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Lecture 5

FILM 1701 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Neo-Noir, Josef Von Sternberg, Warner Bros.

Course Code
FILM 1701
Gillian Helfield

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-Neo noir classics - 3 important influences - Crime film, social problem film, and horror
films - The dark aesthetic that is so characteristic in the film noir
German Expressionism: a movement in German cinema and an aesthetic which was
brought to Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s.
Brought by directors FW Murnau, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Karl Freund,
and Robert Siodmak
Mise en scene: Refers to all the filmic elements that atmosphere contributes to the ‘look of
the film’, which are present in each scene
‘putting in the scene, putting in the shot’, attributes that contribute to the looks of the
film, costume, makeup, acting.
German immigrant - Josef Von Sternberg, contributing to german expressionism.
The looks of film noir
darkness of city, darkness of character, weblike pattern, contrasting with the glow
Citizen Kane - dark shadow, foggy atmosphere in room. Mystery to a film’s narrative.
Literary Influences - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (black novels) - crime violence, and sex.
Important elements to the genre
Private eye investigation, hard boiled - to be tough. Violence in a regular basis, tough
demeanor. Sam Spade - “My,my, such a lot of guns in this city, and so few brains”
Pop magazines - Black Mask, pulp - where pulp fiction comes from
Jim Thompson novels - perpetrator of the crimes - Double Indemnity, The Getaway, The
Grifters, etc. Turning into films.
Femme Fitale represents an invasion of moral codes inscribed in classical women -
appearance, wearing white. - normally blonde, or dyed blond hair.
signification of entrapment
Existentialism: was a significant philosophical and cultural movement, that characterized
the work of two french authors and postcolonial theorists - Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert
Term existentialism comes from the Latin “exist ere” which means not only ‘to exist’, but also
‘to stand out’. The idea of Existentialism was that Man tragically exists in a state of distance
from an indifferent world in which he remains alone “Man is nothing else but what he makes
of himself”
Construction of the femme fitale, women promised to reap the rewards by prospering, raising
families, white picket fences, loyal families, and sweethearts. Easier to find social inequities.
Film Noir tells us that the system is not working and they know that it is not working. There is
no way out.
Dark resistance - post-war period. Black and white cinematography. Shot in black and white,
designed to be seen in black and white. Urban settings. Light - shades are pulled, narrowed
slips of light - claustrophobic atmosphere, shadowy
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Set designs and costumes popped - low contrast lighting - objects and characters blend into
the darkness. The motivations of the character are a mystery. Darkness manifests
themselves interiors themselves - Crime and corruption.
Instability of the film noir films and it is unknown of what things are. chain smoking
protagonist, smoking gun, perpetrator of the crime
The sex - cigarette smoking - not social but also sexual, another intimate activity that took
place after intercourse.
Settings with water, a lot of rain and fog, streets damp and slick. Means of suggesting things
that are hidden or submerged.
The ‘Look’: The ‘look’ of the camera strands in for ‘the look’ of the subject (whoever is doing
the looking) and which is automatically adopted by the viewer. - key in identifying the
respective positions of the looker and looky.
Film scholars have tied the process and effect of cinema to scopophilia, which is the
pleasure of ‘looking’ and voyeurism, the act of watching someone who isn’t aware
that they’re being watched.
‘the male gaze’ - perspective of the protagonist shared by the viewers - men and masculine
points of view, sexual objectification to be looked at. male - male fantasy, female - look
aimed at her as a passive object - isolated figure.becoming his male protagonists property.
In psychoanalytical terms, the female figure in film noir poses an even deeper
problem. She connotes something that the look continually circles around, but never
refers to explicit.
-punished, physical abuse
The second way in which the female is dealt with is that she is tamed, or subjugated,
and domesticated so that she is non-sexual and distracting - becoming a goddess
rather than a sex symbol
femme fatale, sex object
one final convention of film noir related to both ‘the look’ and the narrative, is the
narration. frequently narrated by the central character in the present reflecting about the
This creates several effects:
- lends more subjective note to the story
- creates mood of ‘temps perdu’, or ‘lost time’, or ‘lost period’: refers to an
irretrievable past, and a predetermined fate
sense of ‘temps perdu’ is especially important when the subjective narration is ‘book-
ended’ at the beginning and the end of the film. -recounting his tale or confessing his
crime. Manipulating time - air of anxiety and tension. Inevitable has already happened.
Closure, but no salvation, no hope.
The Big Sleep - 1946 - Howard Hawks
Directed Scarface in 1932, Warner Brothers studios, Adapted from novel.
Gangster roles - romantic leading mans
The complicated plot, Howard Hawks - action pictures, crime films, westerns, and a few
True hollywood auteur by the true hollywood cinema. Most known for To Have or Have Not
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