You should write posts connecting the films you watched to the subject under consideration, Film Noir

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This is the third of our weekly “general topic” Discusisons. You should write posts connecting the films you watched to the subject under consideration, Film Noir. While you do not need to answer a specific prompt, this is an outlet for discussion about the weekly topics, and an opportunity to share ideas about work you are doing each week.

Since this week’s [Week Three’s] main subject is “Film Noir,” and because we are studying American culture as well as American filmmaking, you should write posts connecting the films you watched to the subject under consideration.

Please draw on Paul Schrader’s important essay “Notes on Film Noir” and on my Film Noir notes (both in Course Content), and whatever other research you’re drawn to on your own; toward that end, you’ll also notice in CC that, in the Suggested Viewing/Reading List, there are titles for pertinent books and DVDs.

A note on the term “film noir”: it is, of course, French, and means, literally, “black [or dark] film,” and was (probably) coined by the French critic Nino Frank in 1946, to describe the darker and darker (socially critical, existential, perhaps even cynical or fatalistic) films that appeared on American screens in the early and mid-1940s, and came in a flood to French cinemas all at once soon after the end of World War II; the term was popularized for (some) American readers by Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton (also French critics) in their 1955 book, A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-1953, which should be in my Suggested list (and will be in the next installment).

While these authors trace the beginnings of the genre (if that’s what it is) to 1941 and John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (based on a crime novel by Dashiell Hammett), its origins can also be seen in another 1941 film I Wake Up Screaming (also based on a crime novel, by Steve Fisher), or even a bit earlier in the (even) more obscure 1940 film Stranger on the Third Floor; I tend to think of Film Noir as more of a post-World War II movement (if that’s what it is, or style, or mode, or genre…), owing mostly to filmmakers’ (and novelists’ and other cultural critics’) observation of, and views on, life in the U.S. after the war. I comment briefly on this in my Course Content note, Schrader has his own view, and I may say more (about his and mine) as I respond to your posts in this Discusssion Forum.

I should also mention here that Borde and Chaumeton’s book appeared while some of the films under consideration this week were still being made and released, considering that Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (considered by many to be the last “true” noir) didn’t appear until three years after the book’s publication, and five years after the closing date in their book title, 1953. And as you’ll see as we move into “Neo-Noir” (a perhaps unfortunate term, but useful, I think) next week, the spirit of the genre/movement lived on, up to (and beyond, I’m sure) the present day.

A note on how the term appears in print in English: This is problematic. Because it is French, the noun precedes the adjective (as is the case in most French construction, I believe). And because it is French, it often appears in italics (as the “rules” say we should do when using “foreign” words, terms or phrases) as well as in all lower case: film noir. And the thing that might look the weirdest is (as you’ll see in our textbook) the plural form: “films noirs” (which, even though I’m not much of a scholar of French, is how it works in that tongue — both the noun and the adjective have a terminal “s”). Finally, the term appears alternately in leading caps or all lower case: “Film Noir” or “film noir.”

All that said, because these “rules” are so confusing, and because so many writers bend them in various ways, I don’t care which way you do it. You can type “Film Noir” or “film noir” or “film noir” [which might get a little tedious] or “films noirs” or “film noirs” or just plain “Noir” or “noir” or “noirs” (as many writers do). All I ask is that whatever you choose, remain consistent throughout your usage. [I know this paragraph is sort of like a plumber talking to someone about the arcane intricacies of different kinds of pipes and fittings, when all the person wants is for his or her plumbing to work properly, but it’s something few scholars (or language freaks) talk about, and it’s something you need to know if you’re going to write about the subject at hand.]

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact me about them.

See you in the Dark City of the ’40s and ’50s.

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