A Contentious Genre: Defining the Historical Film

On its surface, the historical film genre appears easy to define as a film that depicts historical events. However, after many decades of research into the film and history discourse, a concrete definition of what constitutes a historical film continues to elude film scholars. There is no singular answer as to what defines a film as 'historical', as nearly every notable film and history theorist, such as Robert Rosenstone, Marcia Landy and Robert Burgoyne, have their own proposition as to what defines a historical film. Elements such as the amount of accurate history contained in a narrative, how many years in the past a film has to be set, and whether the term 'historical' should be used in the genre's description, have fluctuated between theorist to theorist. While the function of the historical film is understandably contended, the lack of definition regarding what a historical film actually constitutes is a major deficit in the film and history discourse. Yet in order to find this singular definition, it must first be known why this definition has not yet been found. Using South Korean historical cinema as key examples, this research seeks to not only answer why a singular definition has not yet been determined, but also through the examination of the works of notable film and history theorists aims to propose an alternative way of classifying films as historical.



Author Information
Niall McMahon, Curtin University, Australia

Paper Information
Conference: MediAsia2017
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory

This paper is part of the MediAsia2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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