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Chapter Objectives
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Made in the U.S.A.
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • define "film noir," and name several directors associated with films noirs.
  • characterize the source material for many film noir stories.
  • explain the conditions of film spectatorship in postwar France that led to the identification of "film noir" by French critics.
  • describe the narrative and stylistic practices of film noir.
Film Noir: Genre, Series, or Mode?
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • explain what a genre is, and discuss why film noir might be considered a genre.
  • examine film noir as a series or artistic movement, and use this examination to consider why film noir might not be considered a genre.
  • discuss film noir in terms of its engagement of recognized genres, and consider the "schizophrenic" generic quality of film noir.
  • define "affective," and discuss the ways in which affective responses to films can be used as an alternative classifying system to generic categories.
  • differentiate between classical modes (comedy, melodrama, et cetera) and the noir mode, with reference to the historical time span of the film noir.
Noir Aesthetics, Themes, and Character Types
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • discuss film noir as an aesthetic movement.
  • list stylistic characteristics and thematic concerns of film noir.
  • name several common types of film noir protagonists, and discuss the figures of the detective and the amnesiac in films noirs.
Noir Stylistics: A Shift in Perspective
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • contrast film noir to earlier American films, with attention to the following categories: narrative linearity, lighting style, camera positions and editing.
  • discuss the disjunctive and unsettling power of film noir, with reference to the position of film noir in the history of American narrative film.
  • explain why films from the 1970s and 1980s that adopt the styles and narrative practices of films noirs might not properly be termed film noir.
Noir and the Production Code
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • name several subjects and images that the Production Code of the 1930s prohibited, and discuss the effects of the repression of these subjects and images on film noir.
  • discuss the effects the end of the Production Code had on subsequent films that appropriated the style and themes of film noir.
Innocence Lost: The Literary Origins of Film Noir
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • examine the relationship between the themes of film noir and American culture immediately following World War II.
  • discuss several of the literary sources for film noir plots, with attention to the issue of realism and the social class and spaces of the protagonists.
  • distinguish between the European detective fiction tradition and the detectives of American hard-boiled fiction.
  • contrast the matter-of-fact simplicity of dialogue by Dashiell Hammett to the complex wit of dialogue by Raymond Chandler, and consider both of these in relationship to films noirs.
Women in Film Noir
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • discuss the relationship of the male film noir protagonist to masculinity and femininity.
  • discuss the ways in which film noir represents the changing social and economic roles of women in postwar America, with attention to film noir representations of the family.
  • discuss the figure of the femme fatale in film noir as subject to processes of overvaluation and devaluation, and consider the implications of both of these processes in the male institution of classical Hollywood cinema.
A Critique of Populism
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • explain the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, and discuss the ways in which industrialization and mass society changed the underlying conditions that made Jeffersonian democracy possible.
  • discuss film noir as articulating the destruction of old myths of American culture and the lack of new myths which with to replace them.
  • analyze the film It's A Wonderful Life as both an inversion of the fantasies and realities of film noir and as an allegory for the relationship between the utopian populism of classical Hollywood cinema and the dystopian disillusionment of film noir.
Film Noir: An Undercurrent Within the Mainstream
After reading this section, you should be able to:
  • discuss events of the 1950s that marked the end of the active period of film noir.
  • consider events in American culture after the 1950s that made film noir seem first increasingly unnecessary and, subsequently, increasingly relevant.

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