PCMS: Jonathan Auerbach on film noir

Jonathan Auerbach, University of Maryland, College Park
"The Un-Americaness of Film Noir"

Respondent: Michael Tratner, Bryn Mawr College

Temple University Main Campus
Anderson Hall 8th Floor (Women's Studies Lounge)
Tuesday, November 11 , 2008
5:00 PM

Jonathan Auerbach's book in progress Dark Borders offers a political reading of American film noir as a Cold War genre centrally concerned with redefining citizenship. It begins with questions of affect and aesthetics--the strange tone of disenfranchisement or non-belonging that haunts so many of these mid-century crime movies. Freud's notion of the unheimliche links the uncanny mood of these important films with fears that "Un-Americans" and un-American values might overtake or undermine the homeland. These anxieties surface during a series of wartime and post war emergency measures, beginning with the anti-sedition Smith Act (1940), the Mexican migrant worker Bracero Program (1942), the domestic internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry (1942), and the HUAC hearings in 1947 that sought to criminalize native-born communists (the CPUSA). This talk will be discussing one key scene in the anti-communist film The Red Menace (1949) in conjunction with a little-known but very striking movie (arguably the first film noir) Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), starring Peter Lorre, that imagines the rule of fascist law in the USA and that conceives of madness as a foreign country.

For further details, consult the PCMS website.

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