TOPICS IN FILM, VIDEO, AND MOVING-IMAGE CULTURE:
M 7-10:30 p.m., Screenings, and T 2-4:30 p.m., Discussions, HHH 321
PROFESSOR BOB NOWLAN
Office: HHH 425
Office Hours: M 10:30-11:30 p.m.,
T 4:30-5:30 p.m., and By Appointment
Contact: (715) 836-4369, firstname.lastname@example.org
STEVE SPARKS, GRADUATE STUDENT MENTOR
Whatever its origins, noir films, from the classic cycle onward, have always concentrated on depicting a figuratively "darker" side of contemporary social life, and they have always done so by drawing upon a striking array of distinct narrative, characterological, thematic, visual, and aural styles that provide the spectator-auditor a visceral experience of what it looks, sounds, and feels like to live submerged in a nightmare world-a world where, to draw upon Raymond Chandler's apt description, "the streets were dark with something more than night" ("The Simple Act of Murder" 1944).
The "darkness" we literally perceive in attending to noir films, as these films' audience, stands as the objective correlative of a traumatic subjective state (one that is, for that matter, simultaneously both individually and socially subjective). Film noir is, in short, an ultimately highly expressionistic mode of film. This means film noir does represent reality, but it does not do so in a naturalistic way, concentrating on verisimilitude of superficial, empirical detail. Instead, film noir expresses, and communicates (albeit often elliptically), to us about primarily 1.) passionately emotional and densely psychological, 2.) intensely imaginary and acutely ideological, and 3.) fantastically symbolic and richly allegorical dimensions of the lived experience of these films' human subjects' relations to objectively real conditions of existence.
Noir films at times, at least at first glance, certainly do appear as either simple, straightforward melodramas, or mere escapist, diverting thrillers. Yet this prototypical cinematic "pulp fiction" often proves much more complex than initially appears to be the case. Tensions and conflicts riddle the dominant "texts" of noir films, and these (dominant) texts themselves struggle, often violently, with numerous contesting "subtexts" and "countertexts." What's more, the multiple discourses that form and constitute noir texts, subtexts, and countertexts take shape by means of the continuous condensation and displacement of multiple disturbances, contradictions, ruptures, and fissures. (As a terminological aside, let me note here that "signs" can be thought of as the fundamental constituent elements of meaning; "texts" can be conceived of as discrete, cohesive combinations of patterned signs; and "discourses" can be understood as particular structures for combining signs, or, in other words, as particular modes of signification. Film expresses and communicates meaning by way of strategies and techniques of mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, sound, and special effects, as well as by way of strategies and techniques of narrative, genre, character, authorship, and theme. We can find film signs and film discourses within and across all of these areas [and more], while we can find film texts comprised of signs and discourses making use of myriad different combinations from these available repertories of expressive-communicative techniques and strategies.)
Film noir exerts intense power upon-and provides great pleasure for-audiences uninterested in subjecting these films to rigorous scrutiny, yet it also greatly rewards such effort, providing us not only with a richer appreciation for these films' achievement, but also with crucial knowledge about the historically specific societies and social strata, as well as cultures and subcultures, out of which these films emerge and back into which they extend their impact. In this course, we will, therefore, examine these films to see what we can learn, in particular, about contradictory tendencies-and, especially countervailing undercurrents-within the modern, as well as the postmodern, American cultural imaginary, i.e., within the American collective unconscious during the historical epoch that saw the United States of America become the world's most powerful nation.
What's more, noir stories, novels, films,
and "fashion styles" have been experiencing a considerable
"renaissance" of both critical attention and public interest at this
historical moment, over the course
of the last approximately ten years, of which the recent Library of
America endorsement of the "canonization" of the American noir roman
(i.e. the 1998 publication of Crime Novels: American Noir of
the 1930s and 1940s and Crime Novels: American Noir of the
1950s) is only one especially striking instance among many, many
others. This list includes: the recent release of such overtly noir
as L.A. Confidential, U-Turn, Memento,
and Mulholland Drive (to name just a few) as well as Carly
Simon's "Film Noir" music album (following upon earlier album-length
musical tributes from
Charlie Haden and John Zorn); the promotion of "noir fashions" and
"noir styles" from the likes of Tom Ford, Gucci, Fendi, Ralph Lauren,
Camel, and even Pottery Barn; the American Movie Classics
cable television channel's "tribute to film noir" as the principal
focus of its annual film preservation festival in the fall of 1997; the
"Universal Noir" and "Columbia Noir" series of restored and
re-released classic films from Universal, Paramount, and Columbia
studios which have now traveled to many cities across the United
States, including Minneapolis; the publication of at least fifteen
major book-length studies of film noir in the last eight years (with a
considerable number more already scheduled for release within the next
several years); the inauguration of a major annual film noir
festival at the new "American Cinematheque" in the restored Egyptian
theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, starting in 1999; and
the emergence of an abundant and recurrent number of
other prominent noir events, noir references, and noir allusions across
many disparate sites within contemporary American culture. (What's
more, the "noir mediascape," to borrow film historian and
critic James Naremore's characterization, certainly extends worldwide
today. To take just one example, this past summer I read seven novels
from Edinburgh, Scotland novelist Ian Rankin's critically
acclaimed "Inspector Rebus series." As James Ellroy [contemporary
American noir novelist responsible for such work as L.A.
Confidential] puts it, and as is quoted on the opening pages of
every recent printing in the Rebus series, Ian Rankin is "the
progenitor-and king-of tartan noir." [my emphasis] Certainly
Britain and France, in particular, maintain strong noir traditions in
right, yet noir productions today emanate from Central and South
America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia as well as from North America
and Western Europe.)
Why is it that "the noir" has for so long
remained so fascinating to so many and, in fact, recently has received
such extraordinary renewed attention and acclaim? According to the
editors of the
Library of America series, the source of this fascination can be
explained as follows: noir fiction
Although this is a descriptively colorful and intriguingly provocative account, I propose that what is of the greatest particular interest about "the noir," at least from a critical theoretical vantage point, is ultimately of a different order than what the Library of America editors have here suggested. Working from a Marxist perspective, it is my conviction that noir fiction and film offer potentially powerful sites for a critical inquiry into the political and ideological uses of psychologistic and moralistic discourses of "criminality" in managing and containing the formation of rebellious subjectivities within (post)modern American culture. This inquiry is best initiated, as I see it, by engaging the markedly ambiguous and at least incipiently, embryonically "critical" ways in which noir fiction and film most often represent relations between crime and punishment, justice and the law, integrity and corruption, and ethics and politics.
This engagement in turn involves subjecting the social texts of these novels, stories, and films to rigorous critique, however, in order to produce the transformative insights that they can, potentially, provide, because these insights are not often directly proffered by the stories, novels, and films themselves. In fact, these insights are usually substantially distorted and diverted by way of the adoption of an overwhelmingly cynically and anarchically "anti-critical" stance toward the serious social problems the stories, novels, and films confront. Indeed, within the social texts of these writings and films, the possibility of gaining transformative knowledge tends most often to be blocked, evacuated, subordinated, or otherwise concealed by way of the highly mediated and extensively displaced methods and mechanisms according to which these stories, novels, and films engage in processes of formal, symbolic, and imaginary resolution, dissolution, and irresolution (i.e., postponement or suspension) of the concrete social-historical contradictions of an ascendant and hegemonic American capitalism.
However, I contend that the ultimate political concerns of these writings and films are, nonetheless, state terrorism, sexual (and, frequently also, racial) conflict, and class struggle--and that these concerns are far more sharply and at least pre-critically foregrounded in these texts than in virtually all other prominent "mainstream" genres of 20th and 21st century American fiction and film. Moreover, insofar as there does exist a strong political dimension to the continued and renewed appeal of both film noir and the roman noir ("the black novel"), I further suggest that this is in significant part a reflection of the politically unconscious recognition, and the politically imaginary anticipation, of the continued historic necessity for revolutionary transformation and supersession of capitalist social relations on the part of those who have so responded to this appeal--the appeal of "the noir."
Film noir and the roman noir are not, in and of themselves, inherently politically radical phenomena, by any means, yet the characteristic tensions and convolutions among their constituent discourses can be critiqued so as to reveal the limits of bourgeois ideology in (post)modern America, and, in particular, the failure of bourgeois ideology altogether to eradicate the basis for the future emergence of a revolutionary proletarian class consciousness, despite the long history of "American exceptionalism" and the seeming far greater viability of fascism as opposed to socialism on the contemporary American political scene. As Pierre Kast first noted, in 1953, Frederick Engels offers a useful insight into the political value of film noir and the roman noir, in arguing that an artist "perfectly fulfills his function, when through a faithful representation of existing social relations, he destroys conventional illusions about the nature of these relations, shakes up the optimism of the bourgeois world, forcing it to doubt the endurance of the existing order, even if he does not indicate a solution, even if he does not, in an obvious way, take sides" (Quoted in "A Brief Essay on Optimism,"Perspectives on Film Noir, Edited by R. Barton Palmer, New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1996, 49).
This is not to say that film noir or the roman noir simply tell social and political truths by way of what novelistic and cinematic art and technology make possible, and certainly not simply by working within the forms and adhering to the conventions of narrative realism as defined either by the classic "hard-boiled" "pulp novel" or within the classic Hollywood studio system. Yet film noir and the roman noir are as close as commercial crime fiction on the one hand and the commercial film industry of Hollywood on the other hand have come, and, for that matter, probably ever can come, to telling the truth about the "dark" reality of life under (post)modern capitalism--a dark reality of exploitation, oppression, alienation, dehumanization, and destruction.
Of course, the Marxist perspective I have just outlined and which forms the preliminary prospectus for a major future work of mine (a book entitled Fear and Frenzy, Repression and Resistance, State Terrorism, Sexual Conflict, and Class Struggle: Film Noir and the (Post)Modern American Political Imaginary) is only one of a considerable variety of different ways in which it is possible to make compelling sense of the meaning, value, and significance of the "phenomenon" of "the noir." In this course we will also explore formalist, structuralist, narratological, populist, humanist, romanticist, auteurist, existentialist, psychoanalytic, phenomenological, feminist, queer, multiculturalist, postcolonialist, new and old historicist, post-structuralist, post-modernist, post-Marxist, and cultural studies approaches to understanding and appreciating film noir. After all, as film noir critic and historian Paul Arthur not that long ago indicated,
As Arthur suggests, film noir is probably
the single broad category of classic Hollywood films to have attracted
equally widespread enthusiastic--and, for that matter, frequently
among film makers, film scholars, and popular film audiences. In each
of these three cases, moreover, devotees of film noir have come from an
extremely diverse array of backgrounds, experiences,
outlooks, and perspectives as well.
3.As a critical theorist, I contend that it is possible to gain an ultimately much more powerful appreciation for--and even enjoyment of--literary, artistic, and cinematic texts by subjecting these texts to critical and theoretical scrutiny than by simply responding to them in a largely uncritical, and indeed often passively unquestioning, way. In other words, I regard serious intellectual engagement as breaking with and moving past the modes of reception and response which involve merely suspending all disbelief (whether willingly or unwillingly), losing one's self in the illusion, surrendering to the manipulation of the text, and delighting in the seemingly inexplicable and unaccountable "magic," "mystery," and "wonder" the text appears to produce within and upon one's "self." However, I at the same time believe that it is extremely important to take seriously, and to attempt carefully to understand, both the determinants and the effectivities of the kinds of non-critical/pre-critical/and anti-critical indulgences in the "pleasures of the text" I have just described in the preceding sentence. Like most of the writers we will read during this session, I have long found film noir to be powerfully personally affecting. Film noir has long struck me as the most interesting, pleasurable, and enjoyable--as well as the most compelling, provocative, and insightful--broad class of Hollywood film. And yet, if anything, my personal attraction to film noir, which has at times proven somewhat difficult readily to explain and justify among friends, partners, colleagues, and comrades who have not shared this attraction, or at least not to the same extreme, has motivated me all the more to approach film noir as an object demanding of critical and theoretical examination. I welcome you joining with me on the occasion this course presents for engagement in such pursuit.
Noir characters often battle quite
and valiantly, with themselves, with others, and with the general
circumstances in which they find themselves. In so doing, they strive
as best possible
to live lives of existential authenticity, according to their own
eccentric codes of individual honor, even while accepting that their
flawed attempts will most likely fall (far) short of this goal. Film
further depicts human beings as often highly needy and vulnerable, even
if frequently unable readily to admit or respond to this "lack" in
themselves-or in others. Although filled with intensely active
characters, these are most often far from conventionally heroic
figures, and they certainly rarely demonstrate anything even
approaching supernatural powers. Noir protagonists regularly make
mistakes, and they don't always, by any means, recover from these; at
other times, no matter what they do (or don't do), the trajectory of
their life's well-being, of their fates and fortunes, seems
overwhelmingly beyond their control.
At other times, when noir protagonists, and especially noir antagonists-including the femme fatale-act in cruelly manipulative ways in pursuit of greedily selfish ends, a critical consciousness of the oppressive social conditions under which-and of the corrupt political forces against which-these characters struggle to survive, subsist, and, as far as possible, prosper, helps us place their otherwise unappealing behavior in a considerably more sympathetic perspective. For instance, many feminists, including a number with whom I have worked closely in the past, actually find this classic "evil woman" far from simply the misogynist projection it was initially often described to be (a characterization which some, especially casual commentators, perpetuate to this day). By reading these films "against the dominant grain," and thereby activating the perspective of the femme fatale against the framing discourses that seek to contain, demonize, and punish her, it is possible to see the femme fatale as a virtual anti-hero. As such, she responds in a coldly rational way versus patriarchal sexist infantilization, trivialization, alienation, incarceration, and degradation: she fights back, in other words, against the historically and culturally institutionalized abuse of women. The femme fatale takes advantage of what little means are made available to her, making ingenious use of what she can (especially, of course, of her sexuality), as she struggles to acquire what otherwise is denied her on account of the fact that she is a woman. And the femme fatale often becomes the towering center of many of these films, even while performing an elaborate masquerade that forestalls others (male and female) from easily grasping what she actually seeks, how, and why (thereby all the more effectively eliminating obstacles and preventing opposition to her quest). She frequently serves as the preeminent magnetic force for noir audiences as well as for the male characters she plays with-and off. At the same time, the superficial appearance of the femme fatale in film noir as a sinister yet tantalizing threat can tell us much more about heterosexual male neuroses, and much more about women's struggle for social equality as well as men's resistance to it, than it does about any kind of essential female proclivity for venality, especially given the fact that it is from the perspective of those men who conceive themselves to be her victim[s] that we are encouraged to perceive her as "evil."
In sum, entering into the "spirit of the noir" requires that we respect the considerable zest for life so many noir characters display even as they flail about in the midst of the most haunting and precarious of (doomed) circumstances. And finally, it involves an openness to appreciate-perhaps even to take something of a perverse delight in-these films' notorious reliance upon a highly stylized use of (razor) wit and (black) humor (it is worth noting well that wit and humor in fact pervade film noir to a degree that might at first seem quite surprising for films focused on such "dark" aspects of human social experience). I hope, in conclusion, that our study of film noir together this semester will prove an enjoyable as well as enlightening experience for you.
The following books are required
texts in this course, and may be purchased at the UWEC Bookstore:
1. Naremore, James. More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.2. Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Women in Film Noir. 3rd Edition. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1998.
3. Krutnik, Frank. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre,
Masculinity. London: Routledge, 1991.
4. Christopher, Nicholas. Somewhere in the Night: Film
Noir and the American City. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.
5. Oliver, Kelly and Benigno Trigo. Noir Anxiety.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
6. Rabinowitz, Paula. Black and White and Noir: America's
Pulp Modernism. New York Columbia University Press, 2002.
I expect every member of the class to obtain access to a copy of each of these books. If you can find copies from sources other than the UWEC Bookstore, at lower prices, fine, but, if not, you should know I accept no excuses for not expeditiously obtaining access to these books. The cost of knowledge in a capitalist society can be quite expensive, and different groups of people maintain different access to it according to their relative socio-economic position; there is ultimately no way around this fact other than to transform this society as a whole into something fundamentally different. Until then, however, you can expect that most institutions of higher education, at least in the United States, will continue to require students themselves to pay for textbooks, and not to include this cost as part of what students pay in tuition. The relative cost of textbooks at UWEC is considerably less than it was where I went to school as an undergraduate, so I am not very sympathetic with complaints about this matter. If you cannot afford to pay for your books, you need to take time off from college, or before coming to college, to work to earn the amount of money it takes to cover this expense.
At the same time, you should note well that the UW System, like state colleges and universities across this country, has suffered fairly severe budgetary reductions over the course of the past year, and it is quite possible (even likely) that more cuts are yet to come. As a consequence, not only will tuition increase but also additional fees will show up in many different places. For instance, the University cannot afford to provide you as many free supplementary texts, in photocopy form, as was possible just a short while ago. As a result, you can expect that you will have to pay more for books and course packets, and that a greater number of texts will show up on both traditional and electronic reserve, as well as in other cost-savings formats.
I will continue to supply copies of other required texts used in this course. Some of these will appear in the form of photocopied handouts, but many will only be available through means of traditional or electronic reserve. In other cases, I will post links and other documents on our Blackboard electronic classroom website. I expect you to take responsibility for finding credits information as well as plot summaries for the films we will screen this semester. In addition, I strongly encourage you to go to the film reference section of McIntyre Library in order to seek additional background materials, as well as reviews and critiques, on these films. Please note well that many of the readily available film reviews online are ill-informed and poor quality; not all, for sure, but many. You need to scrutinize these especially carefully, concentrating only on making use of clearly credible and reliable sources.
From time to time students may, furthermore, be required to bring short texts, especially copies of your own writing, to class, and we will, as proves useful, discuss in class your writings on our Blackboard electronic classroom website.
Finally, I will supply copies of all films we will use this semester (which we will screen, in all cases, in either DVD or VHS format, with large-screen projection and high fidelity stereo sound reproduction). I will help students obtain access to copies of films to use for their group project presentations (in almost all cases I will be able to lend you copies for work on these projects).
*** PLEASE NOTE WELL: ALL READING ASSIGNMENTS
THE SCHEDULE BELOW ARE DUE AHEAD OF THE CLASS MEETINGS IN WHICH WE WILL
DISCUSS THESE READINGS. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR BRINGING THE COURSE
BOOK OR BOOKS TO CLASS ON THE DAYS IN WHICH WE WILL BE DISCUSSING
READINGS FROM THIS BOOK OR THESE BOOKS. FAILURE TO DO SO WILL
NEGATIVELY AFFECT YOUR LEARNING AND CONTRIBUTION GRADE; STUDENTS WHO
CONSISTENTLY FAIL TO BRING THEIR BOOKS TO CLASS, OR WHO FAIL TO COME
PREPARED TO DISCUSS THE ASSIGNED READINGS WILL SUFFER THE LOSS OF ONE
FULL LETTER GRADE FOR THIS REASON ALONE.. ***
KEY (ABBREVIATIONS FOR BOOK TITLES IN THE SCHEDULE BELOW):
SN=Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City
LS=In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity
MN=More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts
BWN=Black, White, and Noir: America’s Pulp Modernism
WFN=Women in Film Noir
9/2 Introduction and Orientation: Introduction of Course, Teacher, and Students; Screening from American Cinema: One Hundred Years of Filmmaking, Part Four: Film Noir.
9/8 Screening, Murder My Sweet (1944) and Touch of Evil (1958).
9/9 Discussion, Screenings from 9/8 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: SN, Introduction, pp. ix-xiii and Appendix, pp. 267-268; LS, Chapters 1-2, “Classical Hollywood: Film and Genre,” and “Genre and the Problem of Film Noir,” pp. 3-29; and NA, Chapter 2, “Poisonous Jewels in Murder My Sweet,” pp. 27-47, and Chapter 6, “The Borderlands of Touch of Evil,” pp. 115-136.
9/15 Screening, Out of the Past (1947) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
9/16 Discussion, Screenings from 9/15 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: SN, Chapter 1, “Into the Labyrinth,” pp. 1-32; MN, Chapter 1, “The History of an Idea,” pp. 9-39; BWN, Chapter 1, “Already Framed: Esther Bubley Invents Noir,” pp. 25-59; Robert Lang, “Looking for the ‘Great Whatzit’: Kiss Me Deadly and Film Noir,” (Supplemental Text, Distribution Means to be Determined); and J.P. Telotte, “Talk and Trouble: Kiss Me Deadly’s Apocalyptic Discourse” (Supplemental Text, Distribution Means to be Determined).
9/22 Screening, Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Blue Dahlia (1946).
9/23 Discussion, Screenings from 9/22 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: LS, Chapter 5, “Film Noir and America in the 1940s,” pp. 56-72; WFN, Harvey, “Woman’s Place: the Absent Family of Film Noir,” pp. 35-46, and Cook, “Duplicity in Mildred Pierce,” pp. 69-80; NA, “Introduction: Dropping the Bombshell,” pp. xiii-xxxv; and BWN, Chapter 2, “Domestic Labor: Film Noir, Proletarian Literature, and Black Women’s Fiction,” pp. 60-81.
9/29 Screening, Laura (1944) and Gilda (1946).
9/30 Discussion, Screenings from 9/29 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: WFN, Place, “Women in Film Noir,” pp. 47-68, Dyer, “Resistance through Charisma: Rita Hayworth and Gilda, pp. 115-122, Dyer, “Postscript: Queers and Women in Film Noir,” pp. 123-129, and Martin, “‘Gilda Didn’t Do Any of Those Things You’ve Been Losing Sleep Over!’: the Central Women of 40s Films Noirs,” pp. 202-221.
* First Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper Assigned. *
10/6 Screening, The Killers (1946) and Dead Reckoning (1947).
10/7 Discussion, Screenings from 10/6 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: LS, Chapters 6-8, “Masculinity and its Discontents,” “The ‘Tough’ Investigative Thriller,” and “The ‘Tough’ Suspense Thriller,” pp. 75-135, as well as Chapter 10, “A Problem in ‘Algebra’: Dead Reckoning and the Regimentation of the Masculine,” pp. 164-181.
10/13 Screening, Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lady from Shanghai (1948).
10/14 Discussion, Screenings from 10/13 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: MN, Selection from Chapter 2, “Modernism and Blood Melodrama: Three Case Studies,” pp. 81-95; WFN, Johnston, “Double Indemnity,” pp. 89-98, and Kaplan, “‘The Dark Continent of Film Noir’: Race, Displacement, and Metaphor in Tourneur’s Cat People (1942) and Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1948),” pp. 183-201; LS, Chapter 9, “The Criminal-Adventure Thriller,” pp. 136-163; and NA, “Stereotype and Voice in The Lady from Shanghai,” pp. 49-72.
* First Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper Due. *
10/20 Screening, The Third Man (1949) and Night and the City (1950).
10/21 Discussion, Screenings from 10/20 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: MN, Selection from Chapter 2, “Modernism and Blood Melodrama: three Case Studies,” pp. 40-81; and SN, Chapters 2-3, “Night and the City” and “Postcards from the Ruins: Some Americans Abroad,” pp. 33-84.
10/27 Screening, Force of Evil (1948) and Pitfall (1948).
10/28 Discussion, Screenings from 10/27 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: SN, Chapter 4, “Office Buildings and Casinos,” pp. 85-149; MN, Chapter 3, “From Dark Films to Black Lists: Censorship and Politics,” pp. 96-135; Pierre Kast, “A Brief Essay on Optimism” (Supplemental Text, Distribution Means to be Announced); Philip Kemp, “From the Nightmare Factory: HUAC and the Politics of Noir” (Supplemental Text, Distribution Means to be Determined); and Paul Arthur, “The Gun in the Briefcase; or, the Inscription of Class in Film Noir” (Supplemental Text, Distribution Means to be Determined).
11/3 Screening, The Big Combo (1955) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
11/4 Discussion, Screenings from 11/3 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: SN, Chapters 5-6, “Grafters, Grifters, and Tycoons” and “The Dark Mirror: Sex, Dreams, and Psychoanalysis,” pp. 151-222; and MN, Chapter 4 “Low is High: Budgets and Critical Discrimination,” pp. 136-162, and Selection from Chapter 5, “Old is New: Styles of Noir: Black and White and Red,” pp. 167-196.
11/10 Screening, Klute (1971) and Chinatown (1974).
11/11 Discussion, Screenings from 11/10 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: WFN, Geldhill, “Klute 1: A Contemporary Film Noir and Feminist Criticism,” pp. 20-34, and “Klute 2: Feminism and Klute,” pp. 99-114; MN, Selection from Chapter 5, “Old is New: Styles of Noir: Parody, Pastiche, Fashion,” 196-219; and NA, “Jokes in Chinatown: A Question of Place,” pp. 137-161.
11/17 Screening, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and Devil in a Blue Dress (1995).
11/18 Discussion, Screenings from 11/17 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: MN, Chapter 6, “The Other Side of the Street,” pp. 220-253; NA, “Franklin’s New Noir: Devil in a Blue Dress,” pp. 163-188; BWN, Chapter 3, “Double Cross: Wri(gh)ting as the Outsider,” pp. 82-102.
11/24 Screening, Bound (1996) and Mulholland Drive (2001).
11/25 Discussion, Screenings from 11/24 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: MN, Chapter 7, “The Noir Mediascape,” pp. 254-277; NA, Chapter 9, “Make it Real: Bound’s Way Out,” pp. 189-210; WFN, Straayer, “Femme Fatale or Lesbian Femme: Bound in Sexual Difference,” pp. 151-163; and BWN, Chapter 6-7, “Not ‘Just the Facts, Ma’am’: Social Workers as Private Eyes,” and “Barbara Stanwyck’s Anklet,” pp. 142-192.
* Second Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper Assigned. *
12/1 Screening, Croupier (1999) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001).
12/2 Discussion, Screenings from 12/1 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: To Be Announced.
12/8 Screening, Happy Together (1997) and Urbania (2000).
12/9 Discussion, Screenings from 12/8 and Readings Below.
Read for Class: To Be Announced.
ORGANIZATION AND CONDUCT OF CLASS SESSIONS
Tuesday afternoons we will discuss readings from textbooks and other sources as well as the screenings from the previous evening. We will take a ten-minute break during this session. Discussion will proceed according to a variety of formats. At times I will make relatively short, informal presentations, but I prefer not to lecture; instead I want to work directly and closely together with you so that we can together come to grips with the films, and the issues, this course addresses. Rather than present lectures in class, as need be I'll prepare and post lectures, and lecture notes, on Blackboard for you to study and review on your own.
At times students will do some short writing before or during class to help facilitate discussions, at times students will work in small groups, at times students may make short presentations to the whole class, and at times we will refer to writings you have posted on Blackboard. Frequently we will watch clips from films previously screened, and often we will watch clips and shorts from additional sources as well as DVD extras on the films we have screened.
I, together with Steve Sparks, will maintain ultimate responsibility, authority, and control for the direction of our class discussions, yet we will do our best to make sure we hear extensively from everyone else. I recognize and respect that the students enrolled in this class represent differences in prior knowledge, experience, training, work, or other preparation vis-a-vis areas central to our collective focus of inquiry, and that some are more versus less inclined as well as more versus less comfortable speaking in class. Yet I expect that these differences, along with differences in social, cultural, economic, political, and ideological ascriptions, affiliations, and commitments, all will be brought to the fore so that each member of the class can contribute to its success from both where she is at and toward where he aspires to be.
ON INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGES, ACADEMIC FREEDOM,
AND CURRICULAR INTEGRITY
The English Department aims to provide you
with an intellectually challenging education. This means we will often
include texts and introduce topics in our courses that candidly explore
including ones offering representations that may, on occasion, prove
unsettling, disturbing, and even offensive to some of you.
The higher educational academy is not a "safe space" separate from the rest of the "real world" where you can expect to be sheltered from encountering anything you might find disagreeable or objectionable. On the contrary, we expect you to take up the challenge to confront these kinds of texts and topics in a mature, responsible way, and that means bringing directly to bear your negative reactions-including your reactions of shock, dismay, and discontent-in class discussions and in your writings and presentations for class. If you find a position or practice represented in a text or topic included in the assigned readings or screenings for class to be objectionable, it is therefore of crucial importance that you raise your objections openly and honestly, not simply claim personal exemption from having to see, hear, or talk, read, and write about these kinds of matters. After all, disturbing positions and practices exist extensively outside of the classroom as well as in what we read, see, hear, and otherwise confront in and for class; what we confront in class exists in this institutional space as symptomatic of positions and practices that operate beyond the confines of the classroom, the course, and the university. If and when you find any text or topic genuinely appalling, you maintain the ethical responsibility, as a mature adult and as a responsible citizen, not simply to try to hide from these positions and practices but rather to work to critique and change them.
Students should expect therefore that you may well on occasion encounter representations that you will find troubling, in this UWEC course and in many others as well; within this Department you will receive no right of exemption from engaging with these and no welcome for simply complaining (especially to a higher administrative authority) about their inclusion. Instead you should bring your objections forthrightly to bear in your contributions to class discussion. Finally, to conclude this particular point of discussion, a professor differs from a high school teacher in many respects, but one key difference is that we maintain a principal professional, ethical responsibility forthrightly to represent the most advanced knowledges in our fields of expertise and to proceed from there to work toward their further development and dissemination. In short, we must create, advocate for, and profess these knowledges; you should expect that your professors may from time to time take strong and indeed controversial positions on difficult and challenging issues, eschewing the pretense of disinterested neutrality. To do anything less than assume this responsibility, and to do so with alacrity, would be to shirk our professorial responsibility and to render ourselves unworthy of maintaining our professorial position.
1.) an understanding of a liberal education.
2.) an appreciation of the University as a learning community.
3.) an ability to inquire, think, analyze.
4.) an ability to write, read, speak, listen.
5.) an understanding of numerical data.
6.) a historical consciousness.
7.) international and intercultural experience.
8.) an understanding of science and scientific methods.
9.) an appreciation of the arts.
11.) an understanding of human behavior and human institutions.
UWEC strives to help you meet these objectives in the course of the higher education you pursue here. Please note that in making these our foremost aims, we at UWEC clearly distinguish ourselves from technical colleges as well as from all other UW schools, especially places like Stout, River Falls, and Stevens Point. English 381, Topics in Film, Video, and Moving-Image Culture: Film Noir aims to help contribute to you meeting goals 1-4, 6, and 9-11.
These goals cannot be met passively by the student: each requires your striving toward it to be met. Striving means learning actively, completing assignments in a thorough and timely fashion, participating in class discussion, and making connections (above and beyond those emphasized by us in the classroom) between what we do while meeting in class and what you do when engaged outside of the classroom.
GENERAL EXPECTATIONS OF STUDENTS
I expect students in this course to strive
to become sincerely interested in learning about the subject matter of
this course, and to be consistently intellectually serious as well as
academically diligent in
their pursuit of this learning. I expect students to bring actively and
extensively to bear-in your writing and your contributions to class
discussion-insights you gain through your engagement with the
texts and topics addressed as part of this course, and I expect you at
the same time to relate these texts and topics as closely and as fully
as possible to subjects of genuine interest and concern in your
own lives. Finally, I expect students to let me as quickly as possible
when and if you have any questions or problems about any aspect of how
you are doing in and with the course, so that I can do
everything I possibly can to help answer these questions and solve
SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COURSE GRADE
In evaluating all work done for this course,
I will take account of how carefully, seriously, intelligently,
enthusiastically, and imaginatively students engage with the concepts,
issues, positions, and
arguments addressed in the course and represented by the texts we read,
the films we screen, by me, and by each other.
Attendance is required at both screening and discussion sections. Students are allowed three unexcused absences, maximum. Other than that, except for an emergency, your grade will suffer significantly if you miss class. If emergencies require you to miss additional classes beyond the three allowed, you need to supply me with written documentation that explains why you needed to miss class. No student who misses more than six classes total will pass this course.
I also expect students to arrive on time and
to stay through the end of class; I will not count you as present if
you do not do so.
Learning and Contribution
What This is and Why it is
My foremost aim in teaching this course is to help you to learn something of significance and value. I will judge you to a significant degree on what you learn, how- and how hard-you strive to learn, and on how-along with how well-you contribute to the learning for the rest of the class.
You cannot learn or help others learn if you do not contribute. If you don't contribute to the work of this class not only will you fail to derive as much gain from it as would be the case if you did contribute, but also you will deprive everyone else of the benefit of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, knowledge, and experience. In fact, to remain passively silent in class exploits the work of others who actively engage.
Class participation represents an important
opportunity to learn, not just a place in which to demonstrate what you
have learned. By raising questions, testing and trying out ideas,
taking risks and
making mistakes, you learn a great deal-and help others learn a great
deal as well. You learn through talking, not just talk to show what you
have learned. Don't ever hesitate to speak forth in class if
you have anything at all to throw into the mix.
At the same time, just talking a great deal does not necessarily mean that you are making a quality contribution to the class by aiding the learning that we aim to accomplish. Quality of participation is much more important than quantity, although a sufficient quantity is indispensable to insure quality. Still, I want to emphasize here that I perceive talking for talking's sake, especially talking which pulls us off on far-fetched tangents, which remains disconnected from and disengaged with the readings, the screenings, and the focus of class, or which effectively silences others, to be negative participation.
I would like you to come to class with strong opinions on the topics of discussion, to be ready to share your opinions with the class, and to be open-minded enough to debate your thoughts and to push them as far as they will go. This last aspect will involve what some may think is overanalyzing things, or pushing the envelope to the point where meaning may even seem to break down, but this process is often absolutely necessary to understand a topic fully.
In evaluating class participation, I find a modification of a system designed by my colleague, Professor Mary Ellen Alea, useful: A = Nearly daily response, but always with consistently useful, insightful comments and questions; B= Daily response, with regular comments and questions; C = Less frequent, occasional questions and comments; D= Usually or entirely quiet, or, F=Engaging in behavior that disrupts the learning processes for you and your fellow students, such as by talking while others are speaking.
Alternative Forms of Contribution
Contribution to the class certainly can
extend far beyond mere speaking in class: it may include a variety of
ways in which you can bring to bear your insights to help yourself as
well as the rest of us
gain from the experience of this course. Excellent writings for and in
response to class in papers, conferences, presentations, and Blackboard
postings can help make up for limitations as far as
participation in class goes. At the same time, listening carefully,
respectfully, and thoughtfully in class discussions is an important
contribution to class as well.
Learning and Contribution Reflection Papers/Learning and Contribution Reflection Grades
Learning and contribution will constitute
45% of the overall course grade. A significant
component of this will involve you writing two learning and
contribution reflection papers. The assignments
for these papers will each involve three parts.
First, I will ask you questions that will require you to engage in extended written form with issues concerning the films and readings we have been studying for the immediately preceding portion of the semester, as well to demonstrate what you are learning from working with these ideas. These questions will change from the first to the second paper, and you will most likely have multiple options from which to choose, with each option involving somewhat different kind of work on your part.
Second, I will ask you questions that will require you to assess how, and how well, you have been contributing to your own learning, and that of others in the class.
Third, I will ask you meta-textual questions that will require you to discuss how you put the reflection paper itself together, what you did as part of this process, and why so. In this context, a meta-text is an explanation of your intentions in writing the piece, how far you succeeded in your goals, and specific areas on which you would most like me to comment. When you receive your first learning and contribution reflection paper back from me, it will contain recommendations on how to improve. When you write your last paper, you must tell me how you have responded to my recommendations from your first paper.
As I see it, these papers provide you a useful opportunity to communicate with me how you believe you are doing with the course, as well as why so, and to demonstrate your critical self-reflexivity, the hallmark of a liberal arts education. As you are assessing your own learning and contribution, you may include thoughts in reaction to issues raised in class discussion that you did not have the opportunity or did not feel comfortable enough to share in class; these additional reflections will help me get a better sense of what you have been thinking about and how you have been responding to class discussions, as well as to the readings. I will take into account what you write in determining your learning and contribution grade for the preceding semester period; performance on these papers represents a vital component of your learning and contribution grade.
These papers should be typed, double-space,
on single sides of standard white letter-sized (8" X 11") typewriter,
computer printer, or photographic paper. All pages should be numbered,
should place your name at the top of each page. You may use any
standard font you wish, yet you should keep your point size between 10
and 12 points. Papers must be stapled, and you are
responsible for doing so, not us. You should follow all rules and
conventions of Standard Written English and MLA format for citation and
documentation of sources.
I recommend an approximate target range of
between 1500 to 2000 words (roughly
six to eight double-space, typed pages) for the first learning and
contribution reflection paper, and between 2000 to
2500 words (roughly eight to ten pages) for the
The first learning and contribution grade
(including the first learning and contribution reflection paper) will
worth 15% of the overall course
grade; the second learning and contribution reflection
paper (including the second learning and contribution reflection paper)
will be worth 30% of the overall
course grade. Late papers will lose
1/3 of a letter grade for each day they are turned in after the
deadline, except in case of a seriously urgent situation where I have
approved an extension; you need to communicate with me beforehand, if
at all possible, to request such an extension.
Approximately half-way to two-thirds of the way through the semester, I will ask you to meet in conference outside of class with me, and, as possible, at least on some occasions, with Steve as well, to engage in an extended, serious, critical discussion of one film we have previously screened together this semester. I estimate we will talk together for approximately one hour. You may work individually on this assignment, or in groups of two, three, or four students. Groups will share a common grade.
I will give you a copy of the film ahead of time so you can review it carefully and prepare to offer an incisive reading of the film in our conference. I will also give you specific questions ahead of time that I want you to come to the conference prepared to address.
Approximately 1/3 of the way through the semester you will be able to sign-up for films to work on as part of this assignment, and at the same time you can let me know if you wish to work on this project individually or as part of a group. This assignment will be worth 15% of the overall course grade.
Group Projects/Class Conference
Early in the semester (by roughly the end of
the fourth week of classes), students will sign up to participate in a
final project group comprised of no more than four students. Each group
together from that point forward to prepare a group presentation in
relation to two historically significant, critically acclaimed films
noir that we will not screen together as part of this course. I will
recommend specific pairs of films, and I will insure that you can
obtain VHS and/or DVD copies of these for you to use as you prepare for
and present your project.
Your group should research background information about the production, distribution, exhibition, and reception of your two films as well as study (serious, reputable) reviews and critiques of the two. I want you to incorporate this research into the development of your own critical analysis of these films. You should also conduct research on cultural and political issues represented in these two films so that you can effectively assess what kinds of potentially valuable social and historical knowledge we can gain from studying these films, including, as need be, by "reading them against the grain" and by subjecting them to critique.
You may certainly present divergent takes within your group on how to interpret and evaluate the two films, and in fact you should not worry at all that maintaining these kinds of differences will hurt you; just present your disagreements clearly and forthrightly.
Toward the end of the semester, each group will offer a presentation of its research findings and critical analyses as part of a final class conference. Each group will have a maximum of eighty minutes first to offer its presentation and second to engage with questions and comments from a public audience in a subsequent discussion of the group's presentation. The presentation should include a summary of the group's research findings, an elaboration of the group's own critical analysis, and an illustration of the group's key points by means of the screening of short clips from the films the group is addressing; this should take a maximum of 45 minutes and the subsequent discussion should take a maximum of 35 minutes.
The conference will be advertised around campus as one open to all interested members of the campus community. Students in this class will be required to attend at least one other groups' presentation beyond their own and will receive additional credit for attending more than one, as long as they ask at least one useful question or make at least one useful comment in response to the other group presentations they attend. You can receive 2% extra credit per each additional group project discussion beyond that of your own group and that of the one additional presentation you are required to attend.
You will receive a collective grade for this project. If, however, you are dissatisfied with your group's collective preparation and/or performance, and if you believe that you yourself deserve a higher grade than you expect the group as a whole to receive, you may write up a critique of the group's preparation and/or performance, as well as an elaboration of points that you believe needed to be made, or made more effectively, that your group did not achieve with its presentation. I will give you further instructions on the format for this critique paper later in the semester. If you do find yourself in the situation where you want to write this paper, I will then take your critique into account in considering whether or not to give you a different (higher) grade than the rest of your group. I will not guarantee, however, that this written critique will make any positive difference for you.
The grade for this assignment will be worth 25% of the overall course grade.
I have created a Blackboard electronic classroom website for this class. Beyond me posting material here for you to retrieve, I am also asking you periodically to post short papers on this site that reflect and comment on films and readings as well as engage in dialogue with each other. I will explain how to access this site, and make sure you can do so, very early in the semester.
Here's how this assignment will work. After each Tuesday discussion class meeting you will have the opportunity to post a short, informal paper on any issue you would like to address in relation to the films and readings discussed in class that Tuesday. Then, once your fellow students have posted their thoughts, you will have the opportunity to write a second short, informal paper responding to what one or more of your classmates has just posted.
Steve and I will be happy to make suggestions for topics you might briefly explore in these papers if you have a hard time thinking of any on your own. However, you may certainly feel free to write these papers as a series of questions that you would like your fellow classmates, as well as Steve, to address. You don't need to do this, but you can do so if you wish.
Your postings may be quite informal, yet you should nevertheless try to write as clearly and cogently as possible. I will also expect you to write papers that demonstrate you are taking this assignment seriously.
I will ask Steve to offer evaluations of how you have done with this work, and take into account his recommendations in grading your Blackboard papers. This will be a space where you can engage in discussion primarily with your peers and with Steve, largely free from having to worry about directly addressing me with anything that you here write.
You need not post these Blackboard papers every week; I expect you to write a minimum of four initial papers and four subsequent response papers in relation to the films screened and the reading assigned through October 20th (the first half of the semester). I will then expect you to write a minimum of four additional initial papers and four additional subsequent response papers in relation to films screened and readings assigned from the week of October 26 and 27 through the end of the semester.
You will have up to seven days after each Tuesday discussion class to post your initial paper and then up to seven additional days to post your subsequent response paper (except at the very end of the semester where we won't have quite this much time left).
I recommend an average of approximately 500 words for each Blackboard paper (i.e., the equivalent of roughly two double-space typed pages). This is not hard and fast at all; it's just to give you something to use as a guideline in drafting your reflections, comments, and responses.
Overall, I expect the opportunity to engage in this kind of supplementary, informal dialogue will help you in your overall learning and contribution, as well as make the course more interesting and meaningful for you. It will also give you the chance to test out and receive potentially helpful feedback on ideas you might want later to pursue in class discussions, in learning and contribution reflection papers, in the interview conference, and in the final group project presentation.
I will grade you twice on your Blackboard papers: 10% for the first half of the semester, and 10% for the second half of the semester. Again, I will take into account Steve's recommendations in determining these grades, but this will in every case be my decision, and mine alone; Steve cannot, according to law, be officially responsible for grading you in any aspect of your performance as part of this course.
Field Trip(s)/Extra Credit
Steve and I will work together with you to organize a class field trip (or two field trips) related to the focus of this course. We want to make this a fun occasion that expands beyond what we do in class as well as enhances it. Students who help organize the field trip (or field trips) will receive 5% extra credit for so doing (5% for each field trip). Students who participate in the field trip will also receive 5% additional extra credit (again, 5% for each field trip). We put together a highly successful and enjoyable field trip in English 381/581 last fall; I think we can match that this semester.
I encourage you to meet with me in conference during office hours or at another mutually convenient time to discuss any issue of interest or concern related to what we are doing in this course. Learning that takes place in conferences can at times be equally as important, and in fact occasionally even more important, than what takes place in class. Please do not hesitate to meet with me during office hours or to ask for an appointment at any time you think this might be helpful; I regard making myself available for conferences with you outside of class to be an indispensable part of my responsibility as your teacher. Moreover, I always sincerely do welcome getting to know and work with my students outside as well as inside of class. I am ready to do whatever I can (within reason) to help you in your understanding of issues addressed in texts and discussions, as well as to help you in your writing for and participation in this course. I want you to succeed and I want to help you, as far as I can, to gain as much out of the course as possible through your participation in and work for it. You may also feel free to write me via e-mail, and to call me-or leave a message for me on the answering machine-at my office. I enjoy meeting and working with students outside as well as inside of class; I really do. I would rather talk with you during my office hours than do anything else, so please do not worry about "disturbing" me in coming to talk with me; my office hours are time that I have set aside to meet, talk, and work with you.
Steve Sparks, graduate student mentor for this course, will also be available outside as well as inside of class to assist you with questions and concerns, especially in relation to issues involving matters of general background knowledge in film studies, and in relation to issues involving making sense of difficult terms and difficult formulations in film theory and criticism. Steve will assist you in your understanding and appreciation for the films we will study, and the range of issues our readings and discussions of these films will raise.
STATEMENT OF PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING
I strive to be as accountable to my students as possible. I believe it is crucial that students become aware of the ideas and the values which shape and direct their education, and I believe students should expect that all of their teachers will be prepared to explain why they teach as they do. Please, therefore, take the time, as early as you can this semester, to read through and think carefully about my "Statement of Teaching Philosophy" that I have posted on my UWEC faculty website:
This statement explains WHY I teach as I do. I think it is extremely important that you know and understand where your teachers are coming from in teaching you as they do. You will find me one who trusts you sufficiently always to be frank about this with you.