eduardowolbert

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  1. Hey all, I just wanted to post something I've been thinking of in terms of genre to explain film noir and how it's being influenced by some of the independent reading I've been doing, especially the essay 'Film Noir on the Edge of Doom' by Marc Vernet (1993) which most of this post borrows from. By now, most of us have come across the idea that film noir is a diffuse topic, and that no one really knows whether it is a style, a genre, a mode, a sequence or all of those things. Part of establishing a sense of what noir is is understanding its precursors, which we understand to be German Expressionism, hard-boiled detective fiction and Realism (especially of the French poetic flavor). However, when I look at early cinema, there is already a huge influence of German Expressionism--even more of an influence than it is in film noir. I don't know about anybody else, but in terms of style many film noirs don't really employ many of the motifs of German Expressionism other than the occasional dream sequence, a distant shot of someone framed by urban decor, the occasional shadow on a wall, a mirror image every once in a while, etc. See the amazing 'Two Seconds' (1932) with frequent noir player and brilliant actor Edward G. Robinson: Fritz Lang's 'M' anyone? THAT is German Expressionism. AND it's hard-boiled. But this is 1932 we're talking here. To me, this points to how the idea of a time period (1941-1958) of noir as a sequence is pretty arbitrary. Another aspect of noir is night shooting. It was cheaper to darken natural day light to shoot night scenes because in actual night shooting you need to light everything you want to show up on camera. Films noirs are noted for their rich, natural scenes of night because they would actually shoot at night. However, this wasn't anything new either. Many films employed night shooting in the 30's. This is from 'the Big Gamble' (1931): Most of the reading I have been doing has made me search for which element in film noir locates the sequence in the 40's and excludes the 30's. Part of what we think as the German influence doesn't really hold up. Sure, there is German Expressionism as an influence in film noir, but it cannot be a distingushing feature of it since it was already a part of hollywood filmmaking at least 15 years before in pulpy, hardboiled yarns (and in gothic cinema, too. Think of Tod Browning). This influence pre-dated the influence of the German emigres. We should also not that mostly all of the cinematographers for the majority of the essential works we consider noirs had been working in American cinema since the 1910's.
  2. This discussion on Jazz and film noir is actually fascinating to me because it is bringing out something very important to, if not film noir, then definitely neo-noir. Noir already has a concern with how much we know about certain characters and how much the noir detective story is about a subject trying to literally piece together something out of the past. I think neo-noirs take up this thread in really interesting ways. The kind of sexy arpeggiated jazz and trumpet instrumentals we associate with films noir did in fact come later with neo-noir. I mostly think of Polanski's Chinatown (one of the best movies ever, right?). Many neo-noirs will actually take up the themes of amneisa, memory, and notions of the past, and part of the task of harkening back to older noirs is including signifiers of the past. And neo-noirs with sexy jazz scores (Chinatown, Bladerunner, LA Confidential) attempt to get at the past in this way. It's a really interesting thread in noir that I'm excited about following, namely: how we use films to think about historical time. When did we start thinking movies with Bogart had a soundtrack filled with sexy Jazz solos? When did we start thinking that was what the past sounded like? Like the noirish detectives making sense of reality out of little pieces and seeing what plays and what fits, how did we become amnesiacs ourselves?
  3. This discussion on Jazz and film noir is actually fascinating to me because it is bringing out something very important to, if not film noir, then definitely neo-noir. Noir already has a concern with how much we know about certain characters and how much the noir detective story is about a subject trying to literally piece together something out of the past. I think neo-noirs take up this thread in really interesting ways. The kind of sexy arpeggiated jazz and trumpet instrumentals we associate with films noir did in fact come later with neo-noir. I mostly think of Polanski's Chinatown (one of the best movies ever, right?). Many neo-noirs will actually take up the themes of amneisa, memory, and notions of the past, and part of the task of harkening back to older noirs is including signifiers of the past. And neo-noirs with sexy jazz scores (Chinatown, Bladerunner, LA Confidential) attempt to get at the past in this way. It's a really interesting thread in noir that I'm excited about following, namely: how we use films to think about historical time. When did we start thinking movies with Bogart had a soundtrack filled with sexy Jazz solos? When did we start thinking that was what the past sounded like? Like the noirish detectives making sense of reality out of little pieces and seeing what plays and what fits, how did we become amnesiacs ourselves?
  4. Legerdemain As soon as Grayle mentions the jade, Marlowe knows exactly what to do. I didn't notice it until the 2nd viewing, but Marlowe locks her in the room as soon as she gets in. Marlowe tricks not only those who come into his office, but the audience as well. This scene is amazing in terms of non-verbal gesture: what people do with their hands and bodies. Grayle's change of character is materilized in the glasses she wears, Marlowe grabs the phone and twirls the key rather than say to Grayle what the situation is, he furrows his eyebrows, crosses his arms, smiles, hesitates, communicates his detachment stuffing the pencil in the elevator operators pocket.
  5. Laura is one of the best films noir I have yet seen. It might be my favorite next to Out of the Past. The thing that strikes me most about Laura is the beautiful set design. I'm really interested in overly ornate surfaces. This movie, more so than any so far in our Daily Dose, shows the importance of mise-en-scene to frame a narrative. The film begins with the detective surrounded by world of priceless things. The camera slowly pores over the surfaces of precious and fragile objects. He peruses a wall of masks: a cue that people are not what they seem, especially not the person who owns the house he's investigating. People are not just double, they are multiple! In one shot, he is literally framed in a glass house emphasizing the dangerous and vulnerable position he is walking into. This movie establishes an alientating relationship with Dana Andrew's detective in that we are not listening to his narration (which is usually the case with detective stories). This allows the audience to treat the detective as just one of the many things seen in this apartment: another opaque object. We watch him look at the grandfather clock that will become important establishing, or at least participating in, that detective trope of "it was right under his nose the whole time!" The tension in this scene is about the intersection of different kinds of looking. We have the non-diagetic, beyond life-and-death Lydecker narration that provides its own kind of looking, we have Lydecker the diagetic character spying on Andrews off-screen, we have the look of symbolism in the mise-en-scene, and we look at Dana Andrews' own looking around Lydecker's apartment.
  6. This movie is interesting in contrast with Lady in the Lake (1947), a movie that tries to so completely identify the protagonist with the audience or the camera. The opening of Dark Passage is wrought with the troubling notion that the audience is identifying directly with something out of its control. It is especially disconcerting knowing that you are identifying with a prison escapee about whom we know nothing. The jarring effect is intended by the fact that it works too well, and that we are hoping for the protagonist's escape, a tenet of the moral ambiguity. I was even hoping he would punch the guy who picked him up and who wouldn't leave him alone with all the questions. To me, POV is interesting because of the ways it actually fails to do what it is supposed to do. Lady in the Lake is a widely recognized failure. I think this is in part because it too easily assumes the complex mechanisms of identification an audience would have with the triumverate of screen/protagonist/camera. Unlike Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera (1929), this sort of Lake "kino eye" is stuck to one perspective, and with the exception of montage, does not offer the new kind of seeing but a reactionary lens tethered to only the function of the human eye. Dark Passage includes within its plot this sort of untethering from the POV to great effect.
  7. I just thought I would take this opportunity to relate this to another of my cinematic passions with which, btw, film noir shares a similarly elusive history of definition: melodrama. As many of us know, film noir was a retroactive term given to American films from the 40's by French critics. People didn't make films noir. That was a term critics and historians adopted to talk about this new sensibility coming out of Hollywood. The Hollywood trade press actually use to refer to films like these as melodramas or 'mellers' for short: crime and gangster movies, what we think of as thrillers and horror movies, and even cowboy movies. Since the 70's, melodrama has come to mean something else with its own lineage and history (in the films of Douglas Sirk, which are amazing), but I think this might shed some light (or shadow, depending) on this observation. These observations are lifted from an essay by Steve Neale's 1993 essay "Melo Talk: On the Meaning and Use of the Term "Melodrama" in the American Trade Press," Velvet Light Trap, Fall, 66-89.
  8. Three Things: 1. High-contrast chiaroscuro: from the rubber-tree milk, and from the whiteness of Mr. Hammond's pants and the workers' outfits. The moonlight is also a recurrent image. Obstructing clouds dampen the moonlight to hide what has been done in darkness; they move again to reveal the crime at 2:13. 2. The cunning of the long, slow take: the film starts with a long, sleepy and sensual shot (actually really two shots) that takes the time to glide over the surfaces of things. The wipe at 1:07 is gentle, smooth, and langrous. A lot of people have being talking about tension and dread in regards to how they feel watching the previous films. Here is an opening that overturns that notion, or at least uses its opposite to charge what will come with an even greater force (the murder). The last bit of this sequence is interesting to me when, as soon as the camera focuses in on the foreground with the cockatoo, the gunshot rings out and the camera immediately focuses on the background to locate the source of the sound. 3. Un Chien Andalou anyone?
  9. All interested parties, I've talked to a TCM administrator and I've been told that this post will indeed be pinned and its suggestions for posting guidelines adopted. For those just seeing this thread and not wanting to go to the beginning: When we do the clip posting (whether for Fritz Lang's 'M,' 'la Bete Humaine' et al.) can we please reply to the initial thread instead of starting a new one on our own. You can identify it by the high number of replies. If each user continues to begin their own thread, it will become extremely disorganized by the end of week one and will discourage people from viewing anyone else's comments. Please post in one thread
  10. The City and the Train The opening scene of 'la Bete Humaine' is indicative of the way urban modernization and circulation inform early films noir. If early film noir finds its most fitting or plausible setting in the city, that has to have some relation to industry and modernization. To me, this is most relevant as a discussion of the noir protagonist that has to make his (always his) way through a fragmented reality of the city. The city is cut and carved by the rapid and dizzying vectors of modernization. What is the "Bete Humaine" to which the title refers? Human nature, or is it technology in the form of the train that circulates pervasively throughout the entire film? The train is like a moving city with its clanking and regulated bustle. Noir is notable for its contradictory modes. On the one hand, it is marked by its influence of realism. It's interested in the city, in architechture, in the mien and garb of the period it captures. On the other hand is the influence of German Expressionism: its oneric blur between reality and dream, its expressionistic low key lighting and focus on the jagged, crooked and bizarre. In the opening of 'la Bete Humaine' the characters are marked by darkness, as black as the train, they seem to blend into the background--a dark, undifferentiead iron mass of goggles, gauges and gears. Their goggles and smeared black faces make them appear as, not inhabitants on the train, but as nearly indistinguishable from it, their lives tethered to the rails. All of this is reinforced by montage: whose POV is being shown as the camera speeds down the rail? The characters? The train itself? Or are they the same? I think a major feature of noir is the relationship of character to the city made manifest by the motif of shadow. Here, it is the train. Also, For anyone interested in realism in film more generally, this opening scene of 'la Bete Humaine' is redolent of a British work of realism that focuses on trains called 'Night Mail' (1936). You can watch it on youtube. [...]
  11. Right, I don't usually mind clutter myself but look at how many threads we already have now, just from today alone. This will be exacerbated exponentially in the upcoming weeks. This is compounded further by the fact that no one is titling their posts with "Response for Week #1: M" or anything uniform, so it's hard to even determine which posts would be about what. I'm not trying to tell anybody what to do. It's just a thoughtful suggestion to keep things organized for the easier understanding of all interested parties.
  12. Right, the initial post was begun by a guest or student. All I meant was for us to reply in one post. If there is already a thread, just reply in that one. Starting another one will just make it harder for people to navigate the other replies. I really like reading other replies and would hate to have to constantly go back into new subject threads. Plus, the weeks that follow will be even harder to find.
  13. Awesome post. I'm also interested in the off-screen in 'M,' in particular that looming anxiety that pervades the urban cityscape materialized in noir by shadow.
  14. Hello Noir Cohort! The noir use of shadow is most prominent when Peter Lorre comes into the scene, or rather, his shadow. The homage to Murnau's 'Nosferatur' (1922) is unmistakable: Fritz Lang would have been familiar with this film and the larger sequence of German Expressionism (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the Golem, etc.) Sonically, I'm interested in the element of the voice in this scene from 'M.' We are shown a variety of different voices. Most of the dialogue in the scene pertain to the use of voices. The children sing, the woman with the laundry basket attempts to use her own voice to silence them by yelling, and all we hear of Peter Lorre's character is his voice albeit tethered to some ominous shadow cast on the very poster that exhibits the evil of his crimes. This scene is interesting in relation to what film scholar Michel Chion calls the "acousmetre," or what is often referred to as the disembodied voice. This technique was popularized by Lang himself later in 'Das Testament Des Dr. Mabuse' (1933). Especially from 6:50 on: What we have in this first scene is something like that, but we know the sound to be connected to something already esablished on-screen. I think that the sound is being used to stretch the frame. In the scene with the children, we see them singing and playing that game in reference to the child-killer. The camera moves up and away, but we can still hear them singing. They are still a presence in the diagesis through their sound, their off-screen sound in particular. Later, when we first see Pter Lorre's shadow, his off-screen voice implies his off-screen presence. We see only the the darkness he casts, and sound expands the scope of the scene by creating an off-screen space.
  15. Hey All, It's already getting really cluttered and disorganized with all the posting. When we do the weekly posting (this week it was for Fritz Lang's 'M') can we please reply to the initial thread instead of starting a new one on our own. If we keep opening our own messages, it will become extremely disorganized by the end of week one and will discourage people from viewing anyone else's comments. Please post in one thread. Thanks!

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