Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Film Noir and its Afterlives

ENGL 200.306
instructor(s):
TR 3:00-4:30pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Junior Research Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

This course considers the classical period of film noir and the enduring legacy of neo-noir in contemporary American cinema. Film noir is a French term retrospectively applied to a wave of dark, brooding mystery and crime thrillers produced during and after World War II. This course will echo the retrospective gaze of the neo-noir itself, considering classic noir from the 1940s and 1950s alongside neo-noir films of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s: for example, analyzing The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946) together withThe Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973) and Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, 1950) with Chinatown (Polanski, 1974).

What can this popular film genre tell us about Hollywood’s representation of crime and punishment, gender and sexuality, heroism and anti-heroism, race and ethnicity—especially as it has been adapted, revised, and reanimated by neo-noir? The importance of setting, lighting, cinematography, and montage to the creation of shadowy noir world will allow us to sharpen close viewing skills. As we consider films that revise the classical noir representations of gender and sexuality, as in Bound (Andy and Lana Wachowski, 1996) and of race, as in Chan is Missing (Wang, 1982), students will be able to pursue their own research on film genre formation, generic revision and fusion, and onscreen representations of crime, sexuality, gender, and race.

The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that the discipline of literary studies currently demands, including: working with primary sources and archival materials; reviewing the critical literature; using online databases of historical newspapers, periodicals, and other cultural materials; exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history; studying the etymological history and changing meanings of words; experimenting with new methods of computational analysis of texts; and other methodologies. The course typically involves a few main texts that are studied intensively from a variety of approaches. Research exercises throughout the semester will enable and culminate in a final project: either a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages or a creative project. In either case, the final project must emerge out of each student's intensive, independent research agenda.