The Facts Before Our Eyes: Wittgenstein and the Film Noir Investigator
Posted by Solomon on 1/12/2018, 11:41 am
This article by Keith Dromm appeared in a major film studies journal (Film-Philosophy) in 2013. It's accessible to all: https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/pdfplus/10.3366/film.2013.0001
I found it readable and informative. His thesis is supported by quite a few examples with which we are all familiar.
In addition to the hard-boiled examples that he provides, I believe his thesis could easily be extended to other non-hard-boiled noirs like "The Lost Moment", "Corridor of Mirrors", "Secret Beyond the Door" and a good many others where women are in peril.
His insight explains in some ways how a noir detective's methods differ noticeably from the traditional detective, and this sets noir films apart from a great many mystery movies.
Re: The Facts Before Our Eyes: Wittgenstein and the Film Noir Investigator
Posted by Don Malcolm on 1/12/2018, 1:35 pm, in reply to "The Facts Before Our Eyes: Wittgenstein and the Film Noir Investigator"
Logical reasoning simply cannot solve every mystery, and it is especially inept at understanding the noir world or getting us out of philosophical puzzles. Wittgenstein explains: ‘A philosophical problem always has the form: “I simply don’t know my way about”’ (2001, §123). The noir world, as Richard Maltby describes it, is one of ‘treachery and shifting loyalties’ and ‘a paranoid world, in which objects are not what they appear to be [and] people are likely to change their identities’ (1993, 39 and 46). Collecting clues and deducing conclusions will not help the investigators find their way around such a world. Instead, as in philosophy, they must clear up the confusions and dissimulations that got them lost in the first place.
The noir-o-meter tends to agree with Maltby's formulation--the films where there seems to be the greatest amount of treachery and shifting loyalties are the ones that rank the highest. BUT, the melodrama elements are more in control of what's described here, so they are the transmitters of the emotional/psychological "energy," if you will, within the film itself.
One of the many still-unpublished PhD theses on noir deal's with the "helper male" in "women in peril" films. What would be interesting to determine is the shape of the "noir footprint" within the interrelationships of those noir elements depending on which character is performing the investigative role in the film. In LOST MOMENT and GASLIGHT, it's the male character; in SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR and SUDDEN FEAR, it's the female.
My sense is that the films with women in peril who nonetheless are the activating agents of the investigative aspect of the plot (the counteraction to the "plot," so to speak) are the ones that will grade higher in the noir-o-meter.
In their different ways, both Wittgenstein and film noir highlight the fact that different sorts of puzzles require different methods for their resolutions. In its elevation of science as the exclusive source of knowledge, modern society and its advocates—including groups like The London Detection Club or philosophical schools like logical positivism—have wrongly taken science as the only correct model for solving epistemological problems.
Of course not all noirs are about detection, some are simply about some kind of conflict that turns deadly. NIGHT AND THE CITY, for example, has no detective of any kind, but it has a world of treachery. Treachery and duplicity can clearly lead to "epistemological problems" and affect decisions and actions that might otherwise not lead to murder, mayhem, etc. But all of that is also to be found in gangster films, which are often distinct from noir. Miscommunication between the sexes can lead to jealousy and betrayal, escalating levels of emotional violence that can lead to death or escalating peril (physical and/or psychologicai), which is the region of what we sometimes call "superheated melodrama," such as what we see in a film like THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS, where the "helper male" is clueless and ultimately tainted by chance events that are misinterpreted, and it is up to the male figure who has escalated the peril through actions based on those misinterpretations to "see through" them and attempt to take remedial action.