Becoming film noir : film noir adaptions of hard-boiled fiction, 1944-46

Jones, Matthew (2018) Becoming film noir : film noir adaptions of hard-boiled fiction, 1944-46. Doctoral thesis, University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

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Abstract

This thesis interrogates a number of issues that surround what critics have designated ‘film noir’ and its relationship to that branch of modern American literature identified as ‘hard- boiled fiction’. Thus, the main subject matter for the thesis consists of selected films noirs from 1944—46, and the novels of Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. The thesis argues that the adaptation process is of central significance to the ‘film noir’ debate and to film noir itself. While it argues for a dialogic exchange between ‘noir’ and ‘hard-boiled fiction’, it proposes as well that there was also a fundamental incompatibility between the two modes. The thesis discusses the difficulties encountered by Hollywood studios in adapting Cain’s work due to the candid representation of ‘adult’ themes, and how this conflicted with Hollywood censorship, carried out by the Production Code Administration (PCA). In order for Cain’s fiction to be adapted, it is argued, Hollywood conventions regarding the representation of sex and violence and the PCA guidelines by which they were governed had to undergo radical change. The critical and scholarly contexts for this argument include debates concerning influence, censorship, and the involvement of the PCA with the adaptation process, and the notion, as maintained by elements within the revisionist debate, that ‘film noir’ has no conceptual or theoretical basis. The thesis challenges revisionist arguments that ‘noir’ was ‘invented’ by French critics in 1946, and argues that although the genre was named retrospectively, generic practice was established by Hollywood producers in acts of ‘applied criticism’ prior to production, from around 1944 onwards. The thesis contextualises the generic practice of ‘noir’ within the history of film, while arguing simultaneously for historic changes in Hollywood film-making of the mid-1940s in terms of the representation of ‘adult’ themes, and the relaxation of the Production Code. The thesis discusses how criticism has tended to privilege other media, such as the plastic arts and literature, over film, and argues that notions of artistic style and influence must give consideration to the immanence of the film production context. The notion that ‘noir’ was influenced by the artistic movement known as ‘German Expressionism’ has been questioned by the revisionist debate. The thesis examines and discusses key German films of the Weimar period, when the artistic movement ‘Expressionism’ flourished, arguing that the Weimar influence is discernible in the generic practice of ‘noir’. However, the thesis makes a case that this is, primarily, the legacy of Weimar cinema, and that the influence of ‘Expressionism’ should be discussed within this medium-specific context. The thesis examines the connections between the work of a number of influential directors and the signifying practice of ‘noir’, including Murnau, Lang, Hitchcock and Hawks. It is proposed that certain ‘noir’ conventions can be traced back to the work of these influential directors. The thesis proposes a way of understanding ‘film noir’ as a genre, and argues that the adaptation process needs to be seen as a nexus for various discourses, including directorial style, screenwriting, cinematography, the studio system, and censorship, in addition to the relationship between the film and the novelistic text.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Film noir
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Theses and Dissertations > Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: Sandra Stedman
Date Deposited: 24 May 2018 11:35
Last Modified: 24 May 2018 11:38
URI: http://repository.uwtsd.ac.uk/id/eprint/900

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