Author Archives: Prof. Gold

Course Archive

This site contains student blog posts and teaching materials related to ENG 2400 — Films From Literature: Shadow Play, a course taught at the New York City College of Technology in Fall 2013 by Prof. Matthew K. Gold. The course focused on the evolution of the film noir genre in the twentieth century and included discussion of filmed and written texts such as The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, The Set-Up, Murder, My Sweet, The Asphalt Jungle, 1984, Brazil, Chinatown, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Blade Runner.

The content of this site will remain available as a record of our class and a resource for others who might be interested in the topics covered. Please contact Prof. Gold if you have any questions about the course or the materials that appear on the site.

Class Notes – Dec 5, 2013

Connections between Chinatown and other film noirs we’ve read/seen
— connect The Maltese Falcon – simple job that starts off small, becomes bigger, more complicated. More and more at stake. Conspiracy. Job becomes bigger. While Sam Spade neatly ties things up at the end, Jack Nicholson’s character fumbles.
what is resolved and what is unresolved at the end of each film?

conventional narrative ideas in 40s vs. wild 70s

nuclear family cf. 70s

how does Chinatown reflect the social and political realities of 1970s America?

How does the film relate earlier film noir

How does the protagonist of Chinatown, Jake Gittes, compare to other film noir protagonists we’ve seen
— could push him back into gumshoe era
still had his own set of mores – had moments of anger, but heart in the right place. wanted to save the girl — fumbled

Gittes – nose cut by Polanski
— human, not infallible
— underdog
— why the nose – because he’s nosey — job is to put his nose into places – what will happen is that it will get hurt
— cf. Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe in Maltese Falcon, Murder My Sweet

no hope at end of film
deeply cynical – people in power corrupt, the rich bending the rules, murdering morally corrupt

Class Notes – 11/14

1. What is the central conflict of 1984?

2. Name three specific scenes in which we see that conflict play out (+ notes about how it plays out)

3. Compare the conflict you’ve identified to:
a) the film noir genre as you’ve come to know it;
b) Brazil

“Winston’s struggle to retain control of his own thoughts ”
Winston’s struggle to retain control of his own thoughts in the face of the thought police and the presence of surveillance and the constant rewriting of the past by the Ministry of Information.

“Big Brother suppressed citizens so that they can’t think on their and so that they can’t write or do things they enjoy”
“Big Brother suppressed citizens of Oceana through a variety of means (Newspeak, rewriting history, …) so that they can’t think on their own and so that they can’t write or do things they enjoy”

1984 is a search for liberty from the government/ministry of information. finding the truth where both the truth and history have been rewitten by a regime of people who decide to control their underlings.

“the idea of breaking the illusions of the current social standards set forth by the current ruling power and the effects it has as seen by the ability of individuals not to be possessed and to retain control over their own minds and inner freedoms

topic things — first sentence of every paragraph — needs to:
— express main idea of the paragraph
— show progress towards the thesis
-=- link to the previous paragraph (transition)

Winston buying the journal

Class Notes – 11/7/13

1984/film noir

obstacles in front of film noir protagonists/Winston

surveillance –
cf. NSA

trying to protect us

“to a certain extent, we do have freedom of speech”
as long as you don’t go against the government

for our safety

militarization of police

surveillance cameras

newspeak – purpose is to limit thought

Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish

discipline selves

internalize gaze

trust — government

whether we like it or not, we’ve always been watched

should privacy exist?


Brazil – differences, similarities

Class Notes – 10/31/13

Midterm dicussion


— compare Winston to some of the noir protagonists that we’ve seen.

—– cf. Sam Spade — diff. from all others around him; diff. purpose than those around him following rules;
—– cf. Dix in Asphalt Jungle – dream of horse farm – cf. Winston’s dream — family, real love
—– cf. protagonists w/femme fatale — cf. Julia –
—– masks his feelings — cf. sam spade
—– alone a lot
— Walter Neff doing one job, working against it on the side; Winston working for the Ministry, wants change
— Winston’s personal quest — diary —

Can we consider Winston a detective of sorts w/in his own society? looking for clues to past, to see through the party’s lies
— cover-up — perpetrated by autocratic government
— winston putting 2 and 2 together
— looking for clues, leaving clues

—– W. wants others to take charge — more passive from film noir protagonists — more aggressive, take charge
—– physically — in film noir – 20s, 30s — strong. Winston 39 — has ailment, acts old — sees himself as ugly>
— film noir protagonists tend to work for themselves;
W. works for party
— noir protagonists – need to find evidence; W.’s job involves destroying evidence (rewriting records/history)
— their job is to find the truth, his job is to alter it

— compare the settings between 1984 and some of the noir texts we’ve seen/read
— urban cityscape — W. still in large city
— both corrupt societies
— contrast – noir films – dirty, gritty part of city and luxury environments. gave people lower down something to aspire to. in oceania, everyone lives in dirty dilapated broken-down environment — nothing to aspire to
— two settings – proles and party figure

— tensions between the individual and society in 1984/noir texts

– W. resents party for rewriting history – newspeak, doublethink
— applauds wrongdoers – people going against the government
— but doesn’t have the courage to stand to stand up on his own
— Sam Spade – stuck between the law, trying to prove his case and what happened to his partner — cf. Winston – putting on face for the party, also trying not to forget information from the past –
— Thought police
— W. wants relationships, wants to feel loved. cf. noir protagonists
— police vs. thought police. in noir – some corrupted. not about reporting to govt as own personal gain
— thought police can be the neighbor, know not to trust them
— thought police – pure surveillance

noir – don’t know who is good or evil. cf.
— doublethink – thoughts ambigious

— language – what is distinctive about noir language? how does language differ in 1984?

— 1984 – creating Newspeak, dumbed-down version of english so that ppl can’t express
— expressed in negative things vs. the good

— language in noir is usually direct == shocking in its directness

— doublethink – opposite == FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

— find three separate paragraphs or lines in 1984 that you think the class should discuss as a whole

Class Notes – 10/10/13

topic – what the paper is about
thesis – your position on the topuic

a good thesis:
1. encapsulates the argument of the paper
2. is specific
3. speaks to the broader themes of the paper

“In this paper, I will argue that _______________”



where is good to be found in the film noir?

what is the difference between these two phrases:

the film noir protagonist serves as the moral compass of the film
the film noir protagonist represents good in the film

if the film noir is a dark, gritty, space, how do we know what is right?
— audience?

Sam Spade
— treatment of women, greed —

protagonist in film noir always has flaws

to what degree are film noir protagonists aware of/conscious of their morally compromised actions?

the good not represented in one noir,. something you see represented through the actions of the characters — whether they regret something, or are worried about something, or feel remorse about something



— lose time
— film goes on without you or the character knowing what’s going on


point of view — and how we as spectators are aligned/or not aligned with the characters we’re watching

— during a black-out, our position as the audience is aligned with the character’s pespective

Asphalt Jungle
what are we meant to admire in a heist film?
— loyalty and friendship among the group
— teamwork
— how the plan was executed
— specialization
—> pressure felt by team and by audience

Class Notes — 10/3/13

First paper – due Oct. 17
Midterm – on Oct. 24

Primary Sources
ex. James M. Cain, _Double Indemnity_
Cain’s diary
Cain’s autobiography
draft manuscripts
letters written by author
contemporaneous book review

Secondary Sources
film textbook
later reviews of books reflecting back on earlier period
student paper
scholarly book or journal article
critical scholarly edition of a text

Class Notes – 9/26/13

Film Noir – Themes and Narrative Strategies

— film noir a sdark mirror —
— Existentialism — alienation and despair — how well can and do characters know one another?
=– dark underbelly of society
—- does this in part through settings: THE NOIR CITY — shadows, corruption — but also moving between low and high places
— critique of capitalism –

HOMELESSNESS — transience
city as trap

law and order

corruption and power

issues of gender and power

Narrative technique and strategy

Class Notes – 9/19/13

Defining Film Noir — what is film noir?

Group 1 (Infanit, Gin, Perla, Magaly, Carol, Stacey-Ann)

“A genre of film in which the lighting, characters, music, and overall theme has a dark undertone. Major characters portrayed are shady and the roles which are usually distinct in other genres are muddied and not easily differentiated. Storylines usually encompass some kind of mystery, which is solved at the end of the movie. Some film use flashbacks as a method of creating mystery.”

Group 2 (Krystine, Gladys, Veronica, Christian, Mike)

“A film that uses light and shadows. Usually a crime drama that focuses on a particular character or story with questionable motives.”

Group 3 (Kimberly, Andy, Gianpaul, Simon, Jonathan)

“Film noir is a drama that incorporates elements of shadows, darkness, tension, and mood to create a gritty atmosphere. Within this world are ambiguous characters, who could become good guys, bad guys, or something in between. The protagonist is usually associated with the femme fatale, who usually gets him into some kind of trouble.”

Group 4 (Andrew, Xavier, Danielle, Limmer)

“A noir film is a motion picture which uses shadows to create a dark ambiance throughout the film, along with a mystery to be solved. A femme fatale is usually involved and there is always a sense of tension in the air as the film progresses.”

Group 5 (Martin, Xiu Lan, Ya Zhi, Emmanuel, Melissa)

“Film noir are black and white films that use shadow-work to portray mysterious undertones. These films are crime-based and contain femme fatales, detectives, and the main protagonist who is slick and is always led into danger by the femme fatale.

Group 6 (Ebony, Sofia, Jonathan C, Malik)

“A genre of film style involving a lot of dark moods and negativity. The movies are very dramatic — crime stories. Generally framed around a femme fatale. And the films use shadows to tell a story of their own.”

Where is good to be found in the film noir?

Mysteries – solved
Maltese Falcon
Who killed Spade’s partner
What was the Maltese Falcon
who had the M.F.
Find out whether the protagonist will do the right thing?

where is good in the film noir?
— “in the emotions felt by the protagonist as well as the actions that were done by specific characters”
— “no good, just perceived as good”
— DI –

— KEYES (moral person) vs. NORA (innocent)

protagonist at the end usually winds up making the morally BETTER (not necessarily good)

Justice is served by end of film (?)

Double Indemnity – as book and film — differences
— something about movies, films that demands diff types of endings, portrayals, etc?

Class Notes – 9/12/13

Femme Fatale
— beautiful
— leads main character into danger
— feigns naivete to hide her manipulative goals
— could end up betraying the main character for the antagonist
— but she may grow attached to the main character
— usually appears out of nowhere

protagonist – antagonist

Analyzing Film and literature

Formal Elements
Background Music
Colors / visual palette
camera angle
Visual effects
Setting — e.g. Weather
Camera movement — zooming in and zooming
— how, as the audience, our perspective is framed by the film

Generic Conventions

figures of speech – metaphor/simile
abstract concepts – masculinity, free will

— Political context
— historical context
— cultural context
— economic context
— religious context
— artistic/literary context

history of other works