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Film Noir & Femme Fatale: Disturbing the Social Order.

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Presentation on theme: "Film Noir & Femme Fatale: Disturbing the Social Order."— Presentation transcript:

1 Film Noir & Femme Fatale: Disturbing the Social Order

2 Double Indemnity, as one of that first group of films that led to coining of "film noir," serves as summary of first segment of this class, in which we looked at what noir is. Perfect combination of idea of noir and noir style. But also serves as entry point for next segment of the course.

3 The Basic Idea of Noir Film Noir always involves a disturbance of "normal" social order and values, which is conveyed/matched by the "disorienting" style of the films. This is why noir shares something with modernist art/literature: in both, the existing social order is questioned or criticized. In the next segment of the course, we'll look at some of the specific issues or areas in film noir where "normal" social order is disturbed: the social context of noir.

4 Disturbance One of the most prominent areas of disturbance revolves around: Gender and Sexuality Although film noir is in many ways a "male genre," the place or role of women, in particular, is often central to film noir. The femme fatale as threat to social order & the Law.

5 Disturbance But why this frequent portrayal of women as dangerous? What makes them threatening? What do they threaten; what aspects of social order do they disturb? To answer these questions, compare portrayal of femme fatale to non-threatening female characters: in Double Indemnity, Phyllis versus Lola.

6 Disturbance In film noir, this gender disturbance also involves, as Sylvia Harvey notes, a disruption of the traditional family, headed by Father. Linked, in part, to socio-economic conditions during/after WWII: Introduction of women to labor force during WWII disrupts traditional family roles. In films such as Mildred Pierce (1945), effort to portray "working women/businesswomen as disruptive to family values. Must be put back into "proper" place after War: as wives and mothers.

7 Disturbance But Double Indemnity (1944) focuses more on woman's "proper" role within suburban, bourgeois family. On one hand, proper here is linked to women being property of their husbands. But proper role also means subordinating ones own desires to those of husband and family. The good wife and mother is supposed to be self-sacrificing. Thus, womans own (sexual?) desires are subordinate to marriage/family.

8 Disturbance Phyllis, however, clearly does have her own desires, sexual and monetary. She disrupts the family and the Law. As Claire Johnson notes, this sexual disruption of the family has a symbolic/psychanalytic dimension: it plays out an Oedipal scenario. The killing of the husband/ father breaks the Law, disrupts family & male social order. Look also at the role of Fathers (& father-figures) throughout the film.

9 The Threat of the Woman Why is the femme fatale a threat? Doesn't play typical role of good mother/wife. Good vs. Bad; Motherly vs. Sexual Sexual, not subservient (has her own desires; does not serve others) Threat to Male's/Father's position in family, society (symbolically: castration threat) Equals threat to Law, Social Order Must ultimately be punished Male control/Law reestablished (symbolically, phallic order restored to power)

10 The Oedipal Family Plot to kill Father/Husband (and defraud Legal/Financial Order represented by Insurance Company). Law & Father (Social/Family) linked. Keyes also Father-figure, representative of Law (patriarchal order & legal/financial order). Worth noting the distaste that Keyes has for most women. Should be "investigated." Instead of upholding Law (of the Father), Neff defies it. Symbolically, breaks Oedipal taboo/Law: He tries to usurp the place of the legitimate husband/father: to possess the woman/mother (and to defraud the Law, represented by Keyes).

11 Woman and money symbolically linked--as "property" of the Father. But, Walter's "fatherly" interaction with daughter Lola (the good girl who accepts traditional female role) convinces him that Phyllis is a threat and must be killed/punished. So, in the end, he upholds male order/Law, tries to restore "proper" relations between Lola & Nino, and confesses to his Father-figure. But despite this restoration of male order/Law, film noir points to a dissatisfaction with existing bourgeois social order and family/gender roles. Also: attraction to something outside that order: dangerous but exciting. The femme fatale represents this more exciting other possibility.

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