- Postfeminism and the Fatale Figure in Neo-Noir Cinema by Samantha Lindop
Lindop's collection of essays, Postfeminism and the Fatale Figure in Neo-Noir Cinema, is a significant addition to the ongoing dialogue surrounding third-wave feminism and noir cinema. Historically grounded, with ample coverage of other scholars in the field (Janey Place, E. Ann Kaplan, Tanya Modeski, and Hannah Hamad to name a few), Lindop's research and analysis opens the door to a new dark alley of film noir investigation. Although many of the essays were published previous to this collection, they form a cohesive whole that never fails to engage readers with its original insights and clever, clean writing style.
Lindop's definition of postfeminism is essential to her interpretation of neo-noir. She claims that "postfeminism is distinct in that unlike feminism, it does not function as a way of giving voice to the collective concerns of women … Instead, dominant postfeminism is a patriarchally grounded, media inspired concept that promotes the individualist, consumer driven rhetoric of neoliberalism, while shying away from political engagement, instead functioning as a closed loop rhetoric that begins and ends with the media, popular culture, and advertising" (11). Thus postfeminism often undermines feminist goals and ideals, and retaliates against them, manifesting in some neo-noir films in the guise of a liberated woman/femme fatale, but ultimately reinforcing a patriarchal structure meant to keep women from truly achieving socio-economic freedom.
Lindop recognizes the popular theory among film scholars that the femme fatale of classic noir is "representative of deep-seated patriarchal anxieties stemming from cultural shifts in gender dynamics taking place at the time," specifically in regards to women working traditionally male professions during [End Page 71] WWII (1). Yet the first chapter on "What Makes Those Dames So Deadly?" illustrates how the deadly woman—the Medusa, vamp, siren, diva—precedes the femme fatale of noir, so anxieties about destructive feminine power are part of a long tradition. Furthermore, Lindop challenges the predominant view of the classic femme fatale as a strong and independent woman, finding her more often to be a "parasite." Examples such as Detour (1945), The Killers (1946), and Double Indemnity (1944) support Lindop's hypothesis, effectively demonstrating that the dark lady is not liberated from a socio-economic perspective. Far from being independent, she is a kept woman, a married woman, or the mistress of a dangerous man. The autonomous working woman, who does appear in noir as Effie Perrine (Lurene Tuttle) in The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Betty Shafer (Nancy Olsen) in Sunset Boulevard (1950), does not use her sexuality as a means of empowerment, operating parasitically on a man to accomplish her aspirations for her. Since women had already been sent home from the workforce following WWII as the noir genre continued into the 1950s, Lindop's assertion that male anxieties concerning the femme fatale did not stem solely from shifting gender roles seems logical.
In differentiating classic noir and postmillennial noir, Lindop notes that classic noir is never told from the fatale's point of view. And, in addition to the fatale's silence and economic powerlessness, she is consistently punished for her crimes, perhaps due to the moral demands of the Hays Code. One significant exception that Lindop explores is Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard, who has already achieved success in the film industry, but who now wishes for a return to fame and youth. While classic noir took on the challenge of aging women, the issue is almost never considered in neo-noir, where older women are no longer put on the screen or have become so cosmetically altered that they do not look their age.
The second chapter, "The New Fatale: 1980-1999," explores the erotic shift in neo-noir that could classify many of these films as "soft-core pornography" (45). Explicit sex is a not just a manipulative weapon in neo-noir to make a man do what a femme fatale desires him to do, but literally a weapon...