Research Paper: Neo-Noir Comparisons the Femme Fatale

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Film Noir

In its classical incarnation, film noir is notable for its "power to fascinate," (Harris 3). Holden offers a cynical summation of classic noir elements: "A world-weary private eye, following a trail of increasingly sordid clues ends up gazing into a bottomless pit of corruption and evil," (1). Inside that bottomless pit are "at least one femme fatale and any number of murderous fat cats chortling behind the scenes as they pull the strings," (Holden 1). The femme fatale is a central symbol, catalyst, and character in film noir. She has a "menacing allure," which is both seductive and manipulative (Holden 3). Thus, the femme fatale raises poignant questions about the depiction of gender roles and norms in film. This is as true for neo-noir as it is for classic film noir. Both classic and neo-film noir share in common one more element; that is, "even after the ugly truth spills out on the bathroom floor, good doesn't necessarily triumph over evil," (Holden 1). Within this framework for the noir genre in general, it is possible to frame both Bound (1996) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as being emblematic of neo-noir at least with regards to their representation of a neo-femme fatale.

Neo-noir has been conceived of as having a dual function in film: as "homage to a beloved genre" and also a "marketing device." This dual function is especially evident in a direct comparison of Bound with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Klinger 1). Bound would represent the "homage to a beloved genre," which was already poignantly nostalgic (Holden). Yet the film thoroughly dissects and reassembles elements of the original noir concept. On the other hand, Who Framed Roger Rabbit represents the use of the neo-noir element as a "marketing device." It has been described as "a hilarious caricature on film noir," almost to the point of satirizing the genre (Gundareva). From the private investigator (which is absent from Bound) to the way that Jessica Rabbit is drawn, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? arguably contains more classic noir dimensions than Bound. Bound rewrites the noir narrative also by including a feminist dimension that thwarts the patriarchal overtones of classic noir.

It is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that overtly challenges the genre in its poignant self-awareness and self-consciousness -- which is emphasized by the inclusion of animation. Both of these films therefore show how neo-noir serves as a "loose umbrella term," which can encompass a wide range of genres and not necessarily be constricted (Klinger 2). Especially as it fuses animation with live action media, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? engages the concept of noir as a "critical and cultural fantasy," (Harris 3). As for Bound, it blurs the line between neo-noir and erotic thriller (Klinger). Bound, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? consciously use noir coding to achieve their respective goals. In both cases, the neo-noir elements are characteristic of the genre's being "highly self-aware," as opposed to original noir, which was more incidental in its form, execution, mood, and symbolism (Klinger 1).

One of the key ways both Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And Bound express their femme fatales differently is with regards to sexuality. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? conforms much more to the original noir genre with its tame sexuality; referring to the fact that films of the classic era were censored heavily. It simultaneously draws on the "nostalgic melancholy" of the noir genre via stock characters like the jaded detective and the femme fatale (Harris 3). Because Roger Rabbit does include animation, it was developed to be a rather clean example of neo-noir in terms of its sexual explicitness. There are no sex scenes. Sex between Roger and Jessica is inferred; almost like the way the affair between Jessica and Acme was merely suggested to Roger. Conventional morality and censorship in early filmmaking would have constrained filmmakers like Billy Wilder; whereas modern neo-noir filmmakers have far more liberty when displaying and developing their femme fatal characters on screen. Zemeckis chooses not to take advantage of the situation. Thus, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? becomes ironically more authentic in its representation of classic noir, in spite of its being overtly unlike the genre in terms of its multimedia execution. Cartoons can do whatever they want; in Roger Rabbit, they act and speak like they did in the 1940s.

In Bound, the neo-noir genre is subverted much more meaningfully, as the femme fatale seduces a woman and not a man. Moreover, the Wachowskis do take full advantage of relaxed rules related to sexual expression in American cinema. Given the relaxed rules of censorship when Bound was produced, the filmmakers depicted explicit as well as controversial sexuality. Violet and Corky don't just have sex; they have lesbian sex. Changes to film classification had already enabled "scriptwriters, producers, and directors to take greater liberties with sexual and violent (sometimes sexually violent) material on U.S. screens (Klinger 1). The producers of Bound took advantage of this fact; Roger Rabbit's producers did not.

The relationship between Corky and Violet is explicitly and unapologetically erotic; whereas the relationship between Roger and Jessica is only tacitly sexual. Because they are cartoon animals, their sexuality is barely explored. It is only the way that Jessica Rabbit is rendered, and the effect she has on male characters, which highlights her as the femme fatale. Jessica is painted as a caricature of the seductress; Violet is sexy but Holden would agree she lacks "the power to conjure anything like the menacing allure of the 1940's screen sirens." Jessica Rabbit engages in gender performativity to manufacture the idea of "menacing allure." She wears classic dresses that reveal her swank hips, which sway as she walks.

In Bound, the femme fatale role takes a feminist twist as Violet works her wiles not on a man, but on a woman. The setting is also modern, unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which is set in period time to stress the role the genre has on the actual content of the film. In Bound, the Wachowski brothers capitalize more directly on the covenants of neo-noir, which allow for noir elements to be fused with contemporary norms, settings, and technologies.

The result is that Bound is empowering, as it subverts gender norms in relation to their impact on social power. There is a Thelma and Louise moment at the end of the film, which transcends most noir and neo-noir in its affirmation of women's independence from patriarchy. Violet is what Klinger calls a "postfeminist good-bad girl hybrid," which can be considered a core element of neo-noir (1). Only in Bound, the filmmakers take the role more seriously.

If Violet embodies the "postfeminist good-bad girl hybrid," then Jessica represents more of a classic femme fatale; she does not consciously manipulate others but she is "framed" as is her husband Roger. Her feminine wiles facilitate the illusion of her "fatality." Violet, on the other hand, can be described as being somewhat manipulative. She is the contemporary "reinflection" of the femme fatale that Klinger refers to (1). Violet uses Corky as a springboard for extricating herself from an unhealthy relationship, and one in which she occupies a subordinate role. That relationship "bound" her to patriarchy; Corky is available to liberate her. Just as it turns out that Jessica Rabbit can indeed be trusted, it also turns out that Violet was not executing a double-cross as many classic and neo-noir femme fatales do. In the end, both Jessica and Violet emerge as being trustworthy.

Their respective sexualities become the core difference between Jessica Rabbit and Violet, and their core similarity is their shared connotation of danger. The connection between danger and desire is a central element in noir. There must be some "fatalistic" element to a woman's sexual power. In the classic sense, the woman has an immutable sexual power over a man. This element may be viewed as a vehicle for or reflection of cultural anxieties related to sexual identity and morality (Klinger 2). Klinger also notes that neo-noir reflected the prevailing cultural anxieties related to the connection between sex and fatal diseases like AIDS. In Bound, the Wachowskis show that a woman's sexual power can be potentially fatal in its power over both women and men.

In spite of their differences, the "danger" element is shared in common between the two films. Jessica's sexual allure is a central motif in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, evidenced by Roger's reaction to his initially being shown the image of Jessica and Acme. Roger is keenly aware of Jessica's power, and perhaps frightened by it. The fact that Jessica's alleged affair kick-starts a strong of tragic events is in itself the "danger" element; Jessica does not mean to cause trouble but she does because she is sexy without trying.

In Bound, sexuality is also dangerous. The affair between Violet and Corky is illicit; Violet cheats on a man who is clearly capable of violence and for whom violence is a daily affair. Her willingness to have an affair with anyone shows that Violet… [END OF PREVIEW]

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