HC301H - "Build My Gallows High": Written and Cinematic Noir (Spring/2024)

Professor: Ulrick Casimir

4.00 credits

  • CRN 32050: Monday & Wednesday, 4:00-5:20pm @ CHA 201

Mystery editor Otto Penzler once described noir as something that is “virtually impossible to define, but everyone thinks they know it when they see it.”  Situated at a crossroads of visual and print media—sped along by the consequences of one war, and solidified by observations made as another war ended—noir is a signifier that seems meant to avoid being pinned down.  We do know that noir is generally grounded in big themes:  class, gender, race, corruption, alienation, subjectivity, and free will, to name a few.  Focused on narrative fiction as well as visual media (a number of paintings, but mostly film), this section of HC 301H examines "noir" as often used to describe both writing and film.  Over the term, we will work together to flesh out the historical, cultural, and critical contexts/frameworks necessary to unpack "noir"; we will also examine why noir continues to appeal to writers, readers, film-goers, and gamers today.

Readings span the 20th & 21st centuries.  Primary written texts include three brief novels or novellas by such authors as James M. Cain (Serenade), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), and Megan Abbott (Queenpin), as well as short stories by James Ellroy, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Lawrence Block, Hughes Allison, and Joe Gores.  Films include F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1924), Jacques Torneur’s Out of the Past (1947), Robert Wise's The Set-Up (1949), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1981), David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), Nicolas Refn’s Drive (2011), Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler (2014), and Steve McQueen's Widows (2018). Secondary texts include short essays (Abbott, Chandler, Paul Schrader, Karen Hollinger) selected to help contextualize the readings and films, as well as a few brief selections from longer pieces (Peter Selz, Alain Silver et. al., Richard Taylor, Émile Durkheim) that are broadly germane to the theme and approach of the course.  A significant amount of the secondary reading in this course will be material that students discover through guided research.  Coursework includes group presentations, semi-weekly assignments/journal entries, a research proposal, an annotated bibliography, and a research paper of 10-12 pages.