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

Irrational Man Neo-Noir

28 replies to this topic

#21 Marianne

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Posted 14 August 2015 - 03:32 PM

I appreciate your comments.

 

My words “definitive meaning” may have been vague, I should have used “description” instead.

 

Noir has a definitive history and huge body of work.

 

I believe the course did excellent in presenting us with noir’s history and introducing us to dozens and dozens of its films.

 

Before I took the course I did not know the following:

 

- The origins of the word film noir- identified by French critic Nino Frank

 

- Who or what influenced its start- (pulp fiction and hard-boiled writing)

It is hard to imagine film noir's development without the rise of a particular kind of private detective popularized by the widely read novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.”- Professor Edwards.

 

- Who influenced its style? The course further identified 5 influential directors responsible to the look of noir:

“The big five German émigré directors were Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, and Edgar Ulmer. These gentlemen combined to create many of the very first films noir, so many scholars feel very comfortable making a very concrete connection between their work in Germany and their work in the U.S.” - Professor Edwards

 

- Who inspired cinematographers?

Since classic noir films were shot in black and white, photography was a natural inspiration on cinematographers. And it was not just art photography that helped inspire the noir style. Journalistic photography, published in national and local newspapers, were a well-known source of noir inspiration.” - Professor Edwards

 

The only thing that was left for us to decide was whether or not noir is a film style, a film genre, or a film movement?  Where does neo-noir stand on these points?

 

When searching neo-noir, I came across one line definitions and paragraphs, mostly identifying films in its genre. For a genre that arguably began in the 60’s I can’t find who came up with the term neo-noir, what influenced it, or the names associated with it. 

 

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!)


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#22 HEYMOE

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Posted 14 August 2015 - 02:47 PM

I appreciate your comments.

 

My words “definitive meaning” may have been vague, I should have used “description” instead.

 

Noir has a definitive history and huge body of work.

 

I believe the course did excellent in presenting us with noir’s history and introducing us to dozens and dozens of its films.

 

Before I took the course I did not know the following:

 

- The origins of the word film noir- identified by French critic Nino Frank

 

- Who or what influenced its start- (pulp fiction and hard-boiled writing)

It is hard to imagine film noir's development without the rise of a particular kind of private detective popularized by the widely read novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.”- Professor Edwards.

 

- Who influenced its style? The course further identified 5 influential directors responsible to the look of noir:

“The big five German émigré directors were Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, and Edgar Ulmer. These gentlemen combined to create many of the very first films noir, so many scholars feel very comfortable making a very concrete connection between their work in Germany and their work in the U.S.” - Professor Edwards

 

- Who inspired cinematographers?

Since classic noir films were shot in black and white, photography was a natural inspiration on cinematographers. And it was not just art photography that helped inspire the noir style. Journalistic photography, published in national and local newspapers, were a well-known source of noir inspiration.” - Professor Edwards

 

The only thing that was left for us to decide was whether or not noir is a film style, a film genre, or a film movement?  Where does neo-noir stand on these points?

 

When searching neo-noir, I came across one line definitions and paragraphs, mostly identifying films in its genre. For a genre that arguably began in the 60’s I can’t find who came up with the term neo-noir, what influenced it, or the names associated with it. 


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#23 jamesjazzguitar

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Posted 14 August 2015 - 02:03 PM

I have not seen Irrational Man yet, so I cannot comment on it. I want to comment on your comment of "I have tried looking for a definitive meaning for neo-noir but it has led to more confusion."   I am wondering if it is possible to find a definitive meaning for neo-noir, since there does not see mto be any definitive meaning for noir?

 

You got it.    To me a neo-noir is a film made in the noir style that was released after the end of the classic noir period (which I says ended in 1959 with films like Odds Against Tomorrow,  The Beat Generation,  and The Crimson Kimono).   

 

But what is 'the noir style' is an endless debate.   Even just using the term style verses genre is an opinion that can be disputed.  


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#24 tshawcross

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Posted 14 August 2015 - 12:00 PM

I have not seen Irrational Man yet, so I cannot comment on it. I want to comment on your comment of "I have tried looking for a definitive meaning for neo-noir but it has led to more confusion."   I am wondering if it is possible to find a definitive meaning for neo-noir, since there does not see mto be any definitive meaning for noir?


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#25 Marianne

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Posted 12 August 2015 - 06:30 PM

Irrational Man: The Pros and Cons of Neo-Noir

 

I would call Irrational Man neo-noir because it has the following characteristics:

• Murder and the planning of a murder.

• 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.)

• Violence. Shown off-camera but still effective, especially because Jill, Abe, and Rita discuss it in various scenes and in different character combinations.

• 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.

 

I could argue that Irrational Man is not neo-noir because it’s in color, and the setting is anything but dark; in fact, it's idyllic. But, for me, the color and idyllic setting make the contrast with Joaquin Phoenix's decisions that much creepier. The tone of the movie is matter-of-fact, but that tone also contrasted with the action and, again, made it even creepier.

 

In some ways, believe it or not, Abe reminds me of Ballin, Gilda’s ex-Nazi husband. He exuded more hate than either Gilda or Johnny. He tells Gilda: “Hate is a very exciting emotion. Hate is the only thing that has ever warmed me.” For Abe, this quote could read, “Murder is a very exciting act. Murder is the only thing that has ever warmed me.” It makes me think that anyone can rationalize anything, and the rest of us have to be careful about what we allow ourselves to believe. For me, Abe’s rationalization is the scariest thing about him.

 

I don’t have a definition for neo-noir yet. Perhaps I need to build a catalog of movies that I can call neo-noir before I can define the category itself. My beginning catalog for the category of modern neo-noir would include Irrational Man and Get Shorty (the film based on Elmore Leonard’s book). I guess neo-noir is a real-enough category: I just gave it a subcategory!


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#26 Marianne

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 07:59 PM

Yes, I saw Woody Allen’s Irrational Man and thought it was great. Then again, I always enjoy his movies.

 

I remember rushing home from the theatre to go through the course material looking for something the professor had said in one of his video lectures, which I thought cut straight to the core of the film’s ending. “The outcomes of noir tales often hinge on minor, almost irrelevant, actions that have amazing repercussions for the characters in the story. Randomness and chance, rather than the execution of a divine plan, holds sway over the noir universe.” - From video lecture # 4.

 

That phrasing was perfect when applied to the scene where Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) places a bet and wins at the roulette concession and Jill (Emma Stone) having a choice of any prize, settles for a small item.

 

The randomness of placing a bet in a game of chance along with her pick of prize, (which did not appear to interest her), seemed irrelevant but has an effect in the story later on.

 

I learned of a book titled, “Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy” by William Barrett and wonder (as did some critics) if this was a source material for the film.

 

Also, I found it interesting that the plot borrowed a little from Strangers on a Train and even had a scene with carousal setting and music.

 

I have tried looking for a definitive meaning for neo-noir but it has led to more confusion.

To argue for or against the film being a neo-noir or to even give an opinion without I first having a grasp on its definition would be disingenuous. I'll continue searching. In the meanwhile, I did find this article that in part, addresses Abe and Jill’s relationship. Here’s a quote: 

 

Stone's role at first appears to be that of the girlfriend-savior, so it comes as a relief that at no point are we led to believe that their union is a good idea — even Abe, lecherous opportunist that he is, admits as much time and again. He refuses Jill's advances for a long while. Though he reciprocates her feelings, he can't bring himself to act on them. It would be inappropriate, it wouldn't ultimately do either of them much good, and, more to the point, he isn't the kind of person she should be falling in love with in the first place. The most likely outcome of their getting together isn't her positivity rubbing off on him. It's his nihilism wearing her down. citypages.com - http://www.citypages...rritory-7520049 

 

And this from the same article- “This smacks of The Stranger and Crime and Punishment — the existential dilemma of a man not feeling alive until taking another person's life.”

 

There seems to be a noir “thematic standpoint” mentioned in your 4:06 PM post yesterday.

 

I know no one (friend, family, neighbor) who has seen this film, so I’m happy to be able to discuss it hear. Hoping others who have seen it, find this thread.

 

 

 

 

Some additional research! Excellent! I read the City Pages review. I haven't had time yet to mull all this over, but I do want to revisit this thread. I'm also trying not to give too much away in anything I post because I was truly surprised at a couple of point in Irrational Man. I'd hate to take that away from any fans of Allen's work. Stay tuned!


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#27 HEYMOE

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 09:55 AM

Yes, I saw Woody Allen’s Irrational Man and thought it was great. Then again, I always enjoy his movies.

 

I remember rushing home from the theatre to go through the course material looking for something the professor had said in one of his video lectures, which I thought cut straight to the core of the film’s ending. “The outcomes of noir tales often hinge on minor, almost irrelevant, actions that have amazing repercussions for the characters in the story. Randomness and chance, rather than the execution of a divine plan, holds sway over the noir universe.” - From video lecture # 4.

 

That phrasing was perfect when applied to the scene where Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) places a bet and wins at the roulette concession and Jill (Emma Stone) having a choice of any prize, settles for a small item.

 

The randomness of placing a bet in a game of chance along with her pick of prize, (which did not appear to interest her), seemed irrelevant but has an effect in the story later on.

 

I learned of a book titled, “Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy” by William Barrett and wonder (as did some critics) if this was a source material for the film.

 

Also, I found it interesting that the plot borrowed a little from Strangers on a Train and even had a scene with carousal setting and music.

 

I have tried looking for a definitive meaning for neo-noir but it has led to more confusion.

To argue for or against the film being a neo-noir or to even give an opinion without I first having a grasp on its definition would be disingenuous. I'll continue searching. In the meanwhile, I did find this article that in part, addresses Abe and Jill’s relationship. Here’s a quote: 

 

Stone's role at first appears to be that of the girlfriend-savior, so it comes as a relief that at no point are we led to believe that their union is a good idea — even Abe, lecherous opportunist that he is, admits as much time and again. He refuses Jill's advances for a long while. Though he reciprocates her feelings, he can't bring himself to act on them. It would be inappropriate, it wouldn't ultimately do either of them much good, and, more to the point, he isn't the kind of person she should be falling in love with in the first place. The most likely outcome of their getting together isn't her positivity rubbing off on him. It's his nihilism wearing her down. citypages.com - http://www.citypages...rritory-7520049 

 

And this from the same article- “This smacks of The Stranger and Crime and Punishment — the existential dilemma of a man not feeling alive until taking another person's life.”

 

There seems to be a noir “thematic standpoint” mentioned in your 4:06 PM post yesterday.

 

I know no one (friend, family, neighbor) who has seen this film, so I’m happy to be able to discuss it hear. Hoping others who have seen it, find this thread.

 

 

 


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#28 Marianne

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Posted 10 August 2015 - 03:06 PM

Here’s one source that makes the case for Irrational Man as a film noir. From nola.com:

 

“If nothing else, Irrational Man does suggest Allen would have made a fine film noir director, if not from a visual standpoint then at least from a thematic standpoint.

 

Joaquin Phoenix stars, playing a disillusioned small-college professor named Abe Lucas who—with his taste for hooch, his easily compromised ethics, and his deeply rooted existential crisis—would be right at home alongside Walter Neff, Harry Lime, Sam Spade and any number other noir figures. . . .

 

But, as in any good noir story, fate has a way of making people pay for their sins. In this case, it comes in the form of Stone's starry-eyed schoolgirl—sweet young Jill—who decides to play detective and figure out if Abe is capable of what she suspects he might be.

 

So, on the one hand, we get a sort of reverse-engineered murder mystery, as Abe meticulously plans, then executes, what he is sure is the perfect crime. Then, we get a more old-fashioned detective story as Stone's formerly starry-eyed character attempts to confirm her worst suspicions about him.

 

And then we get a predictable third-act twist that's really not much of a twist at all. . . .”

 

I always wonder why characters in movies go to the person who commits a murder and say something like, “I have no choice. I’ll have to report you if you don’t go to the police yourself.” That always leads to another murder—in almost every movie. But I was still surprised by the third act twist in Irrational Man.


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#29 Marianne

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Posted 10 August 2015 - 11:37 AM

I saw Woody Allen's latest movie Irrational Man yesterday afternoon, and I am still thinking about it. Joaquin Phoenix plays a philosophy professor who lays out his rationale for committing the perfect murder. There's a lot of talk throughout the film about philosophy and finding meaning to one's existence, and then the ending blows it all wide open.

 

I don't want to give anything away in case anyone really wants to see it and hasn't yet. The film hasn't gotten very good reviews, but I would argue that Irrational Man is very clever. And not just because the main character (played by Phoenix) can talk a good line. He can, but his actions really tell the whole story.

 

Has anyone else seen it? If you have, would you classify it as neo-noir? Did you enjoy it, regardless of trying to classify it in anyway?


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