Listen to part of a talk in a film class.
W: OK, so we’ve watched a couple of great films well, I think they’re great films, and most critics agree – urn. The Big Sleep. Citizen Kane, of course. The Maltese Fakon-and today I’d like to talk a bit about, uh, the genre, um, the style of filmmaking – these films are part of the film noir tradition. Film noir. What does it mean? Anv,uh, French speaker here
M1: Uh, literally “black film.” But uh, noir can also be translated as “dark”-so uh. “dark film?”
W: Yes, dark film Film noir. So why do you suppose the genre is called that?
Mi: Well, the films are all shot in black-and-white …
W: That’s true, at least for the classics of the genre— uh, it started m the 1940s and peaked in the 1950s, but some films from the 1970s-um, Coppola’s The Godfather for example—and later, too, have some noir elements, even though they’re shot in color. But. yes, being shot in black-and-white is one of the elements of the genre Stil, this question of its name …
M2: Their plots are kinda gloomy, kinda dark, y’know?
Not light-hearted at all. I mean, there may be some humor—um, especially Bogart, for instance in The Big Sleep, trading quips with Bacall—but the overall mood isn’t very upbeat. Itt pretty somber, depressing, even cynical, I think.
W: Very good And. uh, well, that was. that pretty much reflected the America of the post World War II era People were pessimistic—they didn’t expect things to turn out well. There had been the Great Depression in the 1930s, World War II in the 1940s … and well, the nuclear bomb might have won the war for the Allies, but, uh, there’s no denying that it also unleashed an era of fear, even hopelessness—the possibility of nuclear war anyway, um, we can debate the reasons behind the mood of these movies, but there’s no denying that that mood was pretty dark. There’s another reason for the term film noir, though —uh, it’s actually what caused French critics to call the films noir in the first place …
Mi: The lighting? It’s pretty stark, full of contrast, and also lots of shadows ..
W: Yes. lighting effects, the use of those shadows, low-light scenes. There are some iconic film noir scenes—uh, the dark hotel room or apartment at night and through the window there’s the blinking neon sign of a diner or a bar. . . rain-drenched streets that give off wonderful reflections of headlights-or the flashing neon signs again.
M2: And there’s always the shot of cigarette smoke kind of drifting in and out of the light
W: Yes, lighting is a real hallmark of film noir. Another characteristic is what’s called the omniscient narrator. Omniscient That means all-knowing People speak of a god as being omnisoent—he knows everything that happened and everything that’s going to happen In the same way, the narrator of the film noir knows all about the story he’s telling. And he explains some of the plot sometimes, or gives you his viewpoint—often cynical, like we said. A lot of times, the narrator is the main character in the story. There’s another narrative device that’s used a lot in film noir. That’s the flashback, using flashbacks to tell the story. Think of Citizen Kane. It opens up with the ending, uh. with the death of the main character, and then the rest of the film tells what happened, how he got to that point.
Um, let’s talk a bit about the mam characters. The noir hero-uh, Humphrey Bogart is probably the most wel-known noir actor. I mentioned the Maltese halcon arid The Big Sleep. In both of them, he plays a private detective—typical character. Uh, that’s because most of the genre is crime films, so a detective is a natural. The hero certainly has his flaws —he’s not as, uh, as moral as we might expect a hero to be. In fact, his morals are kind of vague, his ethics, too. He isn’t motivated by any noble idea of humanity or anything like that. In fact, he can be pretty cynical, um, paranoid sometimes, fatalistic —he can’t control what’s going on—and alienated from society, uh, feeling like he doesn’t fit in. And the women are interesting, too. Attractive, they often rely on their sexual attractiveness to manipulate the male character into doing something that in the end is going to be his downfall, hers too. But. still, these women, we have some sympathy for them, too. because their situations are usually pretty bleak–locked in loveless marnages, or victims of abuse … we can understand what’s motivating their need for revenge—and we can see that it can’t end well!
Listen to part of a discussion in a sociology dass.
M: Today, we are going to discuss Max Weber’s theoretical categories of social action. I hope that you’ve had a chance to look over the reading. So, uh, in formulating his approach to sociology, Weber was responding to the ideas of his time. He was not interested in structural forces or natural laws explaining human societies– Instead, he was interested in the subjective meanings human actors attach to their actions. According to Weber, everything that we can observe people doing socially, they do with a purpose in mind. In other words, all action is intentional, and it is directed toward other people, and this is why the sociologist must consider the social context in which people act. There is an exception, though, and that is the person who is insane and thus behaving without a socially understood purpose.
For now, I want to be dear that Weber’s approach differs from classical economic models of human behavior that narrowfy define rational behavior as using the most rational means to obtain one’s self-interest, particularly material self-interest. It’s . not that Weber was uninterested in economics, guite the opposite. He was trained in economic history, but he … he saw things a Irttie differently, and the way he spelled this out was through distinguishing different types of purposeful social action.
Can anyone recall how Weber characterized the different types of social action?
Wi: Well, he did talk about people being goal-oriented … the way they use means to achieve ends …
M: OK. you’re touching on his idea of purposeful rational action, or [back to normal cadence] goal- onented action as you say. And, yes, he is referring to the rational choices of means and ends. This type of social action is closest to the standard economic view of the self-interested individual . A good example is the engineer who builds a bodge by rationally choosing the most efficient means possible to achieve his goal, of building the bridge. He aims to build the strongest bodge, at the lowest cost, in the shortest period of time. That’s an example of purposeful rationality. Yet Weber observed there are other forms of social action, all equally meaningful to the actor, and important to the sociologist. Take value-oriented rationality for an example …
WJ: That would be like the monk that he talked about—the one who would live a very simple life, in the woods, to obtain salvation
Wi: Right, and didn’t Weber say that he also—the monk. I mean—he also used rational means to attain his goal of holiness, but that the goal wasn’t necessarily rational, I mean not everyone believes in hofiness. That’s a religious idea that’s not necessarily shared by all people.
M: Very good, the monk is an excellent example of value rationality, because he is striving for a goal, which in itself may not be rational, but which is pursued through rational means within an ethical, religious, or other moral context. The rational means are self-denial, in his case, eating simple food and living a very modest life, and he does this because he believes these actions will help him attain his goal of hotness, a goal that is shared by his religious community and perhaps some members of the broader society. So, now, Weber had a third type of social action as well, which he called affective action, affect being another word for emotion. OK, then affective action refers to social action anchored in emotions rather than the rational weighing of means and ends.
Wi: Sounds like my roommate, she only decided to go to this university because her boyfriend went here. She is, like, so in love …
M: OK. Her decision was emotionally meaningful to her, and thus purposeful. Moving on then, what about the final type: traditional action?
W2: I think Weber said traditional action was guided by the past. An individual will look to what she sees as traditional, and than the way she will try to do things.
M: Can you think of an example?
W2: Well. I guess I did that, a little I mean, uh, when I chose to go to this college. My dad, my uncles, my mom, lots of their friends, well, they all went here. And. well, I think it was expected that I would go to school here, too, it’s a good school and all, but I never really looked at other options
M: In Weber’s eyes that could be traditional action. So, we can see that practicing Weber’s sociology is not as clear-cut as simply studying society as if all people were making rational decisions all the time.