Possessed: Film Analysis Term Paper

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Possessed (1947) by Curtis Bernhardt: A Psychological Drama and a 'Woman's Film' with Film Noir Elements

The stark, vivid, and often disturbing psychological drama Possessed (1947), directed by German emigre filmmaker Curtis Bernhardt, starring Joan Crawford (as a mentally ill woman named Louise) and Van Heflin (as an engineer named David, with whom Louise is obsessed), might arguably, at least in some ways, be considered a "woman's film" (i.e., a film featuring a woman, essentially alone, often due to failed or unrequited love, facing a life-changing experience or challenge (though generally, "women's films" are more uplifting, e.g., Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; Something's Gotta Give). Women's films also typically contain plot twists and love triangles; in those respects, Possessed is a woman's film, although not a positive, upbeat, or encouraging one. Possessed also contains elements of "film noir," especially in terms of its overall look and its camera work. However, Possessed is also neither a pure "woman's film," nor pure film noir. Between the two choices, however, in my opinion Possessed is a better example of film noir than it is of a woman's film.

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Film noir" is a French cinematic term meaning, literally, "black film." Obviously, a truly black film would be invisible and unwatchable; the term is therefore a descriptive metaphor, for the dark mood often evoked within the genre. More classic film noir examples are John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941); Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946) and, later, Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983), to name just a few. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) has many film noir elements, although it is probably not pure film noir, due to its extremely varied scenes, settings, and characterizations. Possessed, although not anywhere as good of a film as Citizen Kane, perhaps represents something similar in terms of its hybrid nature, that is, part psychological drama; part campy film (especially Joan Crawford's acting); part women's film; but more film noir.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Possessed: Film Analysis Assignment

Film noir as a genre originated during the World War II and post World War II period of the late 1930's and 1940's. The genre is characteristically dark, ominous, and foreboding in look, setting, tone, characterizations, conflicts, and action. In many ways, Possessed meets all of those criteria. However, the dominating campy-ness of Joan Crawford's acting, as Louise, distracts from what might otherwise be a more subdued tone. Therefore, characterization, a key film noir component, is not even of well blended in this film, compared to, say, The Maltese Falcon; The Big Sleep, or even Citizen Kane.

Still, Possessed does contain many striking and memorable film noir elements. For example, in the opening scene, Louise (Joan Crawford) is shown walking alone down a hazy Los Angeles street. The hazy look of this scene underscores the lack of clarity of Louise's mental state; she is disoriented; displaced; and emotionally disturbed. She moans David's name, repeatedly, for reasons yet unknown. Also, in keeping with film noir appearances, Louise appears washed-out, and she wears no make-up.

Inside the hospital, the dull square light that sits above Louise's head starkly illuminates her face and the area around her head; all else fades into shadow. Clearly,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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