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Portland State University More than Night Film Noir in Its Contexts Reading Questions

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6 Copyright © 2008. University of California Press. All rights reserved. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET In previous chapters, I argue that film noir occupies a liminal space somewhere between Europe and America, between high modernism and “blood melodrama,” and between lowbudget crime movies and art cinema. As an idea in criticism and as a market category in mainstream entertainment, the term has a similar quality; it describes both action pictures and “women’s” melodramas, problematizing the usual generic or gendered distinctions. Still other kinds of liminality are depicted in the films themselves. The stories frequently involve characters who have an ambiguous social position between the law and the underworld, or who seem in danger of losing their respectability and falling into a world of crime or madness. The action sometimes moves back and forth between rich and poor areas of town, or it takes place on a borderland—as in Touch of Evil, where an unstable, confusing boundary between the United States and Mexico becomes the locus of hysterical violence between nationalities, social classes, races, and sexes. In such cases, noir offers its mostly white audiences the pleasure of “low” adventure, having little to do with the conquest of nature, the establishment of law and order, or the march of empire. The dangers that assail the protagonists arise from a modern, highly organized society, but a society that has been transformed into an almost mythical “bad place,” where the forces of rationality and progress seem vulnerable or corrupt, and where characters on the margins of the middle class encounter a variety of “others”: not savages, but criminals, sexually independent women, homosexuals, Asians, Latins, and black people. Radical film critics have responded to this situation in mixed fashion. In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Anglo-American feminists analyzed film noir in two important and interconnected ways: as an instance of what Laura Mulvey calls the patriarchal mechanisms of “visual pleasure” and as a reflection of male hostility toward women in the postwar economy. The Hitchcockian eroticism of classic suspense movies was shown to rest upon a sadistic gaze that could sometimes become troubled and ironically self-reflexive but that ultimately served a perversely masculine need for social and sexual control; meanwhile, the misogyny of hardboiled, pop-Freudian scenarios was made vividly apparent. 
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