Germanistik Hausarbeit über Viscontis 'Morte a Venezia'


Wie bereits vor einigen Monaten angekündigt, habe ich im vergangenen Sommersemester eine Hausarbeit über Luchino Viscontis Morte a Venzia, der Adaption von Thomas Manns Der Tod in Venedig, verfasst. Die Arbeit entstand im Rahmen des Hauptseminars 'Thomas Mann: Erzählungen' an der Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen. Nun bekam ich sie korrigiert und mit der Note 1.3 versehen zurück, weshalb ich sie Euch nicht vorenthalten möchte. Vielleicht ist ja der eine oder andere daran interessiert oder findet Inspirationen für seine nächste Hausarbeit.

'Luchino Viscontis Morte a Venezia im Fokus des emotionalen und pathetischen Erzählens' (PDF, 135 KB)


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Irak Doku 'Brothers at War' ab 12.01. auf DVD


Der von mir in diesem Jahr am sehnlichsten erwartete Film, Brothers at War, hat es auch in den Staaten leider nur auf Stützpunkte und in ganz wenige Kinos geschafft. Die von Gary Sinise produzierte Doku erscheint nun aber am 12. Januar 2010 in den USA auf DVD. Zwar ist dies zu spät, um es eventuell in meine diesjährigen Top Filme 2009 zu schaffen, aber ich bin erstmal überglücklich, dass es ihn endlich zu sehen gibt. Der Film gestaltet sich auch deshalb so interessant, da er den Folgen des Einsatzes im Irak auf den Grund geht, was die Kriegserfahrung mit den Männern und Frauen, Familien und Freunden, angestellt hat – sowohl im positiven, als auch im negativen Sinne. An der Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen habe ich vor einigen Semestern ein Seminar besucht, das Milblogs untersucht, in denen die Soldaten Ähnliches berichten.

Johanna Roering, M.A., die das Seminar leitete, untersucht die Darstellung von Krieg in Film und anderen (neuen) Medien in ihrer Dissertation und hat zu ihren bisherigen Seminaren – u.a. auch zu dem von mir besuchten – Wikis angelegt, die die Arbeiten der Studenten dokumentieren und einige interessante Einsichten in diesen Themenkomplex geben. Mein Essay über 'Pathos in Milblogs' wird in den nächsten Monaten weiter ausformuliert und auf den modernen US-amerikanischen Kriegsactionfilm angewandt. Jake Rademacher und dem Film kann man übrigens auf Twitter und Facebook folgen. Zuletzt sei auch noch auf Five for Fighting verwiesen, dessen Sänger John Ondrasik den wunderschönen Titelsong zum Film geschrieben hat.


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SemiNoir: 'The Asphalt Jungle'


SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

I really liked your reading of the film as being a study about character, honor, masculinity and motifs. Especially the protgaonist’s character, Dix (Sterling Hayden), is very complex – and simultaneously he is not. The whole time his character feels like a young boy who is trapped in a man's body. I am not really sure, but Sterling Hayden either acts like a total amateur or he is this total genious actor who impersonates this boy in a man's body ingeniously. I think it has to be the latter, because he proved so many times that he is a genious actor (just think of Dr. Strangelove or Kubrick's noir The Killing). Whatever it is, it certainly goes with Dix's character which, on the outside, seems to be invincible but on the inside is just vulnerable. He is cold, he cannot rejoin his 'dame's' feelings and innuendos – no matter if he does not want to or if he simply does not understand them. He is just a boy. A boy who's keen of horses and action and not interested in women at all. He seeks the adventurous, and that is why he is helping 'Doc' (Sam Jaffe) and does not care about money or a reward (or the heart of a woman). And that is also the reason why the ending seems so touching. The whole time we were dealing with a dumb 'bully' who cannot do anything else than making use of his physical superiority. However, he is just a little boy who does not understand what he is really dealing with, and therefore we cannot blame him for acting the way he does, because we are aware of this fact – probably in contrast to himself. In the end, when he finally reaches the farm, is 'home', we cannot help but feel compassionate with this poo boy who did not get anything except the love of a woman he could not return.

And although the final passing of the hero seems to be a common motif of film noir, in this case it is not. He did not deserve to die, because he did not really do anything seriously wrong or bad. While we did not have that much sympathies for the deceased 'heroes' in the other noirs, we have in The Asphalt Jungle. It really is astonishing how little this noir has in common with the others we discussed so far (no femme fatale, no voiceover, no flashback). On the other hand, there are a lot of noirs which feature the heist motif, most of all the best film noir I have seen so far Du rififi chez les hommes (which has a lot in common with The Asphalt Jungle). Not to forget other motifs like the otherness ('Doc', the German taxi dirver), the question of identity and space, and this makes The Asphalt Jungle a pretty ambivalent noir in terms of affiliation.


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SemiNoir: 'Gun Crazy' a.k.a. 'Deadly Is the Female'


SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

The movie starts. We only see the dark setting: a street, some houses, a shop window, some street lights and a lot of rain coming down from above. And altough the music plays in the background it is a very calm scene(ry), one with no persons around, no public life and therefore no living at all. The whole setting looks a little bit odd, altough the rain does not make it only some kind of 'epic', but also there are no signs of a b-movie production (otherwise the streets would be foggy and the whole setting smaller). I really liked this beginning, because it draws suspension only from its scenery and its music – considering the other noirs we always had to wait a few minutes in order to get the first real 'action' (in addition, most of our noirs played with shadows in the opening credits – only Out of the Past gave us this bright and endless seeming landscape/mountains). But then, they little boy enters the scenery, and suddenly makes the whole setting look like it was a prop mainly used in theaters. Nothing seemed to work anymore as soon as the young protagonist entered: the sclae of the whole setting now seemed to be unproportional, because at first you are of the opinion that this is a huge city (and, of course, the rain plays a big role, too) and then, after the boy enters, you recognize that this is a cheesy setting of a city street. On the other hand, it almost seems like some kind of comic relief (which would fit your premise that Gun Crazy is all about mocking the noir). It is even a doubled comic relief, because the first comic relief would be the boy entering and the setting suddenly becoming 'unreal'. The second one would be the whole scene itself when the boy breaks the window, takes the gun and falls just in front of the officer's feet. However, the darkness to some extent remains – the rain, the music, the boy falling (hints to the term 'the fall guy'?), these are all underlining the darkness of film noir. Or they just mock this fact …

Furthermore the whole premise of the noir is some kind of comic relief. A boy, who loves guns, has a trauma and becomes a gangster? This clearly does not sound as 'serious' as the premises of the other noirs. Well, it could be considered a mockumentary of the American dream, especially since the boy – and the girl – are dressed like cowboys while being introduced. We all know that this is one of the most common exemplifications of the American dream/the American itself. Altough for most noir filmmakers the American dream became true, they did not like the way the government portrayed it (even in today's movies it is portrayed as being pretty cheesy and clichéd). So why not simply make fun of it? Furthermore, most of the American intellectuals respectively Hollywood are left-wing, so they do not appreciate guns in the way right-wing people do …


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SemiNoir: 'Raw Deal'


SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

What I find most interesting about Raw Deal is its use of violence and its homosexual tendencies. Although I am still of the opinion that Out of the Past is the most violent film noir we have seen so far, there is no doubt that Raw Deal also features a lot of onscreen violence. Just think of the time period the two films were coming to the big screen. World War II was just over and brought a lot of violence not only to the U.S. but also the whole world. And what do the noirs do? Yes, they feature violence you probably never experiences like that before. On the other hand: is this not the most American paradox in movie history – which exists until today? The MPAA allows the directors to put almost as much violence into their movie as they want to be in there. On the contrary, as soon as they put a little bit of naked flesh into their production they will surely get an R-rating. However, there is also a tendency towards more family-firendly movies which therefore seek a PG(13)-rating. Anyway, one thing is for sure: filmmakers were always allowed to show more violence than sexuality – which is also contrary to Europe respectively Germany (where you can see a woman's breasts even in noon's program). Furthermore, the movie's violent content can already be seen in its posters (a man pointing a gun at someone/something) and its tagline which says: Bullets! Women! – Can't Hold a Man Like This! It almost seems like a wonder that this passed through the censor (however, it was banned in Finland in 1949, for example).

Speaking of these 'un-American' elements in the film noir, I want to bring up the homosexuality in Raw Deal. This is the second time we could observe these tendencies in a noir, which makes me wonder even more. Since I just spoke of the MPAA (respectively its predecessor) I find it very astonishing that the censors did not recognize the homosexual content of these movies. Even today homosexuality is considered as something unnatural and bad in America's culture. So how did they achieve to put it in a movie in the 1940's!? Maybe the society in the 40's did not recognize or figured out the 'signs' of homosexuality as easily as we do today. We have seen a lot of movies featuring homosexuality, there are gay and lesbian feasts and other popcultural things like that – in short: we know how they (mostly) behave and act, which makes it fairly easy to call the villian in Raw Deal a man with homosexual tendencies. But is this not also something interesting, the fact that we receive films different now than we would have in the 1940's? Nowadays people have seen so much, know so much, and probably recognize something more easily than at that time. The noirs now have a totally different, a broader audience than they had in the old days – while they were targeted at adults, nowadays even teens can see this movie (i.e. the distribution via VHS, DVD, mass media, …).


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SemiNoir: 'Ride the Pink Horse'


SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

Gagin (Robert Montgomery) is a disillusioned patriot. He was fighting in World War II with a lot of his friends – some never came back home with him: "I've seen enough flags!" he replies when Retz (Art Smith) tells him about his 'reward' (of honor) and his deserts for his country. Retz pobably knows of Gagin’s state of mind and that is why he stops bothering him when Gagin tells him so. Maybe Retz knows when to 'bother' him again … We do not know what really happened to Gagin during the war. However, Ride the Pink Horse has the most war references of all the noirs we watched so far. What we do know is that Gagin once was a patriot, fighting for his country and therefore answering its call. He made some friends ‘over there’, because his "I've seen enough flags!" probably refers to his dead comrads and their military burrials which in the center has the star-spangled banner which is given to the wifes or other bereaveds. Exactly this motif is a pretty common one in film and literature (e.g. The Rock, Armageddon, Man on Fire): the disillusioned ex-patriot who suddenly turns rouge and does not want anything to do with his country, which is represented here by FBI agent Retz, anymore. He then needs a special moment, probably a catharsis, to recognize that crime does not pay (the main premise of most of our noirs), but being loyal to a country's values does (he did stick to its values in the first place, did he not?).

He gets his catahrsis when the gangster beat him half-dead and when 'his' girl Pilar (Wanda Hendrix) gets into trouble. He cares about the the girl extremely much – maybe he tries to do good after having lost a comrade in the war due to his (wrong) behavior. He does not want to lose more people he feels connected to, especially because he seems to have no one except for Pilar and Pancho (Thomas Gomez). They are now his family, his sister and his brother – and in the end, when Retz joins them the family is complete. Gagin has found three things in him: his lost patriotism: "Uncle Sam", his father (Retz served the same way as a father figure as E.G. Robinson's character did in Double Indemnity), and, to a certain degree, his salvation. Furthermore, he does not totally fall in love with Pilar – how is that? Altough we do know very little about her, we do know that she is Indian. So, if Gagin is seeking salvation, why not think of her as a figure of historical weight – what if Gagin treats her that good (in the end), because he feels sorry for her and her people? The U.S. was found on the Indians and Gagin knows that, no matter how patriotic he is. He wants a full salvation, so he tries to apologize for the acts of his fellow Americans. He has fought in a war, which means that he has seen a lot of evil, and now he wants to make a clean sweep of things. Real patriotism to him therefore also means to confess that one was sometimes wrong. And he was wrong in so many cases …


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SemiNoir: 'Out of the Past'

SemiNoir
SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

Jaques Tourneur's film is by far the 'darkest' and most violent noir so far. There is a lot of killing, fighting and, of course, dying – even if it is only a small frame we get to see the dead body in. Keeping this in mind, it is no surprise that Out of the Past also has a lot of comic relief. Just take a look at the very first minutes of the movie, which take place in a diner in the middle of nowhere. The waitress is a woman who is talking and talking and talking to their guests. This dialogue between the waitress and the cop is already a comic relief if you take into condideration that the opening of the movie is pretty dark: Stephanos (Paul Valentine) yells at the Kid (Dickie Moore), teases him and calls him "Def and dumb!" This is some kind of shocking to the recipient (since one should feel sympathy for this poor boy), however, the sides are clear after this opening scene. In the course of the movie there can be found more of comic relief, tons of it. Almost every scene which features a cool one-liner by Jeff (Robert Mitchum) can be considered a comic relief. As I already mentiones: this is sometimes urgently necessary, because of the violence portrayed in Out of the Past. However, at one point, the recipient gets that indifferent that he even considers a knock out of a 'not so much guilty' person a comic relief – remarkable! But on the other hand: is this not just our generation. Our generation which is used to a lot of violence on and off screen? Did the original audience in 1947 laugh when the man got knocked out by one single cool hit by Jeff?

Whatever it is, one thing is for sure: Out of the Past was even idiosyncratic in a lot of ways for today's Hollywood thrillers and crime films. Just think of how Jeff and Kathie (Jane Greer) set their 'hunters' on the wrong track – today this is a common feature of a thriller if he does not want to give away his premise right from the beginning. In addition, until the very end of the movie you do not know to whom Kathie's real loyalty belongs to. Now take a look at the films which are considered the best thrillers of all time – what would, for example, The Usual Suspects be without its plottwists. Or what about Se7en? Furthermore, the scene with the cabin in the forest features a lot of horror film elements. Tourneur previously did some horror films, yes, and you can see that even in Out of the Past. It is night, the forest is dark and suddenly an unknown person appears which does not seem to be friendly. The only lighting comes from his car's head lights and the cabin … Some scenes later, Jeff and his ex-partner Fisher (Steve Brodie) have a fight, which is not only raw but very violent (consider the sound effects!). Kathie stands aside the two male, fearing the end of the fight. The two big shadows of the men are shown on the curtain, where the camer focusses on for a few seconds – it is pure horror and also a common motif for today's horror/backwood slasher films.


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SemiNoir: 'Double Indemnity'

SemiNoir
SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

To be quite honest: Until this moment I did not really know which aspect of the movie to take and focus on. I do not know what this means for the movie or my reception of it, however, I think this noir is a little bit overrated in its general reception. On the one hand it shows not only very good performances, but also Wilder's talent of directing. After having seen this one would probably not believe that Wilder did some of the funniest (!) movies ever, in particular One, Two, Three. If you keep this in mind and take a look at Double Indemnity, at first one would think that the noir has no sign of comedic elements, however, if one takes a closer look at it, there is a lot of comic relief (e.g. the scene with Keyes and the foreign truck driver) – even the way Keyes (E.G. Robinson) is behaving one can find comic relief in it. On the other hand Double Indemnity is not as interesting and versatile than, for example, my favorite noir so far, Out of the Past (whose dialogue is simply brilliant). I think it is the most 'comprehensible' noir, and maybe this is the reason why it is so well-known and well-received. However, it is still a very good noir, indeed (and there is a lot of 'meta' to it – e.g. as we discussed the father-son conflict, the father figure, the insurance business, the sexuality, Nino, …).

Furthermore, the aspcet I am most interested in now is the title and how it is connected to the movie. To be quite honest again: I did not know what these two words meant until I looked it up. In addition, it is also mentioned in the movie itself, when Neff (Fred MacMurray) tells Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) that their planned 'assasination' would be "A double indemnity. The insurance would pay twice the amaount insured." So the title indicates the central motif for our two protagonists – in other words this means: doubled money (for the murder). Yet, 'double indemnity' does mean something else for Neff and Phyllis. For Phyllis it is a double 'insurance'. She has nothing to fear, because she is double insured: firstly, she can blame Neff for the murder any time (although she is a complice), and secondly, she gets rid of her husband. In other words: she does not only get a double indemnity, but a double double indemnity – she gets rid of her husband, she can blame Jeff for his murder and gets not only the single amount of (insurance) money but the double amount. It is almost the same for Jeff: he can show that he is intelectually superior to his 'father', Keyes, gets the girl (Phyllis) and finally the money. In the end, however, they would have to share the money so that it is no double but a single indemnity for each one of them …


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SemiNoir: 'Where the Sidewalk Ends'

SemiNoir
SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

What first came to my mind after having seen this movie was disappointment. Was this movie really financed by 20th Century Fox, one of the biggest and most traditional studios in Hollywood? In terms of fund raising and production qualities, RKO – the production company of the previous films – is probably nothing compared to Fox (although RKO is one of the most traditional production companies in Hollywood until today). Yes, you can see that Where the Sidewalk Ends was way more expensive than, for example, Detour. Just think of the portrayal of the city of New York. In Detour it is a cloudy something and the recipient can only guess which city is being portrayed (if he does not know it in the first place). Yes, there are also signs which indicate that the protagonists are currently staying in New York City, however, it never gets rid of the apparentness of a b-movie. In contrast to that, if you take a look at Where the Sidewalk Ends you are not in need of eagle eyes to recognize that this movie was more expensive than Detour. You can see the Brooklyn Bridge, bright illuminated panels, cars, in short: this has to be the real New York, there is no doubt (and indeed, it is the real NYC). I always like it when studios use authentic filming locations (although nowadays they expand to Eastern Europe beacuse it is way cheaper), and I pretty much appreciated it in Preminger's film. On the other hand, however, the movie was not as sophisticated as the locations made it look like. Indeed, there were noirish elements (crime doesn't pay, WWII references, etc.) and the acting was really good, too, yet, the whole thing seemed a little bit too 'trivial' to mee (and yes, it was the 'worst' noir so far).

The story has not much to offer, the homoerotic tendencies were something new, yes, but we did not really come up with a proper interpretation of the whole context in our group discussion. Why did Scalise and his gang members escape all of a sudden (without really caring about Dixon) when they told Dixon that they had all the time in the world and did not have to care about anything a few minutes before the police arrive? To a certain degree it all seemed a little bit callowed to us, because the motifs of the protagonists – or at least of Scalise and his guys – were not that clear. Generally, I was disappointed because of this fact, because it was not any studio, it was Fox, which also means that they had the money … On the other hand, money does not always stand for quality, at least not for cinematic quality. Maybe it is just like nowadays, where the really good movies are mostly the cheap and independently produced movies, because here people care about what they are doing. If you have not got the money, you care twice as much about what the final result will look like. Where the Sidewalk Ends is no bad movie, not at all, it is just a perfect example for the unwritten fact that big budget does not necessarily mean 'big' movie …


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SemiNoir: 'Detour'


SemiNoir is a continuing series of short academic essays dealing with film noirs watched and reviewed in the seminar 'Film Noir and American Culture' at the University of Tuebingen.

After having seen the two noirs (and some others which we did and will not cover in the seminar [e.g. The Maltese Falcon, Du rififi chez les hommes]) I recognized how 'dark' (in terms of light) these films are. Of course, they are shot in black and white, but even in a black and white movie you can easily differentiate between blonde women – like Sue (Claudia Drake) – and brunette ones like the film's femme fatale, Vera (Ann Savage). Interestingly enough, when Sue first appeared, I thought that she will be the film's femme fatale since she is blonde. However, this seems to indicate that the film noir clischés are not always true, no. Detour's femme fatale is a brunette, altough she perfectly fits the archetypical strong woman who knows how to deal with the opposite sex. In this particular case she is even a leader, someone who knows exactly what she wants – just like Sterling Hayden's character in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Once again it is interesting to mention that she physically is not of superior size; more like the contrary (remember Peter Lorre in Stranger on the Third Floor!).

But let us return to the literal darkness of film noir, especially the lighting in Detour. The low budget of the movie explains the darkness of most of the settings. New York is very foggy and it is night when the protagonists take a walk on the city’s streets (by the way, the scene extremeley reminded me of Casablanca and its final scene at the airfield). It is night most of the film anyway, so this does not seem to surprise one overly. Yet even in the scenes where Al (Tom Neal) and Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) drive along the street (at night), the car's headlights are not as bright as they should be. The only source of light are the other cars on the street which are, however, very rare. The darkness of these scenes in particular shows that the relationship between Al and Haskell is a very 'weird' one. We know from Al's inner monologue that he is careful about the whole situation, yet the recipient cannot help but think of a very dangerous and suspensful situation in which Al finds himself. And the lighting is the sylistic device that amplifies this certain effect. This can even be spotted in the beginning when the whole diner (?) seems to be dark except for Al's eyes which are the only thing exposed. Furthermore, all of the scenes which take place in the hotel room are dark. 'Dark' not only in the sense of tone and mood, but also in the sense of environment. Whenever Al and Vera discuss things in the hotel room it is dark outside. The only thing we hear through that darkness is the saxophone being played – which bothers Al pretty heavily. In addition, everything bad which happens to Al takes place in the darknes respectively during the night: Haskell's death, Vera's death, and Al's arrest…

In conclusion, even in films called 'noirs' one can distinguish between 'natural' darkness and 'intended' darkness. It is not so much a technical accomplishment, but rather one in form and content. What suggests itself better than a dark movie done with dark formalities?


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