Genre Deconstruction: Drama

Drama Films are realistic stories that tell a serious story, often dealing with “characters in conflict with either themselves, others, or forces of nature (” Dramas are not about showing the happy side of people or situations, instead they cover all human moods, emotions and feelings. Drama is an overarching genre from which crime films, melodramas, epics, biopics, and romance films have grown out of. “Dramatic themes often include current issues, societal ills, and problems, concerns or injustices, such as racial prejudice, religious intolerance (such as anti-Semitism), drug addiction, poverty, political unrest, the corruption of power, alcoholism, class divisions, sexual inequality, mental illness, corrupt societal institutions, violence toward women or other explosive issues of the times (”

There are many different categories of dramas.  Social problem dramas, also known as “message films” are one of the largest categories of drama and are about “powerful lessons (” Examples of such films are Hell’s Highway, I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Wild Boys of the Road, Fury, Birdman of Alcatraz, and Each Dawn I Die ( These films are about topics ranging from lost children on a plight to  live through the Depression, to prisoners and bird experts to crimes, execution and corruption. Even the titles are forceful and attention grabbing, characterizing the overall theme of active or emotional dramatic films.  There are also sub-categories of social problem dramas such as films about mental illness, films about alcoholism and films about race relations and civil rights. Other social dramas include courtroom dramas and political dramas such as the 1984 drama, A Soldier’s Story about southern military, racism and AIDS.

Other categories of dramatic film include history-related drama, sports drama, religious drama, show-business drama and literature drama.

Dramas date back to the 1940’s and 50’s when they were used as “tools to teach the audience (” Some of the originating silent dramas were Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Citizen Kane (1941). Respectively, these films tell tales of the Depression, and real people of the time. Some of the first well-known actors in dramatic films were Glenn Ford, James Dean, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe. The 50s was a time when dramatic films were “focused on character relationship and development (” In the 60’s, drama focused more on war and political movements. Sports dramas also became more prevalent such as The Hustler (1961) and Downhill Racer (1969). There was not a specific theme for dramas in the 1970’s but sports themes continued such as Rocky (1976) and Rocky II (1979) and crime and society focused dramas such as The Godfather (1972). In the 1980’s, emotion was seen throughout dramatic films, such as The Color Purple (1985). War Dramas about Vietnam or WWII and Science Fiction were also prominent themse such as Das Boot (1981) and E.T. (1982). The 1990’s was about making stories very grandeous such as Goodfellas (1990). Thrillers such as Fight Club coexisted with other dramas about hope, race relations and comedy.  Today, the theme of dramas range, sharing varying aspects of life and people. Popular topics have been biographies such as Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005). (

Classic example of a dramatic scene

A classic example of drama is the literary-based Othello. A prominent scene is when Othello (Laurence Olivier) leans over Desdemona (Maggie Smith) and awakens her in a panic before he smothers her to death. The décor of the scene is very simple. They are in a bed chamber with few props, besides a bed, to distract the viewer. There is low-key lighting as the audience sits in suspense, wondering what the enraged Othello will do next. The scene goes back and forth from being zoomed in to a farther away view so you can see the entirety of the two characters.  It is generally looking at the characters from a side view so the back and forth is more realistic. The actors voices are booming, and commanding, or sharp and fearful, creating a struggle. “The key point about Mis en Scene is the director’s choice about the environment (
Contemporary example of dramatic scene).” The scene is very realistic in the simple bedroom (following Shakespeare’s story line), rather than atop a cliff during a storm. Nothing sticks out of the scene and no objects draw attention away from the characters or story line. The setting is very simple.

Contemporary Example of Drama

The Town, starring Ben Affleck

This movie is about a crime-ridden town in Boston where robbery in rampant. Ben Affleck who plays a criminal in a notorious gang, falls in love with a woman he held at gunpoint during a robbery.

The Mis-en-scene in the bank robbery scene of the Town, achieves the overall dramatic effect of the movie.  It shows the contrast between normal civilian life, and emotionally-destroying drime as the music gets faster and louder, the lighting is dark with blue/black tint and the characters rush into the scene with horrifying masks. The shots begin far away, but soon zoom in to the fearful looks on the bank employees’ faces as the audience feels like they’re there in the bank as they anxiously sit in a panicked amazement. The bank is the stereotypical setting of a major robbery but to see the intricate way the scene unfolds is engaging. One of the most effective aspects of Mis-en-scene in this case is the costumes of the robbers. The clown-like, gruesome masks are visually and emotionally haunting. They “express cultural and psychological implications” of the characters ( way the robbers rush in with guns is fast paced and the blocking has them right up to the camera so the audience gets a close up view of the action. This beginning scene says a lot about the characters and film in an indirect way. It shows the timidness of Affleck and the forcefulness of his cohorts before and after the robbery.  This scene utilized frontality at certain times as the characters directly face the camera for short spurts of time.


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