Film Noir Essays, Book Reports, Term Papers

This essay Film Noir Essays, Book Reports, Term Papers has a total of 4922 words and 21 pages.

Film Noir Forty years after Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton defined the challenge, critical commentators on film noir continue to grapple with it. Ironically, American writers did not immediately take up consideration of this indigenous phenomenon and the question of its "essential traits." Only gradually in a frequently cross-referenced series of essays in the 1970s did they begin to express themselves. There are now a dozen full-length books in English concerning film noir and undoubtedly more to follow. As noted in the Acknowledgments, the sometimes difficult process of tracking down significant earlier writings for an essay in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (Overlook/Viking, 1992) gave us the idea for this book. As it happens the two most recent volumes on noir, Shades of Noir (Verso, 1993) and The Book of Film Noir (Continuum, 1993) are anthologies of new essays by mostly non-American writers. Past and present commentators have brought and continue to bring to bear on the noir phenomenon a variety of critical approaches, and that is the foundation of Film Noir Reader. Of course, we are bypassing the point of view of someone like Barry Gifford, author of the informal survey The Devil Thumbs A Ride, who deems all such endeavors to be "academic flapdoodle." In 1979, the introduction, other essays, and individual entries in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference were the first published attempt in English to search the entire body of films for "essential traits." I remarked there that the full range of the noir vision depends on its narratives, its characterizations, and its visual style. In fact, that style is a translation of both character emotions and narrative concepts into a pattern of visual usage. No doubt a pop critic such as Gifford could assert that it is formalist mumbo-jumbo to "detect" alienation lurking beyond the frame line in a vista of the dark, wet asphalt of a city street or obsession in a point-of-view shot that picks a woman's face out of crowd. I would argue that to resist such readings is to deny the full potential of figurative meaning not merely in film noir but in all motion pictures. Obviously none of the various elements of visual style--angle, composition, lighting, montage, depth, movement, etc.--which inform any given shot or sequence are unique of film noir. What sets the noir cycle apart is the unity of its formal vision. There is nothing in the films themselves which precludes or invalidates any established critical method as the various essays reprinted in this volume will confirm. Michael Walker's opening comments in The Book of Film Noir reveal a fairly straightforward auteurist bias. But what can one say about a viewpoint such as French critic Marc Vernet's in his introductory essay, "Film Noir at the Edge of Doom" in Shades of Noir? Certainly it epitomizes the sort of criticism which Gifford scorns; but Gifford's opprobrium is not the issue. In the third edition of Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference our review of the literature on film noir included Vernet's previously published conclusion that "a hero cannot be both strong and vulnerable, the woman good and evil." The assertion made there--that his observations were part of a simplistic, structuro-semiological rush to judgment clearly at odds with the narrative position of film noir as a whole--still pertain. Where once Vernet merely puzzled over contradictory icons, in "Edge of Doom" he indulges in pointless deconstruction. On the one hand Vernet now bemoans "complacent repetition" about film noir. On the other hand he presents the ultimate obfuscation by calling it "impossible to criticize." What then is he writing about? (Left, Bogart as Spade in The Maltese Falcon, the "stuff that dreams are made of" and the unofficial beginning of the noir cycle. "A hero cannot be both strong and vulnerable"?) One can tolerate being abstractly dismissed by Vernet and even overlook having one's actual name misspelled, as when he changes "Alain" to "Alan." Vernet's is certainly not the first bibliographic reference with that particular misspelling. Nor am I suggesting that critical writing should be about crossing every "t" or including every "i." This is particularly true with writers on motion pictures, who are addressing an expressive medium that is the most complex in the history of art. But Vernet's assumption about how a particular name should be spelled is telling in that it reveals his tendency towards pre-judgment and succinctly exposes the problem with his critical outlook. Vernet sees a simple contradiction: a French first name like those in the credits of L'Année Dernière à Marienbad and an English last name right out of Treasure Island. "Of course," he deduces, "this must be an error." Some unnamed researcher has made a mistake, which he is correcting by Anglicizing the spelling. It seems quite clear from this where Vernet's outlook is rooted. It derives from a solipsistic arrogance that can presume to "correct" anomalies which it does not understand and can generate the offhanded observation that film noir is "the triumph of European artists even as it presents American actors." Aside from its remarkably unembarrassed Eurocentric bias, such a statement completely ignores Paul Schrader's decades-old warning that "there is a danger of over-emphasizing the German influence in Hollywood"; and it typifies many recent attempts both to break down the "myth" of film noir and to relocate its origins. As Borde and Chaumeton realized from the first, there is no easy answer. The noir cycle is an event garmented in the uneasy synthesis of social upheaval and Hollywood. Given its brief history film noir has inspired more than its share of discussion. Part of what has always troubled some critics of film noir are its character themes, its protagonists who often perish because of an obsessive and/or alienated state of mind. Must it be really so remarkable, when methodologies from Marxism to Freudianism to Existentialism assailed the moral and political status quo, that a movement such a film noir should develop characters with a sense of alienation and despair? It may be unduly simplified to erect such a causality or to cite a fortuitous confluence of factors as responsible for the appearance of the noir movement, but that does not make it incorrect. Much has been made of the crisis of masculinity in film noir. Much could be made of the crisis in Judeo-Christian patriarchal structures since the mid-point of the 20th Century. The dramatic crisis of film noir is the same as that which drives any convergent group of characterizations. The unprecedented social upheaval of two world wars compounded by economic turmoil and genocides on every continent was globally promulgated by broadcasts and newsreels and all condensed into a thirty year span from 1915 to 1945. Just as the technique and technology of filmmaking has progressed in its hundred year history, the ideological outlook of its artists cannot have been unaffected by the other events in the world during that span of time. Whatever one may believe about the delimiting factors of film noir, then or now, its first expression in what is generally accepted as "the classic period" was solely in American movies made in America by American filmmakers. Vernet seems to imply that Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Anthony Mann, Otto Preminger, and Billy Wilder were European or, more specifically, German artists. The issue of European expatriates is a significant one, not just for film noir but for American filmmaking in general. But how can it be glibly summarized as a "triumph of European artists presenting American actors"? Putting aside for a moment questions of auteurism or whether these filmmakers were more significant to the cycle of noir films than American-born directors from Robert Aldrich to Robert Wise, does the national origin of the directors change the nationality of a film? Did Joseph Losey continue to make American movies in England? Do John Farrow's origins make his films for Paramount and RKO "early Australian" film noir? When Borde and Chaumeton wrote the first book-length study of the phenomenon in 1955 they called it, naturally enough, Panorama du Film Noir Américain. The title itself expresses the second truism of film noir. Vernet and others may have some reason other than Eurocentric bias for stressing the non-American aspects of film noir. The three British and French publishers of Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference probably did not delete "to the American Style" from the title just because they thought it was too long. Still, while many subsequent writers have questioned both specifics and generalities of Borde and Chaumeton's seminal work, none have questioned the very existence of the phenomenon which they tried to define. In 1979 I wrote that, with the Western, film noir shares the distinction of being an indigenous American form. But unlike Westerns which derive in great part from a preexisting literary genre and a period of American history, the antecedents of film noir are less precise. As a consequence, the noir cycle has a singular position in the brief history of American motion pictures: a body of films that not only presents a relatively cohesive vision of America but that does so in a manner transcending the influences of auteurism or genre. Film noir is not firmly rooted in either personal creation or in the translation of another tradition into movie terms. Rather film noir is a self-contained reflection of American culture and its preoccupations at a point in time. As such it is the unique example of a wholly American film style. (Right, Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan and Akim Tamiroff as Uncle Joe Grandi plan to use Susan Vargas [Janet Leigh] to embarass her husband in Touch of Evil, one of the last "classic period" film noir.) Vernet makes some assertions about film noir's origins, about censorship and prejudices in both America and France from which he concludes that post-World War II French critics "created" film noir. Can anyone seriously contend that critics created anything but the term? As Edgardo Cozarinsky notes "film noir defies translation into English, though its object of study is mainly (and, one may argue, its only legitimate examples are) English-speaking."1_ The suggestion of Vernet and others arrogates the very concept of creation. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, films are made by filmmakers not by critics, whose understanding of the process is necessarily limited. To paraphrase Vernet, the primary consideration is not the technical process nor the financial process, but the expressive process, which relies on the audience--the perceivers of the expression--for completion. This is the fundamental transaction on which Vernet or any critic should concentrate. They are, therefore, not revolutionary but conservative. Actually, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. The Communist Manifesto In order to see the subject of film noir as it is, one need look no farther than the films. Vernet's revisionism is like any of the neo-Freudian, semiological, historical, structural, socio-cultural, and/or auteurist assaults of the past. Film noir has resisted them all. Why then are critics like Vernet interested in the phenomenon of film noir? Are they at heart all neo-Platonists and Il Conformista the film that they watch over and over late at night? Perhaps many of the new European essayists need to tear apart the foundation laid by Borde and Chaumeton in order to build something new. Certainly there is justification in James Damico's lament in "Film Noir: A Modest Proposal" that an "order of breezy assumption seems to have afflicted film noir criticism from its beginnings." Unfortunately, in this latter context, a reactionary commentator like Vernet offers nothing new but just another brand of breezy assumptions. Actually, he offers a void, a noir hole where there once was a body of films. Much of Shades of Noir progresses from the suggestion made by David Bordwell in The Classical American Cinema that film noir is merely an invention of critical commentators. In discussing this concept in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference, Bordwell's assertion was cited to the effect that "critics have not succeeded in defining specifically noir visual techniques... or narrative structure. The problem resembles one in art history, that of defining 'non-classical' styles." At first glance there is nothing to dispute in Bordwell's remark. The tautological nature of his position is clearer in a more recent expression by a reviewer: "Genres are invented by critics. When the first film noir--whatever you might consider that to be-- was released, nobody yelled, 'Hey, let's go on down to the Bijou! The first film noir is out!' What is at first innovation or anomaly only becomes a genre through repetition and eventual critical classification."2_ If nothing else, this is certainly a more cogent expression of the obvious that either Vernet or Bordwell make. So they didn't go down to the Bijou to see Stranger on the Third Floor or Two Seconds (Vernet's candidate from 1932) because it was the "first film noir." To answer in kind, "So what?" Did the first audiences for The Great Train Robbery or Nosferatu congratulate themselves on attending the first Western or the earliest adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula? The best answer to anyone's assertion that filmmakers of the classic period never specifically decided to make "a film noir" is still cinematographer John Alton's evocation of the noir milieu in his book Painting with Light: "The room is dark. A strong streak of light sneaks in from the hall under the door. The sound of steps is heard. The shadows of two feet divide the light streak. A brief silence follows. There is suspense in the air." If Bordwell was not aware of Alton's book when he wrote "critics have not succeeded in defining specifically noir visual techniques," he certainly must have known Janey Place and Lowell Peterson's essay on visual motifs in noir. Place and Peterson themselves quoted Higham and Greenberg's 1968 book Hollywood in the Forties on the subject of visual style. The visual analysis of film noir was further developed by Janey Place in Women and Film Noir and by Robert Porfirio's extensive work in his dissertation The Dark Age of American Film: A Study of American Film Noir. In fact, the evocation of a "noir look" goes all the way back to Borde and Chaumeton. In 1979 I cited the years of production immediately after World War II as the most visually homogeneous of the entire noir cycle. One might still consider a random selection of motion pictures released over an eighteen month period such as The Big Clock (Paramount, 1948), Brute Force (Universal, 1947), Cry of the City (20th Century-Fox, 1948), Force of Evil (MGM, 1948), Framed (Co

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A Bout De Souffle \'A bout de souffle\', Jean-Luc Godard\'s eerste \'feature\' film (1960), heeft een vrij simpele verhaallijn, dat geschreven is door vroegere collega en vriend Francois Truffaut: Een man steelt een auto in Marseilles en rijdt naar Parijs. Tijdens deze rit wordt de hoofdpersoon, Michel Poiccard, aangehouden door de politie wegens het overschrijden van de maximum snelheid, waarna hij een agent neerschiet en rennend verder gaat naar de lichtstad. In Parijs moet hij geld ophalen bi
l.a confidential film noir The Key Conventions Of Film Noir In L.A Confidential L.A Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997) is a neo-noir film about a shooting at an all night diner and the three Las Angeles policeman who investigate in their own unique ways. It is based on the book by James Ellroy and after a very well adapted screenplay, won nine academy awards. It starred actors with big names like Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Danny Devito, which made it a very high earning film. The Narrative or
Robert Altmans The Long Goodbye As A Genre Revisionist Film Robert Altman\'s The Long Goodbye attempts to do a very interesting thing. It tries to be all genre and no story… It makes no serious effort to reproduce the Raymond Chandler detective novel… it just takes all the characters out of that novel and lets them stew together in something that feels like a private-eye movie. ---ROGER EBERT (REVIEW) The period of American cinema between 1965 and 1975 produced many films that almost complet
The Crow Review Scott Speakman English Project April 18, 2000 The Crow Reviewed Throughout the history of movies, movie companies have tried to do it bigger better and more exciting. They bring in bigger stars, better special effects and more convincing stories, which causes the masses to flock to the theatres in eager anticipation of each movie. The audience usually gets what the audience wants—more violence and more action the world over. "The Crow" has elements of different types of movie g
Boys In The Hood The Begining Hood: slang for neighborhood or black area/life. Before 1991 this concept of hood life was never before portrayed or looked into until John Singleton produced the black social drama Boyz N the Hood. This is the first film by a black director that actually goes deep inside the ghetto or inner city. Singleton carefully directs this film so that it appears to mirror the real world \'having value as a kind of anthropological study of an unfamiliar way of life\'; (Thomps
James Cameron James Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario in Canada August 14 (16) 1954. His family later moved to Chippewa Falls near Niagra Falls. James Cameron was during his youth years always very fascinated with movies. He was mezmerized when he saw Stanley Kubrick\'s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and he drew himself crazy trying to figure out how they had shot that film. Cameron also wrote sci-fi stories and fantasized a lot instead of doing his school work. It was actually during one boring
Spellbound Spellbound In the film Spellbound Dr. Murchison, the head of Green Manors mental asylum, is retiring to be replaced by Dr. Edwards, a famous psychiatrist. Dr. Edwards arrives and is immediately attracted to Dr. Constance Peterson. Nevertheless, it soon becomes apparent that Dr. Edwards is a paranoid amnesic fraud. He runs from the police and Dr. Peterson is compelled to find and help him remember what happened to the real Dr. Edwards. Spellbound was not a film noir. Crime and detectio
Shadow Of A Doubt Shadow of a Doubt Shadow of a Doubt is an Alfred Hitchcock film that was shot on location in the 1940\'s town of Santa Rosa, California. The town itself is representative of the ideal of American society. However, hidden within this picturesque community dark corruption threatens to engulf a family. The tale revolves around Uncle Charlie, a psychotic killer whose namesake niece, a teenager girl named Charlie, is emotionally thrilled by her Uncles arrival. However her opinion sl