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Introduction to film genre study #1 film noir

Film Noir

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Introduction to film genre study #1 film noir

  1. 1. Introduction to Film - Genre Study I FILM NOIR
  2. 2. Film Noir Film Noir - literally “BLACK FILM” – is a French phrase, but it refers to an American cinematic phenomenon made in Hollywood. These films are considered “downbeat”; they focused on the dark sides of life. They violated the traditional narrative and stylistic practices of classical Hollywood cinema that oriented and stabilized audiences. Noir films created an uncomfortable and disturbing malaise or anxiety in their viewers and are sometimes referred to as “feel bad movies.” The time period typically associated with NOIR films is the early 1940’s – the late 1950’s. FILM NOIR was categorized retrospectively. Noir did not have this title while directors were creating them during this time period. Noir directors of the time were not necessarily intentionally trying to create films that fit into a specific category. Instead, they were simply creating films that reflected much of the sentiment of the time.
  3. 3. FILM NOIR & PULP FICTION The source material for the bulk of NOIR narratives came from the underworld of American pulp fiction. For example, nearly 20% of FILM NOIRS between 1941 and 1948 were adaptations of hard-boiled detective novels. FILM NOIR deals with a uniquely American experience of wartime and post-war despair and alienation as a disoriented America readjusts to a new social and political reality. These issues were highlighted in the pulp fiction of the time.
  4. 4. GENRE In film theory, FILM GENRES are forms or identifiable types, categories, classifications, or groups of films that are recurring and have similar, familiar or instantly-recognizable patterns, syntax, filmic techniques or conventions – that include one or more of the following: settings, content and subject matter, themes, mood, period, plot, central narrative events, motifs, styles, structures, situations, recurring icons, stock characters and archetypes, and stars. Many films are considered hybrids – they straddle several film genres.
  5. 5. NOIR as GENRE Though most critics and historians regard NOIR as a MODE of film practice whose identity resides chiefly in its ability to make audiences uneasy, there is considerable disagreement over what exactly FILM NOIR is. A number of recent scholars treat NOIR as a GENRE, discussing it in terms of its iconography (dark city streets glistening at night with fresh rain, for example), fixed character types (tough guy, anti-heroes ensnared by treacherous femme fatales), and predictable narrative patterns (murder plots and criminal investigations in which the hero’s moral fallibility leads to his victimization and/or defeat at the hands of his enemies, and often results in his death or in an otherwise unhappy ending). For those who view it as a genre, FILM NOIR relies on a well-defined system of conventions and expectations.
  6. 6. AESTHETIC MOVEMENT Viewing specific films as part of a particular AESTHETIC MOVEMENT requires individuals to analyze the STYLISTIC ELEMENTS of the film – what the film looks like. In the case of FILM NOIR, this AESTHETIC or STYLE was characterized by low-key lighting; deep-focus cinematography; distorting, wide-angle lenses; sequence shots; disorienting mise-en-scene; tension-inducing, oblique, and vertical compositional lines; jarring juxtapositions between shots involving extreme changes in camera angle or screen size; and claustrophobic framing. The cinematography reinforces the darkness in the plot and theme. Long, sharp shadows are used in FILM NOIR, as well as inky blackness. Tilted camera angles suggest a sense of claustrophobia, and emphasize a nocturnal world. Sets have a gloomy feel. NOIR films often take place indoors - in spaces with low-key lighting. Blinds often obscure windows. Exterior scenes include streets and alleys, dark and wet. Flashing neon signs were popular to use in FILM NOIR. These types of sets were partially due to war-time scarcity. The characters will often be seen in murky streets, cheap city apartments or hotel rooms, or abandoned warehouses. These movies are often based on situations based in reality – usually crime and espionage. They are set in urban areas and deliberately have a realistic feel. They are produced in a semi-documentary style to suggest the darkness of reality.
  7. 7. MODE Discussing films as being representative of specific MODEs is focusing on the specific emotional reactions produced by certain films in an audience. Some films can be categorized as affective phenomena that produce certain emotional responses in people. MODES are the way stories are told in order to elicit certain reactions. MODES transcend time; there are no limiting temporal properties in that they are not bound to one time period.
  8. 8. FILM NOIR AS A MODE The emotional reaction audiences experience when viewing NOIR films is uneasiness and anxiety. We feel displacement. We feel temporally uncertain. Those who view NOIR not as a genre, but rather as a MODE believe that films do not need to be NOIR from start to finish. Instead, the characterization requires only a single character, situation, or scene that is NOIR to produce the disturbance or disorientation that is necessary to give the audience the unsettling twist or distressing jolt. NOIR thus emerges as an adjectivial attribute or characteristic, functioning in the same way “tragic” or “comic” might. NOIR becomes a description of tone, attitude, or mood.
  9. 9. CHARACTERISTICS OF FILM NOIR: FATALISM FATALISTIC ATTITUDE: Fatalism is the acceptance of all things and events as inevitable; submission to fate. In NOIR films, a character will often feel like his/her life is pre-ordained and that free will is an illusion. This film noir characteristic was influenced by the international conflicts of the time and powerlessness to avoid them that many Americans felt
  10. 10. CHARACTERISTICS OF FILM NOIR: FATALISM This FATALISM is often expressed by one transgression that spirals out of control. The average citizen character makes a mistake that snowballs into much greater problems. Every attempt at correction just makes everything worse. This is often called a SPIDER WEB OF DECEIT in FILM NOIR. It can suggest hysteria and panic. Also, FATALISM is expressed in the NOIR characters who are innocent victims of circumstance.
  11. 11. CHARACTERISTICS OF FILM NOIR: EXISTENTIALISM EXISTENTIALISM is a philosophy that is often considered a product of post-WWII Europe. This philosophy states that there is no defined purpose in life, there is no defined morality, there is no defined meaning. People must create their own meaning through exercising their free will, making choices, and committing to and accepting the consequences of those choices. In this way, people create their essence. For existentialists, existence precedes essence. A man’s essence is how he defines himself and the meaning he ascribes to his life. Existentialists often felt alone in a hostile world. They felt anxious and isolated; they believed that there was a futility to life because there was no external authority/purpose/meaning/morality.
  12. 12. AMERICAN EXISTENTIALISM IN NOIR AMERICAN EXISTENTIALSIM in FILM NOIR is evident in the films through themes of isolation, anxiety, futility, and death in the thrilling context of the urban crime thriller. NOIR films present a world of doom. Characters grapple with the futility of individual action; the alienation, loneliness, and isolation of the individual in an industrialized mass society; the problematic choice between being and nothingness; the absurdity, meaninglessness, and purposelessness of life; the arbitrariness of social justice, which results in individual despair leading to chaos, violence, and paranoia.
  13. 13. NOIR SETTING: CORRUPT METROPOLIS Noir settings are dark and reflect a lack of defined morality. Many noir films are set in an urban area that is full of crime and immorality. In these films, the city serves as a character itself, one which the protagonist needs to fight against. Consider Gotham City or the urban settings in the neo-noir film Sin City.
  14. 14. NOIR ARCHETYPES: THE NOIR HERO The male protagonists/heroes of film noir are often cynical, brooding, and obsessive. They lead a seamy existence as private detectives, gangsters, or government agents, among others. In a world without morality, the protagonists often must make a choice that goes against their values. They believe that any choice – exercising free will – is better than remaining passive – even if that choice is defiant. This choice could be criminal or motivated by lust or even one that results in another’s death. In film noir, the struggle these characters undergo often ends in failure. The noir hero feels isolated. He suffers from social estrangement
  15. 15. NOIR ARCHETYPES: HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE The HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE is the most iconic noir hero. Because noir films presented a very different view of the world, directors and writers needed to create a completely different hero to exist in that world. These heroes are often as amoral, ruthless, and greedy as the criminals they worked to defeat. These heroes often show a lack of compassion and even a cruelty. Their heroism does not lie in any innate goodness or concern for justice, but in their personal code of loyalty, professional responsibility, and integrity.
  16. 16. NOIR ARCHETYPES: HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE The noir detective does not rely on the powers of deductive reasoning , acute observation, or scientific method to solve their cases, but rather on dogged perseverance, animal cunning, physical stamina, and brute force. Noir heroes are often considered to have weak intellect. This detective is often a brawny proletariat (working class or low class). They often try to make up for their lack of intellect with their control of language and use of VERBAL WIT. This wit enabled them to enjoy an edge over their opponents. Their world was a no-nonsense world. They had directness, they relied on linear logic.
  17. 17. NOIR CHARACTER ARCHETYPES: THE NOIR HERO Typical noir heroes do not need to be HARD-BOILED DETECTIVES, although they often are because the social alienation of those figures in that profession makes them archetypal noir protagonists. Often they are merely ANTISOCIAL LONERS, sometimes DRIFTERS or TRAMPS. But even the gainfully employed can be subject to a certain deadpan- existential angst, especially given their relatively faceless anonymity in a larger, dehumanizing work environment. Perhaps the most existential of all NOIR HEROES is the AMNESIAC who possesses only enigmatic clues to his identity. The amnesiac epitomizes the social estrangement and psychological confusion that had settled in the formerly healthy American psyche after the war. Audiences established a troubled identification with these heroes who had become cut-off from their own pasts and whose identity crises mirrored those of the nation as a whole.
  18. 18. NOIR CHARACTER ARCHETYPES: THE PROLETARIAN TOUGH GUY This character is a working class man who achieves his toughness by repressing all signs of weakness in himself. All weakness, for him is associated with the feminine. He represses “feminine virtues,” like feelings, and heightens “masculine virtues,” like loyalty to a professional code and facing problems with aggression and dominance. These men reject their “feminine side.”
  19. 19. WOMEN IN FILM NOIR WOMEN AS SOCIAL MENACE: The threat that women and the feminine posed to the noir hero presented itself on two different fronts – the socioeconomic and the psychoanalytic. On the socioeconomic front, the changing status of American women during the war and postwar period challenged male dominance. The entry of women into the workforce and their taking over of traditional male roles violated the fundamental order of sexual relations. Previously middle-class women were confined to the home, where they took care of the domestic needs of the family, while men were able to move back and forth freely between the home and the workplace.
  20. 20. WOMEN AS SOCIAL MENACE These changes posed a threat to traditional values, which centered in the institution of the family. Film Noir registered the anti-feminist backlash by providing a picture of postwar America in which there is no family or in which the family exists chiefly as a negative phenomenon. In noir, the family was either non-existent or negative. It was characterized either as a claustrophobic, emasculating trap or as a bankrupt system of perfunctory relationships, featuring murderous wives and corrupt children. Film noir dramatized the consequences of the neglect of family people believed was happening as a result of women entering the workforce, transforming women into willful creatures intent on destroying both their mates and the sacred institution of family. Traditionally, Hollywood had taken great efforts to shield the family from the world of crime. In film noir, crime moved from outside the family to within it, and the impetus for crime came as often from women as from men.
  21. 21. WOMEN AS SOCIAL MENACE The destruction of the family was evident in extreme ways within NOIR films. Wives murdered husbands. Children committed crimes, sometimes even violent crimes. These deviations from standard moral values were a reaction to the perceived threat to society prompted by women claiming independence.
  22. 22. WOMEN IN FILM NOIR WOMEN AS PSYCHOLOGICAL TERROR – The psychoanalytical front reflected women in film noir who presented a psychic threat to the typically insecure noir hero. Basically, it is a fear of symbolic castration – of emasculation. Hollywood tried to allay this fear through a process called DISAVOWAL in which the female’s “castrating status” was denied. This denial could be achieved either through fetishization, or through her devaluation, or both.
  23. 23. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION OF WOMEN Fetishization is creating the image of women as overvalued, often through the use of lingering close-ups, soft lighting, glamorous costumes, or other techniques that transformed her into a spectacle and not a human. In becoming pure spectacle, she is objectified. The woman becomes an object of male desire and fantasy.
  24. 24. PSYCHOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION OF WOMEN Devaluation is creating the image of the woman as guilty object. These women were often objects of male investigations into the original source of their guilt. These woman are “fallen women.” They are first punished and then later, having revealed their guilty secrets, rescued.
  25. 25. FEMME FATALE In film noir, women are routinely devalued by the male protagonists, who feel threatened by them. Thus, women in film noir tended to be characterized as FEMME FATALES, intent on “castrating” or otherwise destroying the male protagonist. This archetype is also called a SPIDER WOMAN.
  26. 26. FEMME FATALE The FEMME FATALE, or the “deadly woman,” is a woman who exploits the weaknesses of men to her own advantage. These characters are sexy, mysterious, duplicitous, double-crossing, unloving, predatory, tough-sweet, unreliable, irresponsible, manipulative and sometimes desperate.
  27. 27. MENACED WOMAN Another female role common in film noir is the MENACED WOMAN. If the main character is female, she will often be tormented psychologically or physically by a man, usually a love interest.
  28. 28. COMMON STYLISTIC ELEMENTS THE NARRATIVE VOICEOVER was very common in film noir. This is due to the popularity of Freudian thought at the time. The voice-over narration film noir characteristic represents psychological reflection and introspection by a character.
  29. 29. CRITIQUE OF POPULISM The destabilization of sexual relationships found in film noir is symptomatic of a larger social disorder. Prior to WWII, American society had been held together by various myths that structured its identity as a nation. These myths rested, in large part, on the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, which assumed a fundamental equality based on the universal ownership of property. This equality through ownership concept provided a fundamental principle for 19th century American Expansionist theory, the motivation for western settlement, which became a realization of America’s manifest destiny. But the closing of the frontier, the exhaustion of free land, and the rapid industrialization of America began a slow process of social change
  30. 30. CRITIQUE OF POPULISM The agrarian ideal gave way to an industrialized mass society. By 1920, for the first time in American history, more people lived in urban areas than in rural ones. The old middle class consisting of shop owners, formers, and other property keepers gave way to a new middle class dominated by hourly wage workers, who owned neither land nor homes. Though millions of laborers lived this new reality, they continued to subscribe to the old, pre-industrial era myths. It was only after the Depression that the power of these myths began to waver. Film noir reflects a transitional stage in American ideology and American identity shifted from 19th century, preindustrial, agrarian prototypes to 20th century models that acknowledged the nation’s transformation into a mass consumer society and an industrialized, corporate state. Characters in noir are products of post-war consumerist society. Film noir captured the emptiness of these people’s world. As a movement, it reflected the chaotic period in which old myths began to crumble and no new myths were there to take their place – the period in which national identity was in crisis. NOIR suggested that American innocence had been lost and could not easily be recaptured.

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