Apr. 4th, 2017

breakinglight11: (CT photoshoot 1)
Just doing some early drafting of my essay analyzing Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is all rough and somewhat cursory-- I may want to reorder some of this later. But I'm working out some of the stuff I want to talk about now, specifically how it relates to the conventions of film noir.



The debt Roger Rabbit owes to the film noir conceit is clear. It has a setup straight out of a classic-- a disgraced private eye haunted by the demons of his past must take on a case for a person who challenges his dim outlook on life and the world. Said private eye, Bob Hoskins's Eddie Valiant, immediately calls to mind his detective predecessors of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and even Jake Gittes, with his once-honorable career, his traumatic backstory, and his current bitter outlook leading him to become a disgraced alcoholic shadow of his former self.

It may seem all this care to evoke the tropes and traditions of film noir are just in the service of setting up the parody. And it is an excellent parody, given the skillful way it spins up many of the expected elements of noir. Roger is an extreme exaggeration of the holy fool the noir protagonist is often called upon to protect. Jessica is a deconstruction of the classic femme fatale. The primary thing Eddie is unable to believe in his the power of humor and laughter. But it doesn't stop there-- Roger Rabbit pulls off the remarkable feat of not only being a spot-on parody of a certain genre, it's actually a really strong entry in the genre itself.

Film noir is a bit tricky to define. Part of that difficulty comes from the fact that it refers to a weird blend of both a narrative genre AND a filmic visual style, and even then the constituent traits of these are not rigidly agreed upon. French critics Raymond Borde and √Čtienne Chaumeton, whose 1955 book Panorama du film noir am√©ricain (A Panorama of American Film Noir) is considered the seminal work on the subject, cluster some descriptors around it, such as "oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel," but acknowledge this is an oversimplification.

However, an observation of the classics of the genre trend toward the inclusion of a handful of characteristics. The films tend to be shot from a flat, stark perspective, making using of off-kilter compositions and low-key, high-contrast lighting to a chiaroscuro effect. The stories tend to be less about their subject matter-- though there are a number of associated subjects, such as detective stories --and more about the mood of the world, the pervasive cynicism, and themes of guilt, regret, disappointment, tragedy, loss, and sometimes even the flickering flame of humanity to be found within people consumed by those things.

As mentioned, the film slots in unexpected and on their surface ridiculous elements into the typical roles characterizing film noir. But for all those roles are carried out by odd actors, they all perfectly fulfil the story mechanism that role is supposed to. Yes, Roger is an absurd cartoon rabbit person, but he still does exactly what the client character in the film noir detective story is supposed to do. His need for help calls upon the protagonist's better nature to take action even in a world he sees as hopeless and uncaring, and his personal qualities inspire that protagonist to reevaluate his own failings he'd previously allowed to go unexamined. And even though the vibrant animated characters and set pieces bring a visual exuberance to the screen, they serve to underscore the flatness, heavy shadows, and even bleakness of the way the surrounding world is shot.

More to come later.

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