Double Indemnity & Femme Fatales

It is an interesting lens to look through having watched weeks of Westerns and then switching to Film Noir. Specifically with a film like Double Identity and a femme fatale like Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis. Women in noir are such a contrast to women in Westerns. Even if they are treated less than, they are still central to the story and are a key characteristic without which the story would be nonexistent. Their actions matter unlike in Westerns. They are not treated like obstacles. They are not treated like they are in the way because they are the way. Western female characters were there to try to stop the male protagonists from going on the adventure, from being the hero like Laurie trying to convince Ethan in The Searchers to stay home and marry her.


Of course this treatment of women in noir can be attributed to Modernism and how, at the time, people in the art world had become self-reflexive. This meant that Americanism started to be criticized. Its traditional standards and values that were once held so highly are now doubted for their unjustifiable consequences.

One difference I noticed is that Noir treats femininity like it matters and is as strong as masculinity. It is not a weakness like it can be depicted in Westerns. Whether it is a strength used for the good or bad is another discussion all on it’s own. However, it should be acknowledged that this was the first step to treating femininity as equal to masculinity in a way. It can twist a plot if not as much then more as an act of masculinity can. We see this right away in the beginning of Double Indemnity. Walter, an insurance salesman, just doing his job, drives to a house to discuss an auto-renewal with a man named Mr. Dietrichson. Once he enters the house though and sees Mrs. Dietrichson, a blonde young woman covered only with a bath towel, he forgets entirely about the auto-renewal and Mr. Dietrichson. He only has one thing in mind now and it is Phyllis Dietrichson and she realizes this power she has almost instantly once she sits with him. By just deciding to cross her legs and show off her tightly worn anklet, she has him under her influence. From then on, every action she makes, everything she says counts to get him to do what she wants, which is to kill her husband – the plot goal.


There is something undeniably fascinating about how women are depicted in film noirs. Even when Walter annoyingly refers to Phyllis with pet names repeatedly like ‘baby,’ she is unfazed by it, even the audience, because we know that she ultimately has the power over him. She still affects him and what is around him even after her death and it is only with her feminine wiles that she does this, proving that she could do so much by just being stereotypically a woman. The only difference is she is not objectified for it, and she does not symbolize only that. She has a story and reasons. She is not there for someone to get back home to something waiting for him because she would not wait. She has her own needs and desires, whether it be money, or revenge. Interestingly enough these two things are masculine pursuits.

To conclude this, it seems that Hollywood, at the time of film noir, had gone from one extreme to the other. When at one time, it celebrated what American stood for and its “purity” and then at another time it criticized exactly with how fake it was. It showed it for what it was; a consumerist, sexist culture.

“Well, it’s not always the same. I have good days and bad days.  And on my good days, I can, you know, almost pass for a normal person. On my bad days, I feel like I can’t find myself.  I’ve always been so defined by my intellect my language, my articulation, and now sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me, and I can’t reach them, and I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know what I’m gonna lose next.” – Alice Howland played by Julianne Moore in Still Alice (2014, Richard Glatzer & Wash Westermoreland)

This scene is just one of the many scenes that show us the limitless talent of Julianne Moore. We see what it looks like when someone finally asks you the question: What’s it like? What does it actually feel like? (asked by her daughter, played by Kristen Stewart) Her slow start of answering the question, trying to find her words, her way of expressing herself, she takes her time because she knows this is a rare moment, that someone cares enough to ask. But then the execution of the last line, the part that has affected her the most, shows how much anger she holds for this disease that has taken away everything she’s worked hard for all her life in such a small time frame.



Easy Rider & What America is

There seems to be this never-ending debate on what can be considered American, and what would be considered a patriotic act. Can killing a man the John Wayne way be considered American, or dying for your country the Easy Rider way be considered American? Of course it is only American until it is no longer a dominant ideology and that is what Easy Rider strives for. It strives to show the many faults in the dominant ideology of American nationality, the ideology that was once held so sacred in the classical Western.


With that in mind, Easy Rider can be considered a counter-Western for many reasons. Mainly, Westerns take pride in what they have accomplished and the obstacles they have overcome. Their approach is usually outward. There is never really any self-criticism. Easy Rider opposes that approach. It is inward. It is as much about the individual as it is about society. It is personal. It criticizes the “self-serving hypocrisy” (BFI, 40) that America seems to have built it’s nation on. It shows that it is not actually the land of the free, it is controlled and materialistic and therefore not liberated at all. We see this with Wyatt’s attempt in freeing himself from the materialistic concept that is time; he takes off his watch and throws it away on the side of the road.

Materialism is the classic tale of the American psycho. What can the average American man be driven to madness for, or even death, in the case of Easy Rider, when it is not for materialism? As Bill says in the end of the film, “You go for the big money, then you’re free,” they use America’s weapon for freedom but before you know it their weapon buys you a seat in their house where the never-ending journey to the American dream is. The money in the tank of Wyatt’s chopper with the American flag on it represents America, the land that promises liberation but instead offers the feeling of endless anticipation and those who are ‘different’ are obstacles in the way. This money is what distracts them; it is what forces them to keep on moving so they can stay in close reach for that ambivalent American dream. Something that clearly becomes symbolic of instant gratification, which means there is never really satisfaction, there will always be a search for more.


From this, we can see how the film is political. It shows the repressed among the dominant. Unlike Westerns where the repressed is depicted as rightfully inferior, Easy Rider talks about fear within the repressed, justified fear because as we see the good guy never wins. Money always conquers. George Hanson is that man who does not fight with his appearance but fights with his words for the freedom of speech and individuality. His acceptance of those unlike him is what killed him. He understood that fear in America was a fear of that which is not controlled by the American man. With that, there is a realization in the film that some people’s ideals directly clash with the reality that is America, ideals that are harmless but somehow threatening. Some may argue that the travelling shots are unnecessarily long and lack information. I disagree. Easy Rider does not have to be literal and direct like a classical Western. These travelling shots are what freedom feels like and looks like, it exemplifies just the simplicity and harmlessness of what freedom is to those two.

“When you grow up, your heart dies” – Breakfast Club (1985) directed by John Hughes

I’ve always found it difficult to understand someone like John Hughes who has dedicated his whole life’s work on how it’s like being an adolescent. But I see now why the poetry of an adolescent can be compelling with how raw it is and how uncensored it is. There is only an eagerness to express oneself and a lack of experience that comes with it and that results with a kind of truth not found anywhere else.



Henry, the Ringo Kid: Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.

Stagecoach (1939) directed by John Ford. A quote that perfectly sums up the American dream in Westerns.


Olivia (played by Patricia Arquette): You know what I’m realising? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced… again. Getting my masters degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what’s next? Huh? It’s my fucking funeral! Just go, and leave my picture!

Boyhood (2014) written and directed by Richard Linklater. I love this because i feel like this piece reflects the simplicity of the movie as a whole. It’s just family and life and yes it is just a series of milestones but I think it is a realization that everything changes. And there’s a positivity that comes with that when you decide to acknowledge that everything figures itself out and you either stay where you are moping around or you change with it.


Berlin: Symphony of a Great City & Subjectivity

Reading Kracauer’s negative review on Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) and then David Macrae’s response to it made me question how we can determine if specificity, in a medium like film, exists.

Kracauer seems convinced that Ruttmann’s “rhythmic ‘montage’ reveals that he actually tends to avoid any comment on the reality with which he is faced,” that he made the film with a rather “surface approach.” Interestingly enough he used candid photography as an example and quoted Karl Freund when he was asked whether it is an art. To that he said, “It is the only type of photography that really is art. Why? Because with it one is able to portray life.”


Macrae realizes that Kracauer regards “the viewer… as a hollow recipient of data emerging from the screen with no conception of the nature of medium, creator, or construction.” He argues that subjective is objective, that “the viewer’s processes of witnessing ‘formal qualities,’ ‘dynamic displays,’ ‘striking analogies’ between movements or forms’ exist as much in ‘reality’ as do the various component objects of their construction.

When I say that subjectivity is objective, i mean that I don’t think it’s ever realism for realism’s sake. It’s realism with a message in the end. And saying that poetics does not hold any realism is an argument against history. It’s insinuating that the arts had no part in revolutionary moments, that nina simone’s music did nothing for the civil rights movement.

It is usually with exaggeration that reality is understood. Like Bertolt Brecht said, “Less than at any time does a simple reproduction of reality tell anything about reality.”