Well here it is- my Media Studies Crime Essay, I could have carried on going but you know... the way life is. Have not got the mark back yet, but will keep you posted :D
Media: What makes a crime drama?
There is no specific path on the road to writing a crime drama, when looking at the genre you see that there are many types of ways that it can be interpreted. From the forensic crime drama (CSI), the Hollywood blockbuster and the traditional format of the whodunit there are many different options, which can involve the nature of the characters and the entire premise of the show or movie.
Each of the different interpretations is open to varying codes and conventions. Crime fiction deals with crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives. The beautiful thing about this genre is that the line between genres can be blurred and so therefore you are see a collision between different types of fiction such as the crime genre and the sci-fi kind (Life on Mars). Within the genre there are many sub-boundaries, some are mentioned above, amongst others including courtroom drama (Law & Order), legal thriller (Damages) and the police procedural (Prime Suspect).
The earliest crime novel is The Murder of Machine Operator Rolfsen by Mauritz Hansen, published in 1839. Other examples of earlier crime fiction are the darker works of Edgar Allen Poe (The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) & The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842)). The evolution then came when the creation of the locked room mystery came along, these involve a murder or other crime which happen under impossible circumstances, no one could enter or leave the scene and the death could not have been a suicide. The biggest stories of these mysteries are of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
When trying to pin point the fiction, it is difficult because the central motifs of love, danger and death are big in most sections of fiction. A recent example of this is the novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, about a Wall Street tycoon and a serial killer called Patrick Bateman living in NYC, although the crimes are described in vivid detail, the book has never been classed as a crime novel, perhaps due to the absence of the police and that Bateman was never bought to justice.
Crime films are usually those, which deal with the darker side of the human nature. These blockbuster films can be split into different sub-genres most commonly drama (Crash), thriller (Se7en), mystery (Agatha Christie novels), gangster (The Godfather) and film noir (Basic Instinct).
One of the most widely used codes in crime films is the use of a femme fatale. She is a seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in the bonds of desire that often leads to deadly situations. The phase is French for a deadly woman and she tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using things like charm, beauty and sexual allure. One of the biggest modern femme fatale was the character Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct. A European critic defined the character as “a mix between the classic femme fatale and the new psycho killers, one of the most evil characters ever created, on Hannibal Lecter’s level.” She was a murder suspect in both Basic Instinct and Basic Instinct 2 but charmed her way to the top, ultimately sleeping with Michael Douglas’ character in the first and David Morrissey’s in the second.
To concentrate on one particular example of the genre is forensic crime. The biggest player in this genre is that of CSI and the spin off-s CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. The original CSI is set in Las Vegas and was first aired in 2000, created by Anthony Zuiker, the show set out to show the behind the scenes of the crime drama. Instead of being out on the field (although the show does contain the detection and solving of the crime) we are shown behind the scenes how the crime is solved. The series has once lapsed into the fantasy genre (as seen in the season seven episode, “Toe Tag” where the story is told from the point of view from several corpses in the CSI lab). What set this show apart from other crimes genres are the unusual convention of camera angles, percussive editing, hi-tech gadgets, detailed technical discussion and the graphic portrayal of things like bullet trajectories and blood spray patterns. The technique of shooting extreme close up’s, normally with an explanation from one of the characters we are shown things like evidence recovery or how something within the body works. Many scenes in the show are quite lengthy in which we are seeing experiments/tests and the work is very detailed usually with minimal sounds, a technique similar to that used in Mission Impossible. The mis-en-scene elements of the show are influenced by avant-garde film.
Another technique that is used in the genre is that of music. Music in the crime genre is a heavy influence in the movies more than the television. Prime examples of the use of music are that in Psycho (Hitchcock), the famous shower scene contains very famous music of a plain hitting beat. This represents the knife as it goes through the woman each time, creating tension and suspense while adding another level of entertainment. Music is used a lot of the time as means to creating tension. An additional example of this is in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The film centres around two young women, trying to make it big in the movie industry. At the beginning of the film, there are several dead people and throughout the film different mentions of crime and the darker side of humanity. Not always considered as a crime film but as a Lynchian film, this is due to the fact that Lynch films are very abstract and the meaning is not always straightforward. But the use of the music is very important in this, without the tension, the film would make even less sense. Tension keeps the viewer involved and wanting to get to the conclusion, expecting a massive ending.
Blurring between the different types of genre is what makes some television. The most modern example of this is Life on Mars 2006-2007; this show mixes the crime genre with the sci-fi genre. The main premise of the show is that in 2006, DCI Sam Tyler is knocked over in a car accident, when he wakes up, he is in 1973. The show is called a crime genre, as the main characters are all police, each episode shows the team solving a crime. Parallel to this is the fact that Sam is trying to find out how to get back home. We hear flickers from 2006/7 in his head while constantly getting reminders of alternate realities such as the BBC girl and doll in real life as well as the television and radio talking to Sam. Techniques, which highlight this series in the genre, are the constant voiceovers. These are clues to finishing the puzzle of the series, without these; there would be no story. They give background to the characters while allowing the audience to try and work out the puzzle for themselves. Other characteristics in this show are the use of flashback; these are both from before 1973 and during the present day. Giving more backstory and adding to the suspense of the story these show the audience a greater percentage of the satisfaction and expectation.
The traditional whodunit is sometimes referred to as a Golden Age Mystery. They are complex, plot driven detective stories in which the completion of a puzzle is the key to solving the murder. One of the biggest British writers of these is Agatha Christie. A lot of her novels have been adapted into either films or television adaptations. The set out of this sort of the crime is quite basic. The easiest way to show the plan to this sort of the genre is by looking at a television serial. For example, Cracker, the series has run over many years and the main character, Dr. Eddie ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald is a criminal psychologist and with the help of the police team, he creates a profile in his head of the murderer and in the end captures the murderer while explaining the motives behind the crime. The way these start are with a murder /s, once the crime has been committed the police come in and collect as much evidence as they can. Throughout the story, we are shown the ways that the team speak to suspects and piece together the puzzle.
The principle usually heads the team in solving the murder and capturing the offender. Another aspect to the whodunit crime is that the audience are treated to learning about the main characters (hero/heroine). One of the greatest writers creating characters that the audience become emotionally attached to is Lynda La Plante. Her creation, Prime Suspect’s main character, DCI Jane Tennison played by Helen Mirren goes through many different changes over the years of the show and so therefore a loyal audience member starts to understand the character and goes through the same emotion as those on screen.
Dick Wolf created the Law & Order franchise; these include some of the biggest shows in the courtroom drama genre. Adapted from the whodunit syndrome, the courtroom drama sees the criminal being bought to justice. The courtroom drama also comes under the genre of police procedural. Codes, which are typical in these sorts of dramas, are the primary focus on the crime in comparison to the character-based dramas. They present a much more complex picture of the juditional system and a closer look at police business. Legal dramas depend on situations where there is an obvious injustice or ones where the characters are very interesting or unusual. Another convention for legal dramas/courtroom dramas is the fact that the writer/director will concentrate much more on parts of the process that can be portrayed dramatically such as an oral argument instead of the areas such as researching for a written brief, as they could bore the audience.
The lighting in crime drama’s is another technique, which sets the mood and can sometimes affect the pace in which the action takes place. An example that comes to mind is the 2007 film, Disturbia. The film, which is loosely based on the story of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, takes similar effects from the latter. The story of Disturbia is about Kale Brecht, after being on house arrest, he starts to spy on the neighbours. When he suspects that the man across the road is actually a murderer with the help of two friends they want to find the truth. The film, set over a number of days and nights is dimly lit. When the action during the day is happening, either the curtains are drawn or the lights are off and this creates a sense of mystery. At night, the biggest action happens and this leads to creating almost a horror like atmosphere where anything could happen. The director has changed the saturation of the colours to highlight all the darker shades and this therefore adds to the tension.
Another convention that is seen in some crime drama’s is the use of dysfunctional characters. Although a lot of the time, the criminal is not of sound mind and that their killing is sometimes a revenge effort, a killer or suspicious character that identifies with all the classic horror of the 60’s and 70’s accompanies films such as Disturbia and Identity. When they are in shot, they give away apprehensive looks and gestures, which sometimes gives the audience clues as to their point in the film. They tend to creep around when no is looking and usually creep up on someone from behind.
Another type of crime blockbuster is the action thriller. Modern examples of these are The Sentinel, Die Hard and Shooter. The difference in these is that the majority of the time they are set around institutions such as the FBI and CIA. Also, they are full of action involving guns and explosives. The reason these fall into the crime genre is because most of the time they start with a killing or conspiracy to kill. Shooter’s main point is when the president is almost assassinated and the movie then revolves around the point of finding who committed the crime.
Television shows/serials such as Spooks and Britz base their foundation on agencies such as MI5 & MI6. They deal with public affairs and therefore they base their stories around items such as terrorism and collision of cultures. When crimes are committed, agents must solve the crime and bring whomever to justice. Spooks, for example, is made up of a team. It is a drama and as well the crime, the drama aspect of starting feel emotionally attached to characters and wanting to fight for their cause is just as important. They usually deal with current affairs and involve a great number of the population the culture that the show is aimed at. Sometimes the writer is trying to put a point across and change the view of the audience.
Fast pacing, frequent action, and resourceful heroes who are usually against better-equipped villains characterize thrillers. Devices used in the film, television and novel are suspense, red herrings and cliffhangers. Thrillers usually overlap with mystery but are discriminated by the structure of their plots. The thriller can end in two different ways, when the mystery climaxes and is solved and the hero defeats the villain. The second way, usually seen in film noir and tragedy, is the compromised hero killed in the process. Crime thrillers focus on the criminal rather than the policeman and central topics include murders, robbers, chases, shootouts and double crosses. An example of the crime thriller is The Inside Man, which follows the group of bank robbers. The majority of the film is seen through the eyes of either the criminal or the victim.
The different types of detective that can seen in crime drama range from the amateur (Marple, Murder, she Wrote), private (Holmes, Poirot), police (Morse) and forensic (CSI, Kay Scarpetta). The serial killer genre has films like Zodiac, The Silence of the Lambs and Sweeney Todd, which sees some of the killers, become big in popular culture.