Marianne

Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir

345 posts in this topic

I think I'm getting more of a handle on what you are trying to do with your list of characteristics, however lets go back to an easy genre like Westerns to illustrate a point.

 

List of Characteristics for Westerns

 

1. Have Western Landscapes and take place predominantly West of the Mississippi River.

2. Have at least have some combination of Western archetypes, cowboys, Indians, Mexicans, cavalry, pioneers, lawmen, gunfighters, mountain men, saloon girls, town folk, miners, prospectors, ranchers, railroaders, etc., etc., as characters.

3. Uses Western Iconography cattle drives, wagon trains, horses, steam locomotives, etc., etc..

4. Use traditional Western story-lines.

5. Usually have a grandiose sweeping score 

 

The above simplified list gives the basic criteria for Westerns, But I don't think they should all be given equal weight percentage wise. Westerns are a lot about the visuals.

 

1. 40%

2. 25%

3. 25%

4. 5%

5. 5%

 

Take away 1, and either 2, or 3, and you don't have an effective Western, Classic or Neo.

 

So getting back to Noir/Neo Noir, out of your original list I don't think we can give equal weight to each theme/characteristic, out of the 16 themes 1, 2, and 9 are all visual components, and they should be given way more weight than the others. But again I'm visually oriented, I'm comming at it from that perspective, without that heavy dose of the visual component which is even more crucial for Neo Noir all you'll have is Crime films that are NIPOs, Noir In Plot Only. 

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Following

(1998, dir. Christopher Nolan)

 

The Criterion Collection calls Following a neo-noir, so this might be an easy exercise but one still worth undertaking.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films . . . . For a film shot in the late 1990s, the black and white automatically creates a certain mood. Nolan didn’t use any other lighting except ambient lighting, which adds to the dark, intense mood of the film. He may have chosen black and white film for budgetary reasons, but this was also true for many classic films noir. It works here just as well.

2. Flashbacks Following has a structure that loops around on itself. It creates confusion for the viewer, which mimics the confusion of the main character, whom I will call Bill for the sake of clarity. The whole story, except for the last sequence, is told in flashback, but it is also nonlinear.

3. Unusual narration The nonlinear narration forces the viewer to attend to clues about the story. It also creates a sense of confusion that is similar to what Bill is experiencing. (This was true of Memento, another Nolan film, but there the technique is perfected because of the main character chosen.)

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) The premise alone (following people out of boredom and/or to get fiction ideas) is really stalking by another name, as far as I can tell. So the premise of the film is a crime (and very noir!). The stalking leads to burglary, assault, murder: All the bases are covered.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale The blonde woman is the classic femme fatale, except that she gets the tables turned on her, too. She lures Bill deeper into Cobb’s elaborate and well-thought-out scheme. But the noir trope is up-ended because Cobb turns the tables on everyone.

6. The instrument of fate Bill made rules for following other people, but he broke them anyway. Don’t follow anyone if he found out where they lived or work. Don’t follow the same person twice. The most important rule was the latter, but that was the rule that Bill broke first. “When I selected a person to follow, that’s when the trouble started.” He just couldn’t resist the lure of his own game.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) I didn’t feel much angst emanating from the characters. The blond woman certainly was upset by the murder that she witnessed, and Bill was upset to be double-crossed by Cobb, but I almost felt like I was the one who felt the most angst when Bill is talking to the police officer and suddenly realizes what has happened to him.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Cobb is a walking time bomb. The minute that he shakes the beer can before handing it to Bill, I knew Bill was trouble. The beer can incident was like a small psychological test that went Cobb’s way. Cobb started small and ended big, that’s for sure.

9. Urban and nighttime settings No nighttime settings that I can remember, but the black-and-white urban landscape of London worked perfectly for this film. And it almost felt like a 1960s film: with the black and white cinematography and the suits and ties that Bill and Cobb wore.

10. Allusion to post–World War II or any postwar themes (optional) Not applicable (N/A)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Bill is following other people because he’s lonely and bored. He admits as much to the police officer at the beginning of the film. His loneliness makes him especially vulnerable to Cobb’s machinations.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Cobb is all about manipulation. He manipulates everyone to get what he wants. In some ways, he’s the loneliest character, even lonelier than Bill, because he couldn’t care less about the people in his life.

13. Greed Not a major factor. Bill and Cobb are not into burglary for the items that they steal. But Cobb is not entirely genuine: He wants the money that Bill takes from the safe. It’s his payment for getting rid of the witness to the bar owner’s crime.

14. Betrayal All the main characters are betraying one another for various reasons. It’s a small dismal world in which no one can trust anyone else. Much like many classic films noir.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) I don’t think there’s a single main character that doesn’t have dirt and/or blood on his or her hands in Following. It made it very hard to root for anyone, although I was really dismayed by the predicament that Bill realized he was in. It was almost like the movie put me in his situation, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there!

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A.

 

I’d give this one fourteen out of sixteen from our list of noir/neo-noir characteristics: more neo-noir than Memento! It’s hard to say that I enjoyed this film because there wasn’t anyone who seemed the least bit sympathetic or relatable. But I still didn’t want to see Bill have to be the fall guy.

 

The final shot was just fantastic: Cobb is standing in a crowd on a busy London street. He’s in medium shot. A pedestrian passes in front of the camera so close up that the person is fuzzy. When the picture clears, Cobb is gone. And Bill is alone again. It brings the film back to the beginning, when Bill is explaining why he follows strangers on the street and the camera shows pedestrians in the city walking in slow motion.

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I think I'm getting more of a handle on what you are trying to do with your list of characteristics

 

 

 

No, that's not what I am trying to do: I am not interested in percentages in the abstract or refining lists of characteristics. I am interested in taking a list of generally accepted noir characteristics and applying the characteristics to a film to verify or prove (or disprove) that it is neo-noir. Others may or may not agree, but refining lists just takes me further and further away from what I enjoy most: watching films. I now want to watch films and see how close to noir (neo-noir) they are.

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I think I'm getting more of a handle on what you are trying to do with your list of characteristics, however lets go back to an easy genre like Westerns to illustrate a point.

 

List of Characteristics for Westerns

 

1. Have Western Landscapes and take place predominantly West of the Mississippi River.

2. Have at least have some combination of Western archetypes, cowboys, Indians, Mexicans, cavalry, pioneers, lawmen, gunfighters, mountain men, saloon girls, town folk, miners, prospectors, ranchers, railroaders, etc., etc., as characters.

3. Uses Western Iconography cattle drives, wagon trains, horses, steam locomotives, etc., etc..

4. Use traditional Western story-lines.

5. Usually have a grandiose sweeping score 

 

The above simplified list gives the basic criteria for Westerns, But I don't think they should all be given equal weight percentage wise. Westerns are a lot about the visuals.

 

1. 40%

2. 25%

3. 25%

4. 5%

5. 5%

 

Take away 1, and either 2, or 3, and you don't have an effective Western, Classic or Neo.

 

So getting back to Noir/Neo Noir, out of your original list I don't think we can give equal weight to each theme/characteristic, out of the 16 themes 1, 2, and 9 are all visual components, and they should be given way more weight than the others. But again I'm visually oriented, I'm comming at it from that perspective, without that heavy dose of the visual component which is even more crucial for Neo Noir all you'll have is Crime films that are NIPOs, Noir In Plot Only. 

 

 

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.   

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No, that's not what I am trying to do: I am not interested in percentages in the abstract or refining lists of characteristics. I am interested in taking a list of generally accepted noir characteristics and applying the characteristics to a film to verify or prove (or disprove) that it is neo-noir. Others may or may not agree, but refining lists just takes me further and further away from what I enjoy most: watching films. I now want to watch films and see how close to noir (neo-noir) they are.

Ok  but how can you prove or disprove anything, if you are just going by a checklist it becomes meaningless, if a majority of a film has standard lighting and has 2 minutes of chiaroscuro are you gonna check that as meeting the theme?  

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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.   

For me anyway, the Neo Noirs that really hit home that I call the True Neo Noirs are those that use the Noir stylistics, the camera angels, the deep focus, the chiaroscuro. Those that attempt to homage traditional Noir locations, i.e, Els, subways, docks, warehouses, tenements, back alleys, flea bag hotels and motels, etc., etc. The others fall far short they become too diffused like you say into standard genres.

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Following

(1998, dir. Christopher Nolan)

 

The Criterion Collection calls Following a neo-noir, so this might be an easy exercise but one still worth undertaking.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films . . . . For a film shot in the late 1990s, the black and white automatically creates a certain mood. Nolan didn’t use any other lighting except ambient lighting, which adds to the dark, intense mood of the film. He may have chosen black and white film for budgetary reasons, but this was also true for many classic films noir. It works here just as well.

2. Flashbacks Following has a structure that loops around on itself. It creates confusion for the viewer, which mimics the confusion of the main character, whom I will call Bill for the sake of clarity. The whole story, except for the last sequence, is told in flashback, but it is also nonlinear.

3. Unusual narration The nonlinear narration forces the viewer to attend to clues about the story. It also creates a sense of confusion that is similar to what Bill is experiencing. (This was true of Memento, another Nolan film, but there the technique is perfected because of the main character chosen.)

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) The premise alone (following people out of boredom and/or to get fiction ideas) is really stalking by another name, as far as I can tell. So the premise of the film is a crime (and very noir!). The stalking leads to burglary, assault, murder: All the bases are covered.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale The blonde woman is the classic femme fatale, except that she gets the tables turned on her, too. She lures Bill deeper into Cobb’s elaborate and well-thought-out scheme. But the noir trope is up-ended because Cobb turns the tables on everyone.

6. The instrument of fate Bill made rules for following other people, but he broke them anyway. Don’t follow anyone if he found out where they lived or work. Don’t follow the same person twice. The most important rule was the latter, but that was the rule that Bill broke first. “When I selected a person to follow, that’s when the trouble started.” He just couldn’t resist the lure of his own game.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) I didn’t feel much angst emanating from the characters. The blond woman certainly was upset by the murder that she witnessed, and Bill was upset to be double-crossed by Cobb, but I almost felt like I was the one who felt the most angst when Bill is talking to the police officer and suddenly realizes what has happened to him.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Cobb is a walking time bomb. The minute that he shakes the beer can before handing it to Bill, I knew Bill was trouble. The beer can incident was like a small psychological test that went Cobb’s way. Cobb started small and ended big, that’s for sure.

9. Urban and nighttime settings No nighttime settings that I can remember, but the black-and-white urban landscape of London worked perfectly for this film. And it almost felt like a 1960s film: with the black and white cinematography and the suits and ties that Bill and Cobb wore.

10. Allusion to post–World War II or any postwar themes (optional) Not applicable (N/A)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Bill is following other people because he’s lonely and bored. He admits as much to the police officer at the beginning of the film. His loneliness makes him especially vulnerable to Cobb’s machinations.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Cobb is all about manipulation. He manipulates everyone to get what he wants. In some ways, he’s the loneliest character, even lonelier than Bill, because he couldn’t care less about the people in his life.

13. Greed Not a major factor. Bill and Cobb are not into burglary for the items that they steal. But Cobb is not entirely genuine: He wants the money that Bill takes from the safe. It’s his payment for getting rid of the witness to the bar owner’s crime.

14. Betrayal All the main characters are betraying one another for various reasons. It’s a small dismal world in which no one can trust anyone else. Much like many classic films noir.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) I don’t think there’s a single main character that doesn’t have dirt and/or blood on his or her hands in Following. It made it very hard to root for anyone, although I was really dismayed by the predicament that Bill realized he was in. It was almost like the movie put me in his situation, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there!

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A.

 

I’d give this one fourteen out of sixteen from our list of noir/neo-noir characteristics: more neo-noir than Memento! It’s hard to say that I enjoyed this film because there wasn’t anyone who seemed the least bit sympathetic or relatable. But I still didn’t want to see Bill have to be the fall guy.

 

The final shot was just fantastic: Cobb is standing in a crowd on a busy London street. He’s in medium shot. A pedestrian passes in front of the camera so close up that the person is fuzzy. When the picture clears, Cobb is gone. And Bill is alone again. It brings the film back to the beginning, when Bill is explaining why he follows strangers on the street and the camera shows pedestrians in the city walking in slow motion.

 

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors. Following is one of his earlier films and one which I have not had the opportunity to see yet, but want to.

More "neo-noir" than Memento? Who would have thought that Nolan had it in him. Not one- but two noirs.

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So getting back to Noir/Neo Noir, out of your original list I don't think we can give equal weight to each theme/characteristic, out of the 16 themes 1, 2, and 9 are all visual components, and they should be given way more weight than the others. But again I'm visually oriented, I'm comming at it from that perspective, without that heavy dose of the visual component which is even more crucial for Neo Noir all you'll have is Crime films that are NIPOs, Noir In Plot Only. 

 

If it's Noir in Plot Only, it's still noir, is it not? I'm less a visual and more literary. Just because some films use the technical elements doesn't make them a true film noir. Even in the study of classic noir, there is a lot of reference to character archetypes and story lines. Heck, many films noir are based off of pulp and/or detective fiction and crime novels. Without them, there would be far less output. Give a little more credit to the plot. 

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If it's Noir in Plot Only, it's still noir, is it not? I'm less a visual and more literary. Just because some films use the technical elements doesn't make them a true film noir. Even in the study of classic noir, there is a lot of reference to character archetypes and story lines. Heck, many films noir are based off of pulp and/or detective fiction and crime novels. Without them, there would be far less output. Give a little more credit to the plot. 

We have the same breakdown in Classic Noir, you have quite a few that took the class having problems with those Noirs that did not emphasize German expressionism, or those that didn't have a femme fatale, some took even more exception with those that didn't have a detective. The most exclusive didn't consider a film a Noir if it had a happy ending.

 

Me, I say if it has the plot and the stylistics its winner.

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If it's Noir in Plot Only, it's still noir, is it not? I'm less a visual and more literary. Just because some films use the technical elements doesn't make them a true film noir. Even in the study of classic noir, there is a lot of reference to character archetypes and story lines. Heck, many films noir are based off of pulp and/or detective fiction and crime novels. Without them, there would be far less output. Give a little more credit to the plot. 

 

I tend toward the literary, too. I just read I Wake Up Screaming, which has to be my favorite noir title of all time -- book or movie! If you can find it, it's worth a read. The Hays Code didn't apply to literature apparently.

 

Didn't you mention Following (dir. Christopher Nolan) on this thread? I will do a search and confirm, but I'll wait until I finish this post or I'll lose it. I saw it and loved it. The ending was incredibly unsettling for me. I wasn't all that fond of the main character (he was basically a stalker) but I was so, so sorry to find out, as he did it, what he had really gotten himself into. I've already posted about it and decided it was neo-noir. The ending alone -- all that angst!

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No, that's not what I am trying to do: I am not interested in percentages in the abstract or refining lists of characteristics. I am interested in taking a list of generally accepted noir characteristics and applying the characteristics to a film to verify or prove (or disprove) that it is neo-noir. Others may or may not agree, but refining lists just takes me further and further away from what I enjoy most: watching films. I now want to watch films and see how close to noir (neo-noir) they are.

 

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.    

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Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors. Following is one of his earlier films and one which I have not had the opportunity to see yet, but want to.

More "neo-noir" than Memento? Who would have thought that Nolan had it in him. Not one- but two noirs.

 

Yes, I call both Following and Memento neo-noirs. One thing that I probably should have emphasized a bit more about Following was Nolan's budget constraints, which definitely worked in favor of neo-noir. He used only ambient lighting, I believe, which makes the scenes when Bill is talking to the police detective more shadowy and grim. The ending, which takes place in the detective's office, really hit me. I already said that Bill wasn't exactly a likable character, but realizing along with him what had happened to him was angst-inspiring. I would definitely recommend the film to others interested in neo-noir. The DVD comes with lots of extras (which I sometimes find distracting but it's still nice to have them available).

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

dir. John Frankenheimer

 

A psychological drama involving hypnosis and a plot to assassinate a political figure.

 

A tile card tells us that we are in “Korea 1952” where shortly we see Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) ambushed then handed over to the enemy who then carts them off by helicopter.

 

The narrator next tells us that Shaw (having returned home) is to receive the Congressional medal of honor for. . .

Displaying valor above and beyond the call of duty [in] single-handedly [saving]] the lives of nine members of his patrol, capturing an enemy machine gun nest and taking out in the process a full company of enemy infantry. He then proceeded to lead his patrol which had been listed as missing in action for three days back through the enemy lines to safety.”

 

We then learn what happened between the time of the ambush and Shaw’s return home. Marco suffers from nightmares and their visualization act as flashbacks revealing to us how the communists were successful in brainwashing American soldiers.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films- I thought the lighting in certain scenes was exaggerated but when used appropriately it worked.

2. Flashbacks- There were several in characters dreams (nightmares)

3. Unusual narration - Third-person voice-over narration similar to Border Incident

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Here we have political corruption, murder, assassination and conspiracy.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale- Angela Lansbury’s performance as a mother with total dominance over her hero-soldier son is excellent. She’s oblivious to her son’s well being as long as she gets her way.

6. The instrument of fate- Is apparent in the assassination scene.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) Major Bennett Marco and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw display moments of confusion , fear and frustration throughout the film.

8. Violence or the threat of violence- Cold-blooded murders are demanded and executed without emotions.

9. Urban and nighttime settings- Yes to both but not presented as noir or in noir style- so (N/A)

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Korean war, Cold war and communism- all in play here.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness - Shaw acts disoriented as a result of his hypnosis. He seems confused and bewildered whenever he is given orders to kill as if somewhere inside he knows right from wrong. Shaw is having to deal with inner conflicts brought about that vague moral insight.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes. Here’s a quote that best illustrates hypnosis and brainwashing by one of its victim:

Major Marco: There’s something phony about me, about Raymond Shaw, about the whole Medal of Honor business. I said, ‘Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life,’ and even now I feel that way - this minute. And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, something tells me it’s not true. It’s just not true. It isn’t as if Raymond’s hard to like. He’s impossible to like! In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve ever known in my life - all of my life.

13. Greed (N/A)

14. Betrayal Not as a theme in the film. No character makes mention of nor seem aware of any betrayal. The director never draws attention to it. Although one could argue that the mother betrays everything one expects from a mother. I say (N/A)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Lansbury) is completely lacking of any moral scruples.

Major Marco fight through his nightmares and follows his instincts in helping save Shaw.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)

 

Twelve out of sixteen qualifies The Manchurian Candidate as a film noir.

 

I would say this is a bold film- even daring. I could only imagine how dreadful it would be, were it possible to hypnotize someone into committing a violent act.

 

John Frankenheimer also did Black Sunday (1977) staring Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern which I enjoyed but did poorly at the box office. Another favorite is The Train (1964) staring Burt Lancaster. A great film about the transport of valuable artworks being transported by train and the Nazi trying to get their hands on them. Trains, rail yards, and a cat and mouse thriller.

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If it's Noir in Plot Only, it's still noir, is it not? I'm less a visual and more literary. Just because some films use the technical elements doesn't make them a true film noir. Even in the study of classic noir, there is a lot of reference to character archetypes and story lines. Heck, many films noir are based off of pulp and/or detective fiction and crime novels. Without them, there would be far less output. Give a little more credit to the plot. 

 

I'm in a similar camp as you as it relates to visual and literary.    While my favorite noirs stress both,  I'm a fan of many films that lean more towards one of those than the other.   

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

dir. John Frankenheimer

 

A psychological drama involving hypnosis and a plot to assassinate a political figure.

 

A tile card tells us that we are in “Korea 1952” where shortly we see Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) ambushed then handed over to the enemy who then carts them off by helicopter.

 

The narrator next tells us that Shaw (having returned home) is to receive the Congressional medal of honor for. . .

Displaying valor above and beyond the call of duty [in] single-handedly [saving]] the lives of nine members of his patrol, capturing an enemy machine gun nest and taking out in the process a full company of enemy infantry. He then proceeded to lead his patrol which had been listed as missing in action for three days back through the enemy lines to safety.”

 

We then learn what happened between the time of the ambush and Shaw’s return home. Marco suffers from nightmares and their visualization act as flashbacks revealing to us how the communists were successful in brainwashing American soldiers.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films- I thought the lighting in certain scenes was exaggerated but when used appropriately it worked.

2. Flashbacks- There were several in characters dreams (nightmares)

3. Unusual narration - Third-person voice-over narration similar to Border Incident

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Here we have political corruption, murder, assassination and conspiracy.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale- Angela Lansbury’s performance as a mother with total dominance over her hero-soldier son is excellent. She’s oblivious to her son’s well being as long as she gets her way.

6. The instrument of fate- Is apparent in the assassination scene.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) Major Bennett Marco and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw display moments of confusion , fear and frustration throughout the film.

8. Violence or the threat of violence- Cold-blooded murders are demanded and executed without emotions.

9. Urban and nighttime settings- Yes to both but not presented as noir or in noir style- so (N/A)

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Korean war, Cold war and communism- all in play here.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness - Shaw acts disoriented as a result of his hypnosis. He seems confused and bewildered whenever he is given orders to kill as if somewhere inside he knows right from wrong. Shaw is having to deal with inner conflicts brought about that vague moral insight.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes. Here’s a quote that best illustrates hypnosis and brainwashing by one of its victim:

Major Marco: There’s something phony about me, about Raymond Shaw, about the whole Medal of Honor business. I said, ‘Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life,’ and even now I feel that way - this minute. And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, something tells me it’s not true. It’s just not true. It isn’t as if Raymond’s hard to like. He’s impossible to like! In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve ever known in my life - all of my life.

13. Greed (N/A)

14. Betrayal Not as a theme in the film. No character makes mention of nor seem aware of any betrayal. The director never draws attention to it. Although one could argue that the mother betrays everything one expects from a mother. I say (N/A)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Lansbury) is completely lacking of any moral scruples.

Major Marco fight through his nightmares and follows his instincts in helping save Shaw.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)

 

Twelve out of sixteen qualifies The Manchurian Candidate as a film noir.

 

I would say this is a bold film- even daring. I could only imagine how dreadful it would be, were it possible to hypnotize someone into committing a violent act.

 

John Frankenheimer also did Black Sunday (1977) staring Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern which I enjoyed but did poorly at the box office. Another favorite is The Train (1964) staring Burt Lancaster. A great film about the transport of valuable artworks being transported by train and the Nazi trying to get their hands on them. Trains, rail yards, and a cat and mouse thriller.

 

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.   

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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.   

There were some classic noir that were political/action thrillers. The Woman on Pier 13, Journey Into Fear, I Was a Communist for the FBI, Shack Out on 101,  Walk a Crooked Mile, and maybe 5 Steps to Danger

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There were some classic noir that were political/action thrillers. The Woman on Pier 13, Journey Into Fear, I Was a Communist for the FBI, Shack Out on 101,  Walk a Crooked Mile, and maybe 5 Steps to Danger

 

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. CaligariFrankenstein, 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.         

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Have we mentioned music as a theme that changed?. It seems as if there is quite a bit more popular music used in Neo Noir than pieces composed originally for individual films. 

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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.   

I appreciate your observations. We simply perceive the film differently in parts.

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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.   

 

I don't think that the politics in The Manchurian Candidate prevents it from being a neo-noir. It's a complicated film with many themes, including political. According to the DVD, it was the first film to take on McCarthyism (Iselinism, according to Senator Jordan), but the personal ramifications are what's of interest, at least to me. Mrs. Iselin is the quintessential femme fatale, and I think a case could be made for her willingness to use sex to get her way. The way she and her husband talk makes me think she's just stringing him along for his political clout. And that scene where she kisses her son three times, the last time on the lips. It was a passionate kiss that only ended because the scene was cut. Very icky and creepy.

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

dir. John Frankenheimer

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films- I thought the lighting in certain scenes was exaggerated but when used appropriately it worked.

2. Flashbacks- There were several in characters dreams (nightmares)

3. Unusual narration - Third-person voice-over narration similar to Border Incident

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Here we have political corruption, murder, assassination and conspiracy.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale- Angela Lansbury’s performance as a mother with total dominance over her hero-soldier son is excellent. She’s oblivious to her son’s well being as long as she gets her way.

6. The instrument of fate- Is apparent in the assassination scene.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) Major Bennett Marco and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw display moments of confusion , fear and frustration throughout the film.

8. Violence or the threat of violence- Cold-blooded murders are demanded and executed without emotions.

9. Urban and nighttime settings- Yes to both but not presented as noir or in noir style- so (N/A)

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Korean war, Cold war and communism- all in play here.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness - Shaw acts disoriented as a result of his hypnosis. He seems confused and bewildered whenever he is given orders to kill as if somewhere inside he knows right from wrong. Shaw is having to deal with inner conflicts brought about that vague moral insight.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Yes. Here’s a quote that best illustrates hypnosis and brainwashing by one of its victim:

Major Marco: There’s something phony about me, about Raymond Shaw, about the whole Medal of Honor business. I said, ‘Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life,’ and even now I feel that way - this minute. And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, something tells me it’s not true. It’s just not true. It isn’t as if Raymond’s hard to like. He’s impossible to like! In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve ever known in my life - all of my life.

13. Greed (N/A)

14. Betrayal Not as a theme in the film. No character makes mention of nor seem aware of any betrayal. The director never draws attention to it. Although one could argue that the mother betrays everything one expects from a mother. I say (N/A)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on)

Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Lansbury) is completely lacking of any moral scruples.

Major Marco fight through his nightmares and follows his instincts in helping save Shaw.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)

 

Twelve out of sixteen qualifies The Manchurian Candidate as a film noir.

 

I would say this is a bold film- even daring. I could only imagine how dreadful it would be, were it possible to hypnotize someone into committing a violent act.

 

 

 

The Manchurian Candidate (1962, dir. John Frankenheimer)

 

I wish we could do a side-by-side comparison because we agree for different reasons. I would call The Manchurian Candidate a neo-noir that’s also about politics, but the politics are really a backdrop to the themes of Cold War fear and dread about what the future holds for a world divided into only two camps: democracy and communism. I give the film ten out of sixteen on our list of film noir characteristics, so it’s neo-noir in my estimation.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Not applicable (N/A) I wouldn’t say that lighting was used throughout the film to enhance the mood or the emotional content of this film. But I felt a great deal of unease in spite of the lack of chiaroscuro lighting.

2. Flashbacks Raymond Shaw tells the story of falling in love in flashback. It was particularly interesting because he narrates in a fade-in camera shot while the flashback continues. The nightmares by the platoon members are flashbacks to their actual experiences in Korea.

3. Unusual narration N/A The narration is mostly linear.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murders/suicide (8):

Ed Mavole, strangled

Bobby Lembeck, shot in the forehead

Holborn Gaines (smothered?)

Senator Jordan, shot

Jocie Jordan, shot

Mr. and Mrs. Iselin, shot

Raymond Shaw, shoots himself

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Mrs. Iselin is the femme fatale playing on her son’s emotions. She manipulates him out of a romance with Jocie Jordan, and she uses him for her own and her husband’s political advantage. She gives a speech to her son near the end of the movie about not wanting to use him as an assassin, but it’s hard to believe that. Once his role as assassin is a fact, she still uses him to her advantage. And that scene is so incestuous and creepy: She kisses him three times, the last one a long one on the lips. Ick.

6. The instrument of fate N/A I don’t think fate plays a strong role in The Manchurian Candidate.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) Shaw isn’t supposed to feel any guilt, but when Ben Marco tries to break the effect of the brainwashing, Shaw realizes what he has done. The men in his platoon suffer from nightmares and post-traumatic stress.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Definitely. See number 4 above.

9. Urban and nighttime settings N/A

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes The entire film revolves around Cold War fears of communism, McCarthyism (Senator Jordan calls it Iselinism), and readjustment to military life after the Korean War. According to John Frankenheimer’s commentary on the DVD, The Manchurian Candidate was the first movie to take on McCarthyism, and the blacklist was still a factor in the arts.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Raymond Shaw is completely isolated because of his mother’s dysfunction and his inability to stand up to her. None of his platoon mates liked him. They admit  to this, and he is well aware of their lack of regard.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Brainwashing is part of the plot. It’s the technique perfected by the Russian experts at the Pavlov Institute in Moscow. They use it to create their own assassin.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Mrs. Iselin plays out the ultimate betrayal on her son: She uses him for political gain and might be using him for some sexual gratification. (That kiss she plants on her son’s lips ends only because the scene is cut.)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A I think it’s pretty clear who is right (American) and who is wrong (anyone who is a communist).

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Raymond Shaw’s expertise in shooting triumphs in the end. But it’s at the expense of his peace of mind and his life.

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Taxi Driver (1976)

dir. Martin Scorsese

 

A Premise without spoilers

 

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a 26-year-old honorably discharged marine suffering insomnia since his return from Vietnam. He lives alone in an unkempt apartment and has no friends. He says, Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

 

He lands a job as a taxi cab driver telling the personnel officer, I ride around nights mostly. Subways, buses. Figure you know, I’m gonna do that, I might as well get paid for it.

 

Travis is a desperate man looking to fit somehow. He tells us through his journal (narration)All, my life needed, was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.’

 

1. . . . intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (. . . used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Best illustrated in the opening scene when an array of blues and reds reflects on the cab’s wet windshield at night. There is also a violent sequence lasting eight minutes near the end dominated by a red hue which works to heightens the senses accompanied by contrast lighting, crafty camera work by director Martin Scorsese and excellent editing.

 

2. Flashbacks- (N/A)

3. Unusual narration - First person narration by Travis who writes a journal.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale- (N/A)

6. The instrument of fate- Travis’ chance encounter with 12-year-old Iris (Jodie Foster)

has long term effects for both.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) Travis’s insomnia very likely derives from PTSD, an affliction affecting many soldiers returning from war.

8. Violence or the threat of violence- Brute violence.

9. Urban and nighttime settings- Travis drives through Times Square at night. His words, ‘All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. . .’ A sort of urban social decay.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Yes. Vietnam war.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness - Yes. Travis is socially alienated. Robert Porfirio wrote: “. . .an outlook which begins with a disoriented individual (Travis’s insomnia) facing a confused world ( a world of vice) that he cannot accept.” He further wrote of , “a world where there are no transcendental value or moral absolutes.” That’s Travis and Taxi Driver in a nutshell.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) (N/A) The PTSD mentioned above is appropriate there because I’m suggesting it could be a cause of an angst. To apply it here as well, would be saying he in fact suffers it, but the film never addresses it.

13. Greed (N/A)

14. Betrayal (N/A)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Travis at the end, acts as the rain washing away Iris’s filthy world. He expects that rain then, to turn on him, but miraculously, it does not. One minute he sees the world one way, the next, the world sees him another way.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)

 

Final tally 10 of 16 - neo-noir for sure.

 

I have been a Scorsese fan since forever it seems. in my opinion, this is his first great film. 

 

Bernard Herrmann’s score earned him his fifth Oscar nomination. It sets the tone and mood of the film from the very beginning. It truly is the perfect score for this film.

 

Robert De Niro gives a memorable performance. His Travis Bickle is a troubled and complex character who was difficult to understand as the movie progressed. The movie ends with he conversing with a passenger. That conversation never rung true to me. I always thought that talk was all imagined by him. Can't say it's factual- but I believe it so.

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Taxi Driver (1976)

dir. Martin Scorsese

 

A Premise without spoilers

 

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a 26-year-old honorably discharged marine suffering insomnia since his return from Vietnam. He lives alone in an unkempt apartment and has no friends. He says, Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

 

He lands a job as a taxi cab driver telling the personnel officer, I ride around nights mostly. Subways, buses. Figure you know, I’m gonna do that, I might as well get paid for it.

 

Travis is a desperate man looking to fit somehow. He tells us through his journal (narration)All, my life needed, was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.’

 

1. . . . intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (. . . used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Best illustrated in the opening scene when an array of blues and reds reflects on the cab’s wet windshield at night. There is also a violent sequence lasting eight minutes near the end dominated by a red hue which works to heightens the senses accompanied by contrast lighting, crafty camera work by director Martin Scorsese and excellent editing.

 

2. Flashbacks- (N/A)

3. Unusual narration - First person narration by Travis who writes a journal.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale- (N/A)

6. The instrument of fate- Travis’ chance encounter with 12-year-old Iris (Jodie Foster)

has long term effects for both.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on) Travis’s insomnia very likely derives from PTSD, an affliction affecting many soldiers returning from war.

8. Violence or the threat of violence- Brute violence.

9. Urban and nighttime settings- Travis drives through Times Square at night. His words, ‘All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. . .’ A sort of urban social decay.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Yes. Vietnam war.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness - Yes. Travis is socially alienated. Robert Porfirio wrote: “. . .an outlook which begins with a disoriented individual (Travis’s insomnia) facing a confused world ( a world of vice) that he cannot accept.” He further wrote of , “a world where there are no transcendental value or moral absolutes.” That’s Travis and Taxi Driver in a nutshell.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) (N/A) The PTSD mentioned above is appropriate there because I’m suggesting it could be a cause of an angst. To apply it here as well, would be saying he in fact suffers it, but the film never addresses it.

13. Greed (N/A)

14. Betrayal (N/A)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Travis at the end, acts as the rain washing away Iris’s filthy world. He expects that rain then, to turn on him, but miraculously, it does not. One minute he sees the world one way, the next, the world sees him another way.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” (N/A)

 

Final tally 10 of 16 - neo-noir for sure.

 

I have been a Scorsese fan since forever it seems. in my opinion, this is his first great film. 

 

Bernard Herrmann’s score earned him his fifth Oscar nomination. It sets the tone and mood of the film from the very beginning. It truly is the perfect score for this film.

 

Robert De Niro gives a memorable performance. His Travis Bickle is a troubled and complex character who was difficult to understand as the movie progressed. The movie ends with he conversing with a passenger. That conversation never rung true to me. I always thought that talk was all imagined by him. Can't say it's factual- but I believe it so.

 

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.    

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Adding The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) to the Neo Noir List:


 


The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)  Directed by Bob Rafelson,  with Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, Joe Colicos, wow, I remember seeing this in the theaters back when it came out, and I don't believe I've seen it since. There was a period in my life, roughly from 1972 through the early 90s where I didn't watch much TV, and after I did get cable it was just the standard package so I didn't get any premium channels, so I don't know how prevalent this particular version of Postman was in syndication, so I'm only speaking for myself.

 

 I forgot how good a remake it is. It's closer in tone to Visconti's Ossessione than the 1946 Garfield - Turner version. It's also devoid of the Hayes Code constrictions and hit you over the head moralizing. It's a great recreation of the mid thirties and a bit more believable a production in that  Joe Colicos is a better Nick Papadakis, and Jessica Lange sizzles as Cora. Jack Nicholson is equal to John Garfield, its a wash there, the only two characters that don't equal or surpass those of the 46 version are Angelica Huston, as Madge (Aurdrey Totter was great and more effective in a much shorter sequence) and Hume Cronyn was slimier than Michael Lerner as the lawyer.

 

The backstory of Papadakis is more filled in with his Greek heritage, the outdoor locations detailing the various surrounding accouterments of a typical gas station/beanery are more defined, and the interior sets are believable. Gone are the white turban, halter, and SHORTS of Turner, 81's Cora is less obvious and more down to earth. 

 

It's a very enjoyable remake, if you trim out the Angelica Huston's lion tamer excess it would be a 10/10 as is 9/10. As a Neo Noir its a 7/10 Noir Lite much like the MGM Garfield/Turner version.

 


My current chronological Neo Noir list (includes Neo Film Noir & Neo Film Soleil (those desert, sun baked filled with light noirs) :


 


Blast Of Silence (1961) 

 

Underworld USA (1961) 

 

Something Wild (1961) 

 

Cape Fear (1962) 

 

Experiment In Terror (1962) 

 

Satan in High Heels (1962) 

 

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 

 

Shock Corridor (1962) 

 

Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) 

 

The Naked Kiss (1964) 

 

The Pawnbroker (1964) 

 

Brainstorm (1965) 

 

Once A Thief (1965) 

 

Harper (1966) 

 

Mr. Buddwing (1966) 

 

In Cold Blood (1967) 

 

In The Heat Of The Night (1967) 

 

Marlowe (1969) 

 

The Honeymoon Killers (1970) 

 

Shaft  (1971)

 

Across 110th Street (1971) 

 

The Getaway (1971) 

 

Get Carter (1971) 

 

Hickey & Boggs (1972) 

 

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974) 

 

The Nickel Ride (1974)

 

The Drowning Pool (1975) 

 

Farewell My Lovely (1975)

 

Night Moves (1975) 

 

Taxi Driver (1976) 

 

Dressed to Kill (1980) 

 

Union City (1980) 

 

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

 

Body Heat (1981) 

 

Thief (1981)

 

Blade Runner (1982) 

 

Hammett (1982) 

 

Blood Simple (1984) 

 

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

 

Blue Velvet (1986) 

 

Angel Heart (1987) 

 

Frantic (1988) 

 

Kill Me Again (1989)

 

The Grifters (1990) 

 

The Kill-Off (1990) 

 

The Hot Spot (1990) 

 

Wild At Heart (1990) 

 

Impulse (1990)

 

Dick Tracy (1990) 

 

Delicatessen (1991) 

 

Reservoir Dogs (1992) 

 

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) 

 

Romeo Is Bleeding (1993)

 

True Romance (1993) 

 

The Wrong Man (1993) 

 

The Last Seduction (1994) 

 

Pulp Fiction (1994) 

 

Se7en (1995) 

 

Fargo (1996) 

 

Mulholland Falls (1996) 

 

Hit Me (1996)

 

Jackie Brown (1997) 

 

L.A. Confidential (1997) 

 

Lost Highway (1997) 

 

This World, Then the Fireworks (1997) 

 

Dark City (1998) 

 

A Simple Plan (1998) 

 

The Big Lebowski (1998) 

 

Payback (1999)

 

Night Train (1999) 

 

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) 

 

Mulholland Drive (2001) 

 

Sin City (2005) 

 

No Country For Old Men (2007) 

 

Dark Country (2009)

 

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

 

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

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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.    

 

I'm glad that you put "rescues" in quotation marks! I haven't seen Taxi Driver in some time, but I remember a discussion with someone else who had seen the film and thought that Travis was Iris's savior. If I'm not mistaken, Travis never once asks Iris what she wants. Yes, she is living a life of exploitation and abuse, but Travis has his own vision of what Iris should have in life and doesn't have any way to provide it for her once he destroys everything that she knows. And he doesn't know if Iris wants what he wants her to have! I think the character of Travis really expands the definition of and the criteria for homme fatale in many ways.

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