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Noir Anxiety

Kelly Oliver
Benigno Trigo
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Noir Anxiety
    Book Description:

    In Noir Anxiety, Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo interpret what has been called the “free-floating anxiety” of film noir as concrete apprehensions about race and sexuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9457-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Dropping the Bombshell
    (pp. xiii-xxxvi)

    Given that the film noir genre was born at the end of World War II, critics often attribute its anxieties and fatalism to the turmoil of the postwar era.¹ Some critics point to changes in the social structure that opened the door for more public participation by women and African Americans in various social institutions:² while men were away

    fighting in Europe, women were needed in the factories to manufacture the war machines;³ African American men who were drafted to fight in World War II insisted that having fought for freedom, this country was theirs, too; with the GI Bill,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Noir in Black and White
    (pp. 1-26)

    Most critics agree that there is a particular “dark” style and mood associated with film noir, hence the namenoir.But just asfemme fataleis not translated into English asfatal womanin popular discourse or film theory, neither isfilm noirtranslated intoblack film.¹ It is as if the French phrases camouflage sex and race and make them less threatening, as if translating these phrases into English would produce too much anxiety. Although the stories of noir films are those of white men and women on the borders of morality, often crossing borders into Mexico or Chinatown,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Poisonous Jewels in Murder, My Sweet
    (pp. 27-48)

    Director Edward Dmytryk’sMurder, My Sweet(1944) gives us a classic femme fatale, Mrs. Helen Grayle, aka Velma Valento (Claire Trevor), who represents pure evil. As her stepdaughter Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley) proclaims after her father fatally shoots Helen, “She is evil, all evil. What difference can it possibly make who killed her?” Detective Philip Marlowe compares Helen to a spreading cancer. The role of femininity in the film is complicated by the fact that the most prominent “bad guys” are feminized, and in a strange twist of Chandler’s novel on which the film is based, the femme fatale is...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Stereotype and Voice in The Lady from Shanghai
    (pp. 49-72)

    The Lady from Shanghaidisplays the ambivalent process of subject formation through which we produce cultural narratives and social and psychic identity.¹ The process of subject formation follows a logic of identity that produces stereotypes: figures shaped by normative difference, linguistic incommensurability, and maternal loss. Difference, incommensurability, and loss then return to produce melancholy and ambivalence in the subject. Like other film noir,The Lady from Shanghaimanifests the ambivalence of that process in the intense struggle between its visual technique and its voice-over. Unlike other noir films, however, in this film the ambivalence is made audible rather than visible...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Sleeping Beauty and Her Doubles: The (Uncanny) Secret beyond the Door
    (pp. 73-96)

    The secret in Fritz Lang’s 1948 noir/gothic filmThe Secret beyond the Dooris the secret of most of the noir films that we analyze in this book: the absent mother, both fascinating and terrifying, motivates the murderous impulses of the film.¹ Lang’s film explicitly suggests that the protagonist, Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), suffers from a repressed trauma that lies behind his unconscious resolution to kill his mother in the person of his wife, Celia (Joan Bennett).Celia, acting as psychoanalyst, has to unlock the door of Mark’s unconscious and bring this repressed trauma to consciousness in order to save them...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Mad about Noir: Hitchcock’s Vertigo
    (pp. 97-114)

    WithVertigo,Alfred Hitchcock takes the logic of film noir to its limit. With his self-conscious use of style over narrative and his startling perversion of the investigative structure of film noir, the confusion and fragmentation of classic film noir become obsession and madness. The latent threat of the abject mother in classic film noir becomes the explicit threat of an identification with a depressed and ultimately mad mother. The return of film noir’s repressed mother, and the detective’s (and audience’s) identification with her, throw the spectator into the position of the melancholic unable to mourn or lose this mother...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Borderlands of Touch of Evil
    (pp. 115-136)

    It has been argued thatTouch of Evilis not so much the end of film noir as it is the beginning of a new kind of border film.¹ This is a forceful and insightful reading of Welles’s film, but one cannot help but think that to put such an emphasis on the intended or unwitting ambiguity ofTouch of Evilin particular and film noir in general sometimes misses the significance of the intensity with which that ambiguity is resisted. Here we will argue instead thatTouch of Evilis an example of an ambivalent film that intensely resists...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Jokes in Chinatown: A Question of Place
    (pp. 137-162)

    Jokes are the means through which the anxieties about race, gender, and place are screened and transformed in Roman Polanski’sChinatown(1974). Not only is Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) a smart aleck in the style of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade in such classic noir films asMurder, My Sweet and The Maltese Falcon,but the mechanism of his offcolor, obscene, racist, and in general off-putting jokes is the key to understanding the logic ofChinatownand its attention to place, an attention that is not just topical as in the geographically determined Chinatown and Mexico or the socially determined...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Franklin’s New Noir: Devil in a Blue Dress
    (pp. 163-188)

    Noir is a visual form of a model for subject formation driven by a logic of identity that has matricide and the exclusionary deployment of an intersection of race and sex as its principal mechanisms. The violent nature of the principal mechanisms of this model of subject formation ensures that crisis is inherent to its logic of identity. What we violently exclude violently returns. Moreover, our investment in the process of subject formation and stable identities ensures that when it returns, what we exclude returns transformed into something unrecognizable, amorphous, overwhelming, and external, like fate.¹ In fact, in deploying this...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Make It Real: Bound’s Way Out
    (pp. 189-210)

    In the Wachowski brothers’ 1996 filmBound,tense relationships between trust, choice, and freedom, on the one hand, and seeing, knowing, and believing, on the other, play themselves out along the precarious sexual divide left in the wake of the demolition of gender stereotypes that have confounded film noir since its beginnings with its tough women and emasculated men.¹ Violet (Jennifer Tilly) is treated like a classic femme fatale. The camera stares at her fragmented, sexualized body parts: legs, lips, hair. She is presented according to classic femme fatale iconography: highly made-up, long clawlike fingernails, tight revealing clothes, high heels,...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Space of Noir
    (pp. 211-236)

    InNoir Anxietywe argue that film noir is a visual manifestation of a process of identity formation. We claim that film noir shows, reveals, or displays the mechanisms responsible for building and consolidating identity, mechanisms such as displacement, condensation, repression, matricide, and uncanny doubling. We further argue that in film noir, identity is formed, consolidated, or fortified against unconscious threats. In other words, our interpretation of film noir shows how its process of identity formation is a defensive mechanism. Identity is built by protecting it from the threats of ambiguous borders, threats variously represented in film noir as feminine...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 237-270)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 271-280)
  17. Filmography
    (pp. 281-288)
  18. Index
    (pp. 289-298)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)