As with many film genres or styles, film noir both entertains and tells us important things about changes taking place in our society. Discuss the changes you have noted from the period of classic noir to the present.

The historical period of classic noir has been described as suffering from post-Depression and post-war disillusionment, with all the trappings of moral uncertainty, paranoia and cynicism. From 1945-49 political corruption was rife, fear of the bomb spread ignorance and the notion that man might prove his own greatest enemy was never so tangible to Johnny Q Public. Did the Hollywood musical and Western seem incongruous to this mood? It is instructive to question whether it was the audience which demanded new icons, a new face to the enemy, or whether Hollywood was able to subvert their puzzlement and attempt to take credit for a shadowy breed of villain. If anyone got the ball rolling, it was Hollywood and the influx of foreign directors keen not only in new cinema style but a screen consciousness seldom seen to that point.

            Interestingly, the noir setting switched from bug-eye view of the gritty street to sweeping pans of upper-class interior decor, hinting to its audience through (often obsessive) detective work that despite appearances the establishment was not isolated from rot and decay. Robert Aldrich was described as one of the most political of noir directors, perhaps not only for his willingness to delve into the increasingly darker noir city but shifting the mythical landscape into futuristic allusion. In this sense, although Kiss Me Deadly acts as a final extension of human greed the subtle portrayal in earlier noir it was just as poignant for referring to the individual’s place in such a grand social structure. Alienated heroes and heroines woven in complex doppleganger relationships sought the company of freely associated darkness and although the sense of doom was final their ‘living for the moment’ serves the audience glimpses of urban cycles put in place by hierarchy. We have a need to consolidate our map through the dense city foilage, lest modern progress should threaten to disrupt our affinity with primal hierachies of need. Noir was perhaps a pivotal point in the viewers’ romantisisation of the streets perversely mocking the bourgeious’s attempts at finding a ‘new life’ in fifties’ outer suburbia.

            Like the phenomenom of gentrification and middle-class reestablishment of inner city areas in the late sixties and, the acceptance of noir drilled in new gaps in mainstream psyche. Sufficient time has passed for Hollywood to make allusion to the classic style so that in contrast to the enchantment and provocation instilled in the forties the modern audience might feel sophisticated enough to dismiss ambiguity since stylised lighting and dark heroes are articles of fashion. Understanding that the city’s historical signficance portrayed by cinema lended status to new flaneurs daring its grittiness a technological battle for containment arose. Once again the city appears as the way to the future, and the task ordained on cinema heroes is to clean it up by any means necessary. Momentarily noir analyses the plausibility of such an act; Taxi Driver vents the protagonist’s alienation towards tangible social targets. But the theme which seeps into today is that individual actions reach the mind of society only through approved social mechanisms, Travis Bickle’s antics become swallowed by newspapers, and with the completion of another grand narrative cycle isolation appears as determined as ever.

            Where is the next social pleasure? Yourself, it appears, as a barrage of nineties metaphysical narrative structures position our desires inside our heads, it is no longer enough to competently navigate the body of streets without being able to parallel environment with multiple subjectivities. As Lost Highway reflects young on old, wife with fantasy, it suggests that today’s “thinking” men and women, higher than ever on the hierachy of need, might surrender immortality of human progress with strange contemplation of our possible past.

 


Discuss either The Lost Highway or Bound as "postmodern noir". What are its main characteristics? How does it differ from classic noir?

 

My interpretation of Lost Highway is that it is a highly conscious (to the point of unconscious) text that uses noir as a framework for reinvestigating alienation of the “thinking man in trouble”, slicing and reordering noir’s mythical links and so can be related to postmodern movements. Not only is narration non-linear and recursive but it invokes multiple possibilities for synchronicity and temporal overlapping.

            Stylistically classic noir aimed to destablise the viewer’s orientation through jarring camera angles and dividing darkness and is sympathised by postmodernism. It is possible that the visible noir character relationships and the strong low-key lighting in Lost Highway is an allusionary device to act as a starting point for audience expectation, since it certainly doesn’t end there. Though it is possible to allegorise this “mystery” film to question about identity and time these same themes were encouraged to be paralleled with classic noir’s struggle within an beckoning, fatal world.

To rework the non-traditional themes of noir then is to start high on the abstract scale and drift. The constant pausing of actor Bill Pullman grants the audience this time to “think” above the body of knowledge. Rather than work out the detail of narrative or accept it literally we are asked to think about the origins of interpretation, how does one cohesively fit in multiple perceptions of woman, solidify loathing for social establishment, forget the deeds that invite pain? The difference between Lost Highway’s approach and classical noir’s is at once small and huge; in both narrative is recognised as a map between experience, that experience in classical noir is very much as an agent of society, carrying their fears and your weariness through a recognisably dangerous maze heightened in its presentation, in Lost Highway the value of society is constructed in one’s head and rather than suggest a plausable method to investigate ability to pinpoint the self’s relation to historical force we have comparisons between combinations of modes of perceiving circumstance and “mysterious” desires.

Fred’s “psychogenic fugue” makes it impossible for Progress and the master narrative of modernity to gain a foothold into the temporal prophecy, characters potentially able to fill the Father role like Mr Dayton or Mr Eddy are not messengers from society but are explicitly the tension of fragments from a “past” life, and as postmodern semic mannequins act as Fred’s hybridised disgust and desire. It is always uncertain whether screen figureheads will fuse back together, the telephone call is traditionally a noir icon bringing distanced characters into the same frame, in Lost Highway the intercom attempts to perform this function over distances in time, fusing beginning and end of narrative. Ambiguity is cast over the physical and metaphysical interpretation of dialogue. At the party where Fred accepts the mysterious man’s proposal to test the plausibility of perception being displaced it becomes possible that Fred is entertaining an internal monologue whereby he can justifiably slip into different spaces and back again and achieve a wider view of events to accurately synchronise memory, representing the confusion over temporal order of experiment and observation. So long as you are talking about an act you are not doing it. If technology’s ability to simultaeneously record points of experience is deceptive in Fred’s opinion then that mode of real-time perception might only be a “replay” allowing his “conscious” analysis to always be one step ahead of his actions, and the image of his dead wife is possibly so overwhelming in sensory data that only after the murder is framed in an artificial, objective mode analogous to that produced by camera technology can he claim his own presence in the scene. In postmodernism progress is merely the vastness of space inside objects which become hollower every day.

 

 

 

 


luffy (at) diamondsky.org

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Script by Alex