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Irrational Man: Neo-Noir Masquerading as a Film about Philosophy?

Irrational Man Neo-Noir

28 replies to this topic

#1 Marianne

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 10:28 PM

Irrational Man: More Neo-Noir Than I Originally Thought

 

After seeing this film a second time, this time on DVD, I am even more convinced that Irrational Man is a neo-noir. Before I gave it 11 out of 16; now I give it 12 out of 16 (see especially number 12 below).

 

*****Spoilers*****

 

Characteristic from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Not applicable (N/A). There’s nothing about the setting in and around Newport, Rhode Island, that makes Irrational Man a noir or neo-noir, but see number 9 below.

2. Flashbacks The entire film is told in flashback, from Jill’s point of view. She couches her remembrances as a lesson learned.

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Definitely!

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Joaquin Phoenix’s character qualifies as an homme fatale.

6. The instrument of fate The “agent of fate” in Irrational Man seems to be Jill. Jill is the one who overhears the conversation in the restaurant about Judge Spangler. Jill is the one who invites Abe to listen in on that same conversation. Jill picks a flashlight as a prize at the amusement park (I think she wanted it; she’s carrying it in her purse until the end). The flashlight plays an important part, in its own way, as an “agent of fate”! But it belongs to Jill, not to anyone else.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Real angst, not just Joaquin Phoenix as Abe, the philosophy professor, spouting intellectual lines. Jill expresses angst, fear, and suspicion when she hears Rita’s theory about Abe. Abe experiences angst from the beginning of the movie until he starts planning his crime. (Rita doesn’t experience any angst at all! She would go to Spain with Abe whether or not her theory about him is true. But Abe and Jill suffer more than enough angst to make up for Rita.)

8. Violence or the threat of violence Shown off-camera but still effective, especially because Jill, Abe, and Rita discuss it in various scenes and in different character combinations.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Not much, if any, urban and/or nighttime settings as I recall, but the seaside setting of the film, with its idyllic views, seems to accentuate the evil intentions of some of the characters rather than detract from it.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes One more point about Irrational Man makes it neo-noir for me, and that’s the specific mention of Hannah Arendt. Jill mentions that Abe noted Hannah Arendt’s name in the margin of a book, I think it was. (I wish I had a DVD copy so I could check!) But the point is that the reference to Hannah Arendt again takes us back to the postwar period and the struggle to come to terms with Nazism and “the banality of evil.” From Wikipedia:

 

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by political theorist Hannah Arendt, was originally published in 1963. Arendt's subtitle famously introduced the phrase "the banality of evil," which also serves as the final words of the book. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann's deportment at the trial, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he bore no responsibility because he was simply "doing his job" ("He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law" p. 135). (emphasis added)

 

Abe justifies his actions in a similar manner: He was simply doing what was best for the woman who wanted her kids in the custody battle.

 

So it’s not just violence and crime that make Irrational Man a neo-noir; it’s also the reaching back in time to quote a postwar political theorist who was trying to make sense of the war crimes committed and justified for the most banal of reasons. Allen also uses Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis when Abe brings up a theoretical philosophical dilemma while teaching his college philosophy class.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Abe justifies everything he does in terms of philosophy, but he never once allows for human emotion. He feels alienated from the rest of the world and he says this often throughout the film. But he doesn’t seem to care much about that fact. But yes, I would say this characteristic applies.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) I have changed my mind about this one [emphasis below is mine]. I think Abe tries to manipulate Jill, but she realizes it only in hindsight.

 

When the film opens, viewers hear her internal monologue: “I think Abe was crazy from the beginning. . . . He was so damn interesting. And different. And a good talker. And he could always cloud the issue with words.

 

Jill does confront Abe about the judge’s murder:

• Jill: “You can’t justify it. You can’t justify it with all this ****. With all this ****, French postwar rationalizing. This doesn’t . . . . This is murder. This is murder. It opens the door to more murder, Abe.”

• Abe: “Okay, okay, okay, okay . . . .”

• Jill: “I don’t have the intellect to refute these arguments. I can’t argue with you. But you taught me go with my instinct and I don’t have to think about this. I feel that this is no good. This is murder.”

 

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Abe betrays Jill. His actions are not really based on his existential need to feel alive. He turns on her, too.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) In the end Jill is almost squeaky clean. Abe was depressed at the start of the film, so his intentions seemed masked by the depression. I think this category, for this film, would be how “the banality of evil” makes good and evil hard to spot for the characters and for the audience.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)



#2 Marianne

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Posted 16 December 2015 - 03:25 PM

Irrational Man will be coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on, I believe, January 12, 2016. I want to see this one again. I want to see how it holds up as a neo-noir.



#3 Marianne

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 09:13 AM

Irrational Man:

Eleven out of Sixteen Using the List of Sixteen Noir Characteristics

 

The term film soleil makes it eleven out of sixteen for Irrational Man, using the list we’ve created for neo-noirs. See number nine in the list. (I still consider this a work-in-progress. I’ve seen the film once, and I want to revisit this post when Irrational Man comes out on DVD and I can see it again.)

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Not applicable (N/A). There’s nothing about the setting in and around Newport, Rhode Island, that makes Irrational Man a noir or neo-noir.

2. Flashbacks The entire film is told in flashback, from Jill’s point of view. She couches her remembrances as a lesson learned

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Definitely!

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Joaquin Phoenix’s character qualifies as an homme fatale

6. The instrument of fate (From my earlier post) The “agent of fate” in Irrational Man seems to be Jill. Jill is the one who overhears the conversation in the restaurant about Judge Spangler. Jill is the one who invites Abe to listen in on that same conversation. Jill picks a flashlight as a prize at the amusement park (I think she wanted it; she’s carrying it in her purse until the end). The flashlight plays an important part, in its own way, as an “agent of fate”! But it belongs to Jill, not to anyone else.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) (From my earlier post) Real angst, not just Joaquin Phoenix as Abe, the philosophy professor, spouting intellectual lines. Jill expresses angst, fear, and suspicion when she hears Rita’s theory about Abe. Abe experiences angst from the beginning of the movie until he starts planning his crime. (Rita doesn’t experience any angst at all! She would go to Spain with Abe whether or not her theory about him is true. But Abe and Jill suffer more than enough angst to make up for Rita.)

8. Violence or the threat of violence (From my earlier post) Shown off-camera but still effective, especially because Jill, Abe, and Rita discuss it in various scenes and in different character combinations.

9. Urban and nighttime settings Not much, if any, urban and/or nighttime settings as I recall, but Irrational Man can be called a film soleil.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) (From an earlier post) One more point about Irrational Man makes it neo-noir for me, and that’s the specific mention of Hannah Arendt. Jill mentions that Abe noted Hannah Arendt’s name in the margin of a book, I think it was. (I wish I had a DVD copy so I could check!) But the point is that the reference to Hannah Arendt again takes us back to the postwar period and the struggle to come to terms with Nazism and “the banality of evil.” From Wikipedia:

 

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by political theorist Hannah Arendt, was originally published in 1963. Arendt's subtitle famously introduced the phrase "the banality of evil," which also serves as the final words of the book. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann's deportment at the trial, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he bore no responsibility because he was simply "doing his job" ("He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law" p. 135). (emphasis added)

 

Abe justifies his actions in a similar manner: He was simply doing what was best for the woman who wanted her kids in the custody battle.

 

So it’s not just violence and crime that make Irrational Man a neo-noir; it’s also the reaching back in time to quote a postwar political theorist who was trying to make sense of the war crimes committed and justified for the most banal of reasons.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Abe justifies everything he does in terms of philosophy, but he never once allows for human emotion. He feels alienated from the rest of the world and he says this often throughout the film. But he doesn’t seem to care much about that fact. But yes, I would say this characteristic applies.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Abe betrays Jill. His actions are not really based on his existential need to feel alive. He turns on her, too.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) In the end Jill is almost squeaky clean. Abe was depressed at the start of the film, so his intentions seemed masked by the depression. I think this category, for this film, would be how “the banality of evil” makes good and evil hard to spot for the characters and for the audience.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)


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#4 cigarjoe

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 07:19 AM

The term is Film Soleil  B)

 

film%20soleil_zpslebohg1i.jpg


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#5 cigarjoe

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 06:51 AM

the term is Film Soleil I'll post the book image.



#6 Marianne

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Posted 03 September 2015 - 01:05 PM

Irrational Man: Another Look Using the List of 16 Noir Characteristics

 

I decided to take another look at Irrational Man using the list we’ve created for neo-noirs. I think it does qualify as a neo-noir, with ten out of sixteen, but it’s one that’s sure to generate debate. I consider this a work-in-progress by the way. I’ve seen the film once, and I want to revisit this post when it comes out on DVD and I can see it again.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Not applicable (N/A). There’s nothing about the setting in and around Newport, Rhode Island, that makes Irrational Man a noir or neo-noir.

2. Flashbacks The entire film is told in flashback, from Jill’s point of view. She couches her remembrances as a lesson learned

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Definitely!

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Joaquin Phoenix’s character qualifies as an homme fatale

6. The instrument of fate (From my earlier post) The “agent of fate” in Irrational Man seems to be Jill. Jill is the one who overhears the conversation in the restaurant about Judge Spangler. Jill is the one who invites Abe to listen in on that same conversation. Jill picks a flashlight as a prize at the amusement park (I think she wanted it; she’s carrying it in her purse until the end). The flashlight plays an important part, in its own way, as an “agent of fate”! But it belongs to Jill, not to anyone else.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) (From my earlier post) Real angst, not just Joaquin Phoenix as Abe, the philosophy professor, spouting intellectual lines. Jill expresses angst, fear, and suspicion when she hears Rita’s theory about Abe. Abe experiences angst from the beginning of the movie until he starts planning his crime. (Rita doesn’t experience any angst at all! She would go to Spain with Abe whether or not her theory about him is true. But Abe and Jill suffer more than enough angst to make up for Rita.)

8. Violence or the threat of violence (From my earlier post) Shown off-camera but still effective, especially because Jill, Abe, and Rita discuss it in various scenes and in different character combinations.

9. Urban and nighttime settings (N/A) But should we call this a noir soleil? (Or is it soleil noir? Couldn’t find it in a Google search or on Wikipedia.)

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) (From an earlier post) One more point about Irrational Man makes it neo-noir for me, and that’s the specific mention of Hannah Arendt. Jill mentions that Abe noted Hannah Arendt’s name in the margin of a book, I think it was. (I wish I had a DVD copy so I could check!) But the point is that the reference to Hannah Arendt again takes us back to the postwar period and the struggle to come to terms with Nazism and “the banality of evil.” From Wikipedia:

 

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by political theorist Hannah Arendt, was originally published in 1963. Arendt's subtitle famously introduced the phrase "the banality of evil," which also serves as the final words of the book. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann's deportment at the trial, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he bore no responsibility because he was simply "doing his job" ("He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law" p. 135). (emphasis added)

 

Abe justifies his actions in a similar manner: He was simply doing what was best for the woman who wanted her kids in the custody battle.

 

So it’s not just violence and crime that make Irrational Man a neo-noir; it’s also the reaching back in time to quote a postwar political theorist who was trying to make sense of the war crimes committed and justified for the most banal of reasons.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Abe justifies everything he does in terms of philosophy, but he never once allows for human emotion. He feels alienated from the rest of the world and he says this often throughout the film. But he doesn’t seem to care much about that fact. But yes, I would say this characteristic applies.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Abe betrays Jill. His actions are not really based on his existential need to feel alive. He turns on her, too.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) In the end Jill is almost squeaky clean. Abe was depressed at the start of the film, so his intentions seemed masked by the depression. I think this category, for this film, would be how “the banality of evil” makes good and evil hard to spot for the characters and for the audience.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)



#7 Marianne

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Posted 22 August 2015 - 05:31 PM

Excellent job Marianne. You organized and structured all of our ideas into a well thought-out thread. VanHazard and I helped, but this was all you.

 

Once again, a heartfelt thanks! But I hope that this will continue as a collaborative effort. That willl make it so much more fun.

 

I already have plans to see Mulholland Drive again. I loved that movie, and seeing it a second time after the Summer of Darkness course can only make it richer. Once I get my hands on a DVD copy, I'll be writing and posting about it.



#8 HEYMOE

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Posted 22 August 2015 - 02:58 PM

I started a new discussion thread to continue this topic under a more general category: "Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir." VanHazard started one, too. So we should get plenty of input.

Excellent job Marianne. You organized and structured all of our ideas into a well thought-out thread. VanHazard and I helped, but this was all you.


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#9 Marianne

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Posted 22 August 2015 - 11:15 AM

I agree. We are good to go. I've added director's names to the list:

 

Modern neo-noirs:

Chinatown 1974             dir. Roman Polanski

Taxi Driver 1976             dir. Martin Scorsese

Body Heat 1981             dir. Lawrence Kasdan

Blade Runner 1982        dir. Ridley Scott

Blood Simple 1984         dir. Joel Coen

Blue Velvet 1986            dir. David Lynch

House of Games 1987   dir. David Mamet

Miller’s Crossing 1990    dir. Joel Coen

Red Rock West 1992     dir. John Dahl

Se7en 1995                    dir. David Fincher

The Usual Suspect 1995 dir. Bryan Singer

Fargo 1996                     dir. Joel Coen

L.A. Confidential 1997    dir. Curtis Hanson

Memento 2000               dir. Christopher Nolan

Mulholland Drive 2001   dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006                       dir. Rian Johnson

 

I started a new discussion thread to continue this topic under a more general category: "Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir." VanHazard started one, too. So we should get plenty of input.


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#10 VanHazard

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Posted 21 August 2015 - 10:33 PM

I agree. We are good to go. I've added director's names to the list:

 

Modern neo-noirs:

Chinatown 1974             dir. Roman Polanski

Taxi Driver 1976             dir. Martin Scorsese

Body Heat 1981             dir. Lawrence Kasdan

Blade Runner 1982        dir. Ridley Scott

Blood Simple 1984         dir. Joel Coen

Blue Velvet 1986            dir. David Lynch

House of Games 1987   dir. David Mamet

Miller’s Crossing 1990    dir. Joel Coen

Red Rock West 1992     dir. John Dahl

Se7en 1995                    dir. David Fincher

The Usual Suspect 1995 dir. Bryan Singer

Fargo 1996                     dir. Joel Coen

L.A. Confidential 1997    dir. Curtis Hanson

Memento 2000               dir. Christopher Nolan

Mulholland Drive 2001   dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006                       dir. Rian Johnson

 

Some additional neo/new wave noirs that might also warrant some attention (no particular order):

 

The Two Jakes, Dark City, Mulholland Falls, Bound, The Black Dahlia, Devil in a Blue Dress, The Last Seduction, Palmetto, The Last Seduction, Angel Heart, U-Turn, Deep Cover, Manhunter, Klute, Stormy Monday, Romeo is Bleeding.   There's probably dozens more, depending on how broad a net we want to cast.  

 

Not sure it makes sense to expand into TV series, but I might make an exception for one show/character in particular: Luther, starring Idris Elba, and especially in connection with his extraordinary relationship with the serial killer, Alice Morgan.   


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#11 HEYMOE

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Posted 21 August 2015 - 04:01 PM

I once again took the ideas from my earlier post, your most recent post (quoted above), and this time VanHazard’s post to tweak the list of characteristics that could define transition noir, neo-noir, and modern neo-noir. All in the following list are subject to change, and a film doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics. We can keep adding to or changing the list.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.)

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and so on)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

13. Greed

14. Betrayal

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

 

Early samples of neo-noirs:

Underworld U.S,A. (1961) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Cape Fear (1962) dir. J. Lee Thompson B&W
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer B&W
Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
The Naked Kiss (1964) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Point Blank (1967) dir. John Boorman Color

 

Modern neo-noirs:

Chinatown 1974

Taxi Driver 1976

Body Heat 1981

Blade Runner 1982

Blood Simple 1984

Blue Velvet 1986

House of Games 1987

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Red Rock West 1992

Se7en 1995

The Usual Suspect 1995

Fargo 1996

L.A. Confidential 1997

Memento 2000

Mulholland Drive 2001 dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006

 

Perhaps it’s time to start a new discussion thread so we can discuss these themes and films independently of Irrational Man? Here was my idea for the new discussion thread:

Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir

 

What do both of you think?

 

I agree. We are good to go. I've added director's names to the list:

 

Modern neo-noirs:

Chinatown 1974             dir. Roman Polanski

Taxi Driver 1976             dir. Martin Scorsese

Body Heat 1981             dir. Lawrence Kasdan

Blade Runner 1982        dir. Ridley Scott

Blood Simple 1984         dir. Joel Coen

Blue Velvet 1986            dir. David Lynch

House of Games 1987   dir. David Mamet

Miller’s Crossing 1990    dir. Joel Coen

Red Rock West 1992     dir. John Dahl

Se7en 1995                    dir. David Fincher

The Usual Suspect 1995 dir. Bryan Singer

Fargo 1996                     dir. Joel Coen

L.A. Confidential 1997    dir. Curtis Hanson

Memento 2000               dir. Christopher Nolan

Mulholland Drive 2001   dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006                       dir. Rian Johnson


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#12 VanHazard

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Posted 21 August 2015 - 01:26 PM

I once again took the ideas from my earlier post, your most recent post (quoted above), and this time VanHazard’s post to tweak the list of characteristics that could define transition noir, neo-noir, and modern neo-noir. All in the following list are subject to change, and a film doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics. We can keep adding to or changing the list.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.)

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and so on)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

13. Greed

14. Betrayal

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

 

Early samples of neo-noirs:

Underworld U.S,A. (1961) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Cape Fear (1962) dir. J. Lee Thompson B&W
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer B&W
Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
The Naked Kiss (1964) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Point Blank (1967) dir. John Boorman Color

 

Modern neo-noirs:

Chinatown 1974

Taxi Driver 1976

Body Heat 1981

Blade Runner 1982

Blood Simple 1984

Blue Velvet 1986

House of Games 1987

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Red Rock West 1992

Se7en 1995

The Usual Suspect 1995

Fargo 1996

L.A. Confidential 1997

Memento 2000

Mulholland Drive 2001 dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006

 

Perhaps it’s time to start a new discussion thread so we can discuss these themes and films independently of Irrational Man? Here was my idea for the new discussion thread:

Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir

 

What do both of you think?

 

Sounds good to me.   Let's go for it.   


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#13 Marianne

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Posted 21 August 2015 - 10:59 AM

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir

 

Your additional 7 definitely belong. Do you think we should consider adding Greed and Betrayal or would they fall under Angst?

I’m with you on “modern neo-noir”.

 

Intense tint contrast

It meant something when I wrote it, now it sounds awkward to me as well. Let me give it another try.

Cinematographers in the classic noir era used chiaroscuro to create the contrasts they saw in classic paintings. This was a challenge for them, working with B&W film, but they were successful in achieving that rich contrast they sought. In neo-noir they could now use vibrant colors to achieve a similar contrast but resulting in more vivid images. The point I wanted to make was that chiaroscuro, in terms of contrast, whether in B&W films or color, could be a shared quality in both forms of noir. Chiaroscuro could apply to films in color.

 

Transition to neo-noirs

Looking over these possible “crossover” films, I notice that most of them were filmed in B&W and Samuel Fuller appears to have embraced the new genre full force;  directing three of the films on the list.

The consensus is that these are early samples of neo-noirs:

 

Underworld U.S,A. (1961) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Cape Fear (1962) dir. J. Lee Thompson B&W
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer B&W
Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
The Naked Kiss (1964) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Point Blank (1967) dir. John Boorman Color

 

Modern movies that could help us with the list of 12 could come from the list below. They were gathered from articles found on the internet. They range from the 70’s thru 2006. I’ve seen five films on the list but will have to see them again through my “noir” eyeglasses.

 

Chinatown 1974

Taxi Driver 1976

Body Heat 1981

Blade Runner 1982

Blood Simple 1984

Blue Velvet 1986

House of Games 1987

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Red Rock West 1992

Se7en 1995

The Usual Suspect 1995

Fargo 1996

L.A. Confidential 1997

Memento 2000

Mulholland Drive 2001 dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006

 

All these films seem to have benefit by a lessening of Hays Office censorship; hence the introduction of nudity, graphic violence and foul language became more evident through the decades. By benefit I mean more freedom for the film makers to make a more gritty and realistic film.

 

I once again took the ideas from my earlier post, your most recent post (quoted above), and this time VanHazard’s post to tweak the list of characteristics that could define transition noir, neo-noir, and modern neo-noir. All in the following list are subject to change, and a film doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics. We can keep adding to or changing the list.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.)

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and so on)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

13. Greed

14. Betrayal

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good”

 

Early samples of neo-noirs:

Underworld U.S,A. (1961) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Cape Fear (1962) dir. J. Lee Thompson B&W
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer B&W
Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
The Naked Kiss (1964) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Point Blank (1967) dir. John Boorman Color

 

Modern neo-noirs:

Chinatown 1974

Taxi Driver 1976

Body Heat 1981

Blade Runner 1982

Blood Simple 1984

Blue Velvet 1986

House of Games 1987

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Red Rock West 1992

Se7en 1995

The Usual Suspect 1995

Fargo 1996

L.A. Confidential 1997

Memento 2000

Mulholland Drive 2001 dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006

 

Perhaps it’s time to start a new discussion thread so we can discuss these themes and films independently of Irrational Man? Here was my idea for the new discussion thread:

Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir

 

What do both of you think?


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#14 VanHazard

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Posted 20 August 2015 - 02:31 PM

I took the ideas from my earlier post and your most recent post (quoted above) to start thinking about a list of characteristics that could define neo-noir and modern neo-noir (I like “modern neo-noir” as a subcategory). All in the following list are subject to change, of course. By the way, a film doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics; I’m just trying to get a general list started that we can keep adding to or changing.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, which could translate to intense tint contrast in movies filmed in color

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and so on)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

 

Hypnosis is actually a film noir theme: Whirlpool (released in 1949) uses hypnosis as a plot device, I think. I haven’t seen it, and it wasn’t part of the Summer of Darkness lineup. It was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Gene Tierney. No Dana Andrews for this one. So The Manchurian Candidate was not new in using it as a plot device.

 

I wasn’t sure what you meant by “intense tint contrast,” but I left it on the list. Could you explain what you mean by this term?

 

And do you have any transition neo-noirs (the “symbolic hand-off period” of the 1950s and 1960s) to recommend?  Should we add this as a subcategory (I vote yes!)? Any modern movies in addition to Irrational Man that could help us add and/or refine the list above?

 

And wouldn’t it be great to have an online Summer of Neo-Noir class where the class participants help to create a list of characteristics and a list of films that could be called transition neo-noirs and modern neo-noirs? Dr. Edwards, if you’re reading, please note!!!

 

Great discussion Marianne and Heymoe!   Agree a Summer of Neo-Noir might be in order!

 

You both raise some very interesting points, and highlight many of the similarities that run through classic noir and Neo Noir.  The differences between them are also intriguing, and may in fact be a way to determine what separates 'Noir' and 'Neo-Noir' other than the periods in which they were made.

 

Clearing the deck of similarities...like those you so well list above...leaves us with a couple possibile disparities.   First, and perhaps most important, I think, is the abandonment of stark contrasts in both the characters and their stores.   Concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and depravity, etc., become terribly muddled by the Sixties, and the distinction between one extreme and the other is no where near as polar as it was before.    

 

This lack of clarity, which begins in the aftermath of WWII and continues, unabated, today, led to conflicts between polar extremes being waged no so much between characters as within them.   Somewhere along the line we lost our 'innocence'.  We became Kurtz's with dark minds and and darker hearts, and Noah Cross's who, in the right time and the right place, were capable of anything!       

 

That's a stark turnaround from the soil from which noir originally grew, where everyone but the shady characters and criminals depicted in noir, and even some of them, were presumed innocent until proven guilty.   Suddenly, the opposite applied.  We were all guilty of something; it became a matter of degree.  

 

Once you substitute stark contrasts in character and plotline with varying shades of gray, cinematic chiaroscuro and shadow loose vitality and relevance.   The transition to color also changes the landscape, complicating it in the same way characterizations became complicated.   The world was no longer portrayed in the sharp contrasts of black and white, but in subtle shades, tones and degrees or, as you both discussed, 'tints' of color that perhaps represents not the stark difference between the characters on the screen and ourselves but rather our uncomfortable closeness to them.     

 

Heroes became more fatally-flawed and more jaded, while villains more sympathetic, even likeable.  Everything was corrupt. Chaos, crime, war and corruption became the norm, the ever-constant, and violence, betrayal and terror lurks around every corner and under every bench or subway seat, or in the eyes of your next door neighbor.   More and more, there's no escape and there's no relief...there's only momentary diversion --- in power, money, technology, music, sex or drugs, etc.--- and every one of them come at a cost.   

 

Further undermining the sharp contrasts between right and wrong, etc. has been the increasing importance of individual expertise and prowess as the yardstick against which all action is measured.   Like the gunslinger's of the American West, or the trials heroes undertook in Classical Mythology, questions of right and wrong, guilt and innocence, etc. are now settled by how well one can do a particular thing.   In the absence of meaningful cultural and political consensus, are you good enough to get over despite your fatal flaws and shortcomings?   If so, all is forgiven.   If not, you're little better than roadkill for those who are. 

 

If classic Noir warned or reminded us that there was a darker, more unsettling world beneath the surface of the world we normally knew, what is Neo Noir (and beyond) telling us?   That ideals of any kind are inconvenient fictions, at best; that, like Elsa Bannister in The Lady From Shanghai, we must all come to terms with that dark and menacing world if we're to survive as best we can; or maybe that if we become good enough at one thing by ignoring everything else we can somehow keep the demons nipping at our heels at bay? 

 

Maybe Neo Noir is warning there's no meaningful difference between us and the demons.  Now that's a sobering thought.   


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#15 HEYMOE

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 05:21 PM

I took the ideas from my earlier post and your most recent post (quoted above) to start thinking about a list of characteristics that could define neo-noir and modern neo-noir (I like “modern neo-noir” as a subcategory). All in the following list are subject to change, of course. By the way, a film doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics; I’m just trying to get a general list started that we can keep adding to or changing.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, which could translate to intense tint contrast in movies filmed in color

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and so on)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

 

Hypnosis is actually a film noir theme: Whirlpool (released in 1949) uses hypnosis as a plot device, I think. I haven’t seen it, and it wasn’t part of the Summer of Darkness lineup. It was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Gene Tierney. No Dana Andrews for this one. So The Manchurian Candidate was not new in using it as a plot device.

 

I wasn’t sure what you meant by “intense tint contrast,” but I left it on the list. Could you explain what you mean by this term?

 

And do you have any transition neo-noirs (the “symbolic hand-off period” of the 1950s and 1960s) to recommend?  Should we add this as a subcategory (I vote yes!)? Any modern movies in addition to Irrational Man that could help us add and/or refine the list above?

 

And wouldn’t it be great to have an online Summer of Neo-Noir class where the class participants help to create a list of characteristics and a list of films that could be called transition neo-noirs and modern neo-noirs? Dr. Edwards, if you’re reading, please note!!!

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir

 

Your additional 7 definitely belong. Do you think we should consider adding Greed and Betrayal or would they fall under Angst?

I’m with you on “modern neo-noir”.

 

Intense tint contrast

It meant something when I wrote it, now it sounds awkward to me as well. Let me give it another try.

Cinematographers in the classic noir era used chiaroscuro to create the contrasts they saw in classic paintings. This was a challenge for them, working with B&W film, but they were successful in achieving that rich contrast they sought. In neo-noir they could now use vibrant colors to achieve a similar contrast but resulting in more vivid images. The point I wanted to make was that chiaroscuro, in terms of contrast, whether in B&W films or color, could be a shared quality in both forms of noir. Chiaroscuro could apply to films in color.

 

Transition to neo-noirs

Looking over these possible “crossover” films, I notice that most of them were filmed in B&W and Samuel Fuller appears to have embraced the new genre full force;  directing three of the films on the list.

The consensus is that these are early samples of neo-noirs:

 

Underworld U.S,A. (1961) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Cape Fear (1962) dir. J. Lee Thompson B&W
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) dir. John Frankenheimer B&W
Shock Corridor (1963) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
The Naked Kiss (1964) dir. Samuel Fuller B&W
Point Blank (1967) dir. John Boorman Color

 

Modern movies that could help us with the list of 12 could come from the list below. They were gathered from articles found on the internet. They range from the 70’s thru 2006. I’ve seen all but five films on the list but will have to see them again through my “noir” eyeglasses.

 

Chinatown 1974

Taxi Driver 1976

Body Heat 1981

Blade Runner 1982

Blood Simple 1984

Blue Velvet 1986

House of Games 1987

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Red Rock West 1992

Se7en 1995

The Usual Suspect 1995

Fargo 1996

L.A. Confidential 1997

Memento 2000

Mulholland Drive 2001 dir. David Lynch

Brick 2006

 

All these films seem to have benefit by a lessening of Hays Office censorship; hence the introduction of nudity, graphic violence and foul language became more evident through the decades. By benefit I mean more freedom for the film makers to make a more gritty and realistic film.


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#16 Marianne

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 10:38 AM

I agree, Nebraska was a wonderful picture, well deserving of all the accolades. With its spectacular B&W blends, its hard to imagine the mood of the film staying the same had it been filmed in color.

 

Thank you for posting your findings on Hannah Arendt and her book. For sure, it makes for a better understating of Abe’s thought process not visible to us but implied by the notes written in the margin of book. This is very common in Woody Allen films. A name here, a title there, next you are searching online and saying to yourself, ‘I wish I had known this then.’

 

I like imagining that a symbolic hand-off, took place in the late 50’s or early 60’s wherein noir transferred the “baton” to the next generation of film makers. As you suggest, I agree we pay attention to certain films made in the post noir era, (say we start in the 60’s) and look for new motifs, social issues, new or improved film-making equipment, and story source. Then as you say, work backwards and compare them to the traditional noir films, to see if we can identify those early neo-noir themes.

 

For example, if we take a look at The Manchurian Candidate (1962) by John Frankenheimer which has standard noir themes like: (war hero, femme fatale, alienation, loneliness) we note the introduction of new ones such as (hypnosis, political thriller, television coverage and brainwashing). By doing the same with other films and listing previously unfamiliar themes, we may begin seeing certain consistencies unique to the post noir films.

 

I am not suggesting that Manchurian is a noir one way or the other, rather my purpose is to illustrate the process of identifying post noir films that share qualities with classic noir and also introduce new ones.

 

Borrowing from noir to define neo-noir

A list of “borrowings” from noir could include

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films which could translate to intense tint contrast in movies filmed in color

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime element

5. Femme fetale

 

I took the ideas from my earlier post and your most recent post (quoted above) to start thinking about a list of characteristics that could define neo-noir and modern neo-noir (I like “modern neo-noir” as a subcategory). All in the following list are subject to change, of course. By the way, a film doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics; I’m just trying to get a general list started that we can keep adding to or changing.

 

Borrowings from film noir to define neo-noir and modern neo-noir:

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, which could translate to intense tint contrast in movies filmed in color

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

5. Femme fatale

6. The instrument of fate

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and so on)

8. Violence or the threat of violence

9. Urban and nighttime settings

10. Allusion to post–World War II themes (optional)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia)

 

Hypnosis is actually a film noir theme: Whirlpool (released in 1949) uses hypnosis as a plot device, I think. I haven’t seen it, and it wasn’t part of the Summer of Darkness lineup. It was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Gene Tierney. No Dana Andrews for this one. So The Manchurian Candidate was not new in using it as a plot device.

 

I wasn’t sure what you meant by “intense tint contrast,” but I left it on the list. Could you explain what you mean by this term?

 

And do you have any transition neo-noirs (the “symbolic hand-off period” of the 1950s and 1960s) to recommend?  Should we add this as a subcategory (I vote yes!)? Any modern movies in addition to Irrational Man that could help us add and/or refine the list above?

 

And wouldn’t it be great to have an online Summer of Neo-Noir class where the class participants help to create a list of characteristics and a list of films that could be called transition neo-noirs and modern neo-noirs? Dr. Edwards, if you’re reading, please note!!!


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#17 HEYMOE

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Posted 17 August 2015 - 09:36 AM

A couple of borrowings from film noir would be impractical for neo-noir, and those would be the use of black-and-white film and dark urban settings. I love movies shot in black and white; one recent example is Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s film starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb, among many others. But almost all films today are shot in color, and color makes it harder to find gritty, dark urban settings. It can be done, but it’s hard for a city to look gritty in color!

 

One more point about Irrational Man makes it neo-noir for me, and that’s the specific mention of Hannah Arendt. Jill mentions that Abe noted Hannah Arendt’s name in the margin of a book, I think it was. (I wish I had a DVD copy so I could check!) But the point is that the reference to Hannah Arendt again takes us back to the postwar period and the struggle to come to terms with Nazism and “the banality of evil.” From Wikipedia:

 

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by political theorist Hannah Arendt, was originally published in 1963. Arendt's subtitle famously introduced the phrase "the banality of evil," which also serves as the final words of the book. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann's deportment at the trial, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he bore no responsibility because he was simply "doing his job" ("He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law" p. 135). (emphasis added)

 

Abe justifies his actions in a similar manner: He was simply doing what was best for the woman who wanted her kids in the custody battle.

 

So it’s not just violence and crime that make Irrational Man a neo-noir; it’s also the reaching back in time to quote a postwar political theorist who was trying to make sense of the war crimes committed and justified for the most banal of reasons.

 

Abe’s actions seem even creepier as time passes and I find myself still thinking about the plot and his character!

I agree, Nebraska was a wonderful picture, well deserving of all the accolades. With its spectacular B&W blends, its hard to imagine the mood of the film staying the same had it been filmed in color.

 

Thank you for posting your findings on Hannah Arendt and her book. For sure, it makes for a better understating of Abe’s thought process not visible to us but implied by the notes written in the margin of book. This is very common in Woody Allen films. A name here, a title there, next you are searching online and saying to yourself, ‘I wish I had known this then.’

 

I like imagining that a symbolic hand-off, took place in the late 50’s or early 60’s wherein noir transferred the “baton” to the next generation of film makers. As you suggest, I agree we pay attention to certain films made in the post noir era, (say we start in the 60’s) and look for new motifs, social issues, new or improved film-making equipment, and story source. Then as you say, work backwards and compare them to the traditional noir films, to see if we can identify those early neo-noir themes.

 

For example, if we take a look at The Manchurian Candidate (1962) by John Frankenheimer which has standard noir themes like: (war hero, femme fatale, alienation, loneliness) we note the introduction of new ones such as (hypnosis, political thriller, television coverage and brainwashing). By doing the same with other films and listing previously unfamiliar themes, we may begin seeing certain consistencies unique to the post noir films.

 

I am not suggesting that Manchurian is a noir one way or the other, rather my purpose is to illustrate the process of identifying post noir films that share qualities with classic noir and also introduce new ones.

 

Borrowing from noir to define neo-noir

A list of “borrowings” from noir could include

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films which could translate to intense tint contrast in movies filmed in color

2. Flashbacks

3. Narration

4. Crime element

5. Femme fetale


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#18 Vautrin

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Posted 16 August 2015 - 06:11 PM

For the time being, I will stick with Barrett's book. :)


Curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid get.


#19 Marianne

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Posted 16 August 2015 - 09:33 AM

TCM Summer of Neo-Noir in 2016! How great would that be!

 

I did notice what you did on the ‘red and blue’ post. Instead of labeling Irrational Man as is or is not neo-noir, you listed its different attributes. Well done. I think you are on solid ground in how you want to move forward.

 

Yes, borrowing from noir to define neo-noir would be an excellent starting point. It certainly gives everyone a well defined template to use when watching the post noir films. Then working backwards, as you suggest, we (posters) can determine what they have in common and/or more importantly, what stands unique in the newer, more contemporary films. Hopefully a pattern will emerge to help identify neo-noir.

 

A couple of borrowings from film noir would be impractical for neo-noir, and those would be the use of black-and-white film and dark urban settings. I love movies shot in black and white; one recent example is Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s film starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb, among many others. But almost all films today are shot in color, and color makes it harder to find gritty, dark urban settings. It can be done, but it’s hard for a city to look gritty in color!

 

One more point about Irrational Man makes it neo-noir for me, and that’s the specific mention of Hannah Arendt. Jill mentions that Abe noted Hannah Arendt’s name in the margin of a book, I think it was. (I wish I had a DVD copy so I could check!) But the point is that the reference to Hannah Arendt again takes us back to the postwar period and the struggle to come to terms with Nazism and “the banality of evil.” From Wikipedia:

 

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by political theorist Hannah Arendt, was originally published in 1963. Arendt's subtitle famously introduced the phrase "the banality of evil," which also serves as the final words of the book. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann's deportment at the trial, displaying neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he bore no responsibility because he was simply "doing his job" ("He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law" p. 135). (emphasis added)

 

Abe justifies his actions in a similar manner: He was simply doing what was best for the woman who wanted her kids in the custody battle.

 

So it’s not just violence and crime that make Irrational Man a neo-noir; it’s also the reaching back in time to quote a postwar political theorist who was trying to make sense of the war crimes committed and justified for the most banal of reasons.

 

Abe’s actions seem even creepier as time passes and I find myself still thinking about the plot and his character!


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#20 HEYMOE

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Posted 14 August 2015 - 05:49 PM

Maybe Professor Edwards can lead us in a course addressing all these points in relation to neo-noir next summer!

 

I should admit here that I am not fond of categorizing to begin with; I see the usefulness of putting various items or films into categories, but I don't like to hold onto catergories for the sake of having categories. However, it would be helpful to define neo-noir with some parameters.

 

So, do you think we can borrow from noir to do define neo-noir? It's what I did in my post about Irrational Man (the post with the red and blue). It would be a beginning. And subject to change, of course.

 

Maybe the best thing to do is to work backward, which you seem to have found many doing already: "When searching neo-noir, I came across one line definitions and paragraphs, mostly identifying films in its genre." It might be easier to take some loose parameters, start listing films that we think could be called neo-noir, and then come up with more parameters after that.

 

This seems to be the way film noir acquired its "category status": Many films were already made and seen by overseas audiences before they were defined as film noir.

 

(I like my first idea more and more: TCM Summer of Neo-Noir in 2016!)

TCM Summer of Neo-Noir in 2016! How great would that be!

 

I did notice what you did on the ‘red and blue’ post. Instead of labeling Irrational Man as is or is not neo-noir, you listed its different attributes. Well done. I think you are on solid ground in how you want to move forward.

 

Yes, borrowing from noir to define neo-noir would be an excellent starting point. It certainly gives everyone a well defined template to use when watching the post noir films. Then working backwards, as you suggest, we (posters) can determine what they have in common and/or more importantly, what stands unique in the newer, more contemporary films. Hopefully a pattern will emerge to help identify neo-noir.


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