Film noir changed the way films were made, the way films were viewed, and changed the very way we look at ourselves. It changed how we see ourselves in society, in the universe. It changed who we are.
The world changed dramatically in the first half of the twentieth century, and North America especially changed during that time. America became an urban rather than an agrarian culture; two world wars demonstrated how dangerous the world was, and how difficult it was to avoid that danger; the dust bowl and the Great Depression proved how vulnerable we were to the vagaries of nature and a corrupt economic system. The role of women in society changed, and with it the role of the family. All that had seemingly been stable had shifted by the middle of the 1940s.
Film noir examines how we must come to live within this new world order. It makes this new world and all its issues accessible not just to the intelligentsia but also to the regular Joe in the audience. Seen through the eyes of the quintessential existential man—the private detective—the world’s misery, its ennui, the corrupting influence of money and materialism, the dangers of lust, and the seductive attraction of cruelty, become palpable and direct. We see on the silver screen how one man (for it was often a man) comes to grips with a world in which he often does not belong.
This seminar will focus on five masterpieces of film noir, from its early days to more recent times. Each is representative of aspects of the world which existential man must face. Each offers a great viewing experience. At Toronto Pursuits, each film will be screened the afternoon before the discussion of that film. Read more in David’s blog post, The Deliciously Dark World of Film Noir.
Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tanya: You haven’t got any.
Quinlan: Hmm? What do you mean?
Tanya: Your future’s all used up.
– Touch of Evil, written and directed by Orson Welles