The Problem of Film Noir

I was browsing through the internet on anything I could find about film noir and I came across a website that had many interesting things to say about film noir. The site contains several good pages/articles about film noir but one caught my eye in particular titled The Problem of Film Noir. You can find the page here. So this is a website created by the University of Groningen, which is one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands, but I could not ever find whether or not the site was made by a student or if a professor or faculty member created it. Nonetheless I think it provides some interesting information that we did not necessarily cover in class. The page starts off by giving some basic history on film noir; what it means, how it came to be, etc. It then brings up the problem of genre and film noir together and how they function which is where it gets interesting. It begins by stating that “there are some critics(Higham, Greeenberg and Paul Kerr) that view film noir as a genre; thus it will rely upon a system of well defined conventions and expectations like other genre defined movies” but states that there are problems even with this. According to our reading, Altman says that “just as genres must have clear borders in order to facilitate the kind of genre criticism described here, the individual films of any particular generic canon must clearly serve as examples of that genre”. As we all know and as the page points out ” film noir tends to cross traditional genre boundaries; there are noir  westerns, gangster films and comedies to mention some”. Now this may seem vague but the point I am trying to get across is that these characteristics clearly contradict one another even though we consider them both to be considered noir. On the other hand the page says that “other critics, like Durgnat and Schrader, avoid these problems by viewing film noir not as a genre, but by emphasizing the stylistic elements”. This is something I think we can all agree upon but the page raises an interesting debate to this as well; it states that ” this `noir style´ is actually not what it seems. Instead of being subversive of the traditional or classical norms of Hollywood style film making, as many critics values it to be, the noir style was a part of the systemization of Hollywood’s narrational regulation during the 1940s”. Here it is again, another contradiction of noir that seems true. After thinking critically about this article I am sitting on the fence because it brings up some very interesting points that we did not really cover in class. So after reading this I want to know what you guys  think about it?!

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Max Payne: A Cynical Noir Hero

Max Payne is a video game series which started in 2001 with the release of the original title of the same name. Following the exploits of NYPD cop Max Payne, the game centers around his undercover infiltration of the Punchinello crime family. The subsequent events that follow are like a roller coaster ride of twists and turns, as we learn of Payne’s tragic past and dark future.

“A man with nothing to lose.”

The setting of New York city aids in Max Payne’s noir identity, as we are treated to dark, gritty visuals. These visuals complement Payne’s dark sense of humor, which he uses in various sequences throughout the game. Much like Humphery Bogart’s character Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, Payne is a quick witted detective who is out to solve a seemingly endless mystery. As the story develops it is revealed that a drug named Valkyr is the key to a much larger drug syndicate in New York. Consequently the drug also played a part in the death of Payne’s family, as the addicts who gunned down his wife and daughter were high on the drug at the time. Needless to say the story takes many twists and turns as Payne’s initial investigation turns into a quest for vengeance on those responsible for the death of his family.

Breaking the 4th, 5th, and 6th walls.

Enter our main antagonist and femme fatale in Nicole Horne, who, through her working on the drug Valkyr and subsequent orders to kill Payne’s wife, makes her the target of his vengeance. She remains quite mysterious for a majority of the game, as it takes time for Payne to unravel the path of clues which inevitably lead to her. She is not alone however, as the equally mysterious Mona Sax is also a key player within the narrative that screams femme fatale as well. A contract assassin who has a thirst for the Punnchinello crime family’s blood, Sax is as independent and dangerous a woman as they come. When you first meet her character within the narrative of the game she has drugged Max and knocked him out, femme fatale style. By games end it is Sax who has the best shot (sorry for the pun) at killing Payne. Instead of pulling the trigger however, she relents and is consequently shot herself. Another seemingly noir element of the story, Sax’s act of compassion within the games narrative is rewarded with death.

Mona Sax

Ending on a rather ambiguous note, Payne kills Horne and is subsequently arressted for his actions. The games ending leaves what happens to the main protagonist up in the air, as the player is never sure of what happens to Payne. This another element of the Noir stylization which Max Payne seeks to emulate, the not so happy, rather confusing ending which gives us little closure. Don’t worry though, this wasn’t the last time you would see the name Max Payne on the front of a game box. Releasing in 2003 with a similar taste for noir flare Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne continues the saga of the NYPD detective. In similar fashion to the first game, the second entry into the series had several plot elements which only served to confuse the player more. One such element was the second playable character, the aforementioned Mona Sax. But she was dead right? Well……no, I guess not. In this story Sax is revived as more of a hero in line with Payne (if you want to label him that, which I have). Sax and Payne work together throughout the story to get to the bottom of the Inner Circle, a plot element from the first game that was hinted at but never explored. The Circle is an Illuminati like group which seeks to exert its power over all elements of society. They are corruption manifested into an organized body, and they don’t take kindly to being brought out into the light for the world to see.

 

 

The quintessential video game noir couple.

While the game released to much critical praise it failed to do well financially for its publisher Take-Two Interactive. This lead to its eventual stagnation as a series until its revival by Rockstar studios in 2012. Now under the guidance of a new developer, the Max Payne franchise shed its more ridiculous narrative underpinnings for a more realistic story in the third entry. Masters of their craft, Rockstar games revitalized Max Payne for a new generation of gamers. Just as the franchise had faded into obscurity, so to had its main protagonist Max Payne, who’s life had taken a decidedly bad turn. Drinking heavily daily, we are introduced to a man who has lost his purpose in life. Chronicling Payne’s journey to becoming a private body guard for the Branco family in Sao Paulo, Max Payne 3 was an even more realistic take on the noir protagonists roots from 2001.

Focusing on the glitz and glamour of the upper echelon of Sao Paulo, the story descends into the decidedly less glitzy favela, where we see how the rest of the society lives, in squalor.  As the plot unfolds we learn of various betrayals within the Branco family, as well as the corruption that has spread to the local police, who have been bought off by the main antagonist. Kidnappings, gun fights with paramilitary soldiers, and more drinking ensue, as we see Payne struggling to keep his head above water just to do what is right.

 

All in all the the Max Payne video game series has left its mark as the definitive noir series with in gaming medium. With its hard boiled roots, gritty settings, and wacky plots about corruption, these games have defined what noir is for many gamers including myself. Check out this video by YouTube user  CptnFreud, where he lays out some excellent points about even more noir traits in Max Payne 3.

Trance

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For my blog post I am going to look into recent post by both the director and film critics to find what they had to say about an upcoming movie named Trance directed by Danny Boyle’s which was released April 5th but isn’t set to hit American theaters until April 11th. This movie first caught my attention when the trailer for its coming release had a comment naming it a “super stylish modern noir”. So I went into the internet to find what was being said about this movie, why it was being called a noir, and what conclusions I could draw myself from the trailers, summaries, and analysis that were available to me. I feel this film will serve as a great example of a modern director’s interpretation of noir considering this is his first attempt at a noir film. I will also be coming back to this post on Saturday after the film’s release to post my personal analysis and thoughts on the film.

 Link to trailer naming it “super stylish modern noir”

            So the first thing I will be looking into is the films visual style. The movie is set in London which is perfect for a noir environment due to its usually large amount of cloud coverage/ rain, the tall city style buildings, and old gothic structures that have been there for hundreds of years. There was also a comment in an interview with Danny Boyle posted and written by Tasha Robinson which he describes the main character’s experience as “He seems to be in a goldfish bowl, and he can’t quite perceive or hear, and he is trying to tap his way out of it, it seems.” This is very similar to comments made in the article titled “The Asphalt Jungle” where the author describes the city as trapping the protagonist in a labyrinth. There were also comments by viewers of the article who have seen the film saying that the director did a great job with making the scenes look and feel real, while also using vibrant colors that popped off the screen.

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 Another visual aspect that I saw in the trailer and was talked about in an article written by Todd McCarthy is the bloody and brutal injuries sustained which results in the protagonist’s being covered in cuts and bruises for a number of scenes in the film. This was a theme discussed in Dickos’ piece on neo-noir where he stated that they are generally more graphic and violent.

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One of the more controversial issues that came up in the comments of the articles that contradicted what the authors said was their opinion on the femme fatale. The femme fatale of this movie is played by Rosario Dawson. She is an American therapist named Dr. Elizabeth Lamb, who is hired by the paint thieves to unlock the protagonist’s memory through hypnosis. Where Todd McCarthy commends her for being dazzling and dominate in her central role, the comments made by views ranged from complaints about her ability to act and her not being beautiful enough for a femme fatale. However the director makes explains that she resemble but is not a true femme fatale saying “And yet it isn’t a straight-noir, femme-fatale movie, because you realize there’s real damage and emotion there, and she had something much more important to protect than greed.”

Interview Link

Todd McCarthy Article

Link to IMDb

Link to Wiki

Cowboy Bebop

The crew of the Bebop.

The crew of the Bebop.

Listen while you read. It’ll be worth it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6zDfxZ4NcE

Cowboy Bebop is an anime that is comprised of primarily stand-alone episodes that follow the adventures of a group of bounty hunters. It is set circa 2071 where space travel is a norm and people might have a second home on Mars. The over-arching plot centers around the main character, a bounty hunter named Spike Spiegel– which means mirror in German, a crime boss named Vicious and the woman that they fight over, Julia.

Spike Spiegel

Spike Spiegel: I’m not a criminal. Oh that makes me seem even more like a criminal, doesn’t it?

Spike is the surly, but well-intentioned protagonist. Over the course of the series, a brief 26 episodes, he gains and loses countless amounts of woolong (their currency),  encounters an ex-cop turned bounty hunter, a woman with no past, a kid hacker and a genetically altered corgi. Spike is fairly ruthless when it comes to his bounties. He and his crew are well-known for accidentally getting their bounties killed before they can turn them in. The whole series is motivated by his crew’s need for money to continue running their ship, the Bebop.

Faye Valentine

Faye Valentine: Survival of the fittest is the law of nature. We decieve or we are decieved. Thus, we flourish or perish. Nothing good ever happened to me when I trusted others. That is the lesson.

Faye Valentine is the crew’s resident Femme Fatale. She gets her own plot line for a few episodes to explain her origins which up until that point are just as much of a mystery to her as they are to the audience. Throughout the series, she presents a sort of competition for Spike as far as talent as a bounty hunter goes. She is capable of charm that is difficult for most of the men in the series to resist, but can also switch it off in the blink of an eye if it isn’t working to her advantage. The sexually charged banter between her and Spike is laced throughout the series in a way that is fairly consistent with what we’ve seen in noir. Faye proves herself to be just as capable as any of the boys and frequently gets away with more than they do, much to Spike’s chagrin. She serves as a major vehicle of exposition as she joins the crew after the show’s opening.

Julia

Julia: It’s all a dream…

Another femme fatale in the series is Spike’s ex-lover, Julia. She causes more trouble throughout the series than any other character and she only actually appears in one episode. She is the reason that Spike fights and the reason he does not accept Faye’s advances. Before seeing the back story between Spike and Julia, one might be tempted to peg her as the naive, virginal character, but she is far from it. She is most often pictured in a black leather body suit, black trench coat and black sunglasses. She is a dangerous woman in her own right, though she puts far less effort into her sexuality than Faye.

Jet

Jet Black: Everything has a beginning and an end. Life is just a cycle of starts and stops. There are ends we don’t desire, but they’re inevitable, we have to face them. It’s what being human is all about.

Jet Black (what a name) is the owner of the Bebop and an ex-cop. He saw the office he worked for getting corrupt and so opted to deal out his own form of justice in the way of bounty hunting. Jet is the straight man in this crew of loose morals. He is not partial to the idea of harming innocents and would rather lose a bounty than hurt an innocent person, unlike most of his crew. Jet is the crew’s oldest member at age 36 and is the butt of a fair many jokes. He serves as a more minor vehicle for exposition than Faye, but still gets the occasional flashback starting with, “Remember the time you told me about…”

edward noir

Ed: Smoke smoke, Faye Faye. Puff puff, Faye Faye.

If the show has a virginal, naive character it is Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky the 4th (a name she made up for herself). She is the crew’s resident hacker and is primarily there to provide comic relief along with her companion, Ein. She is the crew’s youngest member at the age of 13.

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Vicious: Angels that are forced from heaven have to become demons. Isn’t that right, Spike?

The aptly named, Vicious, is the primary antagonist of the series and is always shown in darkness. He is the head of a crime syndicate that Jet fought against when he was a cop. He is also shown through flashbacks to be Spike’s old war buddy. He is also shown to be the man that Julia left Spike for. His rivalry with Spike is what drives him and he on many occasions makes it known that he will do whatever it takes to see Spike dead, even if it ends his own life. Vicious, like Julia, only appears in a couple of episodes even though he is one of the main driving forces behind the plot of whole series.

angle noir

This show doesn’t just have noir characters. It is full of canted angle shots and gratuitous shadows. The canted angles and darkness are ever-present in Cowboy Bebop. They are something that the average audience member wouldn’t notice; I for one only noticed while rewatching sections of this show in preparation for this blog post. The cinematography was clearly influenced by noir and because the show is animated, they can create shadows and angles that they may not have been able to in a live action noir film.

bebop  noir

Vicious: So you are finally awake. I told you before, Spike… that I am the only one who can kill you.

Spike: I’ll return those words back to you, Vicious.

Vicious: Either way, we were destined to end up like this.

The show’s ending sequence where Spike and Vicious show down after 26 episodes worth of cat and mouse is very reminiscent of the overall theme of most noir. There is no happy ending for this anime. Over the course of the final episodes, the crew disbands and Spike goes off to seek Vicious one last time, this time knowing exactly where to find him. By the time Spike reaches Vicious, he has lost humanity. Julia is dead, but the two men must still settle their debts. The audience looks on in horror as the two settle it the only way they know how as soldiers, crime bosses and bounty hunters: with death.

As is a staple of noir, there are truly no happy endings, but this show really goes out with a…

Inglorious Basterds: A Need for Noir

Film Noir is the ever-present, ever-changing element that has inspired film and served not only as a genre, but as something that infect other genres.  Another key role it plays is its ability to morph films even today.  This is because “Noir is almost entirely a creation of postmodern culture”(Naremore 14).  With these two ideas, it is easy to see how noir elements are heavily present in film today, serving as that ever-changing, ever-infecting agent.  Take how its infected the film Inglorious Basterds.

Inglourious_Basterds_poster

Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds struggles to be defined by a genre because of its unique ability to incorporate multiple film elements- the comic relief, the outlandish plot, romance, action, suspense, and more importantly, a noir factor.  Tarantino incorporates all of these ideas into his films in a way that is fast paced and something we have never seen before.  It is new even to our postmodern culture.  Though mixing the lines between genres is the way he achieves such an interesting story, this can only occur with the help of noir present in his films, specifically Inglorious Basterds.

Tarantino heavily relies on the femme fatale model in his character Shosanna to create a separate but significant storyline that moves the plot forward.  Shosanna’s story also serves as a way to blend romance, action, and suspense into his film.  From the very beginning of the film it is made clear that her story is important and will continue throughout the film.

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The idea of corruption and the city is a little farfetched, but it is still present through Colonel Hans Landa.  Its better to say that the Colonel serves as corruption, for his initial role is the man who rounds up the jews, and then he switches to his duplicitous role at the end of the film where he actually helps the Basterds kill Hitler.  He is in it for himself, he will stop at nothing to get his, no matter who he kills or what he has to do , this man is as corrupt as they come based off selfish desires.  Colonel Hans Landa also bridges the action, suspense, comic genre divide.

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One odd noir twist Tarantino places into his plot is his representation of hopelessness and despair through the Basterds.  The Basterds serve from a German perspective as the harbingers of death, whereas they represent success for Americans.  The focus in the film tends to be more on the German perspective for it is demonstrated on multiple occasions that life is over for these German soldiers.  Tarantino also uses this team to bridge the action, suspense, comic genre divide.

basterds

Noir elements are present throughout the film in various ways to help mold Tarantino’s story that bridges the genre divide.  He also uses noir to create a postmodern film that is enjoyed by society today.  Without noir present in this film, Tarantino would struggle crossing genre divides, and struggle creating an entertaining film.  Noir, the ever-changing element, the enigma of film, is something today’s film industry cannot do without.

Ellie’s Project: Fight Club

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

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For my analysis project I want to look at Fight Club and compare its neo-noir film elements with quintessential noir elements discussed throughout the course.  I would specifically like to address the themes of hopelessness, the fem fatal, corruption and the city, and I would also like to address the narrative of this film. Throughout my presentation my main point shall focus on how Fight Club has extended classic Noir and morphed it into something new.

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Taylor’s Project: Lawless

Within the world of modern cinema there are hundreds of unique visual styles and complex plots that each specific text encompasses. However, after studying the “genre” of noir, I’ve found that to this day some of these characteristics indeed re-surface in the Hollywood sphere.

Lawless, is a 2012 crime drama that has very much caught my interest, simply because of the various parrallels it shares with film noir. Crime, the un-heroic heroes, crookedness, femme fatales, a dangerously rough environment, and moral ambiguity all come together beautifully in this cinematic text.

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Joes Project

The piece of media I am going to look at for our project is the present day(2009) Sherlock Holmes. There are some quite obvious reasons was to why it could be closely related to Noir but after watching it again recently I think there are some aspects that will tie in nicely with the characteristics and effects that traditional Noir films contain. A clip to the movie showing one of the fight scenes can be found here. Should be interesting as well to compare present day portrayals of  “detectives” vs. past portrayals.

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