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October 1999, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 14:41:33 -0400
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peter warren's comments [which follow below]  about older and
newer  femmes fatales raises an interesting question,  one that
may have ramifications far beyond issues of "noir" . . .

are the changes cited by peter changes in narration or changes
in diegesis? . . .   that is, are we to understand that these noir women
did the same things in the films of the forties that they do in contemporary
films, and that just the  *representation*  of those things has, for a
variety or reasons including the demise of the code,  changed . . . or
does this change in the system of representation speak of some
broader [or deeper] change so that we are to understand the kathleen
turner character in BODY HEAT to have behaved quite differently from
phyllis dietrichson in DOUBLE INDEMNITY? . . .

my own inclination is to see the change as largely in the representation,
but to the extent that the medium is -or shapes- the message such changes
can't be written off so easily . . .

any thoughts???

mike frank

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Well, a femme fatale is a femme fatale - sex and duplicity....... In the
heyday of classic film noir, roughly from the mid forties to the mid
fifties, the Hollywood Production Code was very much in effect, so sexual
activity was suggested rather than shown. This translated into loaded
dialogue, double entendres, the cigarette smoking ritual, and a few chaste
kisses.   Also, before "womens lib" came along, a femme fatale usually had
to hook on to a man to carry out her nefarious schemes (eg:  The Maltese
Falcon: Double Indemnity: Out Of The Past; The Postman Always Rings Twice).
With modern film noir, a femme fatale often operates more independently
(eg: The Grifters), and sexual activity is graphically shown rather than
hinted at. For instance, compare the seduction scene in the 1946 and the
1981 versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Also, femme fatales can
get away with a much higher level of violence (and profanity) in modern
film noir than they could in the classic period, following the general
trend in film and other popular entertainment, and the demise of the
Production Code in the late sixties. I hope these few brief remarks will be
of assistance.
Peter Warren