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Noir Debutant

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  1. I'm with you on that. Disagreement is no big deal. I'm just looking to understand, and the more different perspectives I have, the easier it is. I'm having trouble seeing the hitch-hiker as a product of a flawed world, simply because we don't see any evidence of what the world has done to him, and nor do we see any evidence that the world is flawed — everything works like clockwork to track down and apprehend the badguy. But you're right, this badguy had to come from somewhere, so there must be something in the world to make this evil possible. Thanks for the discussion, glad to be learning from you.
  2. Thanks, Tacoma1, for the very thoughtful response. I think I am going to end up disagreeing with you on this one, though. After my previous post I read the article by Robert Porfirio. His first few paragraphs specifically addressed my (and, according to your helpful Wikipedia extract, many others') issue: how do you develop any useful definition of film noir that doesn't become so broad as to be useless, but still includes all the films that are recognized as film noir? I like Porfirio's answers, although, once again, the qualities he picks out don't seem to all be necessary to classify something as film noir, as long as a few of those criteria are met. So, back to The Hitch-Hikers. It certainly passes the test for the meaninglessness and absurdity of fate. Our two good guys don't do anything deserving of their fate, yet they cannot escape it. And, as you point out, stylistically it features a lot of the dramatic lighting associated with film noir. After that, though, I just don't see it. Porfirio's other criteria: •Non-heroic hero: Nope. Our goodguys sacrifice for each other, as opposed to sacrificing each other. Nothing seems anti-heroic in these guys, except perhaps for their passivity in reacting to their situation. •Alienation and Loneliness: Nope. Our goodguys stick together. In addition, the structures of society are all on their side. •Existential choice: Nope. Unless you want to argue that their acquiesence to their captor is some kind of choice, but they just are along for the ride as passive characters who make no choices. •Man under sentence of death: Nope. Certainly things don't look good for our benevolent drivers, but their fate is not inexorable. In fact, we know before they do that their danger is rapidly diminishing. We see the police cooperation; we hear the plan to fool the hitch-hiker; we see the web closing on him and realize that death is not inevitable — and maybe not even likely. •Chaos, violence, paranoia: Nope. Well, perhaps a partial check, because all those things are present in the antagonist, but they are clearly not at work in the world in which they live. It's the order in the external world that saves the goodguys. •Sanctuary, ritual, and order: Given that there is no "violent and incoherent world," there's no need for sanctuary. This is exactly reversed. The hitch-hiker introduces violence, chaos, danger into a world that is ordered — the world itself is the sanctuary, and our two protagonists just need to get back there — something they can do because they haven't done anything that conflicts with their sense of identity. They've made no hard choices and made no (morally) "wrong" decisions. This is not an amoral world, nor are these protagonists devoid of a moral framework. It is quite clear from beginning to end that the badguy is bad and the goodguys are good. If we needed any further hints, the hitch-hiker specifically faults them for having some sort of moral code, for being unable to abandon each other, even when that might have allowed one of them to escape. This leaves us with a story set in a well-ordered world with strict moral guidelines, two protagonists who live according to a traditional and unchanging moral code, and a villain who flaunts those rules, introducing inbalance into the world. The structures the world has put in place to deal with this kind of disruption take over, the villain is captured, the heroes returned, and the world restored to order and balance. Something bad happened, the source of the badness was removed, and the world returns to normal. That sounds like the model of the traditional crime/detective story. In terms of your own four points: 1) A generally cynical/fatalistic attitude towards people/society — Doesn't seem like it to me. Society does the right thing and works just fine at saving the goodguys. 2) A criminal element — Certainly in the form of the hitch-hiker, but the protagonists don't do anything that could be considered remotely illegal. 3) Some degree of formalism in the lighting — The beginning scene and the night-time camping scenes for certain, but those were only a few minutes of the film, which seemed mostly to be traditionally lit. 4) At least one moment where you look at a character and think "Noooooo. Don't do it!" — Aside from the act of picking up the hitch-hiker (which, aside from the music and lighting provides no clues that it's a bad decision...that is, no clues discernible to the protagonists) our goodguys don't make any questionable decisions. Having said all that, your four criteria are a lot more compact than Porfirio's list, and I'll be keeping that in mind as I look at the next films. Thanks!
  3. I just finished watching the full film, and I find myself once again questioning what defines the boundaries of film noir. I had settled on some sort of minimal definition that film noir required a character or characters to enter into a deadly spiral as the result of some minor or major decision or decisions they make. "Fate" seems relentless, but perhaps the protagonist can escape — although usually not. That seems a broad definition, one that might already be so broad as to be of limited utility, but then this film comes along. The good guys are "good" throughout the film. They are put into a state of fear and tension with the arrival of the hitch-hiker, and they remain in that state until the last minute of the film. But they are so passive that they don't even have any actions that could be responsible for their downward progression, if they had a downward progression. But they don't. The bad guy is "bad" without any reason. He remains a static character throughout the entire film. Even when captured he still exhibits a blind desire to inflict pain — exactly as he was at the beginning of the film. In terms of this week's themes, it's certainly possible to read some existentialist angst into the blot: without cause the protagonists are plunged into a world of senseless danger. But if that becomes a sufficient criterion to define a film noir then everything from "Pay it Forward" to "Cast Away" becomes film noir. So what am I missing? What makes this a film noir?
  4. So maybe I just need to be hit over the head with my film motifs, but (with the possible exception of The Third Man) this is the first clip we've watched where I feel the music isn't just something added in to establish general ambiance. The music, for me, just seemed an essential part of the scene. I watched it again to see why and it is indeed hitting me over the head: every downbeat is on a step! When his foot hits the ground the music hits a beat. When he slows, the music slows, and when he returns to his determined pace, the music does also. For me this creates some kind of sense of relentlessness. Combined with the visual of his intention, it just seems very clear that this is a man who will not stop until he reaches his goal. But is he being carried by the music, or is the music pushing him along? That is, is he directing his own fate, prepared to eliminate all obstacles, or is he being carried on a wave of fate that will deposit him where it wants to, regardless of his desires? Guess I'll have to watch the film.
  5. I feel a bit over my head with so many cinephiles here, but there were a couple things I noticed, and I'm just not sure if they were elements that had significance, or just there as a result of cinematic license. 1) As others have said--she gets in a car headed back the way she has come from. In fact, all the cars that we see are going backwards to her initial direction. If she is, in fact, the woman from the asylum, then the roadblock would appear to be "backwards," too. That is, they're checking cars heading back in the direction from which she's escaped. (You could argue that she was in the middle of an encirclement of roadblocks, but then Hammer would have needed to have passed through the roadblock in getting to where she was — in which case he already would have known she was likely be the escapee they were looking for.) Is this another hint about the backwards world we're in, or just the easiest and quickest device to convey the commitment Hammer makes to going along with her? 2) When the car stalls, Hammer tries several times to start it, unsuccessfully. It isn't until she gets in that the car starts — on his very next try. Is this supposed to be saying he needs her to be able to continue (enter the next phase of his life)? Or that he could not have avoided her (i.e., he tried to leave without picking her up and couldn't)? Or is it just a device to get her into the car and get them moving down the road, with no deeper meaning? 3) When we see her in long shot running down the road she appears to be in the middle of the lane, but when we see a closeup of her bare feet running down the road they're right on the lane divider. Intentional? Signalling what?
  6. Excellent point. In fact, Harry Lime doesn't enter at all. He's there, in the shadows, as he has been throughout the film. In terms of one of the questions, I think the city of Vienna cooperates very nicely in helping to blur the line between realism and formalism. The geometric patterns in the cobblestoned streets, the angles of the streets, the patterns of the facades. Add in the stark lighting, and you've got a formalistic look created by a realistic scene. And speaking of lighting, it's always bothered me that Harry Lime's reveal contravenes the laws of physics — there's just no way light from a window directly above Harry would curve around to illuminate only Harry's face. Is this the director taking advantage of the audience's suspension of disbelief, or is he directly letting us know that we're in a formalistic, unrealistic world? And I never thought of this as film noir. No relentless descent into darkness, no femme fatale, etc. Stylistically, there's a beautiful use of light and shadow, and wonderfully framed angled shots, but is that enough to call The Third Man a film noir? [i apologize if a substantially similar post duplicates this one. I had problems with the mechanics of posting.]
  7. Although I've watched a fair number of movies, including several from the "Daily Doses," I still consider myself on the whole ignorant of most of the subtleties of framing, composition, lighting — in short, just about everything that isn't directly plot-related. So I'm looking forward to learning what distinguishies film noir from other movie classifications. Unfortunately, this clip seems to have taken me backwards. I thought one of the hallmarks of film noir was surrealistic imagery intended to portray an interior world more than an exterior. This clip is the exact opposite — a prosaic "documentary" about life along and on the border (although I have no idea where it heads, aside from the allusion in the description to a shift in style later in the film). This troubles me because it seems I don't have anything left on my checklist to define film noir. It's surrealistic, except when it's not. It's got a femme fatale, except when it doesn't. Protagonists come to tragic ends, except when they don't. It's a detective story, except when it's a western, a romance, or what have you. It uses jazz to emphasize key moments, except when other music fills the bill. That's not really a complaint, but just an indication of how much I'm looking forward to the next few weeks, wherein the veil of ignorance will be parted to let in the stark shadows of noir truth.
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