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1. Examine voice-over narration and its uses specific to Film Noir.

2. Examine voice-over narration in Neo-Noir

3. Examine the ways in which Neo-Noir uses voice-over narration (if at all) differently than the status quo Film Noir. Is there more subjective narration? Unreliability from the narrator? How is voice-over narration re-envisioned in Neo-Noir of the 1980s – 2000s and how does voice-over narration function differently in these films? Voice-over Narration, while primarily a narrational tool in Film Noir, also serves as one of many stylistic choices. While this next statement is not a fully formed idea yet, I wonder how Bordwell’s framework of Narration and Syuzhet + Style fits with Film Noir, since one of its distinct tools of narration is also an element of style? I’m not sure if the distinction is worth pursuing further.


I will begin the research paper with a discussion of voice-over narration and narrators in Film Noir. I will explain these terms in their theoretical contexts primarily with the help of Sarah Kozloff’s essay, “Invisible Storytellers: Voice-Over Narration in American Fiction Film.” Terms will include (but are not limited to): homodiegetic, heterodiegetic, embedded narrator, first-person narrator, and Bordwell’s “fabula, syuzhet, and style.”

I also think that a brief explanation of Film Noir (i.e. how the genre formed, generic conventions, when it was prominent) should be included.

1. Kozloff lays out my intentions for the first section of the paper perfectly in a quote from her above essay:

We shall see that [voice-over] narration can serve a variety of functions, including recreating/referring to a novel’s narrative voice, conveying expositional information, and aiding in the presentation of complex chronologies. We shall also see that this type of narration can greatly affect the viewer’s experience of the text by ‘naturalizing’ the source of the narrative, by increasing identification with the characters, by prompting nostalgia, and by stressing the individuality and subjectivity of perception and storytelling.

I wish to use specific examples from quintessential Film Noirs to illustrate only those above qualities of ‘Noir’ narration that will be the most instructive for a comparison between ‘Noir’ and ‘Neo-Noir.’ The films to be used are central to the genre, and I believe that all use voice-over differently: Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, Sunset Boulevard, Mildred Pierce, The Big Sleep. Five films feels like too many; these examples may change once further research is done. Basically, the films that best allow for comparisons between Noir and Neo-Noir will be the ones used. Kozloff notes that in Double Indemnity, the focalizer, Walter Neff, provides voice-over through dictation into a Dictaphone (where as in the novel, Neff writes a memoir). Further, Kozloff notes how Sunset Boulevard uses voice-over in a more self-conscious manner, more so than most noirs. My basic goal of this section is to firmly establish the ways in which voice-over is commonly employed in Film Noir while providing concrete textual examples to highlight these attributes of voice-over narration. Other texts to be used will be J.P. Telotte’s book “Voices in the Dark: The Narrative Patterns of Film Noir,” Ian Cameron’s “The Book of Film Noir,” Mark T. Conrad’s “The Philosophy of Film Noir,” James Naremore’s “More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts,” and Edward Dimendberg’s “Film Noir and The Spaces of Modernity.”

2. This section serves to examine voice-over in Neo-Noirs and their evolution. To start, a brief explanation of Neo-Noir and its attributes must be given. Admittedly, more research needs to be done to pinpoint Neo-Noir films that employ voice-over narration or other devices that function similarly (i.e., Memento’s black-and-white sequences discussing Sammy Jankis; The Usual Suspect’s framing narrative in the police station). These examples may not work, but what I am primarily interested in is how Film Noir of the 40s and 50s utilized voice-over narration, and then how Neo-Noir re-envisioned those functions of voice-over narration to complement their new style. An interesting case could be Blade Runner, where voice-over was used in the original cut, but in subsequent cuts has been removed. What were the advantages for the voice-over? Did removing them from later cuts diminish the spectator’s understanding of the narrating character and his circumstances? How were those same internal thoughts conveyed without voice-over? Potential films to be looked at include: Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Memento, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs. Including the books mentioned under section 1 above, the book “Neo-Noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral” by Ronald Schwartz will be used.

3. This section is the least developed of all the sections because further research will need to be conducted. Once the movies are watched and studied, the task of this section is to look at the comparisons between Noir and Neo-Noir (with respect to voice-over and its overall narration) and then make inferences and hypotheses based on the information found. But, as I’ve stated before, I am most interested in examining the ways in which Neo-Noir uses (or doesn’t use) voice-over narration differently than classic Noir.

Hopefully, this description gives a clear, yet vague idea of what I aim to research and uncover via this research paper. Any ideas or insights would be much appreciated.

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