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Do You Think Noir Could Save Cinema Again?


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Looking at the studio system at the time, and how A and B pictures worked, also that a certain style developed in the 40s as well as the use of black and white photography, shadows, ect.. is how film noir was created. i dont think it could be replicated in our society. It's a different time.  So that is why i call the 40s 50s the noir period, but what i'm waiting for is someone to make  a noir in the same vein as the Artist. The makers of the Artists understood what silent films are about and maybe someone out there there is a film maker who is a film noir buff that can make a film noir similar to the artist, totally authentic from the 40s and make it beleivable like the Artist.

How about Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid? :)

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Yes--of course. I didn't mean to cause any offense. Sometimes I jumble together things I'm just thinking with things that are responses. My speaking and writing style is also kind of blunt, which I think can read as aggressive or angry in the context of a message board where we don't have a long history together.

 

I actually want to respond with more thought to what you wrote in your response, but due to Father's Day I probably won't get to it until tomorrow. But I wanted to let you know that I appreciate you continuing this conversation and I want to give your post the measured (and hopefully less shouty) response that it deserves.

Takoma1, there us need to apologize. Besides noir women never say "I'm sorry!" And your style if talking is great, just like a real film noir protagonists or femme fatale! Besides, you started a great line of discussion. All is cool! Let's have a shot of bourbon and keep up the talk!

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Takoma1, there us need to apologize. Besides noir women never say "I'm sorry!" And your style if talking is great, just like a real film noir protagonists or femme fatale! Besides, you started a great line of discussion. All is cool! Let's have a shot of bourbon and keep up the talk!

 

Well, I think that discussions about racism, sexism, and homophobia can be tenuous things that can get contentious very quickly, because sometimes people feel as if they're implicitly being called racist, sexist, or homophobic just when someone even brings up the topic.

 

When I reread my original response to you it just felt like I wasn't clear enough in the organization of my thoughts and that there was an accusatory tone maybe to part of it. So the apology was for any unintentional offense.

 

Remember that I had referred to the morality of the "dominant" culture, without personal value judgments as to whether or not they were good or bad.  We do hae to remember that part of what drove film noir, though, was the Production Code.  We can't forget how much it reflected the majority belief system of the dominant society in the United States at that time.  It set up a standard of human behavior for U.S-American society as the official morality.  It set up a onesidedness that had to be compensated for psychologically by its opposite.  It’s sort of Freudian, but better explained by Jung, that when one represses anything, it will come back as a “shadow” figure as per Jungian theory because regardless of what the individual (or society wants), that repressed idea is a truth that has to be dealt with honestly and not be ignoring it or repressing it.   

 

I completely agree with you here--but take especial note that we (and the Production Code itself) refer to the dominant culture's morality. Dominant, in this case, refers more in my opinion to social stature and power than to sheer numbers.

 

  So film noir may have been exactly how society as a whole dealt with its repressed feelings and beliefs,   

 

I guess that this is my sticking point in this argument. I would argue that when a piece of art is centered on the experiences and moral codes of one specific group of people, that group then becomes the art's intended audience. This is not to say that a black teenage girl or an elderly Korean man might not enjoy a film noir, or that they might not even get something personally meaningful out of it. But there are many ways in which the desires of the non-dominant population, their reality, and their way of living (including personal morals) would differ from what is being shown and explored on screen.

 

I hear you when you say that the Production Code provided something of a moral "center" (and that the dominant values reflected by the code were the same values that were recognized by a lot of people). But I think that the moral center was a false one. Just like any idealized image of middle class Americana. Yes, maybe everyone aspired to the house with the picket fence and 2.5. But if you were a lesbian, if you were black and lived in a town where you couldn't legally own property, or if you were any variety of "visible" ethnic or religious minority, good luck.

 

I think that the moral relativism that you describe has always existed. So even though there isn't one pillar of morality (like the Production Code), there are still two things that are true:

 

1) There is a dominant culture (even if as a whole we are more fragmented) that is reflected in how movies are made and presented. The documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated shed a lot of light on the way that, for example, homosexuality is censored because the "cost" of that content in a movie (even a kiss) drives up the movie's rating which limits the audience.

 

2) Filmmakers will always be interested in pushing back against what they perceive as "the forbidden"--especially if they regard that "forbidden" thing as being unfairly maligned.

 

I think that you're right in saying that the lack of a singular moral code means that you will not get another "movement" of film, the way that noir as a movement was partly a result of filmmaker's reacting to the same code.

 

But I do think that the very idea of pushing back against "common morality" (especially the kind of morality that is hypocritically preached and not practiced) is something that movies today continue to do. Roger Ebert once said that movies are engines of empathy--their power is in letting us feel what others feel and generating emotions. I think that noir-type plots (the pain of making one mistake--the deadly momentum of out of control love or lust) are grounded in universal themes and will never cease to be explored. The kind of friction that film noir achieved might not be capable of producing in bulk. And maybe in that sense noir won't "save" cinema.

 

But I go back to the idea that cinema does not need to be saved. Just as noir evolved from the art that came before it crashing into post-War realities, so our modern cinema continues to evolve and reflect the realities of our world.

 

   

  In any case, though, it would be interesting to see if African American filmmakers of the period were doing film-noir-type films, or if any films of the period made for an African-American audience produced by any studio during this period were noir films.

 

 

Based on the resources I'm finding . . .not really. It sounds like there were a handful of directors making films, but they were mostly dramas. They were also separately classed as "race films." Here's a good overview: http://r.duckduckgo.com/l/?kh=-1&uddg=http%3A%2F%2Fchapters.rowmanlittlefield.com%2F07%2F425%2F0742526410ch2.pdf

 

 

And I would like to see a survey of African American film noir or neo-noir in any viewing list or class discussion.  Perhaps there is one already listed.  It would be great to see such a film or films and discuss them!

 

 

While it is more of a drama than a thriller, I think that Eve's Bayou has some noir touches (lighting, ambiguous femme fatale, fatalistic trajectory, heck even a voice-over!). They aren't perfect, but the Cotton movie adaptations (Cotton Comes to Harlem and A Rage in Harlem) have a lot of noir sensibilities. I quite like Chester Himes, and his novels are good detective fiction. Similarly, Devil in a Blue dress is practically steeped in noir.

 

Don't forget African American, Juano Hernandez starred with John Garfield in The Breaking Point (1950). Sidney Poitier starred in No Way Out with Richard Widmark (1950) , and Frank Silvera was in Kubrick's Killer's Kiss (1955)

 

I'm just going to say that I once rented No Way Out from the video store and got home and realized they'd given me the 80s Kevin Costner movie. I was not pleased.

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Takoma1, there us need to apologize. Besides noir women never say "I'm sorry!" And your style if talking is great, just like a real film noir protagonists or femme fatale! Besides, you started a great line of discussion. All is cool! Let's have a shot of bourbon and keep up the talk!

This is why I hate making response on my phone, instead of using a real computer.  The keyboards are awful (I miss my BlackBerry!) and the letters are so darn small!  And my eyesight is not what it used to be.  Here is what I meant to say:

 

Takoma1: there IS NO need to apologize, NOT "there us need to apologize".  What the heck does that mean?  I think your comments are well taken, intelligent, beautifully expressed.  The only concern I had was that you had attributed something to me that I did not say, or mean to say.  If it was taken in a certain way, perhaps it had to do with my being inarticulate.  Or responding via my darn phone.  But you clarified what you meant and, as I said, brought up an excellent topic that is important to discuss.  In any case, I enjoy what you have to say! 

 

Discussion often involves misunderstanding, misinterpretation and the like.  We talk more to clarify, which is what we have done.  Thank you for being so open and honest and willing to talk!

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Not Kevin Costner!  Argh!  I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis.  I do want to focus on your comments that I am reproducing below, because I agree with you.  What you state is worth reading again:


I completely agree with you here--but take especial note that we (and the Production Code itself) refer to the dominant culture's morality. Dominant, in this case, refers more in my opinion to social stature and power than to sheer numbers.

 

 

I guess that this is my sticking point in this argument. I would argue that when a piece of art is centered on the experiences and moral codes of one specific group of people, that group then becomes the art's intended audience. This is not to say that a black teenage girl or an elderly Korean man might not enjoy a film noir, or that they might not even get something personally meaningful out of it. But there are many ways in which the desires of the non-dominant population, their reality, and their way of living (including personal morals) would differ from what is being shown and explored on screen.

 

I hear you when you say that the Production Code provided something of a moral "center" (and that the dominant values reflected by the code were the same values that were recognized by a lot of people). But I think that the moral center was a false one. Just like any idealized image of middle class Americana. Yes, maybe everyone aspired to the house with the picket fence and 2.5. But if you were a lesbian, if you were black and lived in a town where you couldn't legally own property, or if you were any variety of "visible" ethnic or religious minority, good luck.

 

I think that the moral relativism that you describe has always existed. So even though there isn't one pillar of morality (like the Production Code), there are still two things that are true:

 

1) There is a dominant culture (even if as a whole we are more fragmented) that is reflected in how movies are made and presented. The documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated shed a lot of light on the way that, for example, homosexuality is censored because the "cost" of that content in a movie (even a kiss) drives up the movie's rating which limits the audience.

 

2) Filmmakers will always be interested in pushing back against what they perceive as "the forbidden"--especially if they regard that "forbidden" thing as being unfairly maligned.

 

I think that you're right in saying that the lack of a singular moral code means that you will not get another "movement" of film, the way that noir as a movement was partly a result of filmmaker's reacting to the same code.

 

But I do think that the very idea of pushing back against "common morality" (especially the kind of morality that is hypocritically preached and not practiced) is something that movies today continue to do. Roger Ebert once said that movies are engines of empathy--their power is in letting us feel what others feel and generating emotions. I think that noir-type plots (the pain of making one mistake--the deadly momentum of out of control love or lust) are grounded in universal themes and will never cease to be explored. The kind of friction that film noir achieved might not be capable of producing in bulk. And maybe in that sense noir won't "save" cinema.

 

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Looking at the studio system at the time, and how A and B pictures worked, also that a certain style developed in the 40s as well as the use of black and white photography, shadows, ect.. is how film noir was created. i dont think it could be replicated in our society. It's a different time.  So that is why i call the 40s 50s the noir period, but what i'm waiting for is someone to make  a noir in the same vein as the Artist. The makers of the Artists understood what silent films are about and maybe someone out there there is a film maker who is a film noir buff that can make a film noir similar to the artist, totally authentic from the 40s and make it beleivable like the Artist.

Farewell My Lovely (1975) starred Robert Mitchum & John Ireland.

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Farewell My Lovely (1975) starred Robert Mitchum & John Ireland.

Good movie.  It was in color.  But the color works if it is sort of grainy and washed out.  It may have been because it was a bad print used by my TV station.  But that's the type of color I like for film noir!  I always thought two-strip Technicolor would be perfect for a noir movie in color!

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While it is more of a drama than a thriller, I think that Eve's Bayou has some noir touches (lighting, ambiguous femme fatale, fatalistic trajectory, heck even a voice-over!). They aren't perfect, but the Cotton movie adaptations (Cotton Comes to Harlem and A Rage in Harlem) have a lot of noir sensibilities. I quite like Chester Himes, and his novels are good detective fiction. Similarly, Devil in a Blue dress is practically steeped in noir.

 

Here are two very Noir-ish films that are usually not thought of as Noir but I think they are very Noir, In The Heat Of The Night (`1967) (sort of an Edward Hopperesque Noir) and Shaft (1971), (gritty NY Noir) watch them next go round with Noir tinted glasses ;)

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As far as I'm concerned, most of the films made today are slated for a mass audience between the ages of 10 & 30. They're all about "special effects" and blowing up everything - not good plots.  Good screenplays are rare enough today - there's no beginning, no middle, and no end in sight - and that's why I do not think noir could save the "cinema" of today.  The film needs to have a terrific plot whether the noir is in black & white or color. Once in awhile a film like Woody Allen's Match Point comes along which has a terrific screenplay, "the bad and the good girl" and the "no-good guy" at the center. Another is "Mona Lisa" with Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine. Also "Sexy Beast" with Ray Winstone & Ben Kingsley. I'd like to know about other noir type films out there worth viewing. I'd like to see some good remakes of a few of my favorite noir films - such as "Force of Evil", "Nobody Lives Forever", "Body and Soul", "Pickup on South Street", "Panic in the Streets", "Yellow Sky", "The Clouded Yellow", "No Way Out", "The Man I Love", "Road House", "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" to name a few. Keep it simple - a terrific screenplay that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What's your opinion?

I agree that almost everything is a lot of violence, special effects, and blowing up everything. There are also good films but everything seems to be going in the direction of "Bigger, Better, More as far as violence and special effects are concerned. An almost overwhelming and bombarding of the senses. With film Noir, at least for me, there is that constant, taut feeling of not knowing what is going to happen from minute to minute. Even though we know that in Film Noir the ending isn't going to be pretty, we still stay glued to the movie until the end.  Our imagination runs wild and to me that is one of the greatest draws.

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I agree that almost everything is a lot of violence, special effects, and blowing up everything. There are also good films but everything seems to be going in the direction of "Bigger, Better, More as far as violence and special effects are concerned. An almost overwhelming and bombarding of the senses. With film Noir, at least for me, there is that constant, taut feeling of not knowing what is going to happen from minute to minute. Even though we know that in Film Noir the ending isn't going to be pretty, we still stay glued to the movie until the end.  Our imagination runs wild and to me that is one of the greatest draws.

 

I'm not sure I'd like to see some of the original noir classics remade.    Quite the contrary, actually.   We live in different times, with different undercurrents, uncertainties and fears dominating our world.   You can't go home again.   You couldn't capture the essence of noir today, because despite the fact that we live in a very terrifying world, and are spoon-fed fear as a steady diet, that fear is not something most audiences want to embrace and explore.   Rather, they want to dispel and erase it, if only for a couple hours on the screen.  We shoot and explode our problems, we rarely discuss and truly solve them.   It's easier to simply destroy the flat, comic-book caricatures portrayed on the screen so that we can pretend the real thing doesn't really exist, somewhere, out there in the dark, waiting for us, or that if it does we will prevail over it if and when it does appear.     

 

In noir, the thing waiting for us in the dark is ourselves, and the darkness doesn't come from outside, but from within.   There is no escape, and rarely is there redemption.   It would be interesting to see just how many of these classic, even 'B' noirs we're discussing could and would actually be made today.   I suspect, not many.  

 

All this might help explain why you're all-too-right, most films today are predicated on FX.   They lack meaningful characters, good writing and tight dialogue.   Everything is aimed at a global audience, dumbed-down and smoothed-over to the lowest common denominator and broadest consensus and political correctness; depicting cardboard characters, scenes and plot lines that easily translate into wholly different cultures, standards and languages.   Making matters worse, everything is geared to attracting the younger audiences that typically comprise the biggest box office segments; so there's an emphasis on speed, technology, non-stop action, CG effects that numb the mind but excite the eye, and stilted sound-bite dialogue that's as cute and trendy as it is vapid.       

 

The world that spawned noir no longer exists.    The world's grown up, become too callous and too jaded; too afraid of the real shadows within and without us to want to entertain imagined ones on the screen.      

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All this might help explain why you're all-too-right, most films today are predicated on FX.   They lack meaningful characters, good writing and tight dialogue.   Everything is aimed at a global audience, dumbed-down and smoothed-over to the lowest common denominator and broadest consensus and political correctness; depicting cardboard characters, scenes and plot lines that easily translate into wholly different cultures, standards and languages.     

 

I sort of feel like the opposite is true. It might be the case that the "blockbuster" type movies have moved in this direction, but there are just as many (if not more) movies that are entirely character/plot centered. They might not be the movies playing on the big screens at your mega-mall theaters, but they are out there and easier to access than ever. I've watched some decent (often made on really low budgets) movies on IndieFlix--movies that would never have been made 60 years ago.

 

I mean, you can watch movies from the 30s and realize that stupid characters, vapid plots, and cheap humor are nothing new. They might not have had CGI dinosaurs running around, but there was plenty of junk that came out of the old studio system (much of it also appallingly racist and sexist).

 

Now, I love film noir. But I would put Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder above all but a few of them. Movies just from 2014 that I consider strongly plot/character driven with little or no special effects: Frank, Laggies, Obvious Child, Dear White People, Love is Strange, Boyhood, Chef, Veronica Mars, The Rover, Top Five

 

The big stupid stuff might be getting bigger and stupider. I'm not going to argue that. But I think you could make a good case that, in total, more character driven cinema is being made now than ever was the case. There is a much larger diversity of stories, characters, and actors to discover.  And we have easier access to movies from all over the world to find those amazing stories.

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I sort of feel like the opposite is true. It might be the case that the "blockbuster" type movies have moved in this direction, but there are just as many (if not more) movies that are entirely character/plot centered. They might not be the movies playing on the big screens at your mega-mall theaters, but they are out there and easier to access than ever. I've watched some decent (often made on really low budgets) movies on IndieFlix--movies that would never have been made 60 years ago.

 

I mean, you can watch movies from the 30s and realize that stupid characters, vapid plots, and cheap humor are nothing new. They might not have had CGI dinosaurs running around, but there was plenty of junk that came out of the old studio system (much of it also appallingly racist and sexist).

 

Now, I love film noir. But I would put Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder above all but a few of them. Movies just from 2014 that I consider strongly plot/character driven with little or no special effects: Frank, Laggies, Obvious Child, Dear White People, Love is Strange, Boyhood, Chef, Veronica Mars, The Rover, Top Five

 

The big stupid stuff might be getting bigger and stupider. I'm not going to argue that. But I think you could make a good case that, in total, more character driven cinema is being made now than ever was the case. There is a much larger diversity of stories, characters, and actors to discover.  And we have easier access to movies from all over the world to find those amazing stories.

 

While I don't watch many modern movies (I just don't make the time),   it is fairly common for folks at a site like this to over hype the studio-era.     As you noted the studio-era,  especially in the 30s,  put out many more films than today.   A majority of these 30s films are cheap 'programmers'.      e.g. dusted off scripts,  character actors playing very similar roles again and again,   lame situations and ending that, well, just END (i.e. no real resolution because the plot was so twisted and \ or irrelevant  the writers couldn't come up with a 'logical' ending and weren't allowed to make the film longer).  

 

In addition there were and serials and remakes (two often heard complaints of today's movies).  

 

Now I love many of these 30s films.   i.e. give me a Warner Bros Cagney film from the 30s.    But an honest appraisal of many of these films is that they are far from 'works of art'.   Instead they were a commodity and designed from the start to be so.    In the 30s each year a studio would only release a handful of films that were given the amount of attention,  energy and dollars on par to what most films get today.    

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Here are two very Noir-ish films that are usually not thought of as Noir but I think they are very Noir, In The Heat Of The Night (`1967) (sort of an Edward Hopperesque Noir) and Shaft (1971), (gritty NY Noir) watch them next go round with Noir tinted glasses ;)

I was looking at one article (okay, I did not read it all the way throug, as I was looking for other data), but the gist I got from it was that African American films like In The Heat of the Night and Shaft, all in the sixties, were in the noir tradition.  Why would they be later than the rest?  Because of the discrimination in the Hollywood system, which undoubtedly suppressed the depiction of black protagonists or filmmakers in the 1940s or 1950s unless they were doing the so-called "race films" or making films independently.  But things were changing in the 1960s.  If this is so, that African American films or films with African American protagonists are in the noir tradition, albeit not during noir's heyday, then we could look at those films as being important not as social statements in that they help integrate American sensibilities towards who the protagonist is, but also as an important bridge between classic film noir and neo-noir.  In other words, films like In the Heat of the Night and Shaft keep the noir tradition alive and helped move it to a more modern expression in neo-noir.

     In any case, if anyone is interested in following up with this, I had referenced this text earlier:  “The Genre Don't Know Where It Came From: African American Neo-Noir Since the 1960s.”  By William Covey.  Journal of Film and Video, 55.2/3 (2003), 59-72.

 

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I too have heard that before, that black film makers were influenced by noir. The Heat of the Night being one of the films. A little off topic. TCM, did a a film festival a while back. called the History of Blacks in Film I believe, and the films in the 30s overall were a somewhat less racist. Showing that many of the films had maids that were pretty not mammy figures, such as Teresa Harris, and had a friendship role. Then when the production code came, blacks roles became even more stereotypical.

It also showed roles such as the mammy figure, the magical negro, the ****, and the mulatta.

Sadly comparing old films to new films, even though progress has been gained much is still the same.

Many of the same stereotypes still exist such the sapphire character appearing The Real Housewives series. The mulatta character still exists, and black actors still complain about lack of variety and roles in hollywood.

but i digress, this is another topic....I too have read articles that black film makers of that time 40s and 50s watched and enjoyed noir and sought to make noirs with blacks in them, which some did

I was looking at one article (okay, I did not read it all the way throug, as I was looking for other data), but the gist I got from it was that African American films like In The Heat of the Night and Shaft, all in the sixties, were in the noir tradition.  Why would they be later than the rest?  Because of the discrimination in the Hollywood system, which undoubtedly suppressed the depiction of black protagonists or filmmakers in the 1940s or 1950s unless they were doing the so-called "race films" or making films independently.  But things were changing in the 1960s.  If this is so, that African American films or films with African American protagonists are in the noir tradition, albeit not during noir's heyday, then we could look at those films as being important not as social statements in that they help integrate American sensibilities towards who the protagonist is, but also as an important bridge between classic film noir and neo-noir.  In other words, films like In the Heat of the Night and Shaft keep the noir tradition alive and helped move it to a more modern expression in neo-noir.

     In any case, if anyone is interested in following up with this, I had referenced this text earlier:  “The Genre Don't Know Where It Came From: African American Neo-Noir Since the 1960s.”  By William Covey.  Journal of Film and Video, 55.2/3 (2003), 59-72.
 

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