The Timelessness of a Classic

The term classic, by definition, implies its longevity and its everlasting mark on culture and society. I agree with this statement, and I thoroughly enjoy a good Austen novel or Hitchcock film. But after watching the handful of assigned, classic movies thus far, I can’t help but strongly feel the generation gap. For example, I really liked D.O.A. , and even as a contemporary viewer with a generation Y-er lack of patience, the movie kept my attention. But there were certain parts where I found myself laughing at the dramatic shots, or the way Paula, Frank’s girlfriend, says “I’m gonna get a permanent to make myself all pretty for you.” Or, my favorite line of the movie, “If I wear a man, I’d  punch your dirty face in,” spoken by Marla Rakubian, the infamous “femme fatale.” (It’s funny how she can be one of the movies villains but can’t punch a man). Yes, after reading Schrader on Film Noir I have a deeper understanding of the style-genre-time period (whatever it may be) and the themes- crime, psychosis, murder, backstabbing, etc. of Film Noir transcend time, but I must admit there is an aspect of movies made over 50 years ago that is unreachable to the modern audience.

I was doing some research on Film Noir online, as I was curious to see what films today can be classified as such, and I came upon a critic that was bold enough as to characterize one of my favorite movies, Memento, as a current Film Noir. For those that don’t know, Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a modern masterpiece about a man with a memory disorder that is on a quest to find his wife’s killer. The genius of the movie lies not in its plot but in its composition- the scenes work backwards, playing on the audiences’ memories. A second or third viewing of the film is not even sufficient to fully grasp its hints and clues splattered throughout. I would give a spoiler to the film but its too good of a movie to ruin : ) So here’s the trailer for those not familiar.

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Even from the trailer, you can see there are aspects of the film that are synonymous with Schrader’s definitions of Noir- the dark scene in the beginning, feelings of psychosis (not knowing where he is, his memory loss), even the running around, trying to find the killer, is very similar to the action in D.O.A.  I think classifying Memento as a modern-day Film Noir is a pretty accurate description, and perhaps one that today’s audiences can relate to more easily.

*I really do love old movies! I was just observing that there are really differences in movies made for a contemporary audience. Just putting that out there.

Fear, Anxiety, and Paranoia in D.O.A.

This movie was truly littered with these themes. The concept alone is a model of them. What’s more frightening and anxiety inducing than suddenly finding out death is near? But, through various techniques, D.O.A. actually amplifies and ratchets up those feelings. From the outset, we’re presented with a flash forward. Of course, you could also look at everything coming after that scene as being a flashback instead. Regardless, I love the device and find it to be enormously effective. It gives every scene this ominous, foreboding feel. Those otherwise mundane scenes preceding his drink being poisoned are allowed to take on more meaning. So it not only sets the tone but puts a bit of a jolt into everything. And as Schrader mentions in the reading, this is one of the elements noir films are known for. The how and why take precedence over the what. Most of the intrigue lies in the journey of Frank ending up at point B, walking into the police station seemingly drained of life reporting his own murder, from point A, preparing to go on vacation and relatively happy.

When he finds out about the poisoning, at first he’s obviously very distraught but it doesn’t take long for him to come to terms and refocus. Discovering who did it and why is really all he has left and because there’s a limited time to do so, he becomes a man on a mission and the movie reflects that well. Just the pacing of everything from this point gives off paranoia and anxiety. We’re taken nonstop from place to place and person to person in an effort to realize the connection between them all and get the truth. It actually reminded me quite a bit of the first half or so of a “Law and Order” episode.

And then there’s Frank’s demeanor. He’s about as paranoid as a sane person can get and who can blame him? Everyone’s a suspect to him and he doesn’t attempt to hide that. When trying to get information from Mr. Halliday, Frank snaps at him after he apologizes that he had to make the trip for no reason. He wants to know how Halliday knows he made a trip. And when he speaks to the secretary, she says something that makes him think she’s being informed about conversations between him and Eugene’s brother. He even questions how Eugene’s wife knows something about what he’s doing.

Getting back to fear and anxiety, the scenes with the gangsters evoked that pretty well also. It wasn’t so much the fact that he was ordered to be killed but the fact that Chester, the lead henchman, was insane. He had a pretty convincing psychotic look in his eye in that car with Frank. And then there’s the scene where their car is tailing the bus he boarded.

Finally, as he concludes his journey, it becomes clear that he really does love Paula and will miss her. “Paula” was his last word. So, increasingly, there’s a fear of losing love as well. This probably could’ve been brought out better than it was but I do think the element is there nonetheless.

First Impressions

First to post….quite daunting….as is the task of figuring out HOW to post when you’ve never blogged before….here it goes nonetheless….

Before this class, I’ve never heard of film noir, nor have I seen any.  So I decided to read the notes about film noir prior to watching DOA.  I was surprised to find that not many of the recurring techniques outlined in the reading were used in DOA.

First off, for a film noir, the movie set was pretty light.  Most of the movie took place during the day as he was doing his detective work.  There was no rain nor any wet streets.  And the movie followed a simple chronological order.

In line with the reading, the movie employed compositional tension rather than violence.  As the main character was (interestingly) solving his own murder, the  tension was definitely felt.    But is that enough to make it a film noir?

As a ps though, what I did find in the movie was a lot of irony.  The man solving his own murder case, standing by “Life” magazine right after the doctors pronounced him dying,…

Blogging Assignment and Posting Schedule

As I noted on the syllabus, participation on this blog, both posting and commenting, counts towards your participation grade. So, if you have not done so already, please add yourself as a member of this blog. Instructions for doing this are here.

I am asking all of you to post to the blog at least 3 times over the course of the semester. The posting schedule can be downloaded here. Please post a response to the prompt below by your scheduled date but feel free to post more often on related topics as well.

I also ask that you read and comment substantively on others’ posts. The more you comment, the livelier the blog will be. I am not going to require you to comment a specific number of times but will suggest that you should try to comment at least two or three times a week. If you are someone who tends not to speak much during class discussion, commenting frequently is a great way to make up for that and ensure that your participation grade does not suffer. I’ll say more about commenting in class.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what it is you will be blogging about. Rightly so. So here’s the blogging prompt for the first round of posts (I’ll give you a new one around the 1st week of March):

The Prompt

Pick a a scene, a character, a single frame, a sequence of shots, basic plot, or any other element from a movie (required, recommended or one one you’ve seen on your own) and connect it to either 1) any of the main themes of this class — fear, anxiety, and paranoia, or, 2) an idea explored in any of our readings, whether those assigned already or those that will be assigned by the time your post is due.

For example, you might write a post where you explore how Peter Lorre’s character in M might be said to exhibit paranoia, or you might consider the 1931 Dracula from the perspective of the definition of fear we read for our second class. You might even discuss the figure of Lugosi’s Count Dracula and what Phillips says about him in light of various contemporary, updated vampires we see in movies like BladeTwilight or Daybreakers.

Use your imagination. Be creative. Feel free to link to other sites and to incorporate images, video or other media into your posts (YouTube, Flickr, Photobucket, or Google Images can be goldmines.)

Please be sure to select “blog assignment #1” in the list of categories on the right before you publish your post.

Before you write: Keep in mind that your post is not a term paper. It should be more exploratory and open ended (not to mention shorter). Your post’s goals are to 1) enable you and your readers to play around with new and interesting ideas and 2) to generate conversation rather than present a finished, polished argument. I don’t expect you to have all the answers, but to move towards finding them. Don’t be afraid to ask your readers questions.

I am happy to discuss post ideas with you so if you are stuck and don’t know what to post about, let me know and we can brainstorm together. If you have questions about the blogging assignment in general or any aspect of the prompt above, feel free to ask it in the comments to this post.

A Note on Blogging: A blog is a kind of online journal or diary. Blog posts are usually less formal and more conversational than the sort of academic writing you are typically asked to do. There is more room for creativity and experimentation here than in the typical academic paper in no small part due to the fact that you can easily incorporate various media — still images, video, or audio.

Your audience and purpose are different here as well. You’re writing not for a professor to whom you hope to demonstrate mastery of your subject matter, but sharing ideas with a broader audience — your “readership” — who, in this case consists of your classmates, me, and whoever happens to visit our site and read your post. Keep in mind that your writing to this blog is public — don’t be surprised if you get a comment form someone not enrolled in this class.

Try to have fun with your posts and comments. Keep in mind that this is your space. You are now a member of what’s typically called a “group blog” where multiple authors contribute posts on related topics — in this case, fear, anxiety and paranoia and the movies.