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3 - Film Noir and the Gothic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2020

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
McRoy Jay
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
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Summary

Film noir as a style emerges at the intersection of multiple creative enterprises and social concerns. It is a hybrid style, informed visually by graphic conceits borrowed from German Expressionist cinema and, narratively, by elements familiar both to readers of detective and ‘hard-boiled’ crime fiction and to students of existentialism. As the critic/ director Paul Schrader writes, film noir is defined not ‘by conventions of setting and conflict, but rather by more subtle qualities of tone and mood’ (1972: 8). What's more, like any aesthetic methodology, film noir provides audiences with a kind of cultural barometer. In its initial post-war Hollywood incarnation, for example, film noir captured a pervasive cynicism and emerging paranoia surrounding shifts in major socio-political arenas, from transforming sex and gender roles to new (and emerging) geopolitical conflicts that, at any moment, could transform the world into an atomic wasteland. Taking film noir's aesthetic hybridity and the shifting cultural terrain from which it emerged as a general starting point, this chapter examines the specifically Gothic pictorial and narrative trappings that inform film noir in its ‘traditional’ and contemporary iterations. By way of illustration, the chapter engages in a close reading of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) as a Gothic noir, and culminates with an analysis of Park Chan-wook's Stoker (2013), a US-based production in which the acclaimed South Korean director deploys his trademark baroque style to advance a tale that combines many of the darker trappings of Gothic art with insightful homages to two of Alfred Hitchcock's most carefully modulated amalgams of Gothic and noir sensibilities: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Psycho (1960).

Film noir conventions inform visual and narrative approaches to films from genres as diverse as Science Fiction (Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955), Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965), Bladerunner (Ridley Scott, 1982)), Westerns (Pursued (Raoul Walsh, 1947), The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950)) and Comedies (Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra, 1944), Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (Rob Reiner, 1982)). For over sixty years, film critics have enumerated and discussed film noir's most conspicuous features.

Type
Chapter
Information
Gothic Film
An Edinburgh Companion
, pp. 37 - 57
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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