Lecturer: Dr Katie Da Cunha Lewin.
Film noir is arguably Hollywood’s most renowned genre; but what exactly is it? In this course, Dr Da Cunha Lewin will take you through the genre signifiers, explain its history, and discuss the most famous film noir produced during Hollywood’s golden years. We will also think about noir’s historical context, particularly thinking about the lives and careers of famous film noir directors, many of whom came to America from Europe to flee persecution from the Nazis. This
course will be taught by introductory lectures on a variety of topics associated with film noir, film clips and recommendations, and plenty of time for discussion.
In the introductory session, we think about film noir history, looking first to the influence from German expressionism, the strassenfilm and early American gangster films. We then watch Fritz Lang’s haunting M. and discuss its particular aesthetic, mis-en-scene, and subject matter, and compare it to Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express. We think about the relationship between the film noir aesthetic and new subject matter –such as criminal psychology--in the context of a range of directors from Europe. Suggested viewing: M (1931) Shanghai Express (1932).
This week, we will view some classics of the film noir genre and discuss what makes them so famous? What does it mean for a film to be a classic? What tells us a film is a classic? We think about the famous performances of Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, as well as the coterie of character actors across both films. We will also discuss the Hollywood production and marketing machinery that was already in place, to consider how film noir was advertised and sold to audiences. Suggested viewing: The Maltese Falcon (1941) The Big Sleep (1946).
Many film noirs have a main character who is a policeman or a private eye: this week we zoom in on some of these characters to look at what film noir can tell us about ideas of law, power and punishment. These films problematise the idea of the ‘law’, showing us a range of corrupt and lying cops, or honest and decent private detectives trying their best to enact another kind of justice. We think about what these films tell us about the ‘criminal’, as well as discussing the rigidities of the production code that ensured that law-breakers were always punished. Suggested Viewing: Out of the Past (1947) The Big Heat (1953) Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Touch of Evil (1958).
This week we consider how women were looked at in film noir by comparing two striking films from the same year: Laura and The Woman in the Window. In both films, women are made into literal objects through painting, and the paintings themselves becomes sites of desire for the hapless male lead. But taking this idea of the ‘frame’ further, we think about the presentation of and performances by women in film noir more generally, discussing the femme fatale, as well as other more complex roles that women played in Hollywood’s heyday. Suggested Viewing: Laura (1944) The Woman in the Window (1944).
In our discussion this week we think about the effects of the cold war on Hollywood’s production, particularly looking at noirs made in the ‘50s. Specifically, we think about the subgrenres of the anticommunist noir, as well as a new kind of pervasive paranoia of the atomic bomb. We discuss this paranoia and fear in relation to one of the truly strangest film noirs, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly. Suggested viewing: Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
For our final week, we look at the on-screen depiction of the Raymond Chandler detective character, Philip Marlowe. We discuss the history of the character, as well as Chandler’s work in Hollywood, and consider several iterations of the character across the decades. As well as considering Bogart’s Marlowe, we also watch Dick Powell’s version in Murder, My Sweet, and we branch out into the ‘70s with performances by Elliot Gould and Robert Mitchum. Suggested viewing: Murder, My Sweet (1944), The Long Goodbye (1973), Farewell, My Lovely (1975).
Tickets are £80 for the full six-week course (£75 concession / £70 Picturehouse Members).