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Classic film lecture to focus on film noir, New Hollywood and “Chinatown”

Cinema enthusiasts with a penchant for film noir will learn more about the genre during "Forget it Jake, It's Chinatown: Second-Wave Film Noir,” a lecture by Dr. Jeff Menne, a professor at Oklahoma State University. His presentation will focus on director Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir film, “Chinatown.” The event takes place in the McCasland Ballroom on Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. and is open to the public at no charge.

Menne will sketch the history of film noir, which he purports was typically about Los Angeles as a place and focused on neighborhood divisions between haves and have-nots. Critics of the classic film noir period have indicated that the passage between this divided world ― its high society and its underworld ― is gendered, as the go-between is always a femme fatale, as epitomized by characters played by Mary Astor, Barbara Stanwyck and Lauren Bacall.

Another aspect that Menne will examine is how the gendered component of noir was reactivated during the New Hollywood era of film-making, a movement that took place during the late 1960s and early 1970s that was led by a group of film students with a desire to challenge the status quo.

In “Chinatown,” screenwriter Robert Towne drew on the history of Los Angeles ― namely the water wars between city planners and valley residents, rife with subterfuge and conspiracy ― for the back-story in his noir screenplay. According to Menne, Towne imagines a conspiracy in which power relations are built into the urban landscape. In using the genre in this way, Towne makes it an instrument of social critique.

A professor of English, Menne directs the Screen Studies program at OSU. He is the author of “Francis Ford Coppola” and “Post-Fordist Cinema: Hollywood Auteurs and the Corporate Counterculture.” He is also the co-editor, with Christian Long, of “Film and the American Presidency.”

Set in 1937, “Chinatown” is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The film centers on fictional detective Jake Gittes, who slowly uncovers corruption in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy. Hired to expose an adulterous husband, Gittes is caught up in a web of deceit, corruption and murder. Menne will utilize clips from the film during his presentation.

Menne’s presentation is made possible by the Holmes, Morris, and Newell Endowed Lectureship for Classic Film.



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