Black & White & Noir

Black & White & Noir: America's Pulp Modernism

Paula Rabinowitz
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/rabi11480
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  • Book Info
    Black & White & Noir
    Book Description:

    Black & White & Noir explores America's pulp modernism through penetrating readings of the noir sensibility lurking in an eclectic array of media: Office of War Information photography, women's experimental films, and African-American novels, among others. It traces the dark edges of cultural detritus blowing across the postwar landscape, finding in pulp a political theory that helps explain America's fascination with lurid spectacles of crime.

    We are accustomed to thinking of noir as a film form popularized in movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and, more recently, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. But it is also, Paula Rabinowitz argues, an avenue of social and political expression. This book offers an unparalleled historical and theoretical overview of the noir shadows cast when the media's glare is focused on the unseen and the unseemly in our culture. Through far-ranging discussions of the Starr Report, movies such as Double Indemnity and The Big Heat, and figures as various as Barbara Stanwyck, Kenneth Fearing, and Richard Wright, Rabinowitz finds in film noir the representation of modern America's attempt to submerge and mask its violent history of racial and class anatagonisms. Black & White & Noir also explores the theory and practice of stilettos, the ways in which girls in the 1950s viewed film noir as a secret language about their mothers' pasts, the extraordinary tone-setting photographs of Esther Bubley, and the smutty aspect of social workers' case studies, among other unexpected twists and provocative turns.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50614-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION: ON PULP MODERNISM
    (pp. 1-22)

    Driving through Los Angeles with her friend N[athalie Sorokine Moffat] in February 1947, feminist philosopher and tourist par excellence Simone de Beauvoir notes: “We cross one suburb after another—nothing but suburbs. The city slips away like a phantom city. The streets thrown down any which way on the sides of hills, in the hollows of valleys, have been laid out at random as needed.”¹ Her view echoes Theodor Adorno’s baleful commentary from 1944 on the “shortcoming of the American landscape . . . that it bears no traces of the human hand. This applies not only to the lack...

  5. PART 1 BLACK:: ROOMS AND RAGE
    • CHAPTER 1 ALREADY FRAMED: ESTHER BUBLEY INVENTS NOIR
      (pp. 25-59)

      There comes a moment in many film noirs when the bad girl emerges snarling with anger as she ensnares the dimwitted doomed guy. The appropriately named Ann Savage turns on hapless, guilty Tom Neal in Detour, her face transformed from forlorn innocence after he picks her up hitchhiking into vicious rage when she reveals to him that she recognizes his clothes and car as belonging to another man, the dead one Neal has dumped along the highway. Jane Greer, dressed like a nun, turns on Robert Mitchum in the final moment of Out of the Past after she kills her...

    • CHAPTER 2 DOMESTIC LABOR: FILM NOIR, PROLETARIAN LITERATURE, AND BLACK WOMEN’S FICTION
      (pp. 60-81)

      On the trail of the missing Kathie Moffett, private investigator Jeff Bailey begins Uptown, in a Harlem nightclub, by interviewing Kathy’s maid, Eunice. In this minor scene in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947), Bailey enters the smoke-hazed, jazz-filled club and is escorted by the maitre d’ to a table with two couples; he asks which woman worked for Kathie. Bailey seems at ease in the club; like many private eyes, he’s used to interacting with African Americans, and after one couple leaves for the dance floor, he inquires about Kathie. Elegant and sly, Eunice says she has no...

    • CHAPTER 3 DOUBLE CROSS: WRI(GH)TING AS THE OUTSIDER
      (pp. 82-102)

      Most film noirs began first as text—novels, short stories, plays or scripts, screenplays, treatments—but as soon as they appeared, they began generating prose. Just as the films depended on the kinky nighttime police shots of PM photographer Weegee, whose book Naked City became the basis for Jules Dassin’s film of the same name,¹ or the eerie bus ride series from Esther Bubley’s OWI assignment, so too did they generate new photographic obsessions in Robert Frank’s and Diane Arbus’s street photography that captured in a single frame what the films took an hour and a half to spell out:...

  6. PART 2 WHITE:: WORK AND MEMORY
    • CHAPTER 4 BLANC NOIR: RURAL PULP AND DOCUMENTARY MODERNISM
      (pp. 105-120)

      In the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the popular media echoed the sentiments of the city’s residents—This sort of thing doesn’t happen here; maybe in New York or Los Angeles, but not here in the heartland. Mirroring a belief that the large cities of America are somehow un-American—filled as they are with the poor, minorities, immigrants, gays, and artists—which fueled the defunding and depopulation of urban centers during the three decades between 1960 and 1990, this idea of America’s heart as rural, untainted by the ills of...

    • CHAPTER 5 MELODRAMA/MALE DRAMA: THE SENTIMENTAL CONTRACT OF AMERICAN LABOR FILMS
      (pp. 121-141)

      “Do not ask me to write of the strike and the terror. I am on a battlefield. . . . But I hunch over the typewriter and behind the smoke, the days whirl, confused as dreams,” declared the young Tillie Lerner (Olsen) during the 1934 San Francisco general strike.¹ In this classic example of reportage, the division between observation and participation, between fact and fantasy, has broken down. “I am on a battlefield,” not merely as a war correspondent but as one of the combatants. In Florence Reece’s ballad trumpeting the news of the 1934 Kentucky coal strikes in bloody...

    • CHAPTER 6 NOT “JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM”: SOCIAL WORKERS AS PRIVATE EYES
      (pp. 142-168)

      The urban underworld of noir always includes a woman with a past who pulls the man into the orbit of crime. We know these images: Barbara Stanwyck’s anklet and cat glasses in Double Indemnity snare Fred McMurray; Rita Hayworth’s black sheath and gloves in Gilda destroy Glenn Ford; Ava Gardner’s flowing black hair and diamond necklace choke Burt Lancaster in The Killers. But how did these troubling women get there? How did they land in a world of gang kingpins and petty thieves, hapless working stiffs looking for a break and cynical detectives seeking the facts? In the classic noir...

  7. PART 3 NOIR:: HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS
    • CHAPTER 7 BARBARA STANWYCK’S ANKLET
      (pp. 171-192)

      “That’s life. Whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you,” moans Tom Neal into his half-full coffee mug as he begins his grisly tale in Detour. In the noir world, where lowly objects assume large proportions, that foot is bound to be shod. This chapter considers the plight, or more properly, the power of objects. To redeem the object, I argue that, compared to the subject, it has gotten an unjustifiably bad rap. Film noir achieves its identifying texture from an array of formulaic images, plots, locations, visual styles, and objects—cigarette lighters, car windshields, doorways,...

    • CHAPTER 8 MEDIUM UNCOOL: AVANT-GARDE FILM AND UNCANNY FEMINISM
      (pp. 193-224)

      In his examination of the uncanny, Freud teases out the definition of the sensation accruing when “everything . . . ought to have remained hidden and secret, . . . yet comes to light.”¹ The uncanny, that which is most familiar suddenly estranged, manifests itself in a curious dance between repression and recurrence. In chapter 7, I investigated the gendered residue clinging to the worn shoes repeating themselves iconically throughout modern culture. In this chapter, I offer a microhistory of the interconnections—both literal, in the form of personal relations, and theoretical, in the form of shared ideas—between early...

    • CHAPTER 9 MAPPING NOIR
      (pp. 225-244)

      The Hutchinson River Parkway winds north from the Bronx. Cutting a path through granite hillocks, shadowed by oak and maple and pine, it is a dark somewhat haunted roadway. It is the only federal highway in the United States named for a woman, commemorating the site where Anne Hutchinson, her family, and followers were massacred after they had been banished first from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and then from more religiously tolerant, yet still repressive, Rhode Island. Hutchinson should be considered the first “dark lady” of American political pulp history: a woman who defied her elders—men, both ministers and...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 245-294)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 295-312)