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Hollywood (8): Eighties Noir

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Amy Chambers

on 14 April 2014

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Transcript of Hollywood (8): Eighties Noir

G Politically retrograde cinema?

Many high profile movies seem to directly address either the overtly political issues of the day such as: First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982), Platoon (Stone, 1986), Rambo: First Blood II (Cosmatos, 1985), The Delta Force (Golan, 1986),

...or the more personal politics of the family with films like: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980), E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982), Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983), and Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985) Decade opened with financial failure - Heaven‘s Gate (Cimino, 1980)

Big budget and ‘High Concept’ films – film could be explained in a sentence or two – easily marketable and understandable

Big budgets attached to ‘tried and true’ genres – sci-fi and upbeat directors like Spielberg and Lucas vs. Altman and Scorsese of the seventies Industry Synergy – film is just one media operation of many - cultural products such as soundtracks, tv spin-offs, video games…

‘Where the classical industry generally declined to permit advertising in its products or its exhibition sites… [since] 1975, movies have become increasingly commodified, both in themselves as objects forming part of a chain of goods, and as ‘multipliers’ for the sale of other products’ (Maltby 1998: 27) Home video – a convenience which was initially seen as a threat to theatrical receipts, but which in the end provoked a resurgence in interest in film ultimately worldwide – vital revenue stream

Allowed for the advent of smaller independent companies - offered an alternative to the more traditional products of Hollywood – new opportunities for funding and distribution

Adult film market – urban porn theatres of the 1970s give way to the privacy of home viewing – direct-to-video Baby boomers – now parents - one of the most significant of the underlying factors in the developments and shifts in the American film industry since 1960

The family as a concept provided much of the battleground between liberalism and conservatism in the US in the 1980s – what is the ‘normal family’?

Hollywood’s reformation and revitalisation in the 1980s was probably the result of the resurgence of the classical Hollywood strategy E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982) 1980s often marked by the predominance of the blockbuster but the changes to the industry allowed for development of Independent Cinema

Different from the mainstream product: daring and controversial subject matter, distinctive style of camerawork/editing/narrative structure, less conventionally ‘dramatic’, less star driven, few special effects or action sequences…

But not so distinctive as to be inaccessible

The ‘niche’ audience During the screening make a note of the references to film noir

Think about Jeffery as a noir hero, how does he compare to other male protagonists found in both classic and neo noir?

How does Dorothy conform and also contrast to the traditional femme fatale? The film’s protagonist is Deckard, a Blade Runner, who is brought out of retirement to find and destroy four renegade androids who have escaped enslavement on a off-world planet and come to Earth in order to find their maker and extend their four year life-spans

The wealthy retreat to an off world planet - poor forced to remain on Earth

Deckard was once an agent/detective who hunted down escaped androids

Questions what is human/humanity? Return of the Jedi (Lucas, 1983) The Empire Strikes Back (Lucas, 1980) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Spielberg, 1989) Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Zemekis, 1988) Batman (Burton, 1989) Rain Man (Levinson, 1988) Back to the Future (Zemekis, 1985) Top Gun (Scott, 1986) Independent America Resurgence of film noir late seventies onwards - reappears periodically

Utilise the iconography of the genre - chiaroscuro lighting, voiceover, rainy streets at night, cigarettes/smoke, hardboiled heroes, tough criminals, forties clothing, architecture...

New Wars, New Noir (Philippa Gates) - genre linked to social critique and masculine crisis

Neo-noir, Sci-fi Noir, Tech Noir, Teen Noir...

'One man's neo-noir is another man's erotic thriller' (Linda Ruth Williams) 'Everything old is new again': Neo Noir ‘The ideal American film still centres around well-structured carefully motivated series of events that the spectator can comprehend relatively easily’

(Thompson, 1999, 8) Films like Taxi Driver 'took up noir’s social critique, masculine crisis, and social underbelly – this time in America’s big cities: New York. This transplantation of noir to the contemporary landscape offered a resurrection of noir themes but in a reaction to the specific social crisis of the aftermath of a different war.’

(Philippa Gates, 2006, 97) The neo-noirs of the 1970s seemed less concerned with femme fatales and more so with an ineffective hero worn out by his attempts to fight the injustices and corruption of society (Jake Gittes in Chinatown), or misguided in his desire to clean up the streets (Travis Bickel in Taxi Driver), or jaded and unsurprised to discover his friend has betrayed him (Marlowe in The Long Goodbye).'

(Philippa Gates, 2006, 98) e.g. Dirty Harry (1971), Klute (1971), Shaft (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973), Mean Streets (1974), Chinatown (1974), The Conversation (1974), Death Wish (1974), Farewell my Lovely (1975), Taxi Driver (1976), The Big Sleep (1978)...

characterised by quality not quantity - relatively few were released, but those which were 'constituted a significant revision of the paradigms that had been established in the classical period' (Spicer, 2002, 147)

introspective heroes with more extreme paranoia and alienation from society

redfined noir style (colour, zoom lenses, highly mobile cameras, widescreen...) Andrew Spicer's Two Phases of Neo Noir New approach to the femme fatale - response to the women's lib movement - demonised or non existent - Hollywood perpetuates myths of sexual difference - 80s Noir - a warning of the dangers of transgressing established gender roles

Eighties neo-noir offers a critique of the new 'softer' masculinity - concequence of the feminist movement - difficulty in reconciling the softer image with traditional notions of masculinity

Self-conciously and notably employed noir conventions - 'knowing' in their quotation of the styles and themes of the 1940s and 1950s 'Everything old is new again': Neo Noir Chinatown (Polanski, 1974) Dark City (Proyas, 1998) e.g. Body Heat (1981), Blade Runner (1982), The Terminator (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), Angel Heart (1987), Batman (1989), Twin Peaks (TV, 1990), The Last Seduction (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994), Usual Suspects (1995), Gattaca (1997), LA Confidential (1997), Se7en (1997), Dark City (1998), The Matrix (1999), Memento (2000), Along Came a Spider (2001), Brick (2005), Sin City (2005), The Dark Knight (2009)...

continuing 'circulation and recirculation of signs that form the fabric of postmodern cultural life' - it begins to reference itself

PoMo Noir 'does not constitute a period in the same way as its predecessors which is also why it shows no sign of ending' (Spicer, 174) Andrew Spicer's Two Phases of Neo Noir Modernist Noir (1967-1981) Postmodernist Noir (1981- ) Dark City (Proyas, 1998) Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) Importance and iconic status of the city - descending through the layers of the city - interest in what lies beneath the surface - recurring theme of neo-noir

Blade Runner is referenced in countless neo-noirs as the benchmark for the genre

Icongraphic cues - venetian blinds, smoke, shafts of light (from blinds and the slow moving ceiling fans), rain, 40s costume, the golden bird statue (ref. The Maltese Falcon?), high contrast lighting (chiaroscuro), detective figure...

Deckard - detective - a jaded man living an urban nightmare - no friends or family, living on the edge of society (literally on a different planet) Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) Blade Runner uses the social critique of classic noir and takes it to its nigthmarish conclusion - namely, that these is no hope for the future of mankind and that society is unsalvageable.'

(Gates, 2006, 104) Blue Velvet: Postmodernist Noir Most Profitable Films of the Eighties I c c The New York Times Critics' Picks
- short video article on Blue Velvet
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