Existentialism In Film Essay

4070 words - 16 pages

EXISTENTIALISM IN FILM I could not say where or how existentialist themes first emerged in film. Often times, critics will point to the work of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini as early examples. Indeed, these two men are titans in their art, and they will be discussed in this essay. However, it occurs to me that a certain genre of film being made in America during the late forties and early fifties perhaps deserves credit for treating very early, if not for the first time, subject matter and themes that might rightly be called "existential" while perhaps not directly inspired by formal existentialist thought. These films were shot in rich black and white, draped in shadows spliced by neon light bleeding intermittently through Venetian blinds, peopled by hard-boiled characters whose speech was tough and witty, who were hard drinkers and fast livers. They smoldered with a barely sublimated intense sexual tension. The French critics of the day were the first to hail the new style, which they called "film noir".Before I proceed, let me be quite clear as to how film noir might qualify as a genre worthy of our consideration in connection with existentialist film. As I said, I do not necessarily assert that the film noir genre is a direct result of the popularity of existentialist philosophy in America. Film noir does, however, represent some of the first serious confrontation with truly dark subject matter, much of which was provoked more by film makers' insight into the contemporary American scene than by their third reading of Being and Nothingness. Film noir does not treat existentialism per se, but it does concern itself with the dark, the absurd and disturbing, the amoral and the severe; in short, it handles material that has come to be thought of as "existential".The true film noir of the late forties and fifties were radical innovations. They were nothing like anything that had come before, and they were certainly nothing like anything that was being produced at the time. Two films, Detour and Force of Evil, are often called the definitive film noir. A host of others like them would follow the example. Detour was terribly controversial in its day, depicting a returning war veteran who aimlessly wanders around the country and eventually is involved in a murder scheme. It was shot on a low budget, and in only six days' time. The censorship board refused to allow its release because the main character was never punished for his crime. A final scene in which he is picked up by the police had to be added. The film capitalized on the historical situation emerging in the United States after World War II. Men were returning home to find America very different from how it was when they had left it. Behind the façade of the suburban middle class was the seedy world of the disenfranchised. The cities were increasingly crime ridden. The economy was in a slump and Mom-and-Pop businesses were being swallowed up into faceless conglomerates. The...

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