American Film Noir
Course Leader: Dr David Levente Palatinus
TIME AND PLACE: Wednesday 09.40-11.10; F108
In case the course goes online, discussion sessions will be taught online and in real time using video-conferencing (MS Teams).
The purpose of the course is to acquaint students with the most significant traits of American film noir by offering a brief historical overview of this much-discussed, controversial, but ever-present and highly popular mode. The course will draw on ideas put forward by psychoanalytic, rhetorical and cognitive-semiotic approaches to the interpretation and critical appreciation of the cinematic image produced in Hollywood. Noir impacted multiple genres and media, and also established itself both as a marketing category as well as a common critical currency, a sort of “travelling concept” that is deployed from time to time to describe and envelop a range of things, from responses to (an actual or imagined) social reality to particular modes of representation.
Film noir has grown beyond its initial connotations and has globalized itself as a category encompassing a wide variety of cultural production. From a strictly aesthetic point of view, the assets of noir are primarily defined on the basis of a visual compositional logic. The traits of noir cinematography are easily recognizable: elements of mise-en-scene, camerawork, lighting, the technological dimensions of production, the uncanny and suspenseful atmosphere, the emphasis on the subjectivity, the problematization of the interrelation of the gaze of the camera and the gaze of the spectator, the engagement with the psychological aspect of the image, have rapidly become integral components of the noir mode. In textual terms, in place of the modern urban dystopia of the ‘designed-for-consumption- spectacularity’ of high crimes, and the graphic portrayal of violence, these films build on the counter-position of hope and paranoia.
In the course, we seek to investigate the ways in which this cinematographic mode entails a realism that emerges as “hyperrealism” in the sense that it finds a way to visually amplify (distort and reassert) specific social and cultural anxieties.
Intended Learning Outcomes:
Students will acquire knowledge and understanding of
- the socio-cultural background of the history of film noir
- the heterogeneity and globalized nature of popular film production
- the transformation and continuity of genres, trends and concepts related to film noir
- the interdependence of cinema and the political sphere
- the issues of the cinematic representation of class, race and gender
- key concepts and terms of film theory as relevant to the history of noir
Intended Skills Outcomes:
- developing strategies for critically appreciating films
- using theoretical concepts in a productive fashion
- producing independently researched academic essays
- understanding the relationship between cinema and culture
Seminars: The ideas, issues and topics covered in the introductory lectures and the compulsory readings will constitute the theoretical background to the discussion of films.
Screenings: There will be screenings of films on set occasions (do be done individually but preferably during the set time of the course).
The discussion of films will be based on your critical engagement with the films, and your close reading of set texts. To facilitate the critical reading of each film, students will get study questions to accompany the screenings.
Regular Attendance and Participation in discussions: 30%
In-Class Tests on compulsory readings and films: 30%
Final Exam: 40%
LIST OF SUGGESTED FILMS:
[Titles in Bold are for in-class screening
Underlined titles are for home screening
*Asterisked titles are not compulsory but are highly recommended ]
The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
*Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
*The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)
Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) – Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017)
12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
*Basic Instinct (1992)
*Fight Club (1999)
Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997)
Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997)
Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992) / Jackie Brown / Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999)
*Memento (Nolan, 2000)
Training Day (Antoine Fuqua, 2001)
*Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002)
Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)
Sin City (Rodrigues and Miller, 2005) – crime anthology film
A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 2005)
The Departed (Scorsese, 2006)
The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
John Wick 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017)
*Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017)
Serenity (Steven Knight, 2019)
1. Introduction: an extremely brief history of Hollywood; film noir: genre-style-mode
2. Screening 1: The Big Sleep
‘Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir’
‘Towards a Definition of Film Noir’
3. Discussion 1
[Cinema as a (globalized) institution; critical trends and approaches: (psychoanalysis, cognitive semiotics
of film, visual narratives; audience studies, historical approaches, adaptations, popular vs. art cinema)]
Reading: ‘Noir Cinema’
4. Screening 2: Chinatown
5. Discussion 2
[Hard boiled characters, urban setting, systemic violence]
Reading: Bran Nicol et al.: ‘Crime Culture and Modernity’
6. Screening 3: Blade Runner
7. Discussion 3
[Generic Hybridity, cyber-punk / sci-fi noir]
Reading: Kerman, Judith. “Post-Millennium Blade Runner.” The Blade Runner Experience: the Legacy of a Science Fiction
Classic, edited by Will Brooker, Columbia University Press, 2005, pp. 31-39
8. Screening 4 Memento
9. Discussion 4
[Narrative Complexity and Film Noir]
Reading: ‘Memento and the Embodied Fabula: Narrative Comprehension Revisited’
10. Screening 5 Blade Runner 2049
11. Discussion 5
[Remakes, legacy, Posthuman and Anthropocene noir]
Reading: ‘Blade Runner and the Archiving of Memory’
12. Summary and conclusions
Reading List [see Jumpshare folder]
Selected chapters from:
The Blackwell Companion to Film Theory (eds. Toby Miller and Robert Stam) 2003.
Susan Hayward: Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. Routledge, 2000.
Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (eds. Steve Neale and Murray Smith) Routledge, 1998.
Bran Nicole et al (eds). Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film. Continuum, 2011.
James Naremore. More than Night. Film Noir In Its Contexts. University of California Press, 2008
Alain Silver and James Ursini: Film Noir Reader. Limelight Editions, 1998.
The Internet Movie Scrip Database: www.imsdb.com
Journals: The following full text e-journals are freely available to all users:
- Bright Lights Film Journal no.16(april 1996)+
- Cahiers du cinéma Since March 2007 published simultaneously in French (on paper), and in English in its entirety, by subscription.
- Cinema Scope (Toronto) no. 19(Summer 2004)+
- Cinemascope-Independent Film Journal (Italy) v. 1(Winter 2005)+
- Cine-tracts (or Cinetracts): A Journal of Film, Communication, Culture and Politics
- Continuum vol. 1:1(1987)-8:2(1994) (with the exception of 8:1, which contains table of contents only.)
- EnterText (Brunel University, London) v. 1:1(Winter 2000)+ . An interactive interdisciplinary e-journal for cultural and historical studies and creative work.
- European Cinema Journal (.pdf) no. 1(1999)+
- The Film Journal v. 1:1(Issue 1)(May 2002)+
- Film Music Society Newsletter March 2003+
- Film-Philosophy v. 1(1997)+
- Films and Festivals (UK) (Free subscription)
- Image & Narrative no. 1(July-Novmber 2000)+
- Images: a journal of film and popular culture no. 1(August 1996)+
- Journal for Multimedia History (SUNY Albany) v. 1(1998)+
- Journal of Film Preservation (FIAF) no. 51 (Nov 1995)+
- The Journal of Moving Image Studies v. 1(2002)+
- Journal of Religion and Film v. 1:1(1997)+
- Journal of Religion and Popular Culture v. 1(Spring 2002)+
- Journal of the Moving Image (India) no. 4(2005)+
- Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media no. 1(1974)+
- KINEMA, a journal for film and audiovisual media (University of Waterloo) Spring 1993+ (Selected articles only in most recent issues).
- Kritikos: journal of postmodern cultural sound, text, and image Jan 2004+
- Millennium Film Journal Selected full text: no. 26 (Fall 1992)+
- Offscreen (Montreal) v. 1:1 (1997)+
- Other Voices v. 1:1(1997)+ is an independent, award-winning, electronic journal of cultural criticism published at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Papers of Surrealism (UK) Issue 1(winter 2003)+
- Participations: journal of audience and reception studies v. 1:1 (Nov 2003)+
- Postmodern Culture no. 1:1(1990)+
- Refractory: a journal of entertainment media v. 1(2002)+
- Scan: journal of media, arts, culture v. 1:1(Jan. 2004)+
- Scope: an on-line journal of film studies (Institute of Film Studies, U. of Nottingham) August 1999+
- Screening the Past (La Trobe University, Australia) no. 1(1997)+
- Senses of Cinema (Australia) no. 1(1999)+
- ShortEnd Magazine Launched in April 2007 as a weekly online publication, SM serves to tell stories from the independent and student film communities with an eye toward sharing thoughts and critique about trends within the scene.
- Synoptique (Concordia University, Montreal) no. 1(March 2004)+
- Učiteľ: Palatinus Levente David