Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Film Noir Studies - TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir - Completion Reflection

I have now completed TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir, a free online multimedia course from Ball State University as offered on the Canvas Network and, through the course of becoming a bit tougher and wiser, I now possess a vastly greater understanding and appreciation of the film noir movement.

My Certificate of Completion.

The film noir movement is an area of film that I have always struggled to find a way into; that is not to say that I have not seen any film noir films, I have seen plenty, but studying the progression and intricacies of the movement has always been a challenge. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to undertake the film noir module, Film Noir: The Dark side of the Screen, as part of my second year BA (hons) Film and Screen Studies because I did not have enough credit to do so. Although, in hindsight, I should have just asked if I could have sat in on the lectures, my tutors would not have said no.

However, Investigating Film Noir has more than made up for this missed opportunity and I get the impression from the full spectrum of this online course that it equals the full breadth of The Dark Side of the Screen module at Bath Spa University.

One of the common criticisms of online courses or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is that they can not compare to a real-world paid course. 

Okay, let's investigate this assumption a little more.

I did not take The Dark Side of the Screen module at university, but I know for a fact from other students who did take it and from the formats of the other modules I myself took that the The Dark Side of the Screen module would have been comprised of:

  • Lectures - in which the tutor (Suman, bless his heart) would have gradually taken the class through the film noir movement; as complimented by...
  • Seminars - in which film screenings, readings and active class discussion would have further delved into the complexities of the film noir movement.

Now, as it stands with Investigating Film Noir, I have just undertaken an online course in which I had to

  • digest a series of weekly video lectures that gradually peeled back the layers of the film noir movement
  • view a program of film noir screenings on TCM (I don't have TCM, so I made do with what I could find online)
  • examine various primary and secondary readings of the subject
  • take part in the many discussion forums of the course with the other students.

Therefore, I feel that this online offering, in collaboration with TCM, serves as a formidable example of the potential of online learning in regards to the discipline of Film Studies, a discipline that could very easily be taught online, as indeed it kind of already is...

Out of the Past - Film Studies 2.0

Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir is the first Film Studies podcast that debuted online and it serves as the basis for this MOOC, as it was created by Dr Richard L. Edwards, the co-host of Out of the Past

I have not listened to all of the Out of the Past episodes, but I sure if I had I would possess a greater understanding of film noir movement and all of the films therein. However, it is clear to see from the episodes I have listened to and from looking through its back-catalogue of episodes that the Out of the Past podcast offers a very comprehensive overview of the film noir movement and it is not at all surprising that TCM approached Dr Edwards to create the Investigating Film Noir MOOC spin-off.

In the most recent episode of Out of the Past - Noircast Special 4: TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film NoirEdwards and company discuss the inception, creation, outreach and potential of the Investigating Film Noir MOOC; it certainly makes for an interesting listen and seems to point towards a desire for there to be many more offerings such as Investigating Film Noir.

I would most certainly be behind any future online Film Studies offerings because that is where I believe the discipline will gain a whole new lease of life, opposed to just repeating itself, over and over again! 

Below is my video review of the Investigating Film Noir MOOC...

What did I learn from Investigating Film Noir?

Exactly what I already knew, for such a prolific film movement, film noir is also an oddly illusive entity.

Getting your head around the whole film noir movement was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, you just have to think of these films as being representative of the full range of the human psyche - not nearly as warm and cosy as we like to believe.

In a recent film noir episode that was recorded for my Breaking Cinema podcast I lamented that the essence of what makes a film noir film a film noir film has become so saturated and absorbed by other filmmakers that you can identify film noir elements in the majority of all the films of modern cinema.

Obviously, we have the neo noir which is our contemporary equivalent of a film that leans more strongly towards the conventions of a traditional film noir, but even so, the neo noir conventions can still be found in the majority of all the films of modern cinema precisely because they make up the majority of the films of modern cinema. 

After 9/11 there was an insistent transition towards darker and grittier cinema and this is a maturity of cinema that will never fully go away, as was the case with the emergence of film noir in the aftermath of World War 2 and the emergence of the neo noir in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Ultimately, we have moved on from the film noirs of the 1940s and 50s; they remain purely as a nostalgic footprint of the cultural and societal attitudes and anxieties of their respective time, but we no longer live in the immediate aftermath of World War 2. 

The problem with films today that attempt to be hardcore and traditional film noir films, is that they just end up looking like parodies (which is why a film like Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid works so well) - that style of film does not fit with our current state of cultural and societal attitudes and anxieties. 

In many ways the conventions of the 'traditional film noir film' are utterly absurd and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid shows you exactly why - they belong to another time.

At the end of all this, my attitude in regards to film noir is simply - why bother looking for film noir? It's been done, move on. 

I spent many years trying to find a way into the film noir movement in order to come to terms with exactly what constitutes film noir and now, after working my through Investigating the Darkness, I realise that film noir is something I always understood, I just did not realise it!

Any human being who looks deep enough into themselves will realise exactly what film noir is and, if you do not know what I mean by that statement, I will leave you to ponder and discover it for yourself.

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