Film History and Criticism II 4
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Week 4, January 29th Film Noir: Readings: Thompson & Bordwell p 100 German Expressionism, Film Noir and the Hollywood Studio system pp. 215-216. Supplementary reading: Corrigan, Timothy, White, Patricia, with Meta Mazaj, Critical Visions in Film Theory; Classical and Contemporary Readings Part 5 Genre Classifying Stories Thomas Schatz Film Genre and the Genre Film” pp454-464; Commoli J-L; and Narboni, J., “Cinema/Ideology/ Criticism” pp478-487 and Rick Altman “A Semantic/ Syntactic/ Pragmatic Approach to Film Genre” pp 488-496 Screening: Scarlet Street (1945) Fritz Lang; The Big Sleep (1946) Howard Hawks; Rebel without a Cause (1955) Nicholas Ray. www.filmnoirstudies.com/more/index.asp An excellent noir site with good links.
The Big Combo 1955
Introduction: The Origins of Film Noir French scholars Raymonde Borde and Etienne Chaumeton book titled Panorama du Film Noir Americain (1955). But writer Nino Frank was among the first to speak of “dark film”, identifying some of the stylistic characteristics, themes and motifs now indelibly attached to the film noir ascription.
Similar to the Roman Noir exhibiting these qualities in the narrative:
a) violence b) nightmarish c) weird and erotic d) characters expressing a certain ambivalence e) exotic sensuality f) alienation , obsession and estrangement.
Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct (1991)
Rita Hayworth Gilda
Joan Bennett Scarlet Street
Jane Greer Out of the Past (1947)
Books Foster Hirsch Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir New York: Limelight Editions, 1999 R. Barton Palmer. Hollywood Dark Cinema The American Film Noir Twayne Publishing, 1994. Alain Silver (Editor), James Ursini (Editor). Film Noir Reader Limelight Editions, 1996
Key films defining the ‘genre’ 1) John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) (based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett) 2) Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) 3) Edward Dmytryk’s Murder My Sweet (1944)
4) Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity(1944) 5) Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window (1944)
Carole Lombard 1908-1942
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
Noir Traits Raymond Durgnat’s essay “Paint it Black: The Family Tree of Film Noir” published in a 1970 Issue of British Journal Cinema lists several characteristics for films noir. 1) Crime as social criticism with its attendant sub categories a) Prohibition and the gangster era (1930’s) b) A corrupt penal system (judiciary, jails etc.) c) The fight game d) Juvenile delinquency
2) Gangsters 3) People on the run (heroes and bad guys) 4) Private eyes and adventurers 5) Middle class (bourgeois) murder 6) Portraits and doubles
7) Sexual Pathology 8) Psychopaths 9) Hostages to fortune 10) Blacks and Reds (fascists and communists) 11) Grand Guignol, horror and fantasy.
Oscar Metenier Theatre du Grand-Guignol-"big puppet show“ took its name from the popular French puppet character Guignol, whose original incarnation was as an outspoken social commentator, a spokesperson for the Canuts, or silk workers, of Lyon. Early Guignol puppet shows were frequently censored by Napoleon III's police force.
Grand Guignol “Fear of 'the other' appeared at the Grand-Guignol in countless • variations: fear of the proletariat, fear of the unknown, fear of the foreign, fear of contagion (for all the blood spilled, sperm ejaculated, and sweat dripped there, the GrandGuignol had to feel some degree of nostalgia for cleanliness).” Agnes Peirron Trans. Deborah Treisman
Noir Defined Wexman (p140) describes noir as “dark melodramas of psychological dislocation and aberration.” Noir is “an attitude as well as a style.” “Nightmare hallucinations of indecipherable complications, a pervasive sense of fear and helplessness in the face of human malevolence.” (141)
Is Is film noir a genre?
“The kind or type of a work of art, from the French, meaning “kind” or “genus.” Literary genres include the novel and the sonnet. Musical genres include the concerto and the symphony. Film genres include Westerns and horror movies. (American Heritage Dictionary)
Film Genres “Film genres are various forms or identifiable types, categories, classifications or groups of films that are recurring and have similar, familiar or instantlyrecognizable patterns, syntax, filmic techniques or conventions - that include one or more of the following: settings (and props), content and subject matter, themes, mood, period, plot, central narrative events, motifs, styles, structures, situations, recurring icons (e.g., sixguns and ten-gallon hats in Westerns), stock characters (or characterizations), and stars. Many films straddle several film genres.” Tom Dirks
Film Genres continued Major Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Drama,Gangster, Epics, Historical, Horror, Musical, Science Fiction, War, Westerns Sub Genres: biographical (biopics), women's film (chick flicks), detective, mystery, disaster, fantasy, film noir, guy (buddy) films, melodrama (women's weepers), road, romance, sports, supernatural, suspense, thrillers.
Aviation films, buddy films, caper films, chase films, espionage films, "fallen" woman films, jungle films, legal films, martial arts films, medical films, military films, parody films, police films, political films, prison films, religious films, slasher films, swashbucklers, erotic and pornographic films, (snuff films), zombie.
Paul Shrader identifies four, catalytic elements of film noir:
1. War and post-war disillusion—a delayed reaction to the ‘dirty 30’s’ 2. the depression that preceded the outbreak of war in 1939. 3. Post-war realism 4. The German influence (Film Noir Reader)
Origins The origins of classical film noir may be found in 30’s gangster movies such as Scarface; the French Poetic realism of Marcel Carne and Duvivier; Sternbergian melodrama and most importantly German Expressionist film, particularly the Dr Mabuse cycle of Fritz Lang. Durgnat and Shrader
Cinematic stylistics of Film Noir 1) Scenes are lit for night; gangsters, privates eyes and other characters may be sitting in an office at midday but the shades are pulled and the lights may be dimmed or off altogether. Ceiling lights are typically hung low and floor lights are often not more than 5’ high. Schrader states that “one always has the felling that if the lights were suddenly flipped on the characters would shrink from the scene like Count Dracula at Sunrise.”
2)German Expressionism 3) Oblique and vertical lines are preferred to horizontal (c.w. Griffith and Ford as archetypical American directors). Lighting is often jagged, framed through slits (Think Mabuse and Dr Caligari here.) 4) Actors and context/setting are often given equal weight and emphasis. The figures are often coextensive with the architecture or lighting giving a fatalistic, hopeless mood that the city will outlast and swallow up those who live in it.
5) Compositional tension is preferred to the expression and representation of physical action. 6) Almost a Freudian attachment to water…..empty street in noir films are always glistening with rain. Docks and Piers alleyways used as principal rendezvous points for nefarious business to take place.
7) Romantic narration a strong feeling of lost time temps perdu or an irretrievable past leading to a sense of predetermined fate and hopelessness 8) Complex multi-layered diegeses and chronological ordering of events to reinforce the feeling/moods associated with hopelessness and lost time.
9) “a passion for the past and present but also a fear for the future” Film noirs techniques emphasize loss, nostalgia, lack of clear priorities and ultimately insecurity and alienation. Schrader argues further that “all of these selfdoubts” are sublimated (submerged is his term) into “mannerism and style.” He cites the arch hard boiled novelist Raymond Chandler “It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cold spirit of detachment can make very interesting patterns out of it.”
Film Noir: Three phases Phase 1: 1941-1946 The era/phase of the private eye, loner figure: Chandler, Hammett, Bogart and Bacall, Ladd and Lake.
Casablanca, Gaslight, The Maltese Falcon, Laura, The Lost Weekend, Murder my Sweet, Scarlet Street, To Have and Have not, The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Phase 2: 1945-1949 Wilder/Chandler collaboration Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray A realist urbanism with titles such as: The Killers, House on 92nd Street, Raw Deal, Cry of the City, Union Station.
Phase 3 1949-1953 Exhibiting psychological action and suicidal impulses. Schrader suggests that in this time the “noir hero seemingly under the weight of ten years of despair started to go bananas.” (59)
This third phase represents the crème of noir with films that are “the most aesthetically and psychologically compelling”. Titles such as White Heat, Out of the Past, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and The Big Heat.
The Maltese Falcon Screening clip: John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, 1941) based on the novel of the same title by Dashiell Hammett which introduces to public consciousness the character of private eye Sam Spade played by the inimitable Humphrey Bogart a famous character actor from the 40’s who is featured in a documentary trailer on this DVD.
Scarlet Street 1945 Scarlet Street (1945), an important example of film noir directed by Fritz Lang. Like Hitchcock, Lang had some training in art before he immersed himself in film and this education is evident in many of his films. Based on La Chienne (1931) by Jean Renoir,
Characters Edward G. Robinson plays the part of Christopher Cross Joan Bennett plays the vampish Kitty March Dan Duryea as her rakish beau Johnnie Prince