Parallelism And The Femme Fatale

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Film noir, though difficult to formally define, is a type of film whose elements of style, narrative, and overall tone are most easily characterized by darkness—both literal and metaphorical. This style first appeared and had its heyday within American Cinema during the forties and fifties. The term itself was first coined by French critics when, as Paul Schrader described, “noticed the new mood of cynicism, pessimism, and, darkness that had crept into the American cinema” (Schrader, 265). Indeed, films like Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) and Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950) explored themes of fatalism and nihilism (among others), all the while making use of stylistic—expressionist-inspired lighting, stylized framing, use of shadows—to enhance them. As dark as these films could be, almost laughably so when viewed by audiences today, they were meant to communicate the very real societal anxiety and disillusionment of a post-World War Two America. One manifestation of these fears is through the creation of the femme fatale or “fatal woman.” According to Jack Boozer, “they are meant to appear beautiful but also treacherous, criminally depraved and castrating in their desires” (Boozer, 21). The femme fatale did not first appear in noir, in fact she even appeared as far back as the biblical figure Salome, however forties Hollywood defined the character (Barnes-Smith, 3). Gary Harris, as quoted in “Fatal Woman, Revisited: Understanding Female Stereotypes in Film Noir,”

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