Academic journal article German Quarterly

Dangerous Dames. Women and Representation in the Weimar Street Film and Film Noir

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Dangerous Dames. Women and Representation in the Weimar Street Film and Film Noir

Article excerpt

Wager,Jans B. Dangerous Dames. Women and Representation in the Weimar Street Film and Film Noir. Athens: Ohio UP, 1999. 159 pp. $29.95.

One of the standard reference points in discussions of film noir is the strong influence of Weimar cinema. This influence has been traced through the visual styles of expressionism (e.g., chiaroscuro lighting, symbolic use of mise-enscene) and the thematic concerns of the StraBenfilm. According to most accounts, the street films articulated the social conflicts and psychological anxieties of the postwar period through the street as an over determined metaphor of modernity. The genre is generally defined through the movements of a male protagonist who leaves the middle-class home for the adventures of the big city but, frightened by the spectacle of sexuality associated with the femme fatale, returns to the domestic sphere and the comforts associated with maternal or uxorial femininity.

Jan Wager uses the central figure of the femme fatale to challenge standard readings of the genre that privilege oedipal narratives and questions of male identity. Her study considers the possibility of female subjectivity through new forms of spectatorship and representation. As a result, the femme fatale for Wager is not merely a male projection, but a powerful figure of female identification. The author argues this point by examining the femme fatale in relation to another female stereotype, the nurturing supportive wife or mother figure, whom she-to underscore their interrelatedness--calls femme attrape, the trapped woman.

The study's four parts reveal the author's equal commitment to close readings in the tradition of film studies and the kind of contextual references often associated with cultural studies. The first part discusses the existing feminist scholarship on women in film noir and in the street film and tries to utilize the current debates on melodrama and spectatorship for a more dynamic approach to female representation along the conceptual axes of mobility vs. immobility, criminality vs. domesticity, transgression vs. containment, and so forth. The second part discusses classic street films such as Die StraBe, VarietY, and Asphalt in terms of a gradual opening of the genre toward greater female autonomy and, by extension, visual pleasure. …

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