“Femmes fatales”, “Men in crisis”? Reexamining gender representations in film noir
Call for Paper – Special Issue #16
Genre en séries : cinéma, télévision, médias
“Femmes fatales”, “Men in crisis”?
Reexamining gender representations in film noir
Ever since their emergence in the field of academia, gender studies have looked closely at Hollywood film noir and neo-noir. Following the seminal book Women in Film Noir, edited by E. Ann Kaplan (1rst ed. 1978, 2nd ed. 1998), important works have examined, using a psychoanalytic prism, the feminine (Doane 1991) and masculine (Krutnik 1991) characters of this genre, before others used a variety of approaches more attentive to socio-historical factors. The gender issues of Hollywood film noir from the 1940s and 1950s were thus placed in a context marked by the upheavals of war and the post-war period, as well as by the development of consumer society and urban modernity (see, among others, Cohan 1997, Biesen 2005, Jankovich 2011), while their reinvestment by neo-noir from the 1980s onwards raised new questions about the ideological implications of such a generic recycling process, caught between the effects of sexual liberation and the persistence of a puritanical morality (Letort 2007). Whereas some chapters of Women in Film Noir (Dyer 1998a and Kaplan 1998b) already pointed to the complexity and heterogeneity of gendered representations initially perceived as univocally misogynous, subsequent studies have further deconstructed this reductive vision (Cowie 1993, Spicer 2002, Hanson 2007, Grossman 2009, etc.) by discussing the relevance and the limits of notions such as “femmes fatales” and “men in crisis” with regard to the variety of models of femininity and masculinity proposed by film noir (“girls next door”, “good-bad girl”, “weak guy”, “damaged man”, “tough guy”, etc.), from the classical period to the contemporary era.
Despite this long critical tradition, many aspects of film noir are yet to be analyzed from a gendered, and more broadly cultural, perspective, especially in the context of French film studies, where works on film noir that include this approach are still scarce (Letort 2010, Esquenazi 2012, Pillard 2014 and 2019). This issue of Genre en séries: cinéma, télévision, médias therefore proposes to revisit this genre historically central to feminist film studies, in order to contribute to the renewal and new directions of this teeming field of research. On the one hand, the aim will be to extend our knowledge of long neglected films in the noir corpus, such as the French “noir realism” (Burch and Sellier 1996) or German “Strassenfilm” (Wager 1999), and, on the other hand, to revisit (supposedly) already well-known films in order to deepen our understanding of them with the help of new methodological frameworks.
Among the productions that have remained largely ignored by works studying film noir through the prism of gender, we must first mention those belonging to non-Hollywood cinema. Since the turn of the 2000s, a certain number of works have contributed to reassesing the national boundaries of this cinematic genre hitherto perceived as fundamentally American, thus highlighting not only its European roots and the aesthetic and cultural transfers that run through it (Vincendeau 1992, Morgan and Andrew 1996), but also its “global” dimension (Desser 2003) and the different forms it takes outside of Hollywood. However, despite some noteworthy studies (Spicer 1999 and 2007, Hanson and O’Rawe 2010, Pillard 2014, Da Silva 2014, Walker-Morrison 2019), these phenomena of transnational circulation remain seldom explored through the prism of gender. Similarly, whereas the literature-cinema relationship remains inescapable when it comes to the noir genre as a whole (Tadié 2009), its transmediality is beginning to be considered along new lines, with research looking at radio, comics, and television (Schlotterbeck 2013, Lyons 2013, Sanders 2013). However, the gendered dimension of these productions is still rarely examined. Finally, as various articles on its classic Hollywood expression have already pointed out (Cook 1978, Cowie 1993, Martin 1998), the very definition of film noir is far from trivial with regards to the identities and gender relations it represents. It is therefore important to revisit the processes of perpetual redefinition of this protean corpus, both to question its boundaries, as works suggesting the existence of a “noir women’s film” or “women’s film noir” invite us to do (Walsh 1986, Esquenazi 2012), and to circumscribe its ideological stakes and tensions as finely as possible.
Moreover, hitherto under-exploited approaches could make it possible to renew research on film noir from a gender perspective. Reception studies are, for instance, rarely utilized beyond analysis of professional film reviews, even though they could shed light on the various uses and readings that ordinary spectators make of these films (Pillard 2015). An analysis of the promotional materials, especially those produced by the studios, would be likely to enrich this research by considering all the media texts available to the public, whose heterogeneity allows for a multitude of appropriations (Haralovich 2013). Similarly, the study of production archives would refine our understanding of the role played by specific producers, directors or screenwriters in the elaboration of the gendered representations conveyed by these films (Biesen 2005, Sonnet 2011). For their part, star studies and acting studies would make it possible to analyze the way in which the persona of stars and their acting in films noirs participate in the construction of female and male models (or counter-models) specific to this genre (cf. Baron 2010). Finally, despite the existence of various works on racial issues (Diawara 1993, Lott 1997, Kaplan 1998c, Oliver and Trigo 2003), as well as representations of homosexuality and bisexuality (Dyer 1977, White 1991, Dyer 1998b, Straayer 1998, Dyer 2002, etc.) in these productions, the often complex articulation of gender with class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, generation, etc., remains to be explored in many noir or neo-noir films.
Papers may focus on the following:
- “Femmes fatales” and “men in crisis”: relevance and limits of these notions
- Transnationalism / cultural transfers / remakes / intertextuality
- Films noirs of lesser studied cinemas: Latin America, Europe, Asia, etc.
- Socio-historical contextualization of classic and contemporary noir
- Generic hybridity (noir and comedy/action/gothic female/SF/horror/etc.)
- Production / promotional materials / receptions
- Articulation of issues of gender, race, sexuality, class, etc.
- Stars, acting, performance
- Transmediality (cinema, literature, television, radio, comics, video games, etc.)
- Definitions of the noir corpus: gender issues
Submitted papers must not have been published in any other journal or conference proceedings.
The proposals will explain and justify precisely how they incorporate the existing literature on the genre and in relation to the notion of film noir.
Proposals (abstract of 500-800 words along with a short bio-bibliography) are to be sent to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org before September 15, 2021. A response will be given at the end of September, and the finished papers are to be submitted by March 15, 2022. They will then be subject to double-blind peer review. The issue will be published in fall 2022.
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