My Sites

Recent Posts

Explication of The Maltese Falcon

on an account of ambiguity

by Noah P. Taxis

22 hours, 18 minutes ago

The Maltese Falcon, produced in 1941, is known to many as the first film noir. Of course, the same generalization defines film noir as a contained and defined period in history, and not as one which pervades our cultural society today. If we look deeper into the underlying structure of the Maltese Falcon, and assume that this is in fact the basis of the movement of film noir, then we will see the roots of this period of film extend far beyond 1941 and indeed influence the current American psyche. For lack of a better place to begin, we will begin our discussion of the Maltese Falcon with the first frame of the film (beyond the credits) that, according to some, can be used to describe the entire film:   We are introduced with the frame to two of our central characters: "Spade and Archer". We also can't help but note the positioning of the two names: "Spade" appears over "Archer". We can interpret this as the characterization of Spade as a dominating character and of Archer as a submissive one. We also can note the position of the camera is located from within the building: this highlights our ability as an audience to see beyond the facade available to the public. On a more symbolic level, we can associate the referent of Archer with traditional masculinity on the basis that an arrow, like a phallus, is an instrument of piercing. Just as a spade is something of an oval with a distinctly sharp edge, we will find Spade to represent a yonic internal character with the external manifestation of masculinity: a phallus. Of course, this non-gender-binary-conforming cast of Spade will produce interesting relationships between himself and the other characters of the film, leading us to question his sexuality, his allegiance, his intent, and along what lines he defines himself, so we can understand what doesn't comply with this self-depiction and is, subsequently, repressed. For instance, we see immediately upon the death of his partner, that Spade in a traditionally unemotional and detached manner (note: stereotypically) masculine, asks his secretary Effy to clear out Archer's belongings from the office. He then proceeds to repaint his offices, covering up Archer's name and in doing so revealing his first name, Samuel. This can be interpreted as Spade actively repressing the memory of his partner. He proceeds along this same course of action commanding Brigid to "Stop it" when she recalls how "alive" Archer was the day before. Within the confines of this interpretation, we are going to interpret Spade's desire to "move on" from Archer's death as intentional but falsified expressions of masculinity designed to mask his internal confusion with both his sexuality and, correspondingly, his identity. We can thus assert that Spade is actively repressing his sexual lusting for Archer due to his desire to conform with what he believes himself to be: a detective. He asserts at the end of the film that "when a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it". The use of the words, "supposed to" leads us to believe that Spade is attempting to adhere to something of a code within himself, and given he goes on to talk about his involvement with the "detective business", we can assume these are intrinsically tied. Thus, we must interpret Spade's actions as either in accordance with this code or as symptoms emerging from the repressed aspects of his character which are not in compliance with this code of capitalistic, masculine, straight, white, American maleness. Looking at Spade's interactions with women throughout the course of the Maltese Falcon, we see that he either engages sexually with them and later rejects them or turns them away, as in the case of both Miss Leblanc and Iva Archer, or he befriends them, in the isolated case of Effy, his secretary. First, we see Archer complying with his internal code of masculine heterosexuality by pursuing two women as objects of his desire. Immediately following Miles' death, though, he turns Iva away. Of course, his fetishization of Iva Archer was as the wife of his partner; she was a means for Spade to be sexually closer to his repressed object of desire, Miles, while still conforming to his duty as Miles' "partner". Thus, the death of Archer, means the removal of the sexual proximity to his initial object of desire. With Miss Leblanc, the situation is somewhat more complicated. Given her physical attractiveness, Spade actually believes that he is attracted to her (to at least a degree; "maybe I love you"). This means his eventual betrayal of her has to come from a different rationalization (other than rejection on a physical plane), for which he calls his "duty as a detective" in. We can interpret this treatment, though, as enacting revenge against his lost "partner" Miles, though. After all, we see Spade offered the opportunity to pursue wealth (note, the two characters beckoning him are the archetypes of wealth within the film) and the real Maltese Falcon, which he rejects for the opportunity to hand Brigid over the the authorities. This decision comes both from a need for internal consistency (the obligation to his partner) and from a repulsion to homosexuality (his beckoners are none other than Kaspar Gutman, the dominant member in the relationship with his gunsel Wilmer, and Joel Cairo, the foreign, stereotypically effeminate male character within the film). Finally, we get discuss Spade's relationship with Effy. This is the only stable relationship maintained between Spade and a female character within the film, which we can attribute to Sam's perception of Effy. At one point, we hear him say, "You're a good man, sister" which tells us that Sam perceives of Effy as a male character in a female body; the inverse of his own condition. As if this weren't enough, we see Effy constantly wearing shoulder pads and other masculine apparel. The plot even hinges upon her arrival for the delivery of the Maltese Falcon, an influence we wouldn't typically expect a female character in a film of this time period to have: utility for advancing of the plot. Spade's relationships to male characters are many and complicated, but we can focus on a few key ones in order to gain a basic understanding of where he stands. There is, of course, Gutman's Gunsel Wilmer, who Spade constantly dominates physically, and symbolically, sexually. We already know Wilmer to be the "hired gun" (itself reeking of phallic symbolism and a relation of prostitution) of Kaspar Gutman. Despite Wilmer always carrying weapons and means to the end of power, Spade always vanquishes these attempts, in one scene disarming him in two capacities (rendering his arms useless and taking his guns from him). [INCLUDE PICTURE FROM FILM HERE] Spade also continually ridicules Wilmer, as a constant reminder of his fundamental rejection that a man, like himself, could be homosexual. Given that he normally represses this homosexuality within himself, the manifestation of homosexuality with another man with whom he shares a socioeconomic class and physical stature, both important in terms of identity within the film, is intolerable. We also see Wilmer performing detective-like duties, lurking around and watching Spade: this is no accident. Wilmer is made to model Spade in a way that continually reminds him of what he is repressing. Spade has to choice but to continually reject it in order to maintain his belief that he is, in fact, the man he wants himself to be. His need to make Wilmer the fall man is a manifestation of his need to repress, further, that which he cannot tolerate about himself. The other two homosexual men within the film, Gutman and Cairo, are each distanced from Spade in some capacity. To begin, both are rich, upper-class men completely in command of their sexuality. These two factors alone are enough to prevent the mirroring and subsequent need for subordination to Spade. Cairo, though, exudes "otherness" (for lack of a better word) with all aspects of his being. Perhaps it is the racial distinction that allows Spade to clearly enjoy his domination of Cairo in their first meeting in Spade's office.  Other noteworthy points for further analysis: the external representations of phalluses (cigarettes, umbrella handles, the bridge, guns) Of course, when considering a film, there is so much meaningful content (visual, linguistic / auditory, directorial) to attempt to explain that I could not possibly hope to accomplish a complete explication of the Maltese Falcon here. What we have established, though, it the clear presence of homosexual repression on Spade's part towards his partner Archer, and the many attempts to correspond with his idealistic view of himself while resisting and further repressing encounters which remind him (unconsciously) of his true identity.  

Murder, My Sweet

on ~Film Noir~

by Jorge Monroy-Palacio

22 hours, 24 minutes ago

After reading about film noir and how it doesn't function as a genre, but instead as a tone, mood, and visual style of a time period in American cinema, but before seeing any actual films, it was hard to fully grasp what some of the film noir conventions actually are. Now, having John Huston's <<Maltese Falcon>> and Edward Dmytryk's <<Murder, My Sweet>> under my belt, I'm starting to not only see common film noir canons, but appreciate them. The lighting in <<Murder, My Sweet>> was a mesmerizing and  at times unnerving experience. Unlike <<Maltese Falcon>>,  <<Sweet>> was narrated by the protagonist. The lighting, from the very beginning, gave this film a very dreamy feeling. In  Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir by Janey Place and Lowell Patterson, the authors focus a lot on explaining the style of film noir and how dependent such style is on lighting. One of the opening scenes (below) is one where Phillip Marlowe is introduced to us through his office window. The lighting in this scene is such that everything looks panel-like, almost like a store-front. Marlowe, the centerpiece of the shot, has his face lit. This scene's lighting makes it clear that Marlowe will be the center of the story, and his identity as a criminal and civil investigator (as it says on the window) is what will attract people, good and bad, to him. It doesn't take long for this to happen as Moose approaches him soon thereafter. Most of the scenes with Marlowe and Mrs. Gayle/Valento also use lighting cleverly. Softer light is used on the femme fatale and harder, darker light is used on Marlowe. This could be because Marlowe, tempted by the beautiful Gayle/Valento, is seemingly in dark regarding all of his clients and their wishes. The idea that people lie (and lie often) to get what they want is a common theme that has come up in both this film and in <<Falcon>>. Marlowe is tempted by the beautiful lady and the lighting shows her fire. The intimacy between them is utterly apparent in the shot where Gayle/Valento holds Marlow's hand with two hands as he lights her cigarette. The flame between them evolves from a symbolic to physical passion.

"The Woman Who Wasn't There"

on Protest Theatre and Performance After 9/11

by Stephen Drum

22 hours, 29 minutes ago

This is a really fascinating documentary from a couple of years ago about a woman who pretended to be an "official" 9/11 survivor. Given our conversation yesterday about circles of witnesses, it is interesting to […]

External Reviews and Student News

on ExChange

by Grace Segers

22 hours, 40 minutes ago

The Experimental College is currently undergoing an external review, which is an exciting opportunity to explore the department's strengths and weaknesses. This also allows students and faculty to reminisce on the ways in which the ExCollege has enhanced their lives. As a student Board member and active participant in all things ExCollege, I was asked to participate in a lunch which took place earlier this afternoon with the reviewers and fellow student leaders of ExCollege programs. Not only did I get free food, I also got the chance to learn more about my peers. At the lunch, I got to hear Board members, peer teachers, and Explorations and Perspectives leaders speak. As a sophomore, I was the youngest participant in the lunch, so it was really interesting to hear from older students about how they were so positively impacted by the ExCollege. I know that the ExCollege has made my collegiate life better and more interesting, so it was fun to hear from others who had similar experiences. I intend to teach a Perspectives class when I am a senior, and I got to hear former Perspectives leaders talk about what the application and teaching process entailed. To be honest, it made me even more excited for my future here at the ExCollege. It was also interesting to hear the opinions of the external reviewers, who seemed to be truly interested and engaged with what each student had to say about the ExCollege. One of the things that I've always loved about the ExCollege is how much student input is valued, so it was nice to have that tradition continued in the external review. I liked hearing the accounts of other students, but I also really enjoyed talking about my own experiences with the ExCollege. I love to talk, and I love the ExCollege, and I love sandwiches, so this was basically the perfect lunch opportunity for me. It's easy for me to get wrapped up in my own little world, unaware of what's happening beyond my own commitments and ambitions. This lunch was a nice reminder of the breadth of the ExCollege's influence; it hasn't just shaped my experiences, but the experiences of countless Tufts students before me and will continue to affect countless of students after I am gone. It was good to remember in a group what makes the ExCollege so great: its focus on students and student opinion. That aspect is what enticed me to take a Perspectives class my first semester freshman year, what drew me to apply to a position as an office assistant. I have been involved with the ExCollege in numerous capacities: as a student, as an employee, and as a Board member. In every position that I have held, my perspective has been appreciated and taken into account. It was nice to learn that the ExCollege has been such a positive influence on other students as well by hearing the accounts of my peers during this lunch. I believe that the external review is crucial, not only because it gives the ExCollege the opportunity to reevaluate and revisit its purpose, but also because it is an opportunity to further inform outsiders of what the ExCollege is and the importance of its mission. The ExCollege is a large part of what makes Tufts unique, and I think that its strengths should be broadcast to the academic world. Hopefully what was said at this lunch, and during the external review in general, will be taken into account not only by those active within the ExCollege but also by those who may wish to emulate its tenets.

Maltese Falcon

on ~Film Noir~

by Jorge Monroy-Palacio

22 hours, 46 minutes ago

Paul Schrader said in “Notes on Noir Film” that while film noir does not have one clear and direct definition, there are cultural and stylistic elements that every definition of noir film relates to. He goes on to […]