What you can take as the tentative conclusion, should you not want to wade through these meandering thoughts again until someone makes more of out of them than where/how this thread came to a rest, is that flashbacks are less frequent in neo-noir, and are less encompassing with respect to the overall progress of the story, and they foreground a lot more ambiguity than is the case in classic noir. How that impacts the construction of "mise-en-scene" elements for neo-noir still needs more discussion, but my suggestions (downstream in the thread) were not addressed by Mike at the time. So we will play it as it lays for now...
Fatalism and the neo-noir-o-meter
Posted by Solomon on 1/26/2018, 5:23 am
There are 20 points for "fatalism". What is it and how assess it? Don has written of Casablanca "Fatalism whether manifesting in lack of free will (entrapment), or a sense of imminent doom/danger (highly charged images that intensify atmosphere or spark/portend intense action sequences)—" and also of Psycho "Marion’s anxiety as she makes her escape creates tension, but Hitch is careful in slowly working images of dead things (the stuffed birds in the hotel office) into the visual flow, content with a more low-key kind of foreshadowing. The “spoken” fatalism is primarily conveyed in Bernard Herrmann’s superbly agitated score."
Fatalism means determinism. Everything is destined to play out no matter what, albeit with contributions and some scope for the players. They may feel free will but then they are entrapped. Narration from a distance, as in OOTP by Mitchum, imparts a strong feeling of entrapment and doom.
Marion's anxiety is something different than fatalism. It is the possibility that she may be found out and caught. This is tension from uncertainty. There is an overlap between fatalism and uncertainty because we never know what Fate will bring, but they are not identical.
In fact, determinism can conflict with uncertainty. The toss of a FAIR die is subject to known odds, even as each outcome cannot be predicted. The process of what turns up is not deterministic but it's stationary and ergodic. Stationary means that its mean and variance do not change over time. The process is also ergodic. This means that one gets the same average result whether measured across enough time or averaged across the possible states that may arise, the six faces of the die. The toss's outcome is uncertain but the bounds of it are known or estimable. In other words, we expect each face to turn up 1/6 of the time, and if we estimate this by averaging in a given finite sample, that value will be approached with probability 1. Chance in this case creates uncertainty of a mild sort. Fate determines the outcome of each unpredictable toss by factors beyond our comprehension (randomness), but the randomness is bearable and manageable because we know the average behavior of each face will tend to 1/6. It's even a form of entertainment.
We should separate out randomness from other qualities. The latter provide more of a noir quality than mere randomness.
A non-ergodic process differs: "Attribute of a behavior that is in certain crucial respects incomprehensible through observation either for lack of repetition, e.g., by involving only transient states which are unique, or for lack of stabilities, e.g., when transition probabilities (see probabilities) are so variable that there are not enough observations available to ascertain them. evolution and social processes involving structural changes are inherently non-ergodic."
Marion gets to play her game and Mitchum plays his game only one time. There are possibilities that are entirely unknown. Of those that are known, some have unknown odds. What happens now limits what happens next for the player. The processes are non-ergodic. There is not so much fatalism or a feeling of determinism (even with some randomness subject to known odds), as there are feelings of what Don termed "fracture, loss of order, shifting ground"
On occasion, noir characters will comment on their attempts to bring some order into dizzy or crazy affairs. This may even go back to Bogart in The Maltese Falcon: "Because, true love, I need to keep in touch with all the loose ends of this dizzy affair."
We need not have complete chaos, because that reverts to pure randomness, and it's uninteresting from a psychological or human point of view. What becomes noir is a non-ergodic process in which our actions become limited by outcomes that we didn't or couldn't predict or expect.
I'll quote myself here: "Shifting ground may mean something like the following. Neo-noir story-telling is fond of ambiguity and leaving the viewer in the dark for considerable periods of time before clarification arrives. This creates uncertainty in the viewer. Some of these films are fond of multiple twists near the end. The result is that you may never know quite where you stand or what you conclude about characters for a considerable period of time. The character that looks bad may suddenly appear in a good light and vice versa as you learn a critical piece of information.
"Instead of time inversions and flashbacks, although still prevalent in many neo-noirs, one may see character inversions. The ground shifts.
"The stories are being told in more disorderly ways too, and that creates a sense of loss of order too. The narrative flows and cutting are more chaotic.
The "fatalism" category needs to be divided in order to capture these kinds of attributes of a movie.
We respond in varied ways to the surprises that the non-ergodic neo-noir processes present to us in stories. Laughter, acceptance, resignation, frustration, ... We see ironies. We re-assess what has happened, who did what and why they did it. We see their errors and their foresight, their blindness and their cleverness. Black humor may not be a distinct neo-noir attribute. It maybe should be replaced or eliminated from the neo-noir-o-meter in favor of the more basic attributes that generate it and other kinds of reactions.
Re: Fatalism and the neo-noir-o-meter
Posted by Don Malcolm on 1/27/2018, 8:45 am, in reply to "Fatalism and the neo-noir-o-meter"
For classic noir, "fatal-ism" covers several aspects of what we feel when we see the action unfolding. "Fatal" and "fate" are conjoined in noir, and the same is true to a more limited extent in neo-noir, which proceeds from a greater "freedom of indirection" than was the case even in the 40s, where David Bordwell has shown how "novelization" across all genres led to a cinema that would bend to the escalating whirlwinds of auteurism.
The question for "fatalism" or "dread" or other feelings in terms of measuring its presence is to determine "how much" of "fatal" and "fate" are being transmitted in what we see as the action unfolds. Structurally, "fate" and "fatal" will intersect most in a film, such as OOTP (as you referenced), which shows how characters, action, mood affect the visual flow and create "a sense of fatalism."
That works as well as I think it's possible to get it in the noir-o-meter. Films with flashbacks will score higher in this element than those which don't. What the "sense of fatalism" is also supposed to measure is how sustained that feeling or sense is throughout the picture. Films that set up feelings of incredible danger at the outset but don't carry it through the middle of the film and ratchet it up again at the end are going to be docked a point or two (an example: NIGHT AND THE CITY) in comparison with films that preserve the visual aspect of the narrative tension throughout.
As for the neo-noir-o-meter, I think downplaying "fatalism" in the measurement is worth some consideration, in favor of some more specific visual strategies. I would propose something like this:
--A sense of fatalism, dread, imminent danger in the visual flow (mise-en-scene) 10 points
--A sense of uncertainty in what the viewer is being shown (false/ambiguous visual clues) 5 points
--Editing techniques that are visually disruptive to narrative progression 5 points
For "black humor," you might just add "irony" to the element so that if it has both, it will register a higher score.
All of this does help demonstrate how films have changed their narrative approaches since that notation was first expanded in the 40s. Whether or not this has resulted in better films is another--and potentially far more controversial and incendiary--topic.
Re: Fatalism and the neo-noir-o-meter
Posted by Don Malcolm on 1/27/2018, 12:19 pm, in reply to "Re: Fatalism and the neo-noir-o-meter"
A question to ask about the neo-noir-o-meter is whether the double-edged relationship between noir and (melo)drama is still as pointed now as was the case in the 40s. Bordwell's look at how plots and dramatic structures all move toward more novelistic and "clotted" dynamics reinforces the idea that such a connection exists in the classic noir era--but that connection is quite likely a good bit more tenuous in the neo-noir period.