FILM 3321-001: FILM NOIR (FILM IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT) Spring 2008 2:30-5:15 PM Tuesday, JO 4.


Instructor: Phone/Messages: Office Hours: Required Texts:

Other Information:

Dr. Adrienne L. McLean (972) 883-2755; e-mail Also check website message page at After class and by appointment; room JO5.606 (Jonsson Building). E-mail queries are answered promptly, and are encouraged. Alain Silver and James Ursini, eds., Film Noir Reader (Limelight, 1999) (FNR). James Naremore, More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts (University of California Press, 1998; available as an e-book through the UTD library website). Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1929). Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939). There are some additional reserve readings (RR) posted for perusal on and/or downloading through WebCT. NOTE: If you have not satisfied the prerequisite for this class, you will also need to acquire one or another of the recent editions of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill, 2001, 2004, 2008). It will be assumed that you understand the components of narrative film form and the history of their use in commercial cinema. Full-length films are assigned each week for viewing outside of class. These films are required texts as well. All are on reserve at McDermott Library, and are likely also available in a number of other venues. Please note that WebCT and other university online resources are going to be used only for the posting of the syllabus and reserve readings. No other information will be transmitted or read by the instructor through such Web-based resources except in an emergency, when an e-mail may be circulated to all students using the course roll. * * * * *

Course Description and Format. This course considers the mode of Hollywood filmmaking now widely referred to as film noir. We will examine its antecedents and related stylistic and generic modes of filmmaking (German Expressionism, the detective film, the gangster film, the gothic melodrama, etc.); its hard-boiled relatives in popular literature (magazine fiction, the novels of James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, etc.); and, perhaps most important, its historical and ideological meanings through the present day and its significance as a vision of American life and culture as well as an international style of filmmaking. Among the many issues usefully engaged by a study of film noir are its representations of women and their sexuality; a concomitant anxiety about masculinity in America and the limitations of, and on, heroic action in an increasingly urbanized and white-collar culture; the relationship of industrial imperatives or limitations to film authorship; and the nature of broader terms or categories such as genre, intertextuality, and adaptation. Because this is a seminar, class will consist primarily of discussion and some lecture augmented by brief screenings of relevant material. We will see only a few complete films during class time; rather, each week full-length films will be required viewing on your own, whether you choose to watch them in the library or to acquire them in some other manner. You are responsible for all in- and out-of-class screening material, both full-length films and clips used in lecture.

Grading and Requirements. You are expected to attend all classes and screenings, to be punctual and attentive, and to participate vigorously in discussions of films and readings. The week’s reading and screening assignments are all to be completed by the beginning of each Tuesday session. If you must miss a class, you remain responsible for all course material covered in that class; there are no make-up sessions, and each class will only be taught once. Each class period represents one week’s worth of work, so roll will be taken at the beginning or end of every class session. The exams, including the final, are in-class exams, and will all include essay components as well as some combination of multiple choice, matching, and/or fill-in-the-blank questions. Particulars regarding the papers are attached and will be discussed further in class. Please note that the Rules on Student Services and Activities, specifically the Policy on Scholastic Dishonesty, of the University of Texas System will be strictly adhered to. For information on the administration’s rules and policies regarding student conduct and discipline, academic integrity, e-mail use, withdrawal from class, student grievance procedures, incomplete grade policies, disability services, and religious holy days, consult the material, generated by the administration, available on the WebCT course syllabus or in the university catalogue. There will be no incompletes given in the course, all of the following course requirements must be met (including attendance; if you miss more than four class periods, you will generate an automatic failing grade for the course), late work will be heavily penalized, and assignments and exams must be completed in full. Grades will be figured as follows (one grade may be weighted): Attendance and participation Midterm exam Final exam Paper 1 Paper 2 20% 20% 20% 20% 20%

CLASS CALENDAR DATE Week 1 January 8 TOPIC/READING/OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENINGS Introduction and Course Mechanics SCREENING [in-class]: The Maltese Falcon [Dangerous Female] (Roy del Ruth, 1931; 79 mins.). NOTE: All students are assumed to have seen and studied Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941; 119 mins.); if you have not, this is also assigned. Film Noir Is [About]. . . READING: FNR Introduction; Borde and Chaumeton, “Towards a Definition of Film Noir”; Higham and Greenberg, “Noir Cinema”; Durgnat, “Paint it Black”; Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir.” Naremore ch. 1. OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944; 107 mins.) Pulp Plots, Pulp Novels READING: Hammett, The Maltese Falcon. RR Timothy Corrigan, “Pens, Pulp, and the Crisis of the Word, 1940-1960” and “Critical Borders and Boundaries,” from Film and Literature (1999). OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941; 101 mins.). Hard-Boiled Heroes READING: Chandler, The Big Sleep. RR Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder” (1944). OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946; 114 mins.). Femmes Fatales and Spider Women READING: RR Janey Place, “Women in Film Noir,” from E. Ann Kaplan, ed., Women in Film Noir (1998). Naremore ch. 3. OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946; 113 mins.). ··· Paper 1 due ··· Motifs, Modernism, Melodrama READING: FNR Place and Peterson, “Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir”; Porfirio, “No Way Out.” Naremore ch. 2. OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947; 97 mins.). ··· MIDTERM EXAM ··· Rotten Families READING: RR Sylvia Harvey, “Woman’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir,” from Kaplan, Women in Film Noir. OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945; 110 mins.). Masculinity in Crisis READING: RR Richard Dyer, “Resistance Through Charisma” and “Queers and Women in Film Noir,” from Kaplan, Women in Film Noir. FNR Hollinger, “Film Noir, Voice-over, and the Femme Fatale.” OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946; 110 mins.).

Week 2 January 15

Week 3 January 22

Week 4 January 29

Week 5 February 5

Week 6 February 12

Week 7 February 19 Week 8 February 26

Week 9 March 4

Week 10 March 10-14 Week 11 March 18

SPRING BREAK OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: To be assigned. Fear of The Other READING: Naremore ch. 6. OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1948; 89 mins.). Fate, Alienation, Obsession, Despair READING: FNR Kerr, “Out of What Past?” Naremore ch. 4. SCREENING [in-class]: Detour (Edgar Ulmer, 1945; 68 mins.). OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946; 103 mins.). Psychopaths and/as Heroes READING: FNR Silver, “Kiss Me Deadly.” OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955; 110 mins.). Urban Corruption READING: Naremore ch. 5. OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974; 131 mins.). Illicit Sex and Sexuality READING: FNR Erickson, “Kill Me Again”; Silver, “Son of Noir.” RR Kate Stables, “The Postmodern Always Rings Twice: Constructing the Femme Fatale in 90s Cinema,” from Kaplan, Women in Film Noir. SCREENING: Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981; 113 mins.). ··· Paper 2 due ··· Summing Up: The Noir Mediascape READING: Naremore ch. 7 OUT-OF-CLASS SCREENING: Chosen by class vote (from either film or television). ***** ··· FINAL EXAM is Tuesday, April 29 (regular class time); FINAL PAPERS are due under my office door by 5:00 PM Friday, May 2 ··· ***** All screening times are approximate. Syllabus subject to change, but not without notice. *****

Week 12 March 25

Week 13 April 1 Week 14 April 8 Week 15 April 15

Week 16 April 22


Both of the papers you write for this class should make sense to any prospective reader of roughly your own educational background who is not enrolled in the course. I will be looking for thoughtfulness, coherence, concrete examples, clarity. For both papers, your film and/or topic must be approved by the instructor. Below is a sort of checklist of formal requirements and expectations (a more general set of writing guidelines is attached as well): · Both papers should be typed and double-spaced; do not add extra spaces between paragraphs. · Employ a font no smaller than 10-point and no larger than 13-point; margins should be an inch or one-and-a-half inches all around. · Although you do not have to do extensive outside research for either paper, properly cite any material you do use or learn from any published source, including information from the course texts, magazines, DVD commentary, Internet sources, etc. · Number every page after page 1, and italicize or underline film titles (choose one, not both). Give the director and date of a film upon its first mention. · Do not use gender-specific language (i.e., do not use “he” and “him” as generic or impersonal pronouns). · Employ the present tense to write about what is going on in a film--for example, what happens (not what happened), what the camera does (not what it did), how the performer acts (not how he or she acted). · Do not provide a cover page or use a folder; simply staple your paper together in the upper left corner. · Proofread and edit your work before you turn in the final version, and do not rely on computer spellcheckers for accuracy. · Finally, do not turn in any assignment as an e-mail attachment. All papers will be marked by hand and returned. If you feel you need help with your writing, complete rough drafts of papers may be handed in at least ten days before the due date. Please note that your papers will be screened for plagiarism by

Paper 1 (20% of grade, 4-5 pages long): In their 1955 discussion of film noir, Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton claim that “The history of film is, in large part, a history of film cycles” (18), and that what they call film noir “exists in response to a certain mood at large in this particular time and place” (19). They also list various features of such films, among them the “ambiguous protagonist,” the “femme fatale,” the “theme of violence,” “likeable killers and corrupt cops” (22-25). To them, and to many other critics and scholars, all these elements “conspire to make the viewer co-experience the anguish and insecurity which are the true emotions of contemporary film noir” (25). For your paper, you are to put yourself in the position of a critic looking back over the U.S. commercial film market of the past several years--a decade at most--and write about what you think marks current films as a “response to a certain mood” at the present time. What do you observe to be the films’ “true emotions,” and how are they exemplified stylistically and visually as well as narratively? (You may also refer to television shows in your essay.) What cycles seem to be prominent now? In short, what films, in your estimation, are registering most clearly the concerns of the “mood at large,” and how? The goal is not to be completely right or completely wrong but to be convincing and thoughtful, to provide evidence for your assertions, and to show that you can be attentive to the visual as well as narrative components of film texts. Although mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation will be noted, I will be looking primarily for a competent analysis of what you see and hear in relation to some of the characteristics of film noir that were named in the work on the subject assigned as reading in the first several weeks of class, and that occur in films you have been assigned to see outside of class.

Paper 2 (20% of grade, 4-5 pages long): This paper must consider one or more of the important themes of this class, and should provide concrete examples from specific films. Although it cannot be simply a journalistic review of two or three of your favorite films noirs, this is your chance to deal with films or television forms that we have perhaps not devoted extensive attention to in class--detective or forensic science shows on television, commercials, The Simpsons or The X-Files, YouTube videos, comic books, foreign films (etc.). In addition to being carefully written, your paper must express a compelling thesis clearly and concretely. (At this point, you should always be paying attention to how the articles and essays you read are themselves constructed--the sorts of arguments they make, the evidence they employ, their organization and use of sources, etc. In addition to providing “information,” they are models for your own work.) If you have difficulty deciding what to write about, the following suggestions might help you to come up with a topic: · Compare several versions of the same nominal source material, noting whether the films are similar or different in plot, story, style, and describing the way that formal devices as well as “history” operate to create differences and similarities (e.g., the two versions of The Big Sleep, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Detour, Kiss of Death, et al.). Literary adaptations can also be employed in this way. · Extend the topic of the first paper, and explore how noir elements function and where they appear in what might otherwise be considered non-noir films (or media texts of many different kinds). Because noir elements are now foregrounded in many films (serious and otherwise), and/or are a self-conscious reference to a film past, and you might find something of interest in the use of noir elements as a generic convention or as part of what Naremore calls the “mediascape.” · You may also employ one or several of the interpretive methods outlined in assigned readings and apply them to a particular film or group of films, to comic books, to television shows, etc. Again, these are suggestions only; any reasonable topic will be considered.



What is the title of your essay? If it is more than simply the name of a film under consideration, does your title relate to your essay’s main point? Is your main point (or thesis) clearly stated close to the beginning of the paper? Is your point analytical, specific, manageable enough? Does the paper successfully argue this point? Evaluate your introductory paragraph. Does it accurately forecast the rest of the paper? Does it contain your thesis sentence (if not, why not)? Are your terms well defined? Does each subsequent paragraph contain a subpoint? Are the subpoints analytic? Are they relevant to the main point? Are the paragraphs unified (do they stick to proving their subpoints or do they wander off on tangents)? Do they develop their points? Where could you push your analysis further? (NOTE: If your paragraphs are more than a page long, they probably contain too much information and need to be divided into several shorter units.) Do you provide enough evidence to support your subpoints? Note places where additional or stronger evidence is needed. (If you employ any quotations, are they gracefully introduced and correctly documented?) Are the subjects or agents of each of your sentences clearly identifiable--e.g., do you ever use “he,” “she,” “it,” “they” (etc.) ambiguously? Is your language gender-specific when it should not be--do you use “he” and “him” and “his” to represent the entire human race? Is the action of each sentence located in the verb (e.g., it is usually more compelling to employ “X influenced Y” rather than “Y had an influence on X”)? If not, why not? Find all your transition sentences (those that end one paragraph and lead into the following paragraph). Are they clear and useful? Evaluate your conclusion. Does it reiterate the main point and subpoints as well as add to or amplify them? If it does not, what could you do to improve your concluding paragraph(s)? Where are the analytic parts of your paper--individual words, phrases, sentences? If you can’t find them, why not? Are you using too much plot summary, wasting time recounting a film’s “story” rather than discussing the film as a film? Finally, check spelling (do not rely on computer spellcheckers!!), usage, and punctuation (e.g., affect and effect? It’s and its? Their, there, they’re? To, two, too? Diegetic rather than diagetic? Etc.). DO ALL OF THIS AGAIN!!

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