Courses / Summer Session

Summer 2023

  • Special Topics in Film Genre: California Noir

    171-002 | CCN: 15482

    Miles Taylor

    Location: 142 Dwinelle

    Date and Time: TU, W, TH, 12:30-3pm

    4 Units

    In this upper-division course, we will be looking at noir and neo-noir films set in California, paying special attention to the role of paranoia in these narratives. Tracing it back to the hardboiled detective novels of James Cain and Raymond Chandler and the arrival of German writers and directors in Hollywood in the 1930’s, we will find that though it occasionally branches into other locales, noir is fundamentally a product of the Golden State. California is where the extremes of American ideology and economics hit their limits, a place where manifest destiny hits the pacific, where aircraft carriers were built next door to orange groves, where oil companies compete with real estate hucksters, where old-money maneuvering encounters Hollywood dream making. After first exploring the notion of “genre,” we will then turn our attention to the arrival of Billy Wilder and other German expats in the 1930’s. From there, we will explore Hitchcock’s deconstruction of noir tropes in his Bay Area films, before arriving at the neo-noir revival of the 1970’s. We will conclude with the recent resurgence of not-quite-noir films in the 2010’s. Modes of theory within the readings will mostly be Historical, Marxist, and Narratological, though in-class lectures and discussions, we will bring in feminist, anti-colonial, and Afro-Am approaches as well. By the end of the course, students should have a grasp on how to blend the symptomatic reading of a text with close reading and analysis, as well as comprehend the relationship between place and narrative. They will also be able to do basic research on secondary literature and be able to synthesize theory and history. Finally, they will understand how close analysis of even the most sanitized and standardized Hollywood products reveals the marks of capitalist production.