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FILM2003 Film Noir

Module Overview

Film Noir is one of Hollywood’s perennial cult genres, yet it is notoriously difficult to define, as it essentially amounts to a retrospective invention by critics. This module will attempt to place the main corpus of the genre’s classics within its original historical context of the 1940's.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to the diversity and complexity of Film Noir and question the way critics have interpreted the ‘genre’ • provide you with a greater understanding of the cinematic practices, and the historical and cultural conditions of 1940’s Hollywood • encourage you to use critically informed textual analysis to explore the form and meaning of key films. • provide an opportunity to explore historical contexts to gain a greater knowledge of wider social, cultural, and political developments in the 1940s.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the different definitions and critical approaches to ‘Film Noir’
  • a range of case-studies in Film Noir
  • the contribution made by exile / émigré filmmakers in shaping Film Noir.
  • the significance of the historical context of America / Europe in the 1940s, including the relationship between the US government and Hollywood.
  • borderline examples of the genre, combined with psychological horror, mystery and western genres, melodrama, etc.
  • issues of sexuality, gender, ethnicity, crime and post-war readjustment
  • the significance of iconic stars associated with the genre, such as Edward G Robinson, Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • select, organise and deploy ideas and information in order to formulate cogent arguments and express them effectively in written and oral forms.
  • work independently, making effective use of library resources and demonstrating efficient time management.
  • work productively with others and give an effective oral presentation that informs its audience and generates further debate.
  • demonstrate the ability to listen to, contribute to, and lead discussion in group environments of varying sizes.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • discuss the development of the term ‘Film Noir’ and give examples of differing critical approaches to its understanding as well as the problematic nature of the term itself.
  • analyse ways in which critics have dealt with the ‘genre’ thematically, culturally and formally and highlight the value of each approach.
  • make connections between American Film Noir and its European counterparts.
  • discuss the significance of the European influence upon Film Noir in terms of directors and other film personnel as well as the issue of cultural influence.
  • evaluate and draw upon a range of academic and filmic sources in order to formulate, structure and justify your own arguments.

Syllabus

Film Noir is one of Hollywood’s perennial cult genres, yet it is notoriously difficult to define, as it essentially amounts to a retrospective invention by critics. This module will attempt to place the main corpus of the genre’s classics within its original historical context of the 1940s. It will introduce and combine various approaches to the study of cinema history, including genre theory, exile studies, and studies on film economics, and cultural politics. Among the areas covered are: the influence of an international work force in Hollywood in the 1940s (exile filmmakers such as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Michael Curtiz, etc.); American foreign and internal policy; social discourses surrounding sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and crime. We begin with a general introduction into theoretical approaches towards Hollywood genre cinema in the 1940s. The module then moves on to specific case studies of selected ‘classical’ noir films and directors, which are chosen for their representativeness in addressing particular key issues of the topic. We will also look at seemingly more unorthodox and borderline examples which often cross boundaries to other genres, but which are crucial in understanding the narrative and cultural tensions evident in the more classical case studies. Towards the end of the course, we will consider the question whether the noir paradigm can be found as well in other cultural contexts, and in Britain in particular. Each week will introduce a specific topic in a lecture, which is usually tied to a representative screening. The seminars are designed to be a forum for discussion and clarification of the issues addressed in the lecture and in the required reading for the week. Each student will be expected to give a short seminar presentation either as an individual or in a small group, which is aimed at producing class discussion. This presentation / seminar leading will enable you to develop your intellectual skills and ability to engage critically with the set reading and the week’s topic. Essay 1 is designed to consolidate your understanding of questions of genre, criticism and historical context, while essay 2 allows you to develop your interests and understanding of more specific topics raised by the module.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures • screenings • seminars • individual tutorials Learning activities include • individual study / research, including set reading • large and small group work in seminars • preparing and delivering group / individual presentations • researching and preparing essays and presentations

TypeHours
Follow-up work20
Completion of assessment task69
Lecture10
Preparation for scheduled sessions20
Demonstration20
Seminar10
Tutorial1
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Frank Krutnik (1991). In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. 

James Naremore (2008). More than Night: Film Noir and its Contexts. 

Assessment

Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback ? advice on essay topics and plans ? guidance on oral presentations and feedback on performance

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 40%
Essay  (2500 words) 50%
Presentation with supporting handout  (20 minutes) 10%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework %

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Prerequisites: FILM1001 or FILM2006 or ENGL1079

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