Fear, Anxiety & Paranoia in Film: Laura vs. Chinatown; Shutter Island “It’s like they’re scared of something.”

Before this blog post I wanted to view ‘Chinatown’ so I could get a glimpse at the latest film in our repertoire and transition into our in-class discussion tomorrow. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film, I thought Jack Nicholson was just great; the fedora continues to transcend decades as it seems to be one motif of the film noir era. One of the biggest things I took away from this film was the stark contrast between the female characters of ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Laura’. In the reading we had by Laura Mulvey entitled ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ she states at the end that women who have been ‘used’ in past film roles ‘cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret.’ In my opinion I believe the main female characters of ‘Laura’ and ‘Chinatown’ provide us with both views of the spectrum. In ‘Laura’, Gene Tierney plays the role of Laura Hunt, who was characterisitc of the typical female role of damsel in distress needing to be saved, passive in character and frequently uttering a blood-curdling scream. In contrast, Faye Dunaway in ‘Chinatown’ as Evelyn Cross Mulwray plays a strong woman, mysterious for some parts of the film, wields a weapon and seeks for what she wants and is best for her daughter. This role discrepancy could be in part because of the difference of the period in which the films were released. ‘Laura’ in 1944, ‘Chinatown’ in 1974 closer to around the release of Mulvey’s work. I also want to note that I felt that ‘Chinatown’ had more of a darker and serious tone, maybe because of the more commonplace storyline that involved teenage pregnancy and family issues. In ‘Laura’ I honestly laughed at parts when I shouldn’t have. The screams made me laugh and I thought how Laura just popped up in the middle of the film was a little too convenient for the story writers. I want to note that the ensemble of actors and actresses  in ‘Chinatown’ was extremely prolific. There were classic actors in the leads such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway of course but supporting ones who have appeared in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (John Huston), ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (Perry Lopez), ‘Rocky’ (Burt Young) to ‘Wayne’s World 2’ and ‘Seinfeld’ episodes (James Hong).

As for why ‘Laura’ made me laugh more than anything I think it could definitely be attributed to the time gap between when it was released and the present. We are subjected to such a more intense level of mystery and fear in current films because many directors today pull out all the stops when it comes to striking fear in an audience whether it be due to technological advances or the acceptance of what is allowable for audiences to view.

In contrast, ‘Chinatown’ struck a more serious-tone with me. I honestly felt bad in several instances in the film. We discussed in class how some movies allow us to ‘see things’ not necessarily on the silver screen but in life and I think to some extent this film does this.

On a more recent level I would like to mention how after viewing it this past weekend, I feel that ‘Shutter Island’ is a prime example of film noir in the present. From the opening clink of bells to the ever constant ensemble of strings and bass riffs it is a mystery-thriller that is very noirish so to speak. Martin Scorsese who directed it even made the entire cast watch ‘Laura’ to get a sense of character. Here are some great articles I came across that connected ‘Shutter Island’ to the noir character:

Article 1

Article 2

I don’t want to give anything away from this film but take a look at the trailer and you can tell from this brief glimpse that it is almost a time-warp. We are instantly taken from 2010 back to the age of film noirs in the 1940’s-50’s. And of course in addition to the music, plot structure, twists, turns, mystery, setting and lighting no film noir would be complete without the appearance of a fedora, which make a strong appearance in this film.

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