(FILM014) Film Genres: The Western and Gangster Film

Cowboy on horseback herding horses


Course start date: Monday 17th January 2022
Course end date: Friday 25th March 2022
Early Bird Price £135: BOOK NOW

Tutor(s): Andrea Standon
Course Code: FILM014
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: None
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Films List**

The films that will be studied are listed in the Course Content details below.

**Please note: The films are not provided as part of the content of the course so you will need to organise your own access to them. Please note that all courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any films or texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Andrea Standon when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


Since the emergence of genre studies as a branch of film criticism in the 1960s, writers have struggled with two fundamental questions: ‘What is genre?’ and ‘How can different genres be recognised and defined?’. This course aims to answer these questions, initially through the exploration of key critical theories, followed by the close study of a range of films from within the two genres. Each film will be discussed in relation to the social, historical and cultural context of production, in order to both explore the theories and to demonstrate how, and why, each genre has evolved.

Course Content

Week One

What is Genre? Defining the term. New Approaches to Genre Study.

Film as Product: The Relationship between Film, Audience and the Industry.

Genre Theories Part I: The Evolution of Genre: From Experimental to Parody. The High Concept Film

Week Two

Genre Theories: Part II: Genre and Iconography, Genre and Narrative. Narrative Resolution and Genre.

Week Three

Genre Culture and Context: The Relationship Between Film and Ideology. Barthes Five Narrative Codes. Claude Levi-Strauss’ Theory of Oppositions. Social Functions of Genre. The Role of the Censor. Genres of Order and Integration.

Focus Films for Units 1-3: From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Goldeneye, Casino Royale. Reference is also made to xXx (Triple X), Austin Powers Trilogy and The Bourne Identity but a detailed knowledge of these films is not required.

The remaining units will focus on each of the two genres, the Western and the Gangster. Each genre study will be approached in a similar way. The aim will be to show the evolution of the genre and the way in which films reflect changing social attitudes. Films will be placed within a cultural / historical context, followed by textual analysis and application of genre theories. To gain the most from this course, you will need to be familiar with the films listed under each unit but you are not required to have watched all of them. Other films are referred to and these will be listed as the course progresses. You can omit study of certain films if you wish.

Week Four

The Western Part One: A brief history of America: the development of the new frontiers and a land of opportunity. The Frontier Thesis and its impact. Manifest Destiny.
The Experimental and Classic Western.

Focus Films: The Great Train Robbery (dir. Edwin S. Porter 1903) Stagecoach (dir. John Ford 1939) My Darling Clementine (dir. John Ford 1946) High Noon (dir. Fred Zinnermann 1952) Shane (George Stevens 1953) Magnificent Seven ( John Sturges 1960).

Week Five

The Western Part Two: The Changing Face of the Western: From Revisionist, to Parody and Satire.

Focus Films: The Searchers (John Ford 1956) The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah 1969) Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks 1974)

Week Six

The Western Part Three: Spaghetti Westerns.

Focus Films: A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone 1964) Few Dollars More (1965) Django (Corbucci 1966) Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone 1968)

Week Seven

The Gangster Genre Part One: From Rural Cowboy to Urban Gangster. Urbanisation and its impact.

Focus Films: The Musketeers of Pig Alley (D.W. Griffith 1912) Regeneration (Raoul Walsh 1915) The Roaring Twenties (Raoul Walsh 1939).

You will also need to be familiar with one of the following classic gangsters: Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy 1931) The Public Enemy (William A Wellman 1931) or Scarface (Hawks 1932)

Week Eight

The Gangster Genre Part Two: From Revisionist to Parody

Focus Films: M (Fritz Lang 1931) The Killers (Robert Siodmak 1946) White Heat (Raoul Walsh 1949) Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder 1959)

Week Nine

The Gangster Genre Part Three: Reworking the American Gangster.

Focus Films: Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn 1967) The Godfather (Coppola 1972) GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese 1990) Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes 2002)

Post Script: A few notes on the British Gangster film.

Week Ten

The Impact of Postmodernism on the Western and Gangster Genres

Focus Films: Dogville (Von Trier 2003) Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) Pulp Fiction (1995) Django Unchained (2012) The Hateful Eight (2015)

Intended Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to acquire:

• Knowledge and understanding of the Western and Gangster genres and how each has evolved.
• Understanding of a range of theories relating to the concept of genre.
• Increased knowledge and understanding of Hollywood film history.
• Increased understanding of the impact of social and political history, and culture in relation to film production.