Com ja vaig anunciar inserto el darrer treball que he fet per la universitat de Birbeck. És un petit assaig per relfexionar sobre les diferències entre el cine negre i les noves aportacions dels anys setanta
The aim of this essay is to think abut the relationship between the genre, baptized by the French as film noir, and some films made in the reborn Hollywood of the seventies, which could be designed as neo-noir. I am going to treat mainly four films: Double Indemnity
, Out of the past
, Taxi Driver
. It has been written a lot about these films but for sake’s brevity, I will treat only two aspects: how they differ in their representation of the American anomy and how has changed from the forties to the seventies, the role of the director.
The film noir is a consequence of the american crisis of the thirties, the big depression, which supposed a lost of its primitive innocence. Maybe, at last, America could not be the paradise, the Promised Land. The trust in America was betrayed and this originated a gender absolutely different in its pessimism from the mainstream of the Hollywood production and more closed to a social reality, which was more complex and plenty of dark sides than what has been shown till then. One feature used to characterize film noir is anomy. These films perceived their society as a place where there was no more universal ethical rules; following Nietzsche’s well-known image, as a place where God was dead. I think this is right true, when I remember Double Indemnity
. As the character played by Fred McMurray said, “I have made all for money and a woman”. Sexual lust and money, main forms of the lust of power, seem to be the only thinkable reason to keep on moving, to live. Nothing essential different happens in Out of the past, although Jeff Bailey tries to make his live in another way, he can not run away from his tragic fate.
Nonetheless, both films could be seen as relatively optimistic if we compare them with the films of the seventies. Both, each one in its own way, are films deeply nihilistic. In them, anomy is not only the possibly hidden truth but the only word, which serves to describe the society’s moral bankrupt, where the possibility of law has vanished. In noir films anomy is only suspected; in Chinatown
or Taxi Driver
, anomy is the main issue, because is the word which serves to solve the title’s riddle. Why is Chinatown the name’s film, if the plot has no special relationship with Chinatown or Chinese things? The 131 minutes of the films are to define what is Chinatown: a state of mind attached to the discovery that all quest of truth is senseless because the truth is something to be ignored and the awareness that no rule of civilization has value anymore. Is not by chance that the truth finally found concerns incest, the most primitive sin, whose interdiction, according Levi-Strauss, means the founding of civilization. For Jack Gittes, Chinatown is simply the world. Taxi Driver
is a story belonging to a narrative tradition, which starts maybe in Dostoievski, very close to nihilism too. After thirty years it continues to be a powerful disturbing film. Like some other noir films his main character has an alienated mind. Since the beginning, we can perceive than Travis is a man in the edge of a nervous break-down and the playing of De Niro is always suggesting that we have not seen still the worse. The most remembered scene of the film allows identifying Travis as a schizophrenic. De Niro is talking to a mirror and is unable to recognize himself. The scene is shouted in a very simple and effective way. The camera takes the place of the mirror and then, we, the spectators, are the alter ego of this sick mind. In this moment is revealed the truth about ourselves. We are not different from Travis and it is owing to this fact than Travis can be recognized by the media as an American Hero. His madness is not different from our madness. If his life is void, the reason is certainly that his surrounding world has nothing to offer.
This nihilistic approach becomes obvious if we look at the end of both films. Neither Double Indemnity
nor Out of the Past
has a happy end. Both are the story of a failure, whose consequence is the death of the main characters. Nonetheless, we can imagine in both cases that there has been something like an evil’s defeat. (Being this evil introduced by the “femme fatale”. The preservation of a certain moral order demands the lack of success of her intentions) and at least, this is very clear in Out of the past
, we can understand the story in terms of fate. Mitchum is a not so bad boy with a very bad luck. These ways of consolation are not allowed to modern films’ spectators. Taxi Driver
’s ending is openly cynical: the Newspapers claim that he is a hero, but in the last scene, when he meets Betsy again, we can find out that nothing has changed. He is still unable to talk with a woman (In fact, this could be one of the main subjects of the film: the breakdown of masculinity’s ideals) and the last shot shows Travis absolutely closed in his own world. Chinatown
’s ending is much more devastating and touching. The hero reveals himself as a passive and powerless character, which plays no role in the resolution of the plot. The success of Evil is absolute. Noah Archer, the incestuous father and the responsible of an ecological disaster achieves his main aim and recovers his daughter/ grand-daughter, while her other daughter Evelyn is shot dead by the police, owned by him. It is interesting that the personification of evil now is a man, a corrupted father, and that Ewelyn, presented in the beginning, as a classical femme fatale is finally the most decent human being of this dark tale.
My second claim differentiate neo-noir from the films of the forties is that my two examples are autheur’s film and, what is more important, both have been made by directors, who believed to be auteurs, whereas it is a matter of opinion if Jacques Tourneur or Billy Wilder could be considered in this way. Billy Wilder, for instance, used to talk about himself as a craftsman, more than like an auteur. Of course, we are not compelled to believe him and there are reasons to think that his work could be considered in some other way. But in fact the Hollywood where he lived and worked did not believe in stars-directors. The cases of Orson Welles, exiled and ignored, or John Ford, always pretending to be an honest craftsman, were very symptomatic and Wilder was a very clever man. Tourneur has possibly lesser options. He was always condemned to work very different genres in the line between the series A and B, without being able to choose the actors or the script.
Scorsese and Polanski learned to direct in a school cinema. They had the will to be artists and to show a personal and pessimistic point of view about reality (in fact Polanski struggled and succeeded to change the happy ending of the original script in Chinatown). Both films share several features according to this point:
1. They looked like more European films. His rhythm is often slower (more in Chinat
own than in Taxi Driver
,. there are longer shots and lesser use of ellipsis.
2. They are more self-conscious. A good example concerns the question of the subjective point of view. Classic films have this tendency but it was not a dogma. So, in Out of the past, only the central flash-back is subjective. The beginning and the end seems told by the classical omniscient narrator. In Chinatown
the point of view is always subjective and in Taxi Driver
is also subjective with an only exception: the scene in which Jodie Foster dances with her pimp, played by Harvey Keitel.
3. In both films we can find shots that discover the will of authorship, characterizing both directors. Maybe the most famous example could be found in Taxi Driver
: a shot with Travis and his comrades in the Deli where they meet usually. He takes an alka-seltzer and the camera leaves De Niro to make a very short close-up of the glass with the effervescent pill, an astonishing and brilliant metaphor of his state of mind
Etiquetes de comentaris: cine, Deu (mort), Nietzsche, Nihilisme, Scorsese, Tourneur, Wilder