Friday, January 24, 2020
percolating paranoia :: essays research papers
Percolating Paranoia Fritz Lang's The Big Heat Fritz Lang brings the terrors of noir into the bright kitchens of America. Watch that coffee pot! BY H In Bright Lights 12 devoted to film noir, Gary Morris locates the malaise giving rise to the noir sensibility in the "mechanized, immoral, soul-destroying city."1 He defines the urban noir setting as attacking its charactersÃ¢â¬â¢ chances for "hope, happiness, peace, complacency, and romance" (Morris 16). Although the attack may be related to the loss of a pastoral setting as Morris suggests, many film noir narratives locate those happy possibilities in the seemingly stable institution of the family, and can be read as ironic, hopeless searches for a humanized, moral, soul-restoring home. According to Sylvia Harvey, "the loss of those satisfactions normally obtained through the possession of a wife and the presence of a family" is one of the recurrent themes of film noir.2 Of course, the archetypal array of characters in film noir are not family members, but the hard-boiled, trench-coated detective; the beautiful, duplicitous, and greedy femme fatale w ith a revolver shoved deep into the pocket of her fur coat; and a fascinating complement of criminals ranging from sleazy and violent hoodlums to their glib and urbane bosses. The film noir narrative, with its aura of paranoia accentuated by nontraditional lighting and mise en scene, usually plays out not in the brightly lit kitchen or living room of a comfortable home but at night in dimly lit back streets glistening with rain or shadowy stairwells filled with looming shadows. Through a careful reading of a noir text that presents both the typical film noir mise en scene and various familial images, a sense of film noirÃ¢â¬â¢s complicated relationship to the family develops. The Big Heat (1953), directed by Fritz Lang, represents family life as a sham, as a relationship of convenience, as perverse, and finally as so fragile and threatened that even an icon of domesticity becomes a weapon. In The Big Heat, violence and criminality contaminate a small city, controlling elections and the police, as well as threatening familial institutions. The cast of characters I have identified as archetypal of film noir narratives is present, but, in keeping with many such films of the Ã¢â¬Ë50s, they have moved out of the shadowy stairwells and back alleys to occupy well-furnished homes and luxurious estates. Much of the violence occurs offscreen Ã¢â¬â in the diegesis of the film, occurring no doubt in the old haunts of film noir.