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Noir Anxiety

2002
Authors:

Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo

Noir Anxiety

Investigates the fears and desires about sexuality and racial identity that shape film noir.

In Noir Anxiety, Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo interpret what has been called the “free-floating anxiety” of film noir as concrete apprehensions about race and sexuality.

Intriguing...a well-written and meticulously researched book...builds a sophisticated argument...a provocative collection of modern and inventive psychoanalytic readings of various film texts. I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys cultural criticism, psychoanalytic film analysis, and film studies that posit the importance of gender and race issues to film analysis.

Film Criticism

Among the elements that define the classic film noir-chiaroscuro lighting, voice-over narration, and such archetypal characters as the world-weary private eye and the femme fatale-perhaps no element is more responsible for the genre’s continued popularity among movie buffs, filmmakers, and critics than the palpable sense of anxiety that emanates from the screen. Because the genre emerged in the shadow of the Second World War, this profound psychological and philosophical unease is usually ascribed either to postwar fears about the atomic bomb or to the reactions of returning soldiers to a new social landscape. In Noir Anxiety, however, Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo interpret what has been called the "free-floating anxiety" of film noir as concrete apprehensions about race and sexuality.

Applying feminist and postcolonial psychoanalytic theory to traditional noir films (Murder, My Sweet; The Lady from Shanghai; Vertigo; and Touch of Evil) and the "neo-noirs" of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s (Chinatown, Devil in a Blue Dress, and Bound), the authors uncover a rich array of unconscious worries and desires about ambiguous sexual, racial, and national identities, often displaced onto these films’ narrative and stylistic components. In particular, Oliver and Trigo focus on the looming absence of the mother figure within the genre and fears about maternal sexuality and miscegenation. Drawing on the work of Freud and Julia Kristeva, Noir Anxiety locates film noir’s studied ambivalence toward these critical themes within the genre’s social, historical, and cinematic context.


Noir Anxiety

Kelly Oliver is professor of philosophy and women’s studies and Benigno Trigo is associate professor of Hispanic languages and literature, both at Stony Brook University. Oliver is the author of five books, including Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minnesota, 2001). Trigo is author of Subjects of Crisis: Race and Gender as Disease in Latin America (1999).

Noir Anxiety

Intriguing...a well-written and meticulously researched book...builds a sophisticated argument...a provocative collection of modern and inventive psychoanalytic readings of various film texts. I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys cultural criticism, psychoanalytic film analysis, and film studies that posit the importance of gender and race issues to film analysis.

Film Criticism

Noir Anxiety is a highly original and engaging analysis of one of the most enduringly popular Hollywood film genres.

Douglas Kellner, UCLA and author of forthcoming Media Spectacle

An excellent synthesis and reworking of psychological and feminist film research. Oliver and Trigo build out from historicist and existential perspectives on film noir to argue that beyond the free-floating anxiety of noir is a primal anxiety over borders and boundaries that manifests itself in specific fears and phobias of race, sex, maternity, and national origin.

E. Ann Kaplan, author of Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze

Noir Anxiety provides a challenging read of noir films and an introduction to a certain kind of psychoanalytic process. Not all will agree or accept it, but the book informs.

Communication Research Trends

Noir Anxiety

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Dropping the Bombshell

1. Noir in Black and White
2. Poisonous Jewels in Murder, My Sweet
3. Stereotype and Voice in The Lady from Shanghai
4. Sleeping Beauty and Her Doubles: The(Uncanny) Secret beyond the Door
5. Mad about Noir: Hitchcock’s Vertigo
6. The Borderlands of Touch of Evil
7. Jokes in Chinatown:A Question of Place
8. Franklin’s New Noir: Devil in a Blue Dress
9. Make It Real: Bound’s Way Out
10. The Space of Noir

Notes
Works Cited
Filmography

Index