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April 2014
17
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Invoking My Cinematic Spirit Sisters and Notes on Personal Growth on My 25th Birthday!!!

from my personal tumblr viperslut:

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While my 25th birthday is drawing to a close I still plan to celebrate it into the summer. This is a momentous birthday for me for several reasons.

one) When my mother had just turned twenty-five she was on her second marriage (to my abusive father) and was due to give birth to me. I have been thinking a lot about her today. What I have inhereted from her and how vastly different we are. At 25, I have a strong sense of self and my desires, I am single and (mostly) content with that. I am very much unlike my mother when she was my age.
two) I have made a fuckton of progress in my life. I have a good paying regular job. i am writing with a passion and fury I have never had before. I am actually sending my work out into the world. I am not exactly where I want to be but I have grown in the past year. three) I’ve made a game plan so that by May of next year I will be in Los Angeles.
four) I have good people in my life. People who are kind and artistic and sincere. I want to continue to build on these friendships.
five) I am slowly getting out more. Anxiety and panic attacks still poison my life. But I’m better at managing my schizoaffective disorder.
six) I still define myself a bit too much by illness. I am still too quick to anger and to judge. I still expect people to pity me when I open up. I am working on it. I am better at notdoing this. But I still do it.
seven) I want to be as brave in real life as I am in my writing.

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I am a madwoman, muse, writer.

Madwoman (noun)
1. A woman who is mentally ill.

2. A woman with a transgressive place in society because of her anger, sexuality, and/or refusal to play by the rules.

3. A woman ruled by her passions. (See: Taylor, Elizabeth)

4. A woman of fire and music. (See: Davis, Bette in All About Eve)

Each line in my definition of madwoman applies to myself.

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April 2014
17

Best Shot: On The Letter (1940) and The Compassion of Bette Davis

I think it is fitting to write about Bette Davis on my 25th birthday. Since first witnessing Bette on-screen in my late teens in All About Eve, I have been obsessed with her going as far as creating the term “Cinematic Spirit Sister” to describe how deeply connected I feel to her work. Bette represents the kind of woman we’re told not to be. She’s quick to anger with strong appetites, she’s willfully defiant, bold, passionate, prickly.  When describing herself she once said, “I’m just too much”. She is too much, in the most glorious way possible. She is female anger incarnate.

I have always considered Bette Davis a cinematic Medusa. Bette while still one of the more well known actors from old Hollywood is also one of the most misunderstood. Unlike Katharine Hepburn she hasn’t been reclaimed by feminists or used in a bevy of conversations by layman to signify being against the grain in an era when women seemed to be voiceless glamor dolls. Maybe it is because her films exist as the question “can women have it all?” only to answer them in a way modern women may not be too fond of. Maybe it’s because she never had a great love story in real life to bolster meta-textual interest in her. Her cinematic love stories seem more interested in delving into a woman loving herself and rarely have happily ever afters, Now Voyager being a bittersweet example of this. Maybe it’s because she excelled at playing characters like Leslie Crosbie.

In the 1940 noir The Letter, Leslie is a liar, a woman fueled by a hunger for autonomy and power and twisted love to the point that she makes a fake rape accusation to justify the cold blooded murder of the man who spurns her. The Letter opens with Leslie killing her former lover, Geoff Hammond. Her face still as she empties bullets into his back until he tumbles the ground and finally dies. She isn’t hysterical if anything she seems to know exactly what she was doing. The film is ultimately about the narratives we build around our lies that eventually consume us. The narrative Leslie builds is unable to save her as a letter she wrote to Geoff is revealed to her lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) creating a chain reaction that briefly gives Leslie some sense of freedom only to have it snatched away in death. The ending of the film is a bit disconcerting since it would have been a more fitting punishment (and have greater depth) if Leslie survived and had to live with the memory of everything that has transpired realizing her marriage and lies have created a prison for which the only escape would be death. But the Hays Code would of course want Leslie dead since she transgressed certain societal moral codes.

While The Letter is ultimately a noir, by centering it around Bette’s character Leslie it lends the darker impulses of the genre to delve into a twisted narrative not too far off from a women’s picture about the ways a woman corrupts and is corrupted by her own desire. In the shot below, the idea of imprisonment (by desire and the lies she spins) takes a literal form in how the sharp lines of shadow and light frame her.

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Bette Davis plays Leslie full tilt. But there are moments (like in all of Bette’s best performances) of remarkable silence which William Wyler seemed particular good at getting from Bette. Their collaborations brought out some of Bette’s most dynamic and interesting performances. While The Letter is arguably the most beloved, I am more drawn to The Little Foxes. Wyler and Bette had a passionate relationship on and off set. There is a film or a book waiting to be written about these warring artists and the reasons why they never married and the circumstances surrounding each of the films they made together. Wyler said at the American Film Institute tribute to Bette Davis, She was difficult in the same way that I was difficult. She wanted the best.

Bette once wrote about losing battles with Wyler on set saying,

I lost it to a genius. So many directors were such weak sisters that I would have to take over. Uncreative, unsure of themselves, frightened to fight back, they offered me none of the security that this tyrant did.

Bette is at her best in The Letter in quieter moments, particularly during and right after her final confrontation with her husband. In these moments she lets her body (most vividly her eyes) communicate for her better than any line of dialogue can. Even with a striking voice that seemed almost incongruous to such a petite woman, Bette is first and foremost a very visual actress. Wyler smartly takes advantage of this.

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But the best shots in The Letter are when we don’t see Bette’s face.

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The shadows in noir take on mythic proportions. So, what does it say that in the shots we understand Leslie greatest we are seeing her shadow not her face?

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Bette made a career out of playing women like Leslie. Women who are violent, selfish, and self-destructive. Women yearning so deeply for power and autonomy it leads them to ugly yet very human actions. These women tend to do rather despicable things to create their life in the image they feel they deserve. But I feel Leslie is one the hardest of Bette’s characters to find a sense of kinship with. Part of it is the film itself. As much as I find The Letter’s synthesizing of noir with the emotional underpinnings of the women’s picture exemplary, the directing stellar, the acting a master class…I can’t ignore the racial issues. The lynchpin of these issues is Gale Sondergaard playing Mrs. Hammond, Geoff’s widow. We are supposed to believe that Mrs. Hammond is Eurasion, which means we have to deal with Sondergaard (who was very much a white woman) adorned with all the old Hollywood markers of generalized Asian femininity. Her otherness is mostly characterized by her primarily silent nature and extravagant costuming. She is the exoticized other.  

The fact that Bette is able to make us understand and even sympathize with Leslie is a testament to her abilities as an actress to bring compassion to her characters. There is a sense that Bette doesn’t judge these characters as she brings them to life but seeks to understand the underpinnings of their impulses.

The war between control and submission, the matters of the heart and the high-minded desire for career success is common to the narratives centering on women in the 1940s and 1950s. Bette excelled at creating layers of compassion and transgressiveness in narratives that could easily turn misogynistic or maudlin without the right touch.

Today, on my 25th birthday, I am savoring every moment. One of the things I have been working on is to be as brave in real life as I am in my writing and to finally put my work out into the world (my longer form essays and screenplays). Bette Davis represents the joy of being an artist, of synthesizing your inner life in an outward manner. For her it was acting, for me writing. I aim to be as fearless and passionate and unapologetic as she was in films like The Letter and her life in general.

April 2014
08

Desire is a Hell I Can’t Bear: Vintage Female Mugshot Series Vol. 3 

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Family Legend: Alice’s most vivid, early memory took root when she was ten. Her mother sat in the small tattered loveseat with the sickly pattern and creaking back. One hand parted the sheer baby cheek pink drapes, the other held a cigarette.

Little Alice by this time stopped asking when Daddy was coming home. She stopped humming the same tune he always hummed when getting ready for work or picking her up from school. She stopped rummaging through the closet to pick out his ties for work.

The last ties she picked out (in order):

Navy blue with cream colored polka dots
Oxblood red and white with a small stain at the bottom from a final glass of wine during a particularly disastrous double date with the Stevenson’s.
Canary yellow that reminded her of her mother’s hair which looked like spun sunlight.
Ice blue, the color of his eyes on a good day.

Until one morning she stumbled into the master bedroom to find all his things gone. No tattered copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books. No cuff links. No camera. No ties.

So, as her mother sat in that chair she asked, “Where did you put all of Daddy’s things?”
“What made you think I put them anywhere?”
“I don’t get it…”
“You know what I realized, darling? All tragedies begin as love stories”

Alice didn’t understand what that meant either but she knew it was portent and never forgot that moment. It wasn’t until April of 1954 that she understood her mother’s words and the pain behind them.

As her father’s absence stretched from months to years, Alice watched her mother change. She took to the drink like her father before her. Her once sun dappled hair turned to brassy colored straw. Her eyes grew red and unforgiving. Alice hid the bottles wherever she could but her mother sought them out like a bloodhound whose nose was trained for self-destruction. When her mother died in her second year of high school she was taken in by the grandmother she barely knew.

Things about womanhood that every other girl learned from their mother, Alice instead learned from her grandmother or the girls in her class. And when she would see pity in their eyes, she’d simply turn away.

Despite her apple cheeks and the warmth of her eyes Alice grew steely. She decided to live as a woman perpetually on the margins because there no one can hurt you. The tragedies of her past clung to her like a sickness. In men this holds an allure; the damaged man all women wish to save. Tragedy is potent pheromone in men. In women, like Alice, it is a black mark. For women are meant to be blank slates a man can shape and mold with no narrative of her own.

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April 2014
03
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Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, In A Lonely Place (1950).

April 2014
03

bitinglightbulbs asked

I just want you to know, I read your piece "Things I Wanted To Say To Men I Dated But Never Did" and I loved every single syllable. It was fantastic and everything I want to say to him (but won't).

I’m glad you enjoyed it so much! It was very cathartic to write.

April 2014
01

Costume as Character and Female Desire: Thoughts on “The Good Wife” as Modern Women’s Picture

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The women’s picture is a genre of contradictions. These films, which lasted roughly from the early 1930s through 1960 (with some notable modern exceptions), put a woman at the center of her own cinematic universe. They were often highly contradictory even hypocritical in how they approached womanhood. On the surface, this can be blamed on the constraints of the Hays Code. But I think it deals with something more primal and ingrained in our society. Women are often viewed through the prism of stark archetypes and the women’s picture reflects that; Madonna, Whore, The Cool Girl, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Jezebel and so forth.

Mythology is littered with the stories of women whose underlying purpose seems to be that femininity is inherently monstrous. There’s a powerful quote I came across on Tumblr that echoed this:

it’s really interesting how so many mythological creatures that are exclusively female (harpies, banshees, sirens) are described as having really piercing or unpleasant or otherwise notable voices? sirens kill men with their songs, banshees shriek when someone is about to die, harpies are awful cawing bird-women

(watch out for the girls who know how to make noise; we are monsters) [x]

The women’s picture aims to give a woman power through her voice and the exploration of what it means to be a woman beyond just a wife or mother.  Only to end by damning her for realizing this voice and power, however briefly. It is a genre in which women were allowed to be larger than life. It was the playground that Bette Davis made her castle. Women in the 1940s and 1950s were allowed for a blissful 100 minutes (give or take) to live outside the constraints of their life. Through the actresses that populated this genre they could be fabulously dressed, with comebacks as sharp as cut glass, they could rage against the patriarchy…until the ending of course. Women’s pictures are often concerned with the struggle between the matters of the heart and those of self-realization/desire. Women were often caught between who they wanted to be and who they wanted to love. It seems as though no matter how grand cinema can be a woman having it all (or at least willing to try for it) is too fantastical to display.

In A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 Jeanine Basinger breaks down the genre.

“The most significant thing about the women’s films of the 1930s-1950s period is the way they display this consistently inconsistent purpose and attitude. The crazy plots, the desperate characters, and whatever settings and time periods the woman’s film inhabits can be best considered under the umbrella of three main purposes:

-To place a woman at the center of the story universe.

-To reaffirm in the end the concept that a woman’s true job is that of just being a woman, a job she can’t very well escape no matter what else she does, with the repression disguised as love.

-To provide a temporary visual liberation of some sort, however small—-an escape into a purely romantic love, into sexual awareness, into luxury, or into the rejection of the female role that might only come in some form of a question (“What other choices do I have?”)”

Basinger’s definition while thorough leaves out what I feel is central to women’s picture; question what it means to be a woman in the first place.

What about the subversion that colors the edges of the endings of these films? It is easy to imagine that while they end with neat, patriarchy approved messages that these women’s taste for autonomy hasn’t been fully wiped out.

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I’ve grown rather tired with how women in film—-especially classic film—-are framed by modern viewers and critics as not their own character but a negation or just reflection of the masculine. This line of thought also strips these characters of a voice and also negates the subversive traits the actresses who played them lend the characters even if the screenplay doesn’t.

Divorced from the Hays Code (but not the patriarchal society it was born from) how would a modern women’s picture look? What would it say about modern womanhood——what it means to have it all, sexuality, the politics of desire, intersectionality in feminism? Could a modern women’s picture give women the ending they need and deserve rather than echoing the societal issues in a damning way (i.e. there are only so many ways to be a woman that are accepted, choose one or you’re fucked)?

I think we can find the answers to many of these question through the exemplary television show The Good Wife starring Julianna Marguiles as Alicia Florrick. The former scorned wife now, in the fifth season of the show, a dynamic at times morally gray and yearning badass lawyer trying to chart a course to her own happiness and autonomy.

In last Sunday’s episode the male lead, Will Garnder (Josh Charles), Alicia’s former lover/boss, was brutally killed in a courtroom shootout by his own client. Will was an important component to Alicia’s redefining her own sexuality and sense of desire outside of her toxic marriage with Peter (Chris Noth). Killing off Will is a bold move. It demonstrates an audaciousness that I feel is lacking in even the supposed upper tier cable shows. But what is more interesting is the reaction from fans. Many fans have expressed an inability to continue with the show since the sexual chemistry (turned heated animosity) between Will and Alicia was indeed very important to the show. But it wasn’t the show. Ultimately, The Good Wife, like many women’s pictures is about the main character’s journey toward autonomy, happiness, and a redefinition of what being a woman means to her. Or as the showrunners have put it, “The Education of Alicia Florrick”.

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March 2014
30
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Ultimately, I can’t stop thinking about the silenced women and girls that color the margins of modern noir like True Detective. Those dead-eyed baby doll whores, modern femme fatales, smooth operators and women of violent means who use sex and wit and bared teeth to gain leverage in a sick world trying to keep them powerless. The screen sirens, the depressed wives, those suicide blondes with runs in their stockings and freedom on their mind deserve as much narrative weight as men like Rust Cohle. All these yearning silenced women that writers like Nic Pizzolatto for all their skill seem unable to truly write or understand except for how far their flesh yields. It’s time we started telling their stories again.

 -

Bright Wall/Dark Room.: True Detective (2014) 

I helped edit this gorgeous piece and I was pumping my fist towards the end. An epic, definitive analysis. Go read it! 

(via michelle-said)

I am still so very fucking proud of writing this essay and very thankful for the amazing editing work by Michelle Said. I put my blood and soul on the page, y’all. My soul sings and singes when I write. Noir is a genre near and dear to my heart as a screenwriter and essayist.

Expect some new work on my blog soon talking about my hate of Top of the Lake,positioning The Good Wife in the canon of women’s pictures, and even a rekindling of my Imagined Female Voice Over series.

March 2014
27

New True Detective Essay on Bright Wall/Dark Room: “His Vision, Her Body” and Other Thoughts

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To my new followers who were brought here from reading my essay: Madwomen & Muses is vulgar, genre bending and heavy on Old Hollywood and feminism. I encourage debate and discussions. I am also very personal here too. I hope you enjoy everything this site and my future writings have to offer. You can find me on Twitter and the Madwomen & Muses Facebook page. My personal tumblr is Viper Slut.

True Detective created a nightmare world of southern fried noir, male violence with dashes of weird fiction in the mix. The acting was dynamite. Cary Fukunaga’s direction was flawless and struck the perfect tone between pulp sensibilities and tender realism. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing showed an intelligence and sense of experimentation that was wonderful even if it didn’t always work. It is a show I felt inspired watching. But it isn’t without fault especially in its finale and how it stumbles when trying to frame misogyny and consumptive masculinity. So, I felt compelled to write an essay especially because I felt the conversations around the show were messy. Saying it is sexist may be a bit too simplistic. But saying since True Detective is a noir or southern gothic (it isn’t a southern gothic in my opinion) that of course it would be sexist is woefully myopic. It also proves my point that people (even fellow writers) don’t understand genre.

This essay has been my focus for this entire month and I am immensely proud of it. Since I graduated in 2012 I haven’t been the best at getting my work completed and putting it out into the world. A lot of this can be attributed to intense personal problems and depression. But a lot of has to do with the fear that I’m not a good writer. This is the first essay I submitted anywhere in well over a year. I am dedicated to my writing now more than ever. So yes, I am very proud of this essay. I’m happy I had such a great editor (Michelle Said) over at Bright Wall/Dark Room and that they loved my essay.

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Noir is a genre I am in love and actively obsessed with. It means so much to me as a screenwriter, essayist, and viewer. This essay explores (southern) masculinity, the history of film noir, and what True Detective ultimately says about women like Dora Lange.

I also decided to say a very eloquent “fuck you” to everyone who makes the ignorant and myopic argument that noir is an inherently sexist genre. To say this is to ignore the history of women informing the genre since its inception—-as novelists, actresses, screenwriters, and directors. To ignore women like Dorothy B. Hughes, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, and Megan Abbott, is to say that the stories of and by women have no place in the genre. Women experience the darkness emblematic of noir like anyone else.

The end of my essay is a call to action and a way to give a voice to the voiceless. As a screenwriter and essayist, I am doing my part. Everything I write is interested in the voices and stories of fucked up women. Women of grit and glamour, of yearning and strong appetities. Some of them are weak, others are strong. I aim for them to all be dynamic, fully formed, and well written.

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"Ultimately, I can’t stop thinking about the silenced women and girls that color the margins of modern noir like True Detective. Those dead-eyed baby doll whores, modern femme fatales, smooth operators and women of violent means who use sex and wit and bared teeth to gain leverage in a sick world trying to keep them powerless. The screen sirens, the depressed wives, those suicide blondes with runs in their stockings and freedom on their mind deserve as much narrative weight as men like Rust Cohle. All these yearning silenced women that writers like Nic Pizzolatto for all their skill seem unable to truly write or understand except for how far their flesh yields. It’s time we started telling their stories again." [x]

You can read my essay His Vision, Her Body: On Noir, Masculinity, and True Detective on the wonderful film site, Bright Wall/Dark Room.

March 2014
27
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True Detective (2014) 

dietsunglasses:

brightwalldarkroom:

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HIS VISION, HER BODY:

On Noir, Masculinity and True Detective

by Angelica Jade Bastién

In the first episode of True Detective, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) looks upon the body of murder victim Dora Lange. Her body has been positioned like a piece of art, hunched over, with stark…

Thanks for the response.

I believe the Production Code did more than simply affect the ending of a film. I think the regressive and negative effects of the Production Code are visible throughout the representations of female characters in a single film and across film noir. The femme fatale archetype, which gets initiated in the 40s, is not only misogynist but also only exists as a male fantasy, which is one most sexist representations of women in film history. Part of what makes the femme fatale complicated is how feminist film theory in the 70s started to re-read the femme fatale as a figure of female power. That has largely reshaped the way we see the femme fatale nowadays. I’ve always read the femme fatale character according to the Lacanian dictum that “the Woman is another Name-of-the-Father,” which is why the femme fatale is represented as a powerful, castrating figure. In my view, female characters that exist as the projection of male fantasies are not progressive at all.

And you mention how film noir introduces female characters. I immediately thought of the fetishistic introduction of Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity that chops up her body via close-up of ankle and anklet as she walks down the stairs (this introduction of Phyllis is structured for the male gaze. In fact, it exemplifies the male gaze par excellence.) I also thought of how Lana Turner is introduced as a spectacle for male viewers in The Postman Always Rings Twice. I was also thinking of Mary Anne Doane’s point that women in 40s film noir are often shown as spectacles that block the forward momentum of the narrative and how men are shown as the movers of the narrative that have to overcome the woman’s blockage. 

I also fixated on the “behind the camera” part to mean only directors or cinematographers. Wouldn’t you agree that more women are involved in the industry now than during the studio era? And there weren’t a larger percentage of women working in noir than other traditional genres during the studio era, so I think that part of the argument is not the strongest.

I’m totally uncomfortable with how True Detective and other contemporary crime shows treat the female body, even when they do so under a purported claim to criticize patriarchy. I love True Detective but, like 40s film noir, I think the masculinity of crime genre shackles the character representations and narrows the themes to the prism of male neurosis, perversion and paranoia. Is there a way out? Of course. But I think that shows like The Fall or The Killing are still laboring under the gender assumptions of the genre (or noir) even when they have a female protagonist. These shows try to let themselves off the hook by having a female protagonist, but “they want their cake and eat it too” insofar as viewers can see violence against the female body and rest assured that they are not being anti-feminist because the show is “criticizing” patriarchy.

Well, I don’t think the femme fatale is just a male fantasy/nightmare figure and  to say so is simplistic. Also it ignores films like The Letter in which it is her perspective that guides us through the film. She isn’t a co-lead but a lead. (but that film does have its problems too) I come from the perspective of looking at the femme fatale and myths like Medusa from the feminist lens. While I understand why you look at the femme fatale that way, I can’t agree with it. I am also coming from the perspective of a woman who has really grappled with how men view my sexuality in real life, define me by it even. I rage and look for power in a way I feel is mirrored in these often fucked up noir female characters. Although I’m not killing anyone. But I do wear my anger as an accessory in some ways.

I definitely agree with some of the ways you’re framing the introductions of female characters in noir. Yes, Double Indemnity and Barbara Stanwyck’s introduction is probably one of the most stark examples of the male gaze. It is fetishistic, as you say. But my questions to you are: Is there a way for feminism to exist in films with the male gaze? By negating the grayer aspects of the female fatale including my argument that she is an emblem of female power (and a patriarchal’s society fear of such) are you being almost too simplistic and robbing her of a female perspective/her sexuality+power? Is it wrong that I (and other feminist critics) seek to reclaim the femme fatale and characters of her ilk by looking at her from a different perspective?

When I say behind the camera I mean writers too! Of course we have more women in the film industry although we need greater participation on that front. I am a screenwriter working on pilots and features. I am working hard to make my career happen. There is no way in hell I could make it as a writer in the studio system. While I love Old Hollywood. I am not ignorant to its issues or contradictions. Yes there wasn’t a large percentage of women working on noir films at that time but I think you are discrediting the work of women. Women have been writing noir since its inception. Not just white women either. By saying noir is inherently sexist as a genre ignores their voices and perspectives in literature and how that influenced film noir. Which I find offensive. Furthermore, it ignores the subversive techniques of some great actresses like Bette Davis, who was a fucking auteur, in my opinion.

This genre isn’t inherently masculine. And we’ll just continue to disagree on that point.

And while I don’t care for The Killing, I vehemently disagree with what you’re saying about The Fall. That show is criticizing the patriarchy and it gives us examples of a variety of women not just the tough yet caring+ sexual lead detective played by Gillian Anderson. I think a show can show violence, critique the patriarchy and be feminist too.

For the record, a lot of the noir I write is a bit off-kilter. I do have one pilot that deals explicitly with a woman who survived a serial killer and deals a lot with what we’re talking about. But I have always enjoyed when noir gets really intimate. So a lot of the scripts I have while definitely playing with noir in terms of theme/character construction/etc are from a female perspective and aren’t really concerned with male neurosis or even being explicitly about the patriarchy/male neurosis/violence. I am really interested in female sexuality and the idea of creating a female gaze in cinema.  I have an argument about Elizabeth Taylor utilizing that when she became a huge star but I digress. It’s hard for me to get into what I write and how I utilize noir without being really specific about my projects.

One thing we definitely agree on is being uncomfortable with how the female body is treated in shows like True Detective. Is nudity and violence the problem necessarily? Yes and no. I think how it is framed, how the women remain voiceless and lack autonomy that makes it even worse. It makes me uncomfortable too. And I did get the feeling with True Detective that it was trying to have its cake and eat it too. But I do think there is a way to create crime and noir driven stories that are feminist or at the very least are more concerned with the female perspective and dynamic in ways I desire to see.

March 2014
27
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True Detective (2014) 

viperslut:

dietsunglasses:

viperslut:

dietsunglasses:

brightwalldarkroom:

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HIS VISION, HER BODY:

On Noir, Masculinity and True Detective

by Angelica Jade Bastién

In the first episode of True Detective, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) looks upon the body of murder victim Dora Lange. Her body has been positioned like a piece of art, hunched over, with stark…

This author claims that people don’t understand film noir. And then the author goes on to say that film noir is definitely a genre, which is a very cavalier thing to say when most film noir scholars debate its status as genre, period, or style. And there is no mention of Todd Erickson’s essay “Kill Me Again: Movement becomes Genre,” which discusses exactly how noir has developed into a genre via neo-noir. I also find that using film noir from the 40s to criticize True Detective’s misogyny downright bizarre. 

I make the argument that it is definitely a genre because I don’t agree with scholars that debate its status as such. To say its just a period or style is too simplistic given the concrete narrative constructions that have existed since its inception. Why would I need to mention that essay? Because its “important”?

Noir has had definitive periods, I’ll say that. How is that as a critique bizarre? To say that women weren’t more central to the plot in noir from the 1940s is myopic and also a lie. There was a lot of contradictions thanks to the Hays Code but to not bring up how noir has changed and used to put women at its center on our screens would be disingenuous. I never said the depictions of women in that era were perfect either.

I actually think I am going to let people debate this on their own for the most part. I am really proud of my essay and stick by everything I said.

But film noir is a retroactive French term that didn’t appear until 1946 (first full-length study was in 1955), so no American director prior was even aware of what those “concrete narrative constructions” would be. It’s hard to claim noir is a genre when you don’t list exactly what those “concrete narrative constructions” are. And it’s hard to claim noir as a genre/narrative when its visual style shows up in other genres, like the Western in Pursued, etc. And how is bringing up the genre/narrative question about film noir “bullshit” when it’s a central part of your argument?

I also think the 1940s noir is more misogynistic than contemporary neo-noir. You say that classic 40s noir had more women in front of the camera and behind the camera. But besides Ida Lupino, what other women directed a 40s noir?

I never said I didn’t like the essay. I was simply disagreeing with parts of your argument. And what else am I doing in my comment besides “let[ting] people debate this on their own for the most part.” You’re so immediately dismissive of what I say that it makes me wonder if it’s worth my time

I know when the term actually showed up. I touch on narrative constructions: theme and archetypes mostly in my essay (and a bit on reversals that happen with femme fatales thanks to the Hays code in the last act). I didn’t want to get too heavy into screenwriting talk and break down acts of major noirs or anything (but I plan to do that on my blog). But there are definite narrative constructions that exist within noir even if it wasn’t labeled as “noir” until later. A lot of that may have to do with a lot of great noir being adaptations of novels too. Saying that the visual style shows up elsewhere seems to actually support my argument that noir isn’t mostly or only a visual marker but a genre. Just because something is moody and crime related doesn’t make it noir.

How is 1940s noir more misogynistic than noir now? While the Hays Code and the endings of much film noir was forced to conform to societal bullshit, we do not have many noir roles for women that are: well-developed, central to the narrative, with their own goals. In the 1940s, even if the endings try to wrap up the transgressiveness in a bow, you can’t deny women were larger than life characters in noir. They raged against their constraints. They had autonomy. I do not see much of that in modern noir or noir inspired media. The Fall being a noticeable crime show exception.

Yes, Ida Lupino was the most noticeable example of a film noir director in the studio system. Make no mistake, I believe the studio system was a contradictory time in Hollywood. Women were really pushed out of being major players behind the scenes because of men realizing how much money could be made (amongst other things).

Besides Lupino I was referring to women who wrote noir whose work was adapted or were involved in the screenwriting process. For example, while Born to be Bad is more melodrama than noir it does seem interested in the femme fatale archetype (which yes they didn’t have a name for noir, I get that but that archetype definitely existed then and you can see how she could influence films outside of noir). And that film was co-written by a woman. The sense of female authorship in noir is also complicated by actresses like Bette Davis (who I consider an auteur) who was known for being controlling on set and editing scripts etc etc.

Side note: Also just because a lot of the noir I consider flirting with feminist ideas weren’t directed by women doesn’t negate their transgressiveness or the interesting things they say about gender. To say just because of having a man direct lends it to being sexist in that time period is a bit too myopic imo.

I said the “letting people debate this on their own” line because usually I don’t step into conversations for a while. I let things kind of go along and was more interested in seeing what other people said since I consider the essay my final word on the matter. This isn’t the same on my own blog because I kind of use that to try out new ideas if that makes sense. I welcome the conversation though because it does challenge me to elaborate even if we very obviously disagree. Furthermore, if I was immediately dismissive/didn’t care/etc I probably just would not have responded.