Film Noir / Noir Cultures

"Film noir" is a French term used in reference to "dark films" and traditionally defined as a particular subset of crime-melodramas, suspense-thrillers, or mysteries produced in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. However, this course suggests that to learn the history of film noir, we need to study it at the intersections of different cultural expressions and determining factors. Our investigation will therefore span genres, styles, and time periods in U.S. narrative cinema, considering questions about film noir beyond how it functions as a mere category. What cultural needs and desires does noir serve? What does noir illuminate (albeit darkly) about our culture? To begin addressing these questions, we will analyze cinematic elements of mise-en-scène—costumes, lighting, sets, and locations—to understand the relationship between the Classical Hollywood style and what came to be called “film noir.” We will then move outside of film to contextualize noir styles in crime fiction, painting, photography, and popular music. This course will also trace the continuities and discontinuities between film noir and “neo-noir,” the noir revival after the classic era that reached its zenith in the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, we will turn to the legacy of film noir in comic aesthetics, television series, and video games to recognize its diverse uses over time and across visual media. In addition to watching films in weekly screenings, students will have opportunities to play the game L.A. Noire in the SU Digital Scholarship Space and visit the SU Special Collections Research Center to look at archival material from the Pulp Literature and Science Fiction holdings for a primary research project.