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Into the Darkness Video Lecture #2: The Set-Up (Official Discussion Thread)


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Another great lecture! I think my favorite part of this one was when you talk about the influences of Noir, both European and American. I knew about some of what you were talking about, but there was a lot I didn't know. I knew filmmakers like Lang, Wilder, Ulmer and Preminger had come to the United States to escape the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, and that they brought their tricks of the trade from working in the German film industry with them. But I'd never heard of European crime films like "Le Jour se Leve", and am really intrigued to see it. Learning about the European precursors to Film Noir--that we've explored in "M" and "La Bete Humaine"--has been one of my favorite parts of this course so far. It was also interesting when you raised the point about Films Noir borrowing a lot of style from the Universal Horror films of the 1930s, especially with regards to the German Expressionist-inspired shadowy and atmospheric cinematography. You also mention how horror filmmakers in the 1940s would go on to direct Films Noir, such was the case with Jacques Tourneur who went from "Cat People" (1942) to "Out of the Past" (1947). It's easy enough to see the intertextuality these films have with each other. In the film world, nothing happens in a vacuum. But it becomes much clearer that this was not an accident when you take into account that many of the directors of great Films Noir came from Europe, and many had also been veterans of the studio system during the 1930s.

 

The other thing that really stuck with me was how you mentioned the difference between realism and formalism in filmmaking, which is also at the heart of yesterday's daily dose of darkness, and is something I'll be looking for in future Films Noir we watch throughout our course. Part of what make so many Films Noir interesting to me are their sets (bathed in shadows of course), such as the train in "The Narrow Margin" or the racetrack in "The Killing", and learning about how they put them together, and whether they were shot on location or in a studio. I'm looking forward to moving forward now with this knowledge into the rest of the course.  

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In discussing the influence of the theatre on Hollywood films the conversation is generally limited to actors and directors and on occasion composers…Rogers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, etc. Rarely if ever are set designers mentioned.       


            In discussing formalism I would think that an understanding of the work of Robert Edmond Jones should be thoroughly considered. Jones was the pre-eminent designer …sets, lights, costumes …in the first half of the 20th century. He designed the mise en scene for many of Eugene O’Neill’s plays; he was the designer of first choice for the Theatre Guild, a pre-eminent production house. After graduating from college he spent a year or so in Europe and studied and worked with Edward Gordon Craig and Max Reinhardt. Toward the end of his career he published, in 1941, a small volume, The Dramatic Imagination. As this book was so highly regarded by people working in the theatre at that time I would assume it was also highly regarded by the people working in Hollywood who were so eager to bring theatre talent into the film world. I can see its influence in the early work of John Huston, a man very in tune with what was happening in the others arts of his day. It was a very influential teaching tool in American Universities for many, many years thereafter.


            In the Jones entry on Wikipedia there are a handful of quotes from the book. This reads like a recipe for making a film noir. But better yet, track down a copy of the book, consider its importance at the time it was published and cross reference it with the work of the men who were then working in Hollywood.


            I consider it a very valuable but very overlooked influence on film in general.


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GUN CRAZY is an excellent example where both realism and formalism are used to maximum effect. The well know long take of the bank robbery is a prime example of realism, with real time, real location, natural sounds, and a non-intrusive camera shot just observing the action. 

 

Then the climax of the film is taking place in a formal, staged environment - a set depicting a fog covered swamp like area. There is constant editing between close ups of the protagonist's faces and their eerie surrounding of reed sticking out the water, reflecting on their faces - almost like battle scars or maybe even (prison) bars. 

 

Like the beautiful, simple, but very effective set seen in this frame....

 

CHuti2vWEAAm4p7.jpg

 

Print it, hang it on a wall and it could maybe even pass for an abstract expressionist painting...

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In discussing the influence of the theatre on Hollywood films the conversation is generally limited to actors and directors and on occasion composers…Rogers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, etc. Rarely if ever are set designers mentioned.       

            In discussing formalism I would think that an understanding of the work of Robert Edmond Jones should be thoroughly considered. Jones was the pre-eminent designer …sets, lights, costumes …in the first half of the 20th century. He designed the mise en scene for many of Eugene O’Neill’s plays; he was the designer of first choice for the Theatre Guild, a pre-eminent production house. After graduating from college he spent a year or so in Europe and studied and worked with Edward Gordon Craig and Max Reinhardt. Toward the end of his career he published, in 1941, a small volume, The Dramatic Imagination. As this book was so highly regarded by people working in the theatre at that time I would assume it was also highly regarded by the people working in Hollywood who were so eager to bring theatre talent into the film world. I can see its influence in the early work of John Huston, a man very in tune with what was happening in the others arts of his day. It was a very influential teaching tool in American Universities for many, many years thereafter.

            In the Jones entry on Wikipedia there are a handful of quotes from the book. This reads like a recipe for making a film noir. But better yet, track down a copy of the book, consider its importance at the time it was published and cross reference it with the work of the men who were then working in Hollywood.

            I consider it a very valuable but very overlooked influence on film in general.

 

 

The best part of this community is having so many knowledgeable participants in #NoirSummer. This is a great addition to the formalist influences on film and film noir. I'm so glad you brought up Robert Edmond Jones. Thanks for this post! 

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I can't help but wonder about the influence of American Broadcast Radio on Film Noir.  Most folks today have little experience or memory of the classic radio programs of the 40's.  Still, so many of the hard boiled stories of Cornell Woolrich were broadcast on radio again and again starting in the early 40s.  The main-stream public would have been more familiar with radio than the American Stage (which to my thinking would have been more New York oriented.)  Wouldn't radio have been the medium through which New York stage actors and performances would become familiar to middle America. 

 

Radio, being an aural medium, relies on snappy dialog, music used to convey mood, and jargon.  Are these not also closely identified with Film Noir?  I just wanted to bring this up since it seemed to be an area that, to my mind, has been missed.

 

I agree on the role of radio as an extra-cinematic determinant on film noir. Noir stories were a staple of broadcast radio in the 1940s. And many of the major noir film stars also did work on the side reprising their roles or using their voices on radio programs. Thanks for bringing this up. 

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i do because the femme fatale is the bottle!

 

First, the comment about the bottle is awesome. It is considered film noir.

 

And yes, it appears in most major film noir filmographies. As always, I just check Sidney's cross-referenced list of major filmographies found here: http://www.gaskcadd.com/ssk_pix/FILMNOIR2011.pdf

 

Lost Weekend is also mentioned by Borde and Chaumeton in their first book-length study of film noir in 1955. 

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Today we call it PTSD, they didn’t really call it anything after WWII.  Maybe film noir is partially a glimpse into that world.  At any rate, I doubt it would have been the same had the war not happened.

Oh, but they did. During World War I, it was called shell shock. During World War II, I believe it was called battle fatigue. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often used in reference to returning soldiers, but PTSD includes much more than the emotional reaction to battle experiences; it includes reactions to any traumatic event. For a great depiction of shell shock/battle fatigue/PTSD, read Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. It's an amazing story of many people's lives, but one of the characters is a World War I vet who just can't seem to get back to business as usual in postwar London.

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Oh, but they did. During World War I, it was called shell shock. During World War II, I believe it was called battle fatigue. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often used in reference to returning soldiers, but PTSD includes much more than the emotional reaction to battle experiences; it includes reactions to any traumatic event. For a great depiction of shell shock/battle fatigue/PTSD, read Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. It's an amazing story of many people's lives, but one of the characters is a World War I vet who just can't seem to get back to business as usual in postwar London.

 

This is a really great point. We're looking at WWII and its effects a lot in this course, and there is no doubt that WWII had a major effect on film noir. But I've often wondered about the influence of WWI on the writers who wrote and created this hard-boiled new kind of detective we see so often in film noir. Hammett enlisted to serve in WWI but didn't experience much action because he contracted the Spanish flu; Chandler actually served in the trenches and had lots of personal issues before he really jumped into writing in the 30s. It's interesting to think about how WWI influenced their writing style and the creation of this new character type. 

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Video Lecture #2: Literary, Cultural, and Cinematic Precursors to Film Noir

        First, I like the way the lecture is set up like a case file, and I especially like the evidence board, which reminds me of the television show Castle. I see more clearly now that you are putting all of us in the detective’s shoes!

        I tend to focus on literature as an influence on film noir, so it was great to hear about photography, theater, and music in this lecture. Really expanded my horizons as far as the porous boundaries for all art forms.

        I listened to the podcast on Murder, My Sweet, and I happen to like Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. I don’t think Marlowe is “glacial” in the book Farewell, My Lovely. He has no trouble at all kissing Mrs. Helen Grayle on his first meeting with her, and they’re even interrupted by her husband, who seems to take it all in stride. And I can tell you how Mrs. Helen Grayle attracted so many different kinds of men (except maybe for Moose Malloy, who seems to have really fallen in love with her): She was willing to spend her husband’s money!

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This is a really great point. We're looking at WWII and its effects a lot in this course, and there is no doubt that WWII had a major effect on film noir. But I've often wondered about the influence of WWI on the writers who wrote and created this hard-boiled new kind of detective we see so often in film noir. Hammett enlisted to serve in WWI but didn't experience much action because he contracted the Spanish flu; Chandler actually served in the trenches and had lots of personal issues before he really jumped into writing in the 30s. It's interesting to think about how WWI influenced their writing style and the creation of this new character type. 

Of course, the devastation in Europe was much greater in both world wars, so no one could escape the traumatic effects. Many European countries had conversations about this very topic and that's one of the reasons they came up with national health insurance. Many politicians were on board because they knew the horrible suffering that their fellow citizens endured.

 

By the way, I think Dashiell Hammett also contracted tuberculosis while serving during World War I.

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I have a suggestion professor, how about putting the links for whatever the discussions are about at the beginning of the threads, it gets frustrating to have try and find these links video, podcast or whatever, every time. ;) thanks. 

My laptop hard drive crashed and I'm on a borrowed computer, and don't want to leave a bunch of windows open, :)

 

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First, the comment about the bottle is awesome. It is considered film noir.

 

And yes, it appears in most major film noir filmographies. As always, I just check Sidney's cross-referenced list of major filmographies found here: http://www.gaskcadd.com/ssk_pix/FILMNOIR2011.pdf

 

Lost Weekend is also mentioned by Borde and Chaumeton in their first book-length study of film noir in 1955. 

Professor, I notice it only goes up to 1965, it leaves out  Mister Buddwing (1966) shot in 1965, but then so do many Noir filmographies, if you've never seen it you are in for a treat here is a review.

PS I believe it's also one of the last major films shot in B&W.

 

Mister Buddwing - Jazz Noir

 

Oscar-winning film director Delbert Mann ( The Outsider (1961), Marty (1955) - TV, Playhouse 90, Goodyear Playhouse, Omnibus, Producers Showcase, Playwrights '56, Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Schlitz Playhouse, Masterpiece Playhouse) adapts Evan Hunter's novel "Buddwing" and with the cinematography of Ellsworth Fredericks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Seven Days in May (1964)) and a great original jazzy score by Kenyon Hopkins (composer for Baby Doll (1956), 12 Angry Men (1957), The Fugitive Kind (1959), The Hustler (1961), to create a stylized "Jazz Noir".

 

Filming in 1965, Mister Buddwing is one of those lost films that are on the cusp between Film Noir and Neo Noir. Sort of a psychological noir rather than a "crime" noir. A melancholy film that plays with time, space and your mind as the various vignettes overlap it's eerie and noirishly suspenseful, but at times darkly comic. It requires multiple viewings to fully comprehend.

 

The film stars James Garner in a role that really displays his acting chops in a performance far removed from his wisecracking Bret Maverick (disregard his contention that this is his worst film, he sells himself way too short). Garner plays one of Film Noir's touchstone tropes the amnesiac. The film opens with an unfocused shot of the sky sliced diced and fragmented by bare branches . As the frame focuses and our view pans we see the branches are trees, we see buildings, and Central Park at the corner of 59th and 5th. In an homage to Robert Montgomery's "The Lady In The Lake" , "Jigsaw", and the beginning of "Dark Passage", the film displays an intriguing POV sequence that begins when hands "rub" the eye of the camera, it also begins a faint jazz heartbeat increasing in tempo and volume as "we" the character sitting on a park bench search frantically through out suit pockets (for identification) combing out a train timetable, a scrap of paper with a name Gloria and phone number and some pills. A ring on his finger has an inscription "from G.V.". The POV sequence continues until we stumble into a mirror at the Plaza Hotel when Garner is revealed. He has neither money or ID but he does remember the name of a woman, a woman named Grace.

 

Using a lobby phone and giving a fictitious room number he calls Gloria (Angela Lansbury) to try and discover his identity. Gloria a divorced floozy with a heart of gold, takes pity on him and gives him money so that he can find himself. So begins his jazz odyssey through the streets of New York.

 

In his quest for Grace, Garner meets three women, Janet (Katherine Ross), Fiddle (Susanne Pleshette), and The Blonde (Jean Simmons), each of the women he at first mistakens for Grace. So at first we see Garner interact with each woman in their true identities and at some point they become a vivid flashback to his relationship with Grace at different stages of his life with Grace, the starry eyed young love stage, the struggle with real life, and the consequences of wrong decisions made. All this makes the viewer a little disoriented, a little lost, exactly how James Garner's character feels throughout the movie.

 

The film features the neighborhoods of midtown Manhattan, Times Square, and the Queensboro Bridge as its backdrop creating a cinematic memory link to classic Noirs, The Sweet Smell Of Success, Kiss Of Death, Killers Kiss, The Unsuspected. Wonderful melancholy jazz compositions accompany Garner as he wanders the streets.

 

All the three actresses are outstanding in their dual rolls.

 

Watch for Joe Mantell's cab driver character's hilarious monologue then pay attention for its echo with the 2nd cab driver Billy Halop, the original leader of the Dead End Kids. Watch for Nichelle Nichols appearance as a dice player, and Jack Gilford's interaction with Garner in a lunch counter. The crap game sequence is a homage to the fight spectators in Robert Wise's The Set -Up

 

Available on DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection. 9/10

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Hi. My name is Cindy. Prof., I am not receiving my Daily Dose of Darkness. Please help. Thank you.

 

We are aware some students haven't been receiving the Daily Doses. I am having Canvas check into the issue to get it fixed ASAP. 

 

But in the meantime, all Daily Doses are available at Canvas. You can find them via the link on the course's main page at the top, or by clicking on the Announcements link in the left hand navigation bar. 

 

We hope to have this problem resolved quickly, and hopefully normal delivery of the Daily Doses will resume. Thanks for your patience.

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There is a strong connection in this lecture between the literary influences and film noir. I kinda felt super prepared for this section lol A few months ago I caught Murder, My Sweet on TCM and, even though it wasn't the first time, it did get me thinking, so I googled marlowe.  I happened to be in my local used book store a few weeks later and saw a selection of Raymond Chandler books. I got the entire stack that they had (which was all but three) I haven't read all of the ones I bought but I did read "The Big Sleep", "The Simple Art of Murder" (this version had a stack of short stories by Raymond Chandler after the essay),  & "Farewell, My lovely" After Last week's Podcast contrasting the book version of Dashiell Hammett's the Maltese Falcon with the Film actually had me searching my bookshelves for a copy and starting to read it. And while when you read the novels and short stories of Chandler and the little bit of Hammett I've read (about 60 pages of the Maltese Falcon and that Arson Plus short story as linked from the Module) you really feel like you're reading Noir. I know it sounds a little odd to say it like that but the mind seems to paint a picture that looks very much like a Noir film when you read it. And it's not so much descriptive language, as there isn't a great deal of that, it's more of the way the detectives come across. In Arson Plus you get the entire story from a first person narrative, which comes off very much like a voice over narration. Many of the plot lines from chandler are things you can't really do with the production code so another interesting thing to contrast are the things they had to work around and what they had to cut. The Podcast makes a point about the length of the films and having to cut that down to fit in the 90 something minutes, which is something that has to be considered when looking at any novel to film adaptation. 

    Switching gears, One of the other pieces that was touched on was the hollywood roots of Noir. What jumped out to me was the calling back to the classic universal monster pictures of the 1930s. I had to stop and think about it for a moment. But if you really look at them, you see the night shots, the play of light and shadows, and, to a smaller extent, the score as a strong piece of the storytelling, all of which are essential pieces of Noir. 

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Another point to ponder is the difference between Hammett and Chandler, I find Chandler far more descriptive than Hammett compare say The Maltese Falcon with Farewell My Lovely. The latter is far more descriptive comparatively than The Maltese Falcon. But if any of you have read Hammett's short story Corkscrew you find it the same tale as Red Harvest but with lot's of detail that Red Harvest lacks its more akin to Chandler.

 

I'm curious if Red Harvest got a lot of descriptive passages edited down before publication, it would be nice to read the manuscript.

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I loved that the work of Edward Hopper was included in the lecture. He is one of my favorite artists and I've always felt like his work embodies a lot of noir qualities. I want to include a link to my favorite Hopper painting New York Movie. It's not as popular as Nighthawks, but I think it's a great example of urban isolation -- http://www.edwardhopper.net/newyork-movie.jsp#.

I love imagining what the usherette is thinking. She looks so pensive and sad in my opinion. She's alone and isolated from the moviegoers, but there's probably someone in that theater, watching the movie that feels the same way she does. After all, film does provide a great escape.

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It was great to read about the interaction between film noir and other cinematic styles and genres, as well as other forms of art. It's fascinating to think how much influence exists between only a small portion of film heritage, such as film noir, and the entire field of the arts. Some forms of this influence, such as hard-boiled literature and German Expressionism, are clear and obvious; other, such as music or painting are more subtle and discrete, but no less important.

 

I particularly enjoyed the podcast on Murder, My Sweet, especially the debate between the two speakers about Powell's portrayal of Marlowe and iwhether he could deal with the challenge of portraying a hard-boiled detective while he was mainly a musical and comedy actor. Both parties had very good arguments to prove their case, in fact, it resembled a trial with Powell being "charged" for desecrating Marlowe's characer, Mr. Clute being the prosecutor and Mr. Edwards the defense attorney. If I were the jury, I would certainly acquit Powell, as I consider his performance very convincing and satisfactory, but the important thing is I enjoyed this string of contradicting arguments, which gives the audience plenty to think about Powell's performance and, more generally, the film itself.

 

 

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I loved that the work of Edward Hopper was included in the lecture. He is one of my favorite artists and I've always felt like his work embodies a lot of noir qualities. I want to include a link to my favorite Hopper painting New York Movie. It's not as popular as Nighthawks, but I think it's a great example of urban isolation -- http://www.edwardhopper.net/newyork-movie.jsp#.

I love imagining what the usherette is thinking. She looks so pensive and sad in my opinion. She's alone and isolated from the moviegoers, but there's probably someone in that theater, watching the movie that feels the same way she does. After all, film does provide a great escape.

Just a heads up, catch Steve Martin's Pennies From Heaven it re-creates New York Movie and Nighthawks, and a few others during the course of the film.

 

Also for those interested in more art angles there was the whole Ash Can School that included John Sloan, Edward Hopper and others:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashcan_School

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I read Chandler's essay "The Simple Art of Murder". A bit of a slog at first as he critiques at length the detective fiction of earlier eras using examples mostly unfamiliar to me, though figures like Philo Vance and Poirot were not spared. He points out elements of their artifice - cozy drawing-room or country-estate settings, contrived plots that hinge too much on unlikely coincidences and Rube Goldberg-like sequences of events set in motion at just the right moment, and crimes that exist just so they can be solved by the detective. But the payoff comes when he gets to Hammett and describes in juicy and evocative language how his stories are different - realistic, relatable, with motivations and feelings the modern reader understands, with real-life crimes that happen for a reason. Chandler avoided naming his own works in the essay but his description of the new detective would also apply to Marlowe. Very worth reading especially to accompany the detective-centered literature and movies we're looking at.

 

Also read "Arson Plus", a speedy, enjoyable read with that great prose that paints a picture with one or two sentences. Just take the opening lines - I see the detective and the small-town sheriff Jim Tarr sitting across the desk from each other. I know they're at ease and on good terms because the op casually rolls the cigar across the desk to Jim instead of handing it to him more formally. Jim assesses it as a pretty good cigar - "Fifteen cents straight ... you must want me to break a _couple_ of laws for you this time". That tells me Jim and the op have worked together before and are no strangers to bending the rules when necessary, and can kid about it too. All that exposition packed into 2 lines. Unlike me, Hammett doesn't need too many words because he picks the right ones.

 

The "Mac" thing further down the page was very amusing!

 

The arson case is attacked with old-fashioned detective legwork and solved through simple reasoning, though Hammett doesn't let the reader in on the op's thought process in coming up with the solution. His actions say it.

 

About 2/3rds in, there's a hint that a femme fatale might emerge as the middle-aged detective, usually immune, begins to find her attractive but the story ends before that angle develops. The duo's strong-arm tactics and quick trigger fingers at the end are pretty outrageous by today's standards but serve to bring the story, once solved, to a quick and exciting finale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I think Dick Powell is believe as Philip Marlow.

When I first started gettting into films noirs, I would see a film with Dick Powell in the starring role, and skip it.  Really?  The 1930s song and dance man?  He's a film noir protagonist?  Yeah, right.  My disbelief was incredible, and incredibly unfair.  Then I started going to the TCM classic film festival and saw him in Cry Danger (1951).  My bad.  And I should have known better.  I know not to judge anyone, but did anyway.  My bad.  He is wonderful in films noirs.  Really, one of the best.  And you are right.  His interpretation of Philip Marlowe is classic. 

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Just a heads up, catch Steve Martin's Pennies From Heaven it re-creates New York Movie and Nighthawks, and a few others during the course of the film.

 

Also for those interested in more art angles there was the whole Ash Can School that included John Sloan, Edward Hopper and others:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashcan_School

Wow, what an excellent suggestion!  Pennies from Heaven does have many elements of Noir.  I have to see it again now and look at it in the noir context.  Thanks for the idea!

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