VanHazard

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  1. Totally agree that Blade Runner is Neo Noir, and one of the very best and then some. In many ways it's more Noir than Neo Noir, and also happens to be one of my all-time favorite films. Blade Runner has an alternating Noir and Neo Noir palette, contrasting mute black and white tones and shadow against entirely artificial color...perhaps a reminder that nature has been discarded in the world that unfolds before us, and that everything in this world might be man-made. The set design embraces this same contrast, a bleak, acid-rain futuristic landscape of the nightmarish union of science and commerce that is the visual and psychological equivalent of a war ravaged Europe as depicted in say The Third Man and the urban ruin of The Asphalt Jungle...an allusion to a Dystopian future so oppressive that only rejects still inhabit it. Everyone else has made a new start on Off World Colony. The Narration element is debatable, depending upon what version of the film we're talking about. Fortunately, it's entirely removed from the final Director's Cut Ridley Scott released, and the film works better without it. Yes, there's Violence, Betrayal and Greed, homme and femme Fatales. There's also Crime...Replicants commit it by coming to earth, and commit still others in pursuit of the answers to their questions; and one could argue even the insinuation... not of Good and Evil, terms which really have no meaning in Neo Noir...but perhaps of the rightness ...dare we say morality...of creating Replicants who are 'more human than human' as our proxies in the first place. As you so rightly say, the question of what constitutes being human looms at the core of this film...and the Phillip K. Dick story that inspired it. There's loneliness, alienation, estrangement, confusion, angst, etc. That's depicted again and again in virtually every character in the film... none of them are truly at home in the ruined world they inhabit; not Tyrell, Rachel, Deckard, Gaff, J.F. Sebastian, or the Replicants: they're all strangers in a strange and spoiled land. Lurking in the background as the film unfolds, of course, is the very real possibility...perhaps probability...that Deckard is himself a Replicant...'gifted' with a past --- memories and 'family' photos --- every bit as much as has Rachel and the Replicants he's been assigned to hunt down and 'retire'. In the end, Deckard rejects the ruined world and chooses life and love over death and duty, and so, in a way, represents a triumph of expertise, or at least a human, all-too-human quest for freedom and a self determination...the exact things Roy Batty & Co, so desperately sought.
  2. I think it's that her 'masters' had the audacity and devious cruelty of making her own son the instrument of their plot that she objects to and seeks revenge for. I agree that she doesn't care about her son any more than they do, and that she's as willing to use him to further their plot as they are.... ....but it's their arrogance and callousness in doubting HER loyalty and dedication to the cause, and that they would dare to use HER the same way she and they have used Raymond, Senator Iselin and everyone else that whets her appetite for revenge. I am absolutely convinced she will hold her masters accountable for that affront were she to ever gain power. Hell hath no fury... Which is why Raymond knows he alone can and must stop her...because her lust for power and her capacity to use others is endless and insatiable. A big resounding YES! to Eleanor Shaw Iselin being noir, neo-noir and quintessentially noir! She's one of the most noir characters ever depicted in film and/or fiction, and she's by far the most noir element in the entire film.
  3. Mrs. Iselin's betrayal goes deeper still when you think about it. I may have noted it before, in my earlier comment; not only has she betrayed her country and her own motherhood/son, but she clearly says that she in effect will betray her 'masters' in Moscow and Beijing once she's in power, vowing to "make them pay" for making her own son the assassin operative she's handling. This is an amazing role and an amazing performance by Lansbury.
  4. I think it's less that I have a 'stronger grasp' on what constitutes a homme fatale (or anything else, for that matter), than perhaps a broader definition of it. To me, the key element in being a homme or femme fatale is that they are dangerous, even lethal characters. Who they are dangerous/lethal for is almost immaterial...it can be someone with whom they're romantically attached or interested, a rival or competitor, or, in Travis Bickle's instance, target of fixation or even a complete stranger. Scorsese uses Bickle's internal volatility in a very 'Hitchcockian' way: he establishes that Travis is a man on the edge, I've used the term a ticking time bomb, and then sets in motion a panoply of possible targets Travis could conceivably strike out at: Betsy, Palantine, Iris, Sport, Iris's pimp, etc. Travis's final choice of targets is interesting in better defining Travis's character, but not his condition and volatility. He doesn't pick the woman who spurned him, or the stock politician out of central casting, or perhaps a co-worker or irritating random fare, but rather Iris, a lost-puppy of sorts that Travis fixates on without, as Marianne earlier noted, having the slightest idea of who she was or what she wanted. Why Travis is interested in Iris is never really explained. In the end, it's not about Iris at all, or Sport, or Betsy. It's only about Travis, who, despite outwards appearances and newspaper clipping calling him a hero, is actually as sick, unhinged and volatile when Taxi Driver ends as he was when it began. He's simply relieved the tension inside himself, but it's a cycle that promises to repeat itself again and again. To me, a femme or homme fatale just has to be dangerous; they unleash death, carnage, chaos, mayhem, betrayal, jealousy, greed and a host of other deadly sins upon the world. They can be evil, but not necessarily so. They can harbor these ills within or simply be carriers or hosts of them; infecting those around them without necessarily succumbing to them themselves. Yes, they can and often are seductive, but seduction is only one way of being irresistible, and it's irresistability...which is probably not a word...but conveys my meaning, that I think lies at the heart of femme and homme fatales...you know they're 'off', dangerous, even lethal, but you usually cannot deny them or walk away. Regardless of gender, 'fatales' are all Medusa's...you can't look away even though you know you'll be turned to stone in the end. Why you invite that destruction has nothing to do with Medusa, but everything to do with those who dare to glance her way.
  5. Exactly right...Travis is on a trajectory all his own, and Iris, like Betsy and everyone else in the film are simply along for the ride. He really does expand the concept of 'homme fatale', as you say. As I noted, he's a ticking time bomb; the tension inside him, and in the film, builds and builds until he explodes. I also like the ending, because Scorsese actually just sets the spring inside Travis all over. Nothing's changed. We're back where we started. Travis is still cruising the streets picking up the refuse of the cities sordid shores, and every day the spring winds another notch tighter until he'll go off on another crusading spree to cleanse the squalor and 'rescue' someone else. It's really unsettling, and it's wonderful.
  6. I'd probably rank Taxi Driver a little higher on the Neo Noir scale. I think it qualifies in all the categories you check off, and a few you don't. In ways, Travis is a homme fatale, a ticking time bomb who could go off and strike out at any time. He's fixated, obsessive, at war with himself and the squalid urban world he prowls at night in his cab. He's also a stalker of sorts, however well-intended, and for a while during the film you think he might target Betsy. Also think Psychology does apply here, albeit not in the conventional sense of hypnosis, amnesia, etc., but in Bickle's case, a man on the verge of a breakdown. And, the way Travis 'rescues' Iris from her pimp in that riveting scene qualifies as both a variation on the very noir 'tarnished knight rescues damsel in distress' motif as well as a variation on the theme of 'expertise triumphs' outside of good and evil. Travis is neither and both at the same time; another reminder that good and evil become increasingly irrelevant in neo noir.
  7. True, and you could also add Contraband, The Mask of Dimitrios, Hangmen Also Die, Foreign Correspondent, Ministry of Fear, and others to the list of political action thrillers that might be considered film noir, or vice versa. (That list would probably greatly expand many fold if Neo Noir was concerned.) Subjective as it might be, I make an admittedly subtle distinction between plots/themes that are overtly political, i.e. propaganda, such as The Woman on Pier 13, I was a Communist for the FBI, and The Manchurian Candidate, and those where politics, ideology and spies, etc. are more secondary to the action or the characters, such as Journey Into Fear, The Mask of Dimitrios, or Ministry of Fear. This is one of those areas where I think some elements/tropes carry more weight than others. For example, many classic horror films also employ some of the tropes of noir...often many years in advance of noir, because early horror is in ways one of the birthplaces of German Expressionism. I don't consider The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Frankenstein, or the later The Uninvited for example, films noir, however, anymore than I do the Fifties Sci Fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All of these films, however, would probably check a lot of noir boxes off our lists. Then again, this may be a false distinction to make on my part, and I'm not even sure how strongly I'd contest the point. It's just that some films strike me as overtly political vehicles where others do not, and I do not associate politics or any ideology with noir; if anything, just the opposite: I think of noir as being fiercely individualistic and staunchly opposed to any group or collective.
  8. Although I very much like the original The Manchurian Candidate and think it clearly employs many film noir motifs and elements, I don't really consider it a film noir; I think of it as a political/action thriller because, at it's core, the motives of the central characters are political at heart, with overtly political, as opposed to personal, objectives. I think of noir as being very apolitical, a shadowy world of highly personal and competing appetites, agendas and desires. I don't feel noir has a particular ideology; if anything, I think of it as running against ALL ideology and doctrines, just as it runs contrary to law, social conventions, rules and stipulations. Noir is what's outlaw, what exists beyond the borders of acceptable convention and morality, beyond good and evil, as it were, and certainly beyond political persuasions. Noir is primal in nature, and views politics and politicians as corrupt and corruptible; hence not something to be encumbered by or sworn allegiance to. So yes, The Manchurian Candidate appropriates some of the tropes of noir...the lighting, the haunting flashbacks, the angst of broken, brainwashed men used and ultimately discarded by a malevolent force ... but that malevolent force is not another person, it's not an individual's fatal flaw, nor it is fickle fate ... it's a thing, a political ideology, a foreign power that, in the end, is just another variation on the Red Menace of the Fifties. I would agree, however, that Lansbury's portrayal of Eleanor Shaw Iselin is one of the most chilling (and glorious) depictions of a mother ever captured on film, and qualifies as a femme fatale. Her power over Raymond isn't sexual in nature, it's far more insidious and contemptible; a willing and deliberate betrayal of a mother's bond to her son and her willing sacrifice of him to a higher 'cause', which, by her own admission, she intends to appropriate and distort to her own personal ends once in power. In that sense, Eleanor might be the most noir element of the entire film.
  9. I'm not all that big on 'lists' and 'categories' either, but it also seems to me that defining and refining those categories we're calling Noir/Neo Noir is not only essential but that doing so will, in the end, better allow us to appreciate these films when we see them. Wasn't this, more or less, the basic approach taken in Prof. Edwards' course? Like you, I want to watch these films more than create lists and categories, just as I'm more interested in watching/enjoy films than categorizing them. Having said that, I have to admit to being intrigued with better understanding what makes a film either Noir or Neo Noir separate and apart from what particular films fit (or don't fit) those definitions/parameters. I also think CigarJoe has touched on something important in saying that some categories/elements carry more weight than others, and this, too, needs to be plugged into the equation. This begs the question: which elements are more important than others, and just how much more important are they? In the end, much, perhaps most, of these observations, evaluations and interpretations are going to be highly subjective, but that's part of the fun...and the challenge. I mean, seventy years after the birth of Noir in the early Forties, countless film experts and historians, etc. are still debating whether Film Noir is a genre, style or form. By comparison, we few here on this thread have only been discussing Noir's Transition to Neo Noir for a couple weeks.... ...I'm thinking we've done rather well for ourselves in that blink of an eye.
  10. I very much agree that not all categories/tropes/elements of noir/neo noir carry the same weight, and also understand what you're saying, and largely agree...with some of your other points, but would add that no genre of film is an island, totally isolated and cut-off from it's brethren. Taking your example of the Western genre, we have the classic Westerns of John Ford, etc. in the Thirties and Forties, replete with Cowboys, Indians, etc. in very Western locales. But then Kurosawa appropriated the American Western and replaced Cowboys with Samurai, Indians with rival warlords, six-shooters with katana, Bushido replaced the Cowboy code of a loner trying to make a righteous way in the old west, and the landscape changed from the American West to Japan. Sanjuro and Yojimbo and the Seven Samurai, etc. are all Westerns at heart, which is why it was so easy to remake them as Westerns. Which brings us to Sergio Leone, who reinterpreted the Samurai stories and put them BACK in the American West, albeit using non-American, look-alike locales. The so called 'Spaghetti Western' was born, and Leone ratcheted-up the sex and violence, introduced the art of stretching time and inserting the character's psyche into the lull, and then punctuating it by sudden and brutal violence, to create tension in his storytelling, and Morricone reinvented musical scores for Westerns by giving both good and bad guys their own themes. Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood and many others others were greatly influenced by all this in their Westerns, just as Tarantino pays homage to it in his recent Django Unchained...another example of a Western not set in the American West. The tropes of the Western ...the stoic loner and outcast, either struggling to do right in a wicked world or trying to right a wrong done to him/her or what he/she loves/values, the 'expert' or 'gunslinger' (with guns, swords, or anything else), the symbol of corrupting power (in Westerns the Cattle Baron or Railroad, but lately big business/cartels, rich megalomaniacs and, of course, your politician/law enforcement/government of choice), the savage enemy (once Native Americans but since gangs, drug cartels and terrorists)., the grandiose score, the inevitable show-down between 'good' and 'evil' (or his/her bodyguard/lead henchman/minion}, etc. ...are commonplace and embedded formula in virtually every action, adventure, thriller and a variety of non-Westerns now being made. There's really no need to make Westerns anymore. Virtually all the key elements of them have now been appropriated by and routinely appear in other, more contemporary genres and forms. I think that's largely the case with Noir/Neo Noir, too. The devices, techniques and tropes of successful genres inevitably appear or echo in others, and then resonate back to their origins. That might explain why it's becoming progressively harder to nail down meaningful definitions of Neo Noir...because Neo Noir, like the Western, is both everywhere yet nowhere. Professor Edwards' metaphor of Noir as a heist was very appropriate, so perhaps we should use it again. Like a flashback-within-flashback-within flashback, Noir was itself 'heisted' by other films and genres and then heisted yet again. It's still there, lurking in the shadows, if you know what to look for. The latter is why this course, and its aftermath, has been and continues to be such a fun ride.
  11. From what we’ve been posting and discussing so far, it seems that neo-noir is a rather tight category—with perhaps more exceptions than classic noir. I suspect that Neo Noir can be as tenuous and amorphous a category to pin down as is Noir, but more so, and that, as you suggested in an earlier post, whether a film 'qualifies' as one or the other is more the result of a preponderance of traits and characteristics rather than any focus on just one or two. Further complicating any firm definition of Neo Noir is the fact that so many of the core elements of Noir had, by the Late Fifties/Early Sixties, become common throughout film in general. Chiaroscuro, flashbacks, non-linear storylines, femme and homme fatales, violence, entrapment, crime in myriad forms, alienation and nihilism, corruption, ominous and forbidding locales (urban or not), etc., etc. became common tropes and devices in virtually every type of film made worldwide. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and that certainly applies to the more familiar tropes of Noir. I guess one question that emerges is: at heart, is Neo Noir glancing back or looking forward? Is Neo Noir telling old stories in new ways, or is it using the tropes and motifs of classic Noir to tell new stories?
  12. Like your analysis and approach. Unfortunately, Memento is one of only a handful of films on our neo noir list I haven't seen, so cannot comment further until after I've seen it. Several of your comments, however, reminded me of another recurring element in neo noir and other contemporary films in general, that I'll refer to as an extended and deliberate disorientation, even displacement, on the part of either a character, the viewer or both. I'll use two recent films as examples, both, curiously, including Ben Kingsley in the cast: Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010) and Brad Anderson's Stonehearst Asylum (2014)...both of which take my quote from Noah Cross, "You may think you know what you're dealing with --- but believe me, you don't" to new heights. Viewers are deliberately deceived in both films, hijacked, along with some of the characters, into embracing a reality that's false. The story narrative and structure aim to deceive us, and we share the growing disorientation of one or more of the characters as doubts are raised about the validity of one world while our suspicions that other realities are increasingly stoked. Some of that same disorientation seems to be at play in Memento. It's just another device in the arsenal of noir/neo noir. especially as our ability, as viewers, to piece fragmented, non-linear storylines together has become more sophisticated.
  13. Agree. Chart is intended as a work-in-progress we can tweak as we go along. Deciding what's noir/neo noir and not noir/neo noir is a separate issue. I think once we get things further defined/refined we might consider some sort of basic formula to decide such issues...like...if we have 'X' number of core elements/categories that constitute noir and neo noir then perhaps a film needs to have 'X' number of those qualities to qualify...but it's always going to be subjective and too rigid/restrictive a set of criteria might be counter-productive in the end.
  14. Maybe a two-column approach would work better, with Column A being Classic Noir and Column B being Neo onwards Noir, and then try listing the differences within the same basic themes/characteristics for both; using some of the core themes we've already outlined. Example: Classic Noir Neo Noir Palette B&W Mostly Color Chiaroscuro Accentuated play light and shadow Mute color, color creates mood Narrative & Flashbacks Mostly Linear Increasingly non-linear, fractured Historical Context WWII Korea, Vietnam, etc Political Context Cold War, Red Menace, McCarthyism Conspiracy, War on Drugs & Terror Philosophical Overtones Existential Angst, Alienation Nihilistic void, no consensus values 'Subversive Character' Femme Fatale Femme Fatale & Homme Fatale Depiction of Violence Often implied, suggested Graphic, often gratuitous Psychology Estrangement, confusion, amnesia Estrangement, Alienation, confusion as conditions to be cured as norm beyond cure Entrapment/Forced action As product of characters & Fate As product of fatalistic/cynical life Burden of Past on Present No escaping the past No escaping the past Chance/Fate Fickle and Capricious Cruelly fatalistic View of Crime Socially unacceptable and corrosive Acceptable, even admirable Character vs Expertise More character driven & reliant Expertise and prowess as ultimate values Sex as Power Nuanced, stylized, suggested, playful Graphic, steamy, often wanton & violent Thematic Intent Tell single story, few dots to connect Present fragmented puzzle for viewer to assemble own way Moral Compass Polar extremes (Good vs Evil) clear Moral ambiguity and chaos, though perhaps unattainable imposition of temporal values View of 'Law, Gov't, the Mostly positive, corrupted by a 'The System' & 'Establishment', 'Authorities' etc. few bad apples and those connected with it as more corrupt, evil and insidious than almost any crime or criminal. Hope my columns remain intact when this is posted. I just took a stab at some of the above. They probably need tweaking, and there are doubtless others to add or consider, but this sort of an approach might better serve our discussions in what's the same and what's changed in the noir universe over the last sixty years. Any thoughts?
  15. Some interesting thoughts in this thread. I agree with CigarJoe that Noir (and Neo Noir) is in all of us, and think that connects directly to your comments above re confusion and angst, etc. because they, too, are in all of us. The same is true to varying degrees re our sense of alienation and estrangement, of our fears, anxieties, awareness (or lack thereof) of our own personal fatal flaws, and of our own ambitions, dreams, fantasies and secrets. In a very Conradian way, we are the Darkness, so it's not surprising that we can tune it in, any more than we can also project it, or infect others with it, and that some 'tunes' strike closer to home than others, but that may run equally strong through both noir and neo noir, etc. Something tells me that confusion might be a better indicator of difference between them. Not sure I'm right, but I have the impression that entrapment, forced/compelled action, by virtue of something in the past or present that precludes other options, is more common to classic noir. (Jeff's ongoing involvement with Kathie and Whit in Out of the Past, or Steve's frantic effort to free himself and wife of Radak's threats and menace in Desperate, as examples.) As noir evolves, however, and the world becomes more jaded and corrupt, and our individual and collective capacity to commit crimes ever more bold, ambitious and unspeakable continues to escalate, we seem to be more confused, besieged and perhaps disgusted by the options (or better yet, the illusions of them) presented to us than we are entrapped by them. In classic noir the rightness and wrongness of the choices are usually clear, and it's the path to them that's crooked, as characters are often forced to do something wrong in the desperate struggle to do something else right. In neo noir the choices seem less clear, right and wrong have ceased to have compelling meaning because the world is as inscrutable as it is corrupt. And seldom can informed choices be made because we're always fumbling around in the dark, working with partial or fabricated facts at best. Noah Cross, in Chinatown, may well pronounce the anthem of neo noir, when he tells Jake Gittes "You may think you know what you're dealing with --- but believe me, you don't." In a world of lies, without meaningful guideposts and road signs we can trust, each hero/heroine or anti-hero/heroine must improvise and create their own personal right and wrong on a momentary basis, then recalibrate and reset their geographic and moral compass over and over again as the sands literally shift beneath their feet and repeatedly try to suck them in. Victory in neo noir, therefore, must also be tallied in small, momentary triumphs, because nothing and no one endures. There is no truth. As Nietzsche tells us: "Facts are precisely what there are not, there are only interpretations." It's a hopeless, Sisyphean quest, and triumph entails not setting up court as king/queen of the mountain but in reaching the top-most crest of the endlessly climbing wave before we're cruelly hurled back to shore. This also dovetails with the fractured, non-linear way stories are now told. In classic noir's narrative and extensive use of flashbacks a linear progression was generally adhered to, but in neo noir stories are shattered into fragments and fed to us piecemeal, out of sequence, often jarringly so; forcing us to piece the puzzle together as best we can, Rashomon-like, and this is where CiagrJoe's 'tuning' really comes in; because each of us will end up with a slightly different end-product depending on how we interpreted the fragments and pieced them together.

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