This dossier represents emerging writers from RMIT University’s undergraduate Film Genre course, as they explore ways that an individual film may use, knowingly play with or revise genre tropes, in the midst of other artistic, industrial and socio-historical factors. The ubiquity with which the idea of genre circulates in popular culture may potentially present a somewhat misleading picture of consensus that the course then problematises and unpacks over a semester. As Steve Neale points out, genre does not merely consist of a set of “conventions” used within films, but also “systems of expectation and hypothesis” among audience members.1 In turn, these genre expectations can be influenced by marketing materials and reviews.2 Films that were first marketed as one genre can be subsequently re-labelled as another genre by scholars and critics,3 or by the industry itself.4 In the contemporary era, streaming services frequently use multiple and sometimes “oddly specific” genre labels,5 in ways that challenge a dominant idea expressed by Rick Altman that “if it is not defined by the industry and recognized by the mass audience, then it cannot be a genre.”6 As such, while the repetition of recognisable codes and labels may be central to our understanding of genre, so too variation in how genre is used – by filmmakers, the film industry, and audiences – is also key to the genre system.

William V. Costanzo points out that ultimately, it’s not possible to arrive at a “single blueprint” for each genre “that accounts for every scene or plot.”7 Rather, “it is more useful to think in terms of loosely shared traits.”8 This becomes even more complex once genres are mixed together, a common strategy with a long history, aimed at attracting a wide audience base.9 Indeed, we start the course with John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945), a book adaptation with elements of mystery, crime, romance, the western, the woman’s picture, and what we would now call film noir, despite this not being a term in use when the film was released.10 Jennifer Peterson asserts that “Leave Her to Heaven demonstrates how we might conceptualize genre not as a static element running through an entire film but as a mutable element that changes scene by scene, in small generic capsule-moments.”11 It is with this provocation that students embark on their film genre journey. Students were tasked with curating an imaginary film genre festival, and then each wrote about one film from their program in the style of the “CTEQ Annotations on Film” produced for Melbourne Cinémathèque. 

Leave Her to Heaven

The five student annotations in this dossier thoughtfully approach the complex task of defining genre within an ever-evolving cultural and historical context, exploring films from a wide range of time periods and geographic locations. Amy Maher defines the Australian coming-of-age genre as both nationally and locally distinct, highlighted by Danny’s (Noah Taylor) resistance to adulthood and growing up in Richard Lowenstein’s He Died with a Felafel in His Hand (2001). 

Malachy Lewis examines the independent production process involved in the making of Japanese cult director Shinya Tsukamoto’s twisted and experimental metal horror, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), and how the transformation the central characters experience can be understood in relation to contemporary masculinity. Then Drew Baker unpacks critical debates surrounding queer cinema and whether “Queer” should be considered its own genre,12 in an evocative annotation on Neil Armfield’s Holding the Man (2015).

Ji Li’s annotation discusses Robert Wiene’s German Expressionist classic, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920) – a film renowned for its bold production design – exploring its contribution to the emergence of the psychological horror genre. Finally, Lachlan Campbell positions Kevin Smith’s grotesque comedy body horror, Tusk (2014) as a key example of how unexpected genre combinations can work to both revitalise genre and produce generic pleasure, as the film finds the perfect balance between meeting audience expectations while offering the unexpected.13 

While film genre scholarly criticism first emerged back in the mid-1960s, film genre remains a vital means through which the industry makes and markets its products, and through which critics and audiences make sense of them. Our understanding of film genre is a source of ongoing debate, while genres themselves continue to respond to changing industrial and social circumstances. The emerging student scholars in this dossier demonstrate how genre fruitfully intersects with these broader “pragmatics” of film culture.14


  1. Steve Neale, “Questions of Genre” in Film Genre Reader IV, Barry Keith Grant, ed. (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2012), pp. 179, 189.
  2. Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: New York University Press, 2010), p. 141.
  3. Steve Neale, “Film Noir” in Genre and Hollywood (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 142-167.
  4. Rick Altman, Film/Genre (London: BFI, 1999), pp. 78-79.
  5. Hunter Schwarz, “23 Oddly Specific Netflix Categories That Only Have One Show You Can Watch,” BuzzFeed, 12 January 2014.
  6. Altman, p. 16. As Altman himself notes, in practice film genre has a long and complex history that defies this formula. See also Djoymi Baker, Jessica Balanzategui, and Diana Sandars, Netflix, Dark Fantastic Genres and Intergenerational Viewing: Family Watch Together TV (London: Routledge, 2023), p. 9.
  7. William V. Costanzo, World Cinema Through Global Genres (Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), p. 209.
  8. Costanzo, p. 209.
  9. Altman, p. 128.
  10. Jennifer Peterson, “The Front Lawn of Heaven: Landscape in Hollywood Melodrama circa 1945,” Camera Obscura, 74, vol. 25, no. 2 (2010): p. 131.
  11. Peterson, p. 131.
  12. Sally MacAlister, “Queer Is Not a Genre,” Watershed, 23 June 2022; Bryan Wuest, “A Shelf of One’s Own: A Queer Production Studies Approach to LGBT Film Distribution and Categorization,” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 70, no. 3-4 (2018): pp. 24-43.
  13. Altman, pp. 123-143.
  14. Altman, pp. 207-215.

About The Author

Djoymi Baker is Lecturer in Cinema Studies at RMIT University, Australia. She is the author of To Boldly Go: Marketing the Myth of Star Trek (2018) and the co-author of The Encyclopedia of Epic Films (2014) and Netflix, Dark Fantastic Genres and Intergenerational Viewing: Family Watch Together TV (2023). Lucie McMahon is a film practitioner based in Melbourne. Lucie is currently undertaking a master by research at RMIT University, where she also lectures and tutors in cinema and media studies. Lucie’s creative practice research looks at queer documentary and queer history in Melbourne. Lucie also works as a freelance producer on a variety of film projects, most recently she has completed her first Screen Australia-funded feature documentary Things Will Be Different.

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