Kim_J_Lamb

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  1. Hi again, Here is Lecture Note #1, "The Heist - Part 1 of 4: No Bottom". This was the first lesson for the week of 6/7-6/15, 2015. Part One: No Bottom Whenever we see a pattern, or notice a resemblance, or identify things that belong to the same family tree in the arts--whether it is in the movies, painting, music, you name it--we tend to give a name or a label to it: to help identify it, to shorthand its importance and relevance. In movies, sometimes those resemblances or moments that we see are connected through the work of an individual. Think of names or labels such as the Queen of Film Noir (a label that has been applied to several of our most luminous actresses of the classic era such as Gloria Grahame, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan, or Lizabeth Scott), the Master of Suspense (Alfred Hitchcock), or the King of the B's (often used to describe director Edgar Ulmer). In and of itself, a label is nothing more than a classification--a shorthand that helps us celebrate and remember a terrific body of work that share thematic and stylistic similarities. However, there can be a downside to applying labels: any label can obscure the full range of that work as much as it can reveal it. That reality of labels only intensifies as the body of work we are discussing gets larger and larger. Think about the way we typically discuss hundreds of individual films as forming a creative cluster: Westerns, gangster films, female melodramas, heist films, detective thriller, etc. These labels help us organize our thoughts and discuss our approaches to large bodies of films that share similarities and traits worth considering, yet they also provide us the chance to discuss how certain films don't fit, challenge, or go against the grain of those labels. I begin with a point about labels, patterns, resemblances, traits, and naming conventions, because we are confronted in this course with one of the most challenging and important labels of the classical Hollywood era: film noir. And this is a film term that literally has "no bottom." No one has yet gotten to, nor is anyone likely ever going to get to, the bottom of the mystery of film noir. However, we still have much we can learn and share as we plunge into its darkest depths. And because film noir has no bottom, that is why we need to continue to watch these films with fresh eyes and seek out new discoveries and new insights. This week, we will continue our investigation into the central question of this course: What is film noir? That pivotal question can and will be approached from a variety of perspectives, but let's start by going back in time--back before 1946, back to a point in film history before anybody ever heard of the term, film noir. This is a great week to do such an investigation because we have the chance to watch nine films on June 12th (TCM's Summer of Darkness) that wrapped their productions between 1942 and 1945. When those early 1940s films were made, no one (not any writer, any director, any critic) had yet labeled any of these films as film noir. If this all seems like a bit of paradox, let me explain. Film noir is a label for a certain kind of Hollywood film, that as we will hear shortly in the first video lecture, was first applied in 1946 by French film critics. Films such as The Maltese Falcon, Journey into Fear, The Glass Key, Laura, Murder My Sweet, or Detour, among many others, were not made as at that time as "film noir." We only perceive them as film noir in retrospect or in hindsight. If we could go back in time and ask them on the set, the filmmaking crews on those films would have told you they were making a tough detective thriller or a gritty melodrama. But they would not have said they were making a film noir. For example, here are some of the ways these films were described by contemporary film reviewers at the time. Of Murder My Sweet, critic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times hailed it as a "superior piece of tough melodrama." (1945) A critic for the Los Angeles Times described Detour as "one of the most poignant and disturbing stories to reach the screen in any year." (1945). But you could comb through all of the contemporary newspaper accounts on these films before 1945 and you won't stumble across any writer or critic who typed these two little words into their reviews: film noir. Film noir, as we use it today, simply did not exist as part of the cultural discourse prior to 1946. So as we investigate our central questions on film noir, we should acknowledge the strange and enduring power of that particular label, film noir, when it finally did come out of the shadows and into the light in 1946. One has to admit, regardless of whatever struggles we might find in attempting to pin down exact definitions of what film noir is or what it means, that the critics, in their first investigations and viewings of these films, knew something was different about these films--they saw that these films were grittier and more disturbing than other films at that time--and they wrote about it. When a couple of sharp French critics in 1946 went searching for a name or label to describe these new kinds of films, they sensed the need for yet another new label. And we can acknowledge, with great confidence almost 70 years later, when they proposed labeling these movies as "film noir," they nailed the name that stuck. ****
  2. Hi, I can still access the notes from the lessons through my completed courses, however they were not done in a pdf format as the newer courses are. It would take much copying and pasting so I would need some time, but I would be happy to do it as long as it's not breaking any rules. For instance, here is Part 1: Part One: Entering Noir Country Pay attention to the first few minutes of a film. Right after the studio logo is prominently displayed, a filmmaker has a job to do: namely, to establish the film's story world and get you in a certain frame of mind. While many opening sequences might seem perfunctory, they are your entrance into the narrative and evince a visual style that fits the tale to be told. At first glance, not much appears to be happening during the opening credit sequence of Out of the Past (RKO Pictures, 1947). Yet there are subtle details and deliberate shots designed to draw you in, establish the movie's mood and atmosphere, and set the stage for the action to come. Like many films noir, Out of the Past begins on the open road. The camera follows a single car from an angle that intentionally restricts your knowledge of key information. First, it is not clear where the driver is headed--the only visible road sign points in many possible directions. Second, it is not clear who the driver is. We only see him from behind with his head covered by a fedora. Driving with his back to us, the mysterious opening leads to several questions: Who is this man? What's his backstory? Where is he headed? What does he want? What will he do when he gets there? Beyond a shadow of a doubt, even during the credit sequence of this archetypal noir film, there is no mistaking that you, as well as the unknown driver, have entered noir country. We will be spending the next nine weeks exploring this, and other bleak and bitter environs of noir country, as we hurtle headlong deeper and deeper into the shadows. Like the opening of Out of the Past, this course has to set up its premises and establish its mood and atmosphere. In this regard, I recognize that each student will come to this course with their own backstory and their own objectives. You might be a lifelong learner, a film noir fanatic, a TCM viewer, a university student, an online learner, a retiree, a movie geek, or any number of other personas that would make this course something you want to check out. You might have already seen dozens, even hundreds, of noir films, and now want to dig deeper into what makes them tick. Or you might have seen very few films noir and you are curious what all the fuss is about. Regardless of your starting point or your final destination, by joining this course you are agreeing to go on a collaborative journey into the darkness of film noir. At the onset, it would help me if I knew a bit more about you and your backstory. I would like to ask you to answer a few questions, so that I can suggest a customized learning plan just for you: [Then it goes into the next page, which I think was a survey, now closed] Let me know if this works for you.
  3. I wanted to throw my two cents in (ooh - there's the double). I had hoped you would ask for actor collaborators for today's module, so I held my comment until today. My pick is Johnny Depp - couldn't you see him as Bruno Antony in Strangers on a Train? Many of the commenters are suggesting Tim Burton as a collaborator, this would be a perfect fit! Thank you Dr. Edwards, and all involved, for this course. It has been interesting and fun, and I've learned so much. I always thought that my sense of humor was warped because I would laugh at some of the comedic parts of Hitchcock movies when no one else would - now I know I'm in good company! I can't wait to hang my bragging rights along with my Film Noir and Slapstick certificates! Looking forward to the next course, whatever that may be.
  4. Hello, I'm a little late to the party (this is my first post for this course). After watching the Daily Dose of "Notorious", I'm questioning myself as to why, being a Cary Grant fan and also an Alfred Hitchcock fan, I have never seen this film! I can't wait to watch this for the first time. The angled camera shots are a dead giveaway to identifying the Hitchcock touch. I also like his use of shadows. One small detail I noticed - and based on Drs. Edwards' and Gehring's conversations, I don't think it's coincidental - was the sound of a train in the distance. We've learned throughout this course so far that Hitchcock loved trains (as do I). Not having seen the film yet I wonder if it is relevant to the plot - I will be watching for it!
  5. I have to say that even though I knew what was going to happen, it made me laugh out loud! It's amazing to me how something so simple as slipping on a banana peel became so groundbreaking (no pun intended). It also says a lot about one thing that I believe is extremely vital in slapstick: timing. Even a simple "gag" such as this involves a great amount of timing. It is obvious when watching the subsequent film clips that Charlie Chaplin knew very well how to use it. "Just slip on a banana peel, the world's at your feet!" ("Make 'Em Laugh", Singin' in the Rain)
  6. First of all, I'm impressed that the film is such good quality! Second, I don't think it's necessary to overcomplicate it. It's funny. Period. It's something that we can all relate to. Who hasn't been the victim of a jokester crimping the hose and letting it go just when we put it to our face to see why the water stopped? Third, this is going to be fun!!!
  7. Get your popcorn ready! What a great prime-time lineup! I'm especially looking forward to seeing Criss Cross!
  8. In watching this scene, I thought it was an interesting use of the headlights of the car backing into the parking space. When the headlights illuminated Steve and Anna, they were both startled, as if they had been caught red-handed. We can see early on what the plot will be as Anna re-enters the party where her husband, Mr. Dundee, is looking for her. Another noir technique: rapid-fire dialogue, as he questions where she'd been and she fires right back at him with quick but vague answers. I think that in this scene I've discovered what may be one of my favorite lines, ever. It is spoken by the maitre'd (Waxie?) after Mr. Dundee leaves the room: "This rotten line of work, the rotten class of people you have to put up with." Ain't it the truth. I'm really looking forward to seeing Criss Cross and the other Daily Dose films tomorrow. Watching the Daily Doses every week whetted my appetite to see the featured films in their entirety. In most cases I wasn't disappointed, in others I could see why they were considered "B" films. I think I had more fun just being immersed in the plots and being entertained than in analyzing techniques or other elements in the making of each film. But isn't that the point?! Thanks Professor Edwards, TCM, Canvas, Ball State University, Dr. Muller, and anyone else involved in the development and execution of this course whom I may have forgotten. The tremendous amount of work you've all put into this course was worth it. I've had a great time. Even though there's no such thing as "the perfect crime", this was one "heist" that may go unsolved for decades to come!
  9. I write down my initial observations when I watch each Daily Dose. The first word I wrote down when I watched this opening scene from Desperate was, "Wow." I thought I was the one getting punched in the face. Raymond Burr is positively terrifying, from the moment he calls the police to the end of the scene. The swinging lamp truly does make the violence in the scene more intense. Professor Edwards hit the nail on the head with his comment on this Daily Dose: "Diskant pulls out all the stops on how to use Expressionist lighting techniques to accentuate the violence and terror being wrought upon Steve." I agree, and without having seen this entire movie yet I can tell it's a prime example of film noir.
  10. This film clip definitely shows postwar paranoia: Anything can happen to anyone at any time, so keep looking over your shoulder. Maybe it's just me, but I think this theme of average-joe-gets-thrown-into-the-mix is still going strong. Not only in thrillers, but it has also kind of morphed into a lot of comedy films over the decades: It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with the group of strangers on a quest for "the big W" (or what's buried under it); What's Up, Doc? with the four identical suitcases; Innerspace where an average grocery store clerk gets inadvertently involved in a plot to steal a top-secret military project. Sorry but that's what came to mind. I'm intrigued by this movie for the simple reason that it was almost lost to oblivion. Thank you, Mr. Muller, for your hard work in restoring it. I'm looking forward to watching it!
  11. I noticed a difference in tone between this opening and the openings of "Kiss Me Deadly" and "The Hitch-Hiker". While the technique is similar, the upbeat music set a lighter tone, as if they were walking to the beat. The many passengers hustling and bustling around the train station made this clip different from the other clips in which the characters were alone on a dark, deserted, scary road. So I think we will all be taken by surprise as the plot progresses. I thought it was very funny how Bruno begins the conversation and pretty much dominates it, yet he tells Guy "Go ahead and read, I don't talk much." Really, Bruno? I highly doubt it. In answer to the question, "Do you agree or disagree that Alfred Hitchcock should be considered a 'special case' in discussion of film noir?", I would have to say that I agree. Maybe I'm partial because I've probably seen more Hitchcock films than most of the "Summer of Darkness" lineup - they are broadcast more often and readily available in the mainstream. But we expect as much drama, terror, suspense, etc. from a film noir as we would a Hitchcock film, and we certainly get it from both. I'm looking forward to seeing this one.
  12. The first thing that I thought of when I saw this was, "That's the Baroness (from "The Sound of Music")?!" Then I noticed the other stellar names in the cast - Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Jane Darwell...I knew this should be pretty good. With the sirens and other noises in the background, it fits the gritty storytelling that is typical of the Warner Brothers' films noir. I'm almost expecting to hear Humphrey Bogart narrating the scene. We can just barely make out silhouettes in the van so we know that there's more than one person in it, yet there is no conversation - it certainly adds to the drama. It was interesting that when they arrived at the prison and the doors opened, the only face we could see was the main character's - the others were face down as they exited the van. There was a lot of fear and vulnerability on her face, and we can see that this is not going to be a pleasant experience for her. This is confirmed when Agnes Moorehead says, "Grab your last look at free side, kid." I liked how all the other women turned to look after she said that, but it was almost out of routine - they'd been down this road before. We will get a realistic look at life behind bars, which could be both enlightening and disturbing. After reading Noir Neophyte's post about the kitten I'm not sure I can handle this one, but we'll see.
  13. I too didn't notice that he was in the back seat. It was terrifying when I realized it. The use of the lighting (or lack of it) on his face was so well done and added to the tension of the scene. Then when the driver pulls off the road, she (Lupino) uses the point-of-view angle and suddenly we are sucked in to the scene. This movie looks really scary, and I'm looking forward to watching it. I have three words for Ida Lupino: You go, girl!
  14. We see the desperate Christina running away from something, so desperate that she would risk getting hit by a car for someone to help her. This short clip tells me that there is a recurring theme in this movie - confusion. Mike Hammer is well put-together, while Christina is disheveled; barely dressed. Why would he want to get involved? Mike Hammer is downright mean the way he scolds her for almost wrecking his car, yet he lets her get in anyway, confusing us as to what kind of a guy he is. And he's still mean in his conversation with her in the car, yet he goes along with her attempt to fool the police at the roadblock. Confusing again. When they approached the roadblock, her quick thinking to pretend she was his wife struck me. Did she really belong in the asylum from which she escaped? Was she really that desperate? I have not seen this movie yet, but I hope that when I do it will clear up the confusion (or will it?). I enjoyed seeing the many elements of noir used even in the few short minutes of the opening scene: low-key lighting and night shooting; the character's-eye view of Mike and Christina traveling down the road.
  15. The first film noir element that was obvious to me was the first person narrative by John Garfield's character. When Lana Turner's character appears we know right away that she is the femme fatale (another film noir element). When we see the dropped lipstick and the camera pans upward, revealing who dropped it, I thought of a couple of things: one, the intent is for the audience (and John Garfield's character) to fall under the spell of her beauty; two, MGM is clearly showcasing (or should I say, exploiting?) one of their "more stars than there are in heaven", as Professor Edwards notes in today's text. She was a bombshell and MGM wanted everyone to know it. The other interesting thing I noticed: when John Garfield is holding the lipstick, we would all assume that he would be a gentleman and hand it back to her. We can see the expectation on Lana Turner's face, yet he stands still, forcing her to walk over to him to get it and showing us that he will not fall under her spell. I like the tension that it sets up. I haven't seen this entire movie yet so who knows how long that tension will last...?

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