New Book: Film Noir and The Cinema of Paranoia
Edinburgh University Press
Rutgers University Press, 2009
Wheeler Winston Dixon
Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia is an overview of 20th- and 21st-century noir and fatalist film practice from 1945 onwards, demonstrating the ways in which the American cinema has inculcated a climate of fear in our daily lives. Beginning with such classics as Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), Bodyguard (1948), Fall Guy (1947) and Apology for Murder (1945), the book moves through the films of the 1950s that directly contradicted the split-level dream that was being consumed by most of American society, such as The Big Tip Off (1955), New York Confidential (1955), The Sleeping City (1950) and the 'Red Scare' films Atomic City (1952), The Steel Fist (1952) and The Thief (1952).
The book then examines key Dystopic films of the 1960s, a decade that saw the escalation of the Vietnam war from a French hand-me-down localized conflict into a global issue; the advent of the Twist, Surf Music, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, capped by America's first man on the moon. The more problematic films of the era, again, accurately reflected the tensions and fears of the decade, including The Love-Ins (1967), If... (1969), Blow-Up (1966) and The Penthouse (1967).
The final chapter, 'Living in Fear,' documents the ways in which television, the internet, the Web, video games and the dominant cinema collaborate to create an environment which at once vibrates with menace and cynicism, calculated to keep its audience in a state of ever-consumptive stupor, offering everything from 24 hour shopping channels which hawk overpriced merchandise to lonely shut-ins, to 'click and kill' video games that feature violent death as their primary stock in trade.
"Dixon seeks to broaden the scope and definition of film noir by focusing on its most dominant motif--paranoia. Concentrating on that impulse, and also on fear and violence, the author demonstrates that these all-encompassing aspects of film noir are found not only in gangster/detective films of the 1940s but also in such genres as science fiction and horror. Beginning with the pre-Code era, Dixon guides the reader through a comprehensive overview of the evolution of film noir to its present form, along the way presenting an enlightening examination of American and British society and politics and revealing the role film noir has played during certain periods. He demonstrates how film noir serves to contradict the false "feel good" images mediated to the public through movies and television programming. [Dixon]'s observations illustrate how paranoia, as constructed through the lens of film noir, proves more relevant than ever in lieu of the veil of fear that envelops every aspect of post-9/11 life. A wonderful addition to the literature on film noir and film genres. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty." -- A. F. Winstead, Choice, September 2009
". . . the book offers an impressive catalogue of marginal and forgotten films of the studio era, accompanied by handfuls of Hollywood Babylon dirt for added impact [ . . .] noir addicts will [ . . .] walk away with one hell of a screening list." -- José Teodoro, Film Comment (July-August 2009)
"In Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia, Dixon displays a true cinephile's fascination with the gunslingers and femmes fatales of film noir, and the dark, uneasy world they inhabit. Wide-ranging and packed with compelling detail, this work will be an invaluable addition to the bookshelves of fans, academics and completists alike." - Mikita Brottman, author of The Solitary Vice
"Wheeler Winston Dixon is the intrepid sleuth of cinema studies, tracking down film noir in places where most of us never thought to look, seeing through the aliases and disguises - horror noir, western noir, musical noir, and more - that have kept its infinite variety in the shadows until now. Writing with nonstop energy and verve, Dixon explodes narrow definitions of noir as conclusively as the Great Whatsit blew up postwar innocence in Kiss Me Deadly. His timely, spirited book is a boon for film scholars, general readers, and movie buffs alike." - David Sterritt, Chairman, National Society of Film Critics
Wheeler Winston Dixon is the James Ryan Endowed Professor of Film Studies, and Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His many books include A Short History of Film (co-written with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, 2008; second edition, 2013); Film Talk: Directors at Work (2007) and Visions of Paradise: Images of Eden in the Cinema (2006). In 2003, Dixon was honored with a retrospective of his films at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his films were acquired for the permanent collection of the Museum, in both print and original format.
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