genre;
- The undercover as a hybrid genre is defined by its inner form and specific conventions;
- The generic core of the undercover hybrid genre is the specific and unique undercover hero;
- Underover films provide specific ideological strategies for considering the specific ideological tension.

Chapter two – methodological considerations

Genre analysis appears under the umbrella of qualitative approaches, and involves principles of interpretative, subjective, holistic, and humanistic procedures. This study is constructed as a genre analysis of three films: Miami Vice (2006) by Michael Mann, The Departed (2006) by Martin Scorsese, and Eastern Promises (2007) by David Cronenberg.

It is important to explain that the subject of research appeared as a result of watching these films, instead of searching for texts that would confirm some previous presumptions. These films were all released in a short period of time, between 2006 and 2007. It was interesting to see how three prominent authors I privately respect very much, treated the same theme and character. Seemingly sudden interest of the authors in the life of undercover hero inspired me to identify and recall of some earlier undercover detective films in order to compare the degree to which undercover as dominant figure is constructed, and to provide a specific field of reference. The first step in the research was sampling of past crime films that portray the life and profession of undercover cop/detective. At this point, of great help were Internet sources as,, and and theory on crime film, which provide the list of undercover films, such as: Donnie Brasco (1997, Mike Newell), Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock), State of Grace (1990, Phil Joanou), Deep Cover (1992, Bill Duke), Cruising (1980, William Friedkin), City on Fire (1987, Ringo Lam), The Street with No Name (1948, William Keighley), Men without Names (1935, Ralph Murphy), Infernal Affairs (2002, Andrew Lau, Alan Mak), and Serpico (1973, Sidney Lumet).

After gaining some historical insights on undercover as a theme, I went on analysing three films that present sample for this study.

The research required multi-viewing of the films, with specific questions on the mind. Genre methodology per se is a kind of subjective reading, largely based on descriptions and classifications. The process of taking screenshots (images taken by PC software I use for viewing films) from the films helped a lot when it comes to analysing visual style and illustration of particular elements in the study.

There are some concerns affecting genre research I would like to point out. The problem of definition or circularity refers to a problem of establishing a genre. Theorists suggest that researcher have to rely on assumptions, common sense or shared agreement (Hansen et al; 1998; 166) in order to provide a starting point for a study.

Problems of linearity of genre divisions is solved through the triangulation of methods, which provides different sets of criteria and descriptions and, as such, leaves enough space for investigating the potential of emergence of new ones.

In order to provide a profound and complex textual analysis, the research combines different methods proposed by Hansen et al. (1998), considering categorisation and exchange approach. The methods of categorisation and codification include analysis of visual elements, iconography, mise-en-scene and narrative elements. The first step at this stage is an identification of principal elements. Through analysis of look and style, creativity and aesthetic values, different aesthetics of three authors dealing with the same genre is accentuated. This kind of analysis provides an answer to how authors managed to provide new understandings of human motivations and needs.

The categorization approach includes a list of key elements that are found in texts, both symbolic and technical. Consideration of the technical elements also draws attention to the signifying techniques that are used to convey generic information. List of key elements is used as described by Hansen et al (1998) and include: camera shots, camera movements, camera lenses, framing, lighting, sound, costume, objects, setting. Analysis of mise-en-scene, as a most useful tool in examining the authorial signature and inventiveness, is explored through several representative frames from sample films. A crucial tool in genre analysis is iconography, which is considered to be central to genre recognition and meaning. As a sign, "icon refers the researcher to the meanings beyond its mere physical form" (Hansen et al; 1998; p.173) The iconography table proposed by Buscombe (1986; cited in Hindmarsh; 1996; p.9) is used to list specific icons that appear in films (setting, clothes, tools of trade, miscellaneous physical objects). List of narrative elements that appear in each film is applied in attempt to gather all similarities according to which the narrative conventions of the genre can be established. Following narrative elements, I apply Shatz's plot structure of genre products (Hansen et al;1998:184) as crucial in determining the ideological dimension. This plot structure is backed up with the illustration of binary oppositions that re-occur in these texts.

The findings of the research will gather the outcomes, in two categories that Buscombe (1986) named 'the outer form' and 'the inner form' of the genre. The inner form purports the exchange approach, which has wider social relevance and provides tools for deeper examination of the hybrid genre. It examines the role of a genre as an exchange between society, industry, audience and content. There is a wide opinion that genre films always tell the same things to and about society. Within a familiar setting, genre films provide an audience with the recognizable values and norms of its culture. This part also provides the modes of construction of a contemporary hero who deals with the identity crisis, through his actions.

In discussion of the 'inner form' I provide the list of narrative conventions, using the schema by Hansen et al (1998) that includes: conventional hero, villain and heroine, conventional period and location, conventional representation and stereotypes, conventional modes of transport, conventional set-piece, conventional themes and conventional dialogues.

Overall methodology used in this research is applied as follows:

1. List of principal elements of films: camera shots, camera movements, camera lenses, framing, lighting, sound, costume, objects, setting;

2. Analysis of mise-en-scene through several representative frames;

3. List of specific icons that appears in the films;

4. Identification of narrative elements;

5. Shatz's plot structure comprising above mentioned conventions and icons, reflecting ideological dimension, most obvious in resolution;

6. Accentuation of conflicts through identification of binary oppositions that re-occur in films;

7. Determination of the generic core.

Genre methodology deals with the moving image content, and is based on definitions, descriptions and classifications. There are many elements and categories, but in order to do a complex analysis and to generalize findings, it is necessary for researcher to reveal all of them. For thorough research, as some suggests, "the drawing together of genre approaches into a fluid and eclectic pattern of research methodologies and analysis, rather than the static and divided approaches of the past, is essential for thorough research." (Hansen et al; 1998; 186) They suggest a kind of reconciliation between the principal elements approach and exchange approach, and between aesthetic and ideological approach. The number of analyzed films and used methodology allowed a deep analysis which gave an answer to the research question.


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