Film Noir as Genre (Discussion)

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Narrative vs. Theme

  • All Groups: To understand genre, it helps to distinguish "narrative" and "theme." What is your understanding of these two terms and the difference between them?

Readings

Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton (Groups 4 & 5)

In "Toward a Definition of Film Noir," Borde and Chaumeton look mostly at aspects of narrative and theme in their definition of noir.

  1. What do they mean "moral determinism" (as a theme)? And how are private detectives different from police detectives?
  2. How do they believe noir has "renovated the theme of violence"?
  3. In terms of narrative, how do they characterize the "hero" of noir (as in Lady from Shanghai)? And how do they characterize the femme fatale (that is, what is a femme fatale and how does she fit into noir?)?
  4. Are these elements present in Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon?

Raymond Durgnat (Group 1)

"Paint It Black: The Family Tree of the Film Noir" covers eleven aspects of film noir. Some of these (most of them) are related to narrative and others to theme.

  1. Which aspects are narrative and which are theme?
    • Crime as a social criticism
    • Gangsters
    • On the run
    • Private eyes and adventurers
    • Middle-class murder
    • Portraits and doubles
    • Sexual pathology
    • Psychopaths
    • Hostages to fortune
    • Blacks and reds
    • Guignol ("geen-yol"), horror, fantasy
  2. Which of these aspects are present in Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon?

Paul Schrader (Group 2)

In "Notes on Film Noir", Schrader claims that “film noir is not a genre.” In considering his comments, provide examples from Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon.

  1. Why is it not a genre, in his view? Do you agree or disagree?
  2. What does he mean by the term "stylistics"? And what aspects of noir stylistics does he note? Can you think of examples from Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon that contain these elements? (See the screen shots linked to below.)
  3. Although Schrader is mostly interested in stylistics, he does also discuss the "over-riding noir theme." What is it? Is it present in Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon?

Janey Place & Lowell Peterson (Group 3)

As is obvious from the title, "Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir," Place and Peterson are principally concerned with noir's imagery.

  1. How is noir "antitraditional"? What do they mean by this term? How is antitraditional style found in noir?
  2. What purpose does this visual style serve? In other words, what does it mean?
  3. Can you think of examples of anti-traditional noir style in Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon? (See the screen shots linked to below.)

Bibliography

All from Alain Silver and James Ursini, eds., Film Noir Reader (New York: Limelight, 1996).

  1. Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton, “Toward a Definition of Film Noir,” 17-25.
  2. Raymond Durgnat, “Paint It Black: The Family Tree of the Film Noir,” 37-52.
  3. Paul Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir,” 53-63.
  4. Janey Place & Lowell Peterson, “Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir,” 64-75.

External links

  1. Film Noir Illustrations
  2. Film Noir Timeline
  3. Lady from Shanghai screen shots
  4. The Maltese Falcon screen shots
  5. Out of the Past screen shots