DC SURFERGIRL

Daily Dose of Darkness #8: Seeing You for the First Time (Scene from Mildred Pierce)

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I just got finishing watching Detour & into Mildred Pierce when it dawned on me that there is a common link between to two...MURDER! One was "accidental" (twice) which would make you say 'sure it was an accident'. And the other jealousy, a Mother sacrificing herself for the love of her child. With Detour & Mildred Pierce you have two people trying to make it in this world only to have one thing stop them both in achieving happiness...Murder! Al's bad luck started early and stayed with him through out the picture. Having let his girl go to California Al tried to stick it out but Sue (his girl) was always in the back of his mind. Hitch hiking across country eventually bad luck catch up with him. Haskle the driver who picks Al up is asleep and it starts raining, Al pulls over and opens the car door and Haskle falls out and hits his head. Now it obviously looks like this was no accident but it was (good luck trying to prove it). Al's next 'Accidental meeting with murder' comes in the form of "Vera" a fellow hitcher who figures out that Al is pulling the wool over her eyes with the story/lie about who he is. And of course she doesn't believe him about Haskle's "death". Well Al luck turns worse when he can't seem to shake "Vera" and her scheme of posing as Haskle for money from a dying father. Bad luck enters the room again when Al & "Vera" argue and in her drunken state takes the phone in with her to her room to "snitch" on poor Al. Desperate to stop her Al pulls on the phone cord which is now somehow around "Vera's" neck and "accident" #2 happens. Eventually life/the law catches up with Al and he's off the road for good. Now with Mildred her rise out of a bad marriage is marred by the untimely death of her youngest daughter. Trying hard to make ends meet by working as a waitress & baking pies on the side Mildred eventually comes into contact with her future husband/business partner and trouble is not far behind. Mildred being the best Mother she can be throws herself into work to earn the money to maintain the lifestyle her oldest daughter wants. Well fame and money follow and so does trouble via Veda (Mildred's daughter). Veda "likes" the way her new Daddy throws attention and money (Mildred's no less) and trouble is back at Mildred's doorstep. But it's Veda who now wants to play being an adult by leading a lifestyle not good for her. But she bit off more than she can chew with her step Dad and bang, bang, bang is what we hear and see Veda with the noise maker and Mama cleaning up Veda's mess. But a Mother's love can't stop the truth from coming out and Veda learns that Mama can't always makes things better no matter how hard she tries...MURDER thread that binds Al and Mildred in the crazy quilt of life...

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Here's the final Daily Dose for this week. We conclude this week's theme "First Words on Film Noir." Today's clip is from Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce. This Daily Dose will be delivered Thursday morning, June 11. Let the discussion begin!

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I have a real problem with classifying Mildred Pierce (1945) as film noir.  To me, it's just a story of a long suffering, self-sacrificing mother and her bitterly ungrateful daughter.  It's a tragic chick flick.  Okay, there's a murder.  But so what?  There are murders in lots of movies that aren't noir.  Heck, I'd say that Mommie Dearest (1981) is more noir, as two innocent children are sent on a fatalistic life trajectory of darkness and terror with little hope of escape.  It's even more noir when you consider that it subverts the public image that Joan Crawford and the studiosh had tried so hard to create for her.

     Of course, the look of Mildred Pierce appears to be noir, but is it?  Just because a film uses the look of noir, does it make it noir?  I say that because we have to remember that the look of noir is developed from German Expressionism.  Long before the Maltese Falcon, other directors were using darkness as a structural element of the scene and imagery, askew camera angles, and other "noir" visuals because of the influence of German Expressionism.

     If a film looks noir does it make it noir?  I don't think so.  If so, then why aren't many of Hitchcock's black and white films (The Lodger [1927], Secret Agent [1936], The 39 Steps [1935]) classified as noir, or why is Citizen Kane (1941) not noir, or the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and so on.  I understand the historical and other reasons why these films are not considered film noir, but they do share a look, which brings me to my point: just because Mildred Pierce has a film noir look or style, a film needs more than that to be noir.  It's just as easy to say that such films have a German Expressionist look or style.

     The non-noir films I have listed above have a noir look, and they even have a mystery to unfold.  Films noirs need more than just to look noir, to be noir:and they need to have a plot line, characters and interaction between characters who are acting out a worldview that is essentially tragic, pessimistic and fatalistic.  As I understand it, the story has to be subversive, or even more, inversive (official beliefs, conventional wisdom and and societal truths are flipped, deconstructed, as the term really means, not as it is commonly used, and are revealed as empty, hypocritical and meaningless). 

     I also suspect that film noir has a social class element, as so many film noir protagonists are from the lower classes.  Even when they are not, they are oftentimes from the working middle class, not the leisurely middle class or the wealthy class.  For a film to be noir, it has to be so much more than just look like it.

     So you can dress a story to look like noir, but there is more to noir than just its look, which sort of helps us to understand that the idea of film noir is more than a genre, more than a style, more than a movement.  It's an aesthetic of art that integrates all of these ideas.

     In any case, I really have a problem with MIldred Pierce as film noir.  I just don't see it.  So perhaps someone can tell me all the noir elements I have missed in the film.  What is subversive about Mildred Pierce, both the film and the character?  I would appreciate it.  I'm here to learn and am eager to do so!

    

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I have a real problem with classifying Mildred Pierce (1945) as film noir.  To me, it's just a story of a long suffering, self-sacrificing mother and her bitterly ungrateful daughter.  It's a tragic chick flick.  Okay, there's a murder.  But so what?  There are murders in lots of movies that aren't noir.  Heck, I'd say that Mommie Dearest (1981) is more noir, as two innocent children are sent on a fatalistic life trajectory of darkness and terror with little hope of escape.  It's even more noir when you consider that it subverts the public image that Joan Crawford and the studiosh had tried so hard to create for her.

     Of course, the look of Mildred Pierce appears to be noir, but is it?  Just because a film uses the look of noir, does it make it noir?  I say that because we have to remember that the look of noir is developed from German Expressionism.  Long before the Maltese Falcon, other directors were using darkness as a structural element of the scene and imagery, askew camera angles, and other "noir" visuals because of the influence of German Expressionism.

     If a film looks noir does it make it noir?  I don't think so.  If so, then why aren't many of Hitchcock's black and white films (The Lodger [1927], Secret Agent [1936], The 39 Steps [1935]) classified as noir, or why is Citizen Kane (1941) not noir, or the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and so on.  I understand the historical and other reasons why these films are not considered film noir, but they do share a look, which brings me to my point: just because Mildred Pierce has a film noir look or style, a film needs more than that to be noir.  It's just as easy to say that such films have a German Expressionist look or style.

     The non-noir films I have listed above have a noir look, and they even have a mystery to unfold.  Films noirs need more than just to look noir, to be noir:and they need to have a plot line, characters and interaction between characters who are acting out a worldview that is essentially tragic, pessimistic and fatalistic.  As I understand it, the story has to be subversive, or even more, inversive (official beliefs, conventional wisdom and and societal truths are flipped, deconstructed, as the term really means, not as it is commonly used, and are revealed as empty, hypocritical and meaningless). 

     I also suspect that film noir has a social class element, as so many film noir protagonists are from the lower classes.  Even when they are not, they are oftentimes from the working middle class, not the leisurely middle class or the wealthy class.  For a film to be noir, it has to be so much more than just look like it.

     So you can dress a story to look like noir, but there is more to noir than just its look, which sort of helps us to understand that the idea of film noir is more than a genre, more than a style, more than a movement.  It's an aesthetic of art that integrates all of these ideas.

     In any case, I really have a problem with MIldred Pierce as film noir.  I just don't see it.  So perhaps someone can tell me all the noir elements I have missed in the film.  What is subversive about Mildred Pierce, both the film and the character?  I would appreciate it.  I'm here to learn and am eager to do so!

You've given me some food for thought.  Mildred Pierce is another one of my favorite movies, quite frankly from one of my favorite time periods - the 1940s, but you're right; a film noir must have more than the right look.  Yes, there IS a murder, which advances the plot and provides more insight to the Veda character as this clip shows, but it actually isn't necessarily the focus of the film.  It's important, though, because you know someone has killed Monte at the beginning; you just don't know who did it (the first time I saw Mildred Pierce, I was shocked to learn that Veda was the perp.  I never saw that coming!) I do believe it's a film about relationships and people who, again, aren't perfect by any means - some you'll like, some you won't (Veda, Monte), but together they are woven into an interesting story.  Seeing this movie inspired me to read the book, which is a bit different, but no less interesting!  I highly recommend MP, even if it isn't true film noir!

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How can the two versions of Mildred Pierce be compared as films noir since the films vary so significantly in plot?

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Films noirs need more than just to look noir, to be noir:and they need to have a plot line, characters and interaction between characters who are acting out a worldview that is essentially tragic, pessimistic and fatalistic.  As I understand it, the story has to be subversive, or even more, inversive (official beliefs, conventional wisdom and and societal truths are flipped, deconstructed, as the term really means, not as it is commonly used, and are revealed as empty, hypocritical and meaningless). 

     I also suspect that film noir has a social class element, as so many film noir protagonists are from the lower classes.  Even when they are not, they are oftentimes from the working middle class, not the leisurely middle class or the wealthy class.  For a film to be noir, it has to be so much more than just look like it.

     So you can dress a story to look like noir, but there is more to noir than just its look, which sort of helps us to understand that the idea of film noir is more than a genre, more than a style, more than a movement.  It's an aesthetic of art that integrates all of these ideas.

     In any case, I really have a problem with MIldred Pierce as film noir.  I just don't see it.  So perhaps someone can tell me all the noir elements I have missed in the film.  What is subversive about Mildred Pierce, both the film and the character?  I would appreciate it.  I'm here to learn and am eager to do so!

 

All the elements you listed on your understanding of film noir is exactly what Mildred Pierce has. Perhaps you need another viewing to see it, or perhaps reassess your understanding of noir.

 

It's good that you have this perspective because that's what this course is all about. We come in with our own background and knowledge to both confirm and also question our concept/definition of film noir. We're also here to gain more wisdom and share our knowledge with others.

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"I have a real problem with classifying Mildred Pierce (1945) as film noir."

 

"If a film looks noir does it make it noir?  I don't think so."

 

"...which brings me to my point: just because Mildred Pierce has a film noir look or style, a film needs more than that to be noir."

 

I think you've raised a good point and I like Mildred Pierce.  I agree the surface style or look of a film isn't enough to define it as film noir.  First you have to start with story.  Then you decide how to cast it, light it, shoot it, the musical score, etc.  All the technical aspects should help express the story's content, but they don't make content.

 

Thanks - Mark

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All the elements you listed on your understanding of film noir is exactly what Mildred Pierce has. Perhaps you need another viewing to see it, or perhaps reassess your understanding of noir.

 

It's good that you have this perspective because that's what this course is all about. We come in with our own background and knowledge to both confirm and also question our concept/definition of film noir. We're also here to gain more wisdom and share our knowledge with others.

You are probably right, I should view it again.  And since it is on this Friday, I'll see it again.  But I see it is a story of a mother and daughter, and their struggles.  Frankly, I have seen it a long time ago, because of its classic status, but I really can't stand Joan Crawford.  So I have avoided it.  In any case, I would have never thought of it as noir

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You are probably right, I should view it again.  And since it is on this Friday, I'll see it again.  But I see it is a story of a mother and daughter, and their struggles.  Frankly, I have seen it a long time ago, because of its classic status, but I really can't stand Joan Crawford.  So I have avoided it.  In any case, I would have never thought of it as noir

By the way, you say it has those elements, so could you name a few?

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The movie opens with WHY, denies us WHO by refusing us the reverse angle, though we know who the shooter is, and then cuts to a moment of despair. I also have a problem with classifying this as noir because the mood is there, cinematic techniques, but the 'noir mistake' is that MIldred focuses all her attention on her monster of a daughter, Veda, out of guilt. 

 

I see the film as a critique of motherhood. 

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Mildred Pierce is a great example of how a woman's melodrama can also be great film noir.  It begins with James M. Cain, of course.  His novels were sometimes called pornography (and his last one comes pretty close!).  Cain's novels are certainly more lurid than Hammett or Chandler.

 

The visual style with it's low key, but not dark, lighting.  Mildred and Veda moving around each other like animals stalking.  The close-ups highlight the tension in the scene and the soundtrack (which could fit a horror movie) rises and falls with the emotional energy.

 

I'll admit that before I watched the whole film for the first time, I had my doubts about its noir status.  I'll wager a full viewing will change anyone's mind.  The Director Michael Curtiz did all kinds of films, so his name alone does not give it noir status, but the film speaks for itself.  You may want to shower after viewing.   

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Once again, tough to watch, because I've never been a fan of Joan Crawford. The clip looks just like any argument between a mother and daughter. Nothing new about it.

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The melodrama threatens to wreck this scene but the two actresses hold it in check, and Max Steiner's brilliant score pulls your emotions to a crescendo halted by that savage slap and with greed ascendant on the stairs.

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-- How do you feel the noir influence operates in this scene from Mildred Pierce?

 

It operates by showing the dark side of Veda, how she denigrates all her mother's accomplishments, how she expresses her lust for money.

 

-- How does Curtiz arrange these two actresses to heighten the tension of the scene? Pay attention to how they move and how they are framed in the scene, especially the use of close-ups. 

 

On the stairs there is a diagonal composition used Veda above Mildred enforcing her envisioned superiority over her mother.

 

-- In what ways can this scene from Mildred Pierce be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Just the shocking dynamics of a daughter dis-respecting her hard working mother a mother who had tried to do her best for her daughters. A daughter who is so lured by money and its trappings that she will do and say anything to get it.

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I've also never watched this movie, because I don't like Joan Crawford or the kind of movies she made.  From the clip, it doesn't strike me as film noir.  Too well lit, too middle class.  The daughter was definitely a budding femme fatale but that's all I could come up with for comparison.

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I can see why some people take issue with calling Mildred Pierce film noir. It is not an entire world of cynicism and pessimism, and the film's protagonist is essentially good - she wants the best for her children, even if her actions are sometimes misguided. But Veda is a typically noir character on an obsessive descent. For a life of luxury, lust, and money, she will cross her mother, essentially blackmail her fiancé, and…well, I don't want to spoil the reveal.

 

Can the antagonist's journey classify a film as noir? In this case, I'd have to say yes. And, Mildred, the protagonist, has her own obsession - her children. And, ultimately, that does take her down her own destructive descent.

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There are definite influences of noir in this scene from "Mildred Pierce" in the way the lighting is in the room, dark, with shadows, even to the black dresses being worn.   As the scene begins Veda is more centered and Mildred is to the right then moves left, but for the start it is Veda in her poses the camera centers on, though Mildred seems to own the scene.  You also have Mildred in the suit with the VERY broad shoulders, giving her power and strength.


The closeups are interesting Ann Blyth (Veda) is much shorter than Joan Crawford (Mildred) and through the first half of the scene as Veda is happy at tricking the boy out of money, by making him think he got her pregnant, and Mildred finds it abhorrent, Veda and the camera are looking up at Mildred.  As the scene goes on and they become closer during the argument, with Mildred grabbing Veda, it becomes harder to tell which is taller, they almost appear the same size.  By the time Veda gets to the stairs she is taller than Mildred.  Then there is the reversal where in the beginning Mildred is standing and Veda laughing while seated, when Veda slaps Mildred she is now standing and Mildred is down.  Even after she kicks Veda out, she is still looking up as the scene ends.


The camera work shows them moving from a mother/daughter relationship to one of two seemingly strong women.  One, Veda, full of anger and hate, while Mildred has a sense of ethics and morality that her daughter is lacking.


The fast paced argument between them, the hard edge of it, is also similar to the hard boiled talk by males in noir films.  You can see with "Mildred Pierce" that noir has moved into other genres influencing them and giving them a harder edge.  This shows that the style will work with other genres and so the style will cross genres, which shows that noir really is not a genre.  Why the style moves into other genres is because noir is a movement and the style goes with the movement, the culture of America in the 1940's-50's.


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Films noirs need more than just to look noir, to be noir:and they need to have a plot line, characters and interaction between characters who are acting out a worldview that is essentially tragic, pessimistic and fatalistic.  As I understand it, the story has to be subversive, or even more, inversive (official beliefs, conventional wisdom and and societal truths are flipped, deconstructed, as the term really means, not as it is commonly used, and are revealed as empty, hypocritical and meaningless). 

     I also suspect that film noir has a social class element, as so many film noir protagonists are from the lower classes.  Even when they are not, they are oftentimes from the working middle class, not the leisurely middle class or the wealthy class.  For a film to be noir, it has to be so much more than just look like it.

     So you can dress a story to look like noir, but there is more to noir than just its look, which sort of helps us to understand that the idea of film noir is more than a genre, more than a style, more than a movement.  It's an aesthetic of art that integrates all of these ideas.

     In any case, I really have a problem with MIldred Pierce as film noir.  I just don't see it.  So perhaps someone can tell me all the noir elements I have missed in the film.  What is subversive about Mildred Pierce, both the film and the character?  I would appreciate it.  I'm here to learn and am eager to do so!

I'm more visually oriented in defining Noir and this one is very dark in sequences, but that said Mildred Pierce has all the other crucial elements, the murder, the obsessed characters, the betrayal, it's just that they are not as heavily emphasized as the conflict between mother and daughter. Another classic Noir The Naked City, is very filled with light comparably to Mildred Pierce but it is filled with a plethora of on location sequences. 

 

This film belongs to that Women's Noir classification (some others are Gaslight (1944), Possessed (1947), A Woman's Secret (1949), The Reckless Moment (1949), No Man of Her Own (1950), Sudden Fear (1952),  .

 

Most color Neo Noirs are comparatively light filled, but some of the best are still darkly lit and still show the noir stylistics, the Dutch angles etc., along with a strong noir storyline, when they get all of these right  they hit on all cylinders.

 

Again being visually oriented, one interesting observation I've made is that a good color equivalent in Neo Noir's to the use of shadows in Classic Noirs is the use of subtly clashing colors, red against green as an example, they give that same uneasy feeling that something is off, another off setting factor is the use of some modern architecture, some of this has odd angles, cantilevered floors, spirals, etc., etc., lol.

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This is a powerful scene, both emotionally and physically.  The close-ups emphasize the distain each character feels for the other.  Veda shows contempt, even hatred for her mother.  Mildred, realizing who Veda really is, has had enough.  She still loves her daughter but she doesn't like her.  Unfortunately, Veda remains Mildred's Achilles' heel.  And worse yet, Veda knows it.

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Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth pull off a rare feat.  They can illuminarte the scene and project the darkness at the same time!  Great stuff!

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Yet another film I've never seen and I'm not sure what the story is here, so I have a hard time classifying it as film noir or not. However, I do see elements in this scene - the strong female characters who aren't afraid to manipulate others in order to get what they want, the shadowy framing. I think Curtiz did something interesting with the two actresses here and the way they move around each other in the film. It's quite clearly showing the progression of Veda stepping out from childhood and into womanhood on her own, as she begins the scene sitting under her mother's watchful eye and ends it storming up and away from that mother, who now looks more afraid than anything.

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I have never been a Joan Crawford fan.  She has always come off as looking hard even when she plays feminine roles.  Therefore, I have never watched Mildred Pierce.

 

In the scene presented, both women are wearing black and their hair styles are similar in style.  Both styles I would call severe.  Thus setting their character, a mother who tries to look younger and classer than she is and a daughter that wants to appear more or less a woman.  I would call her a femme fatale in this instance.  Veda has a dark calculating soul.  She will do anything to get what she wants, even lie about being pregnant.  She enjoys throwing her mother's background in her face and does a good job of showing her mother who she really is.  Also with both women in black you notice the height of them significantly on the stairs.  Veda thinks she is the one in power, but Mildred is twice as hard and calculating.  She like many film noir characters, have some type of moral code.  When her daughter violates that code, she throws her out.  And I have to say I loved that part of the scene. 

 

As for the film's importance to film noir, it does have some of the characteristics, the play with the height, the music that heightens the scene and of course the persona of both characters. Femme fatale and a moral code.

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You are probably right, I should view it again.  And since it is on this Friday, I'll see it again.  But I see it is a story of a mother and daughter, and their struggles.  Frankly, I have seen it a long time ago, because of its classic status, but I really can't stand Joan Crawford.  So I have avoided it.  In any case, I would have never thought of it as noir

The opening sequences are steeped in Noir, the dark beach house, the flash of shots, the shadows, the flickering lights, its powerful, and even I don't like Joan Crawford.

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Well DC Rin AZ you could be right as to "whose to say Mildred Pierce may look like noir but not necessarily noir" but as I tweeted earlier I'm starting to notice certain characteristics that are common in noir films (Greed, Jealousy, Murder, Bullying..etc). These seems to be a common theme in some of the noir films I've seen so far. I think that it's a combination of things that you could use to characterize a noir film. Like the ones you and I have stated but keep in mind what Professor Edwards said (I'll para phrase it) it's going to be hard to characterize noir films because you can judge them by their style, movement and genre. Noir films to me uses all 3 (and our points too) to create such masterpieces. It's our own interpretation of what is or is not noir. All we as viewers can do is take what we've read and watch and draw our conclusions. I think we can sometimes over analyze films...let's enjoy them and if there is something to be learned by them, then great...but have fun with films!

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I have a real problem with classifying Mildred Pierce (1945) as film noir.    So perhaps someone can tell me all the noir elements I have missed in the film.  What is subversive about Mildred Pierce, both the film and the character?  I would appreciate it.  I'm here to learn and am eager to do so!

You've got good points. But somewhere in the class material there's a discussion of a broad definition of noir which includes a lot of movies that don't fit into a narrower definition, where a movie has to have all the elements. I'm not married to it either way. I think you can noir Mildred for all those nighttime chicken dinners, the murder, Veda as unredeemed dervish of destruction, the lavish costumes, the romantic twists, the cynicism (kids! class). But a lot takes place in sunshine, and the ending is upbeat... sorta (I almost spoilered it there), and there are really no expressionist camera angles (maybe they would have been just too much with the shoulder pads).

 

Whatever. I don't care. I love Mildred Pierce. I watch it a couple of times a year. It's one of those I have memorized. I know why people don't care for Joan Crawford, but you can't let that get in the way of Mildred Pierce. This is the part she was made for.

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