Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top 10 films noir

Inspired by this post on the intellectual history of commentary on noir films (how is that for meta?), here are my ten+ favorite films noir:

Classic Noir
There are a lot of debates about what makes a film noir, and whether in fact it is a genre unto itself, or simply a style. My own sense of it is that noir began as a particular genre, growing out of interwar German expressionist filmmaking (M is often named as the originator of the genre), but evolved into a "style," that is a set of "noirish" elements -- including character types (grifters and conmen, cynical cops, private eyes, femmes fatales); stylistic points (urban nightscapes, rain or fetid heat, rotating fans, voice-overs); plot elements (heists gone wrong, adultery, double-crosses); settings and locations (from anonymous small towns and seedy hotels to Los Angeles and Central European cities) -- that can be introduced or remixed into any other genre. Thus it is possible to have "Sci-fi noir" (e.g. Blade Runner), "Western noir" (e.g., 3:10 to Yuma), "Comedy noir" (e.g. Fargo), "Horror noir" (e.g., The Brute Man), and so on.

Ultimately, what makes a film noir is less any of the above elements than a certain sensibility of what one might call alienated fatalism: a sense that the world as a whole is ultimately defined by corruption in every sense of that word (moral, financial, physical). Some critics have naturally chosen to label that attitude as a "cynical" but I would reject that; as always, the word "cynical" is just a scare word that foolish optimists use to malign realists. With that said, I should admit that my interest in deviant globalization is closely related to my predilection for film noir.

Friday, February 11, 2011

China: "There was no morality after 1989"

Michael Anti explains how China's attitude toward development changed after 1989:

It's a brief clip, but I I'd note two important things about it. First, Anti clearly has a sense of the way any economy is embedded in and posterior to a particular moral order. And while he is circumspect about why "1989" was a turning point, it's clear that 1989 represented a radical moral shift, and that in his view, this moral shift is anterior to and the basis for the mode of development which China has been pursuing ever since. (As an aside, this perspective is also interesting from a periodization perspective, since most people tend to date the definitive break point in China's economic development to the "opening up" that Deng Xiaoping promulgated from 1978-79 - though scholars like Arne Westad have argued that even this rupture was based on economic lessons learned earlier, during the Cultural Revolution.)

Second, Anti is clearly a man whose intellectual armature has been forged by a deep engagement with Marxian and Hegelian thinking. The two minute discussion is a textbook example of the dialectical imagination in action: the "one the one hand, on the other hand" turns; the sense for historical dynamics being driven by systemic contradictions; the underlying assumption that capitalism fundamentally involves melting all that is solid and profaning all that is holy; and finally, the unspoken sense that the task of the analyst is to face the realities of capitalism with sober senses, to realize what capitalism does to man's real conditions of life, and to his relations with his kind.

Hat tip: MC.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Quote of the Day: Max Weber

Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation":
The early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.