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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Common Courses (School of Lit, Lang and Cult)

Postgraduate Course: The Ghosts of Film Noir (CLLC11205)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWith its fatalistic explorations of desire, greed, and death, classical Film Noir has long captivated the darker side of the popular imagination. The past is ever-present in this movement through its emphasis on flashback narratives and psychological interiority; yet even more than this, the trauma of World War II haunted production contexts and helped shape the stories that were told on-screen. This course will engage with the many ghosts of Film Noir: tracing supernatural themes across films; highlighting how the movement integrated key aesthetic influences (German Expressionism, French Poetic Realism, the Gothic tradition, hard-boiled fiction); and examining the historical events that so radically changed the landscape of Hollywood. The course will conclude by considering how the classic period of Noir has continued to influence modern-day filmmaking.
Course description This course traces the development of the Film Noir movement. The thematic focus on the supernatural reflects narrative emphases on how the past haunts the present; it also provides a conceptual framework through which students can consider key topics related to film history, remediation, and cultural memory. These include: the emigration of European filmmakers to Hollywood in the 1920s / 30s; Noir's integration of aesthetic movements like German Expressionism, French Poetic Realism, Gothic storytelling, and hard-boiled fiction; filmmakers' grappling with censorship restrictions in the depiction of intensely sexual and violent relationships, as well as in the representation of the femme fatale and queer characters; and finally, the many revivals of classical Noir in numerous media across the decades.

The course will include a range of films that have overt supernatural themes while also emphasizing the haunted quality that pervades Film Noir more broadly. With the latter in mind, the selected films will move beyond depictions of the spectral per se to invite students to interrogate the lingering presence of other art forms and historical events. Across the course, students will engage with questions of representation and the film-historical challenges of censorship and women's labor in studio production.Further to the latter: the course will highlight the work of not only famed director Ida Lupino, but producer Joan Harrison and star Joan Bennett, who co-founded a production company with director Fritz Lang and producer Walter Wanger.

The Ghosts of Film Noir will introduce students to the antecedents of Film Noir (European influences, hard-boiled fiction) while establishing the key tropes and archetypes that help define the movement. The course will also mine the Gothic overtones of Film Noir, looking closely at questions of identity and domestic space and will address the revival of classic Noir both through the sub-genre of neo-noir and through the nostalgic marketing of this era.

The course will be taught through a weekly 1-hr lecture and 2-hr seminar. Each week, students will be asked a) to watch c. two films and b) to read a book chapter / article on the given topic. In particular weeks, the secondary reading will be replaced with (digitized) primary sources such as newspaper and fan magazine articles, as well as material from online collections.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students on LLC MSc programmes get first priority to this course. If you are not on an LLC course, please let your administrator or the course administrator know you are interested in the course. Unauthorised enrolments will be removed. No auditors are permitted.
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  20
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 11, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 163 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1 x 1,000-word essay (30%)
1 x 3,000-word essay (70%)
Feedback Essay 1 will provide students with mid-semester feedback that will inform their preparation for Essay 2 at the end of term. General feedback will be provided to the class as well.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the Film Noir movement
  2. Evaluate the significance Film Noir's historical and aesthetic influences
  3. Carry out precise close readings of films
  4. Engage critically with primary historical and secondary academic materials
  5. Write with clarity and precision.
Reading List
Borde, R. and Chaumeton, E. (2011 [1955]). A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941, 1953. City Lights Publishers.
Kaplan, E.A. (1998). Women in Film Noir. Bloomsbury.
Mitchell, L.C. (2021). Noir Fiction and Film: Diversions and Misdirections. Oxford University Press.

Biesen, S.C. (2005). Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Eisner, Lotte. (2008). The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt. University of California Press.
Utterson, A. (2020). Persistent Images: Encountering Film History in Contemporary Cinema. Edinburgh University Press.

Further Reading
Auerbach, J. (2011). Dark Borders: Film Noir and American Citizenship. Duke University Press.
Diawara, M. (1993). 'Noir by Noirs: Towards a New Realism in Black Cinema'. African American Review 27.4: 899 - 911.
Gillespie, M.B. (2016). Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film. Duke University Press.
Hanson, H. (2007). Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female Gothic Film. I.B. Tauris.
Jacobs, S. and Colpaert, L. (2013). The Dark Galleries: A Museum Guide to Painted Portraits in Film Noir, Gothic Melodramas and Ghost Stories of the 1940s and 1950s. MER Paper Kunsthalle.
Kim, J. (2019). Postcolonial Grief: The Afterlives of the Pacific Wars in the Americas. Duke University Press.
King, H. (2010). Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier. Duke University Press.
Lane, C. (2021). Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Alfred Hitchcock. Chicago Review Press.
Landsberg, A. (2004). Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. Columbia University Press.
Madden, D. and Mecholsky, K. (2011). James M. Cain: Hard-Boiled Mythmaker. Scarecrow Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Critical analysis and evaluation
Communication in both spoken and written form
Autonomous research skills
Aesthetic sensibility
KeywordsFilm Noir,Expressionism,Gothic,film history,nostalgia
Course organiserDr Ana Salzberg
Course secretaryMiss Hope Hamilton
Tel: (0131 6)50 4167
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