Reading Passage 3
You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 27-40, which are based on Reading Passage 3 below.
After the Second World War, a curious change came over the outlook of Hollywood films. Rather than the positive, happy-ending stories that dominated the silver screen before the war, a pessimism and negativity had entered American cinema. This post-war disillusionment was evident in Hollywood and the movement became known as film noir.
One would be mistaken to call film noir a genre. Unlike westerns or romantic comedies, film noir cannot be defined by conventional uses of setting or conflict in the way that is common to genre films. Film noir is more of a movement, pinned to one specific point in time in much the same way as Soviet Montage or German Expressionism was. Instead, the defining quality of film noir was linked to tone, lighting and an often a sombre mood.
True film noir refers to Hollywood films of the 1940s and early 1950s that dealt with dark themes such as crime and corruption. These films were essentially critiquing certain aspects of American society in a way film had never done before. Since that time there have occasionally been other great noir films made, such as Chinatown, but the mood and tone are often different to the original film noir movies. One possible reason for this is the time in which the films were made. A common perception of art is that it reflects the society and time in which it is made. That makes film noir of the Forties and Fifties quite inimitable because, luckily, the world has not had to endure a war of the scale and destruction of the Second World War again.
Paul Schrader, writer of films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, sees film noir as one of Hollywood’s best and least known periods. In his essay Notes on Film Noir he admits that classifying film noir is almost impossible because many films considered as film noir vary greatly in style. He observed that there were four main traditions in film noir.
First were the films specifically about war and post-war disillusionment. Schrader believes these films were not only a reflection of the war, but also a delayed reaction to the great economic depression of the 1930s. The trend in Hollywood throughout this period and into the war was to produce films aimed at keeping people’s spirits up, hence the positivity. As soon as the war ended, crime fiction started to become popular, which mirrored growing disillusionment in America. Films such as The Blue Dahlia and Dead Reckoning picked up on a trend started during the war with The Maltese Falcon in 1941, which is seen as the first example of film noir.
Another film noir tradition was post-war realism. This style of film was similar to some European films of the same era, such as Italy’s neorealist films like Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Roberto Rossellini’s Open City. Part of this style was created by filming in real locations and away from constructed sets. The honesty of this style of film suited the post-war mood in America and is demonstrated well in Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, much of which was filmed in and around London.
The third tradition of film noir according to Paul Schrader involves what he characterises as ‘The German Influence’. Especially during the 1920s German Expressionism was one of the most unique and creative forms of cinema. Many German, Austrian and Polish directors immigrated to America before or during the rise of Hitler and in part due to the increasing control and prevention of artistic freedom. Many of them, such as Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder, would find their way into the Hollywood system and to this day remain some of the most celebrated directors of all time.
It was the lighting developed in German Expressionism in particular that was most influential on film noir. The interplay of light and shadow created by chiaroscuro was highly suggestive of hidden darkness and was largely responsible for creating the mood and feeling of film noir. But it was the coupling of expressionist lighting with realistic settings that really gave film noir its authenticity. It is no surprise then that two of the most popular film noir feature films, Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole, were both directed by Billy Wilder.
The final tradition of film noir noted by Schrader is what he dubs ‘The Hard-Boiled Tradition’. He notes how American literature of the time was the driving force behind much of this style of film noir. Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain were tough, cynical and uncompromising and their work reflects this type of attitude. If German Expressionism influenced the visual aspect of film noir, it was this hard-boiled writing style that influenced the characters, stories and scripts depicted on screen. Raymond Chandler adapted the screenplay for film noir classic Double Indemnity from a James M. Cain story. This writing team, with Billy Wilder again directing, was the perfect combination for one of Hollywood’s most celebrated films.
Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in Reading Passage 3?
In boxes 27-32 on your answer sheet, write
YES if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer
NO if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer
NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this
27. The First World War had a big influence on the types of films being made in Hollywood.
28. Film noir is an official genre.
29. True film noir can be from any time and be about any kind of social issue.
30. Filmmaker Paul Schrader believes that film noir is almost impossible to classify.
31. Mixing light and shadow was mainly responsible for creating the unique mood and feeling of film noir.
32. During the 1950s film noir was the most successful type of film at the box office.
Complete the notes below.
Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER for each answer.
|THE FOUR TRADITIONS OF FILM NOIR|
|War and post-war disillusionment:|
A delayed 33 _______ to the great economic depression.
The Hollywood trend during the depression and war was to produce films aimed at keeping people’s spirits up.
Part of the style was created by shooting the films in real locations instead of on sets.
Similar to European film styles such as 34 _______ in Italy.
|The German Influence:|
Many directors from Germany, Austria and Poland 35 _______ to America during the
1920s and 1930s.
The use of lighting styles developed by German Expressionist films was very influential on film noir.
Combining chiaroscuro lighting with filming in real locations gave film noir its 36 ______.
|The hard-boiled tradition:|
These films were heavily influenced by popular literature of the time by writers like Ernest Hemingway.
The hard-boiled writing style influenced the depiction of 37 _______ , stories and scripts in film noir.
Complete each sentence with the correct ending, A-F.
38. After the war, instead of the positive films that existed in Hollywood before
39. The honesty of post-war realism in film noir
40. Double Indemnity, directed by Billy Wilder, is
B one of Hollywood’s most notable films.
C there were a lot more romantic comedies released in America.
D was something most people were not ready for.
E a negativity had entered Hollywood films.
F a film that very few people know about today.