This June and July TCM is devoting all day every Friday to film noir, and as a huge fan of noir, I couldn’t be more excited! I’m probably going to have to buy another DVR or something (can you even do that?) to deal with all the noir goodness coming down the pipeline. You can download the full schedule in PDF form here
Even more exciting, though, is that TCM is partnering with Ball State University to offer a FREE online course in film noir, through online learning platform Canvas. That’s right, it’s an actual 9-week course that will grant you an actual certificate of completion if you do all the course requirements. The info page estimates that the coursework will take 2-4 hours per week, in addition to watching the films (on TCM, or via other means – the course promises that there will be public domain films available to watch even if you don’t have access to TCM). Even if you can’t put in that kind of time commitment, as I may not be able to myself, you can still enroll in the course and follow along at whatever level you’re able.
The 9 weeks will cover the definition of noir, its influences, its relationship to the studio system and the post-war era, and the types of characters and themes you find in noir. I’ve never done an online course like this, so I’m pretty excited to see how it’s going to go!
The fun starts on June 1 (that’s this Monday), but there’s still time to enroll! Be sure to let me know if you join up! I’d love to discuss one of my favorite genres with you, and I’m sure there will be plenty of healthy discussion both in the course itself and on Twitter and probaby Facebook!
[This is an entry in the For the Love of Film Blogathon, which supports film restoration and preservation. Please enjoy the post, and look for the link to donate at the bottom.]
Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry. The movies in your head are always much better than the movies you sit down to see. We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we’re missing as even better than the movies we have. In that sense, we need lost movies. They fortify our Romantic ideal of cinema, that’s cap-R Romantic of course.
That’s a quote from a character in Farran Smith Nehme’s Missing Reels; Nehme is perhaps better known in these parts as The Self-Styled Siren, co-founder of the For the Love of Movies Film Preservation Blogathon (though she is not hosting it this year), so you’ll have to forgive me for appearing to suck up a bit by beginning with a quote from her novel. In fact, I didn’t know what I was going to write about for this year’s blogathon (or in fact, if I would manage to come up with anything at all) until I happened across this quote.
The speaker in the story is Andy Evans, a colleague of main character Ceinwen’s boyfriend Matthew. Andy is a math professor who happens to be a big collector of silent film memorabilia (and silent films themselves, as well). Nobody likes him much, and in fact, this particular quote is followed by all the other characters saying that this particular sentiment is balderdash, and that Andy’s spent way too much time hanging out with the humanities crowd.
I’m not F.W. Murnau, I’m not Tod Browning, I’m not interested in my own puny concept of what they’d have done. I want to see those movies. I don’t want to get my kicks imagining little scenes with Janet Gaynor.
Harry Engleman in Missing Reels
Perhaps it’s my own background in the humanities (I spend a couple of years doing a masters in English lit, where I did in fact do a very intense semester on Romanticism), but Andy’s words make sense to me – after a fashion. He’s talking here about capital-R Romanticism, meaning he’s referencing the 18th-19th century aesthetic movement of Romanticism and its collective ideals.
Jeanette MacDonald is mostly remembered for her series of light operettas with Nelson Eddy, and for slightly more adventurous classic film fans, for her series of Pre-Code musical comedies with Maurice Chevalier and Ernst Lubitsch. That doesn’t always stand her in good stead, since her particular brand of coloratura soprano singing phased out of mainstream popularity by the 1960s. I’m still a fan of her musicals, but I’m the first to admit they aren’t for everyone. It was a particular joy, then, to hear of Don’t Bet on Women, which is one of MacDonald’s very few non-musical roles, and quite a rousing Pre-Code as well.
Pre-Codes fascinate me not only because they tend to be more risque and innuendo-filled than films either earlier or later, but because the combination of nearly unrestrained sexuality and a society still bound to a great degree by traditional mores often yields films with a very conflicted view of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles. Don’t Bet on Women, aka All Women Are Bad (you can see where we’re headed here), starts off with Roger Fallon (Edmund Lowe) swearing off women following a tender scene where his ex-wife convinces him to pay her a generous allowance since she doesn’t want to make her new husband go to the trouble of, like, working. He and his buddy Chip decide to take a boys-only cruise.
There’s more TCM Fest stuff to come, including a rundown of the Return of the Dream Machine program, which featured films from 1900-1913 projected with an original 1908 hand-cranked projector – it was a very special evening, and introduced me to one of the most amazing, incredible, and bizarre pieces of early cinema I’ve yet seen. It affected me so much that I feel the need to share it with everyone I know, in every outlet I have. Ladies and gentlemen, behold….The Dancing Pig.
[The most amazing thing about this short is that apparently this vaudeville program was so popular at the time that there were numerous film versions made of it, by almost every studio. This one from Pathe seems to be the main one that's survived to today.]