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edshimp

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About edshimp

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  1. If I were to list my favorite films noir, “Criss Cross” would certainly be on the list. This is a fine scene to wrap things up. I love noir bad guys and Dan Duryea is one of the best. Another film that would be on my list of great noirs would be “Kiss of Death” (1947). It was Richard Widmark’s first film, but his character, Tommy Udo may be one of the most evil characters in film history. It wasn’t discussed in this course, but it goes to show that we have probably only scratched the surface and there is a lot more noir to indulge in. Another thing that wasn’t discussed much during this course was the art of the editors. It seems like writers, actors, and directors get all of the glory. To me one, one of the most important elements in great noirs is contrast – light and dark – good and bad – high and low – fast and slow. Films often succeed or fail based on the ability of the editor to keep the pacing just right, and the ability of the editor to balance those contrasts in films noir is essential. Nonetheless, I am grateful for everything that was discussed in this course. I’m certainly not a novice, but I learned a lot. I am impressed with the way that Professor Edwards was able to make this course meaningful for both beginners and more knowledgeable students. I think the best way to end Professor Edward’s “heist” is with a confession. I confess that I spent WAY too much time thinking about, writing about, and watching noir this summer. Other things have slipped while I indulged in the darkness, but I thank everyone on the message boards for keeping me company.
  2. I think Hume Cronyn is a brilliant actor and I think he did everything he could to make this scene work but I don’t think he’s very intimidating. I love the existential theme in this scene and I certainly see how it lends itself to the noir style. On the other hand, I don’t think this film shows particularly good craftsmanship let alone art. I think the fact that we’re not shown the violence directly is more a product of the Hays code than an artistic choice. If we had a swinging lamp in this scene, or shadows on the wall perhaps, it would have been clichéd but it would have shown some craftsmanship. This is the sort of film that should be “re-made.” I haven’t seen it, but I suspect it has some compelling ideas. Perhaps with different actor’s and contemporary technology and sensibilities it could be quite good.
  3. There is no mistaking John Huston’s hand in this film. In addition to being a great director, he was a fine artist. Aesthetically, one can break down a painting into component parts, line, shape, space, form, value, texture, color, and movement. Huston has complete control of these elements. Look at the shot where Dix hides behind the column. Every frame is a perfectly balanced photo. The vertical columns are contrasted with the railroad tracks that emphasize the perspective. The lack of color emphasizes the amazing light and dark contrast. Then he does something amazing. Dix walks right to left across the screen, and then with the precision of a Buckingham palace guard, he snaps around and walks down the sidewalk emphasizing the perspective line. He snaps behind the column and ultimately looms large as he heads toward the camera. Meanwhile the police car slowly drifts from left to right to balance out the scene. At no point in this shot is the mise-en-scène out of balance. Huston could have broken up this scene with a moving camera or close ups, but he clearly wanted to paint a larger picture. The main character here is not Dix or the cops, but rather “The Asphalt Jungle.” Compare this to the next shot with the police car turning. This shot must have taken a long time to perfect. The power lines and poles once again create very distinct perspective lines across the screen, but now the car is clearly the focus. As the car turns it’s side to the camera, the camera tracks along with it to give us a good long look at the “Police” decal. Then it swings back and widens out to tell the story of the car circling back. Once again, every single frame looks like a work of art. I suppose modern action films are somewhat “painterly” because they are all constructed on a computer, but they can’t touch the beautiful simplicity of a Huston film.
  4. This film is typical of Louis Malle, which is odd because Louis Malle is often thought of as a brilliant misfit. He worked in many different styles and genres and did as much work in the United States as he did in France. He was sort of a French New Wave filmmaker but not really. Some people want to call him an auteur because he had a number of brilliant films, but he didn’t really have a signature style. So how could this be a typical film for him if he doesn’t have a signature style? I think it’s typical because it defies categorization. I suppose it’s like a noir film given the jazz music, the desperate characters, the voyeuristic nature, etc. but this may actually be the first neo-noir. This is a very pedantic argument but many people say that “Touch of Evil,” released in 1958, was the last noir film. So then there would also likely be a first neo noir around the same time. So in typical Malle fashion, it’s not exactly noir, it’s not exactly neo noir, it’s not really even French New Wave and it’s not an auteur film because Malle didn’t have a signature style. It’s somewhere in between, which makes it a wonderfully unique transition film.
  5. This short scene is laughable in so many ways, to point them out may be a matter of stating the obvious. I suppose the opening shot of the Salvation Army is a way of telling us that it must be December in California and that there are people in need in this otherwise bucolic town. Even though it has already been established that it is December 1918, we see a calendar to reinforce the fact. We also see a “to do” list to help establish that he is a handyman (the length of the list mysteriously grows by the time he gets inside). He then, after supposedly cleaning the screens, lackadaisically scrapes bird droppings off the screen with his finger. Apparently he was cleaning the screens with a mop and a bucket of chocolate syrup because the other items on the list were “rake the yard,” “clean the windows,” and “rubbish.” It looks like he had a towel as well but never actually used it, so he puts it away. It seems the lady of the house (probably a war widow) left a note that says “$5 dollars” next to a $5 bill for Howard, just in case she would end up dead in the closet before she had a chance to pay him. He pockets the $5 (I’m guessing he will buy the other half of his tie with it) and dumps the chocolate syrup in the sink. Suddenly dramatic trumpets. Is the Salvation Army now hiding in the closet? No, the lady of the house is on the floor. Dead? Not likely considering that she’s blinking. Does he help her? No. He runs from the house – or judging from the shadows of the lighting equipment outside - should I say sound stage? So the guy then runs down the street in a panic. I’m guessing that he’s concerned about leaving the water running knowing that California will one day have a terrible drought because of his actions. He then runs to a futuristic 1950’s train yard and has railroad delusions that Sigmund Freud would probably say are sexual in nature. In short, any pretense of art is completely gone. This is definitely a make it fast / make it cheap movie.
  6. At the beginning of this course the question was posed as to whether film noir is a genre, movement or a style. I think it’s clear that it was a movement before it was well-formed. When The Maltese Falcon was being made, it wasn’t intentionally done in the noir style because it hadn’t been defined yet. When The Narrow Margin was made in 1952, the noir style was well established and it seems to self-consciously revel in that style. I believe that’s what brought noir to an end; it ran its course. When it transitioned from a movement, that was simply done for art’s sake, to a self-conscious style that was implemented strictly for commerce, it became an over-the-top parody of itself.
  7. Kansas City Confidential as a mock “true crime” film succeeds as a noir film chiefly because it appeals to prurient desires of the audience. Noir is at its best when the audience feels like it’s peering through a window at desperate and private moments. Throughout the history of art and literature auteurs have tried to make their stories more “real.” The challenge is in how the term “real” is defined. Michelangelo’s figures were theoretically more realistic than Egyptian statues. On the other hand, Michelangelo’s David is a gorgeous, muscular, fourteen foot tall naked guy. You don’t see too many of them in “real” life. The surrealists attempted to represent dreams which seem anything but real, but is the unconscious realm any less real than the conscious realm? So, is Kansas City Confidential any more real than the Maltese Falcon? I would say it’s no more real than the reality television of today, but both offer the pretense of reality. You don’t watch Kansas City Confidential because you’re expecting a well told story; instead you expect the visceral unvarnished truth (which you don’t actually get, but that’s beside the point). The producers are turning a negative into a positive. By eschewing the typical noir shadows and angles, they needn’t be bothered with costly art or style. Now that cameras are able to be taken on location, who needs the expense of building a set? Instead, the producers want you to believe that their straightforward approach shot on location is more “real.” Let’s face it, even the most earnest documentary is far from “real.” But the pretense of really making a real story is very alluring; You gotta love that.
  8. I’m not familiar with this film, so I’ll have to put it on my watch list. I usually think of John Payne as a little bit of a lightweight nice guy. It’s great to see him in this role. I suppose this scene would be a little curious for anyone who came of age after the feminist movement. This clip certainly embraces noir’s reliance on desperate character’s, but once again we see a young (possibly suburban) couple in a desperate situation. This is not unusual in post-war films. So often men, who took time out to serve their country returned jobless and skill-less and facing competition from younger men. On the other side of the equation, women who worked to make ends meet during the war, are now called unpatriotic if they continue to work. They are told that their employment was taking a job away from a man, who needed it, so that he could take care of his family. It might shock the younger generation, but if you look at the classified ads from a 1950’s newspaper, you will see the headings, “Jobs Men,” “Jobs Women,” and “Jobs Colored.” Frequently the under “Jobs Women” it would say something like, “Attractive young woman need for secretarial duties.” In the 50’s the crisis in this scene would have been more obvious. Not only is Ernie a washed-up boxer, but he is a failure as a man because he cannot provide for his wife. Pauline undoubtedly hears the whispers about what a loser her husband is, but she can’t divorce him. There are few jobs for divorced women; there are only jobs for “Attractive young women” and she has no secretarial skills, she was a showgirl. So, they seem like a nice young couple who could surely find a way to make ends meet, but in reality, they are desperate. And in the world of noir, desperation leads to trouble.
  9. Yeah, it seemed to take on larger meaning to me at first, but I think he was merely indicating, "two fingers." This is how a bartender measures whiskey. (Or at least it used to be; I don't drink.) On the other hand, perhaps the director did have other intentions.
  10. Very often noir succeeds not by showing you things, but by not showing you things. It is the things that are obscured, hidden in the shadows, or happening just off-screen that the viewer finds intriguing. This is also true of plot and dialogue. Knowledge is currency in the film noir world. The plot often moves forward based on a character trying to gain knowledge from another character, or by using the knowledge they have to get the better of someone else. The viewer is intrigued by either possessing knowledge that a character doesn’t have, or by trying to solve the puzzle right along with the central character. This scene uses noir’s best friend, subtext, beautifully. They talk about old times, gambling, drinking, breakfast, girls, being kids, and circus trains, but that’s not what they’re talking about at all. The true meaning is in the subtext. It’s friendly on the surface, but Sam makes veiled threats and Walter clearly doesn’t like it. Martha is impulsively delighted to see Sam, but her demeanor quickly changes when she suspects he wants something. “Anything else you remember?” and “Lots of the things,” are benign pieces of dialogue, but to the characters they’re loaded with importance. The viewer may not know exactly what the characters are thinking, but it’s the not-knowing that piques the viewer’s interest.
  11. I’ve not seen this film, but I like the set-up. Yep, a lonely road at night is always a great start for a noir film. I think that one of the biggest distinctions between pre-war and post-war films is the portrayal of the wealthy. In the 30’s you see a lot of people who either aspire to be wealthy or would at least like to work for the wealthy. In the early 40’s, the average guy, Sam Spade for example, became the hero. But the beginning of this film hints at what will be the 50’s suburban middle class. The central character now resents the wealthy and is willing to compromise his or her ethics and morals to get their share. Jane resents the wealthy and is just the sort of person who will seize the opportunity to get what she thinks is coming to her. I’m guessing that Jane will turn out to be more like Lady Macbeth than a typical femme fatale. Rather than seduce a man to his demise, she is ambitious and will drag her weak-kneed husband along by shaming him for being a milquetoast. You see the same sort of thing the following year (1950) with Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy.” He desperately wants to stop their crime spree but she is destined for destruction. Proper story structure requires that things return to some sort of stability at the end. Jane will surely suffer for her greed and if Alan isn’t dragged down with her, the will at least walk away wiser. Two trivial things struck me while watching the clip. Jane’s hair doesn’t flutter in the least despite traveling at a pretty good pace in a convertible. We can also see how the editor saved the day; with the luxury of playing the video several times, I could see that the bag likely bounced back out of the car. I imagine that this was actually a rather difficult shot to get.
  12. While I’m not the biggest Hitchcock fan (I think he has little concern for a logical plot or plausible endings), I certainly think he is worthy of his name about the title. He had great control of the mise en scène. I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is that he storyboarded every shot and rarely wavered from his well-thought-out plan. He was the king of “showing” over “telling.” One can certainly see this in the opening of “Strangers on a Train.” The credits roll over another noir archway, bright in the background and shadow in the foreground. With the U.S. Capitol visible in the background (Hitchcock loved American landmarks) and the taxis in the foreground, anyone could easily identify the location as Union Station in Washington, DC. Of course the tennis rackets and the bi-colored brogue shoes add instant exposition too. I hadn’t recalled that it was Guy who sits down across from Bruno and accidently kicks his foot. I’ll have to watch the film again, because my recollection was that Bruno had planned to use Guy from the start. I suppose they truly are strangers on a train. In any case, the story relies on that old conman’s maxim, “you can’t cheat an honest man” and the fact that both men are a less-than-honest will drives the story. Sure Hitchcock’s noir had a signature style and most of his films wouldn’t be regarded as noir, but I certainly think this one qualifies.
  13. It’s a short hop from existentialism to absurdism. As seen in the clips for the week, in the 1950’s noir had been stretched a bit thin and was often material for “B” pictures. That’s not to say they had no merit, but they could be made fast and cheap and with a dose or two of sensationalism, they could be profitable. It seems like 50’s noir has to have a gimmick. They seem to start in a dark, desperate place and then try to get even darker. That’s hard to do and over the years has been a great source for parody. (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) Sam Spade was doing just fine until Brigid O'Shaughnessy walked in the door and it took the entire film to sort everything out. Frank Bigelow starts out as a virtual dead man; the writers don’t have patience for a long build up. They give you desert first and then layer on fluff. Like desert, it’s enjoyable in some ways, but it’s a guilty pleasure because it leaves you with an empty feeling.
  14. Once again, there is no mistaking this film as anything but noir, but by the mid 1950’s, sensationalism superseded class. Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” was popular but plebian. Throughout history each generation of artist has endeavored to make their art more real than the generation before. In the 1930’s wealth and power was glamorized in films. Nick and Nora Charles were beloved. With the advent of noir in the 1940’s, the average guy in a tight spot (Philip Marlowe for example) became the hero. He didn’t look for trouble; trouble found him. He was cynical, but had complete allegiance to his own moral code. Mike Hammer, the 1950’s detective, has virtually no moral code. He’s part of the corrupt world and believes the end always justifies the means. Sam Spade went about “collecting guns” to keep others from using them. Mike Hammer had no problem shooting first. The “Hays Code” would last another thirteen years but by this point it’s clear that filmmakers were working very hard to take it to the limits. The detective story, first envisioned by Edgar Allen Poe in 1841, had at last sunk to the level of salacious pulp fiction. As usual, the film industry, first and foremost a business, was keen to embrace pulp fiction’s popularity. Is this sort of noir more “real” than its processors? One could reasonably make that argument. I believe you can always tell when an art form has reached its nadir because it resorts to sensationalism; it was near the fall of the Roman Empire that they amused themselves by feeding Christians to lions. While it’s a good film, I think it’s an example of why the noir movement began to decline.
  15. The look and feel of this scene is so completely different from “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” that you wonder how they could both be considered noir. This scene certainly looks more European. You can certainly see the influence of German expressionism. Carol Reed certainly pushed the disconcerting camera angles to the limit. We still certainly have the noirish light and shadow too, but the real genius is the music. If the scene were supported by dark somber music, it would be too much. The happier music (and Welles bemused smile) turns it into a childlike game of hide and seek. Joseph Cotten always makes it look so easy.
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