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About Mark T. Conard
Mark T. Conard lives in New York City (The Bronx!). He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Temple University in Philadelphia. He’s the author of numerous essays, and is the co-editor of The Simpsons and Philosophy, and Woody Allen and Philosophy, both published by Open Court Press; and is editor of The Philosophy of Film Noir, The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese, The Philosophy of The Coen Brothers, and The Philosophy of Spike Lee (all published by The University Press of Kentucky). In addition, he’s the editor of Nietzsche and the Philosophers (Routledge, 2017). He plays in a blues band, listens to jazz, is known to drink bourbon, and occasionally enjoys fine cigars.
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A drifter with no name and no past, driven purely by desire, is convinced by a beautiful woman to murder her husband. A hard-drinking detective down on his luck becomes involved with a gang of criminals in pursuit of a priceless artifact. The stories are at once romantic, pessimistic, filled with anxiety and a sense of alienation, and they define the essence of film noir. Noir emerged as a prominent American film genre in the early 1940s, distinguishable by its use of unusual lighting, sinister plots, mysterious characters, and dark themes. From The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Touch of Evil (1958), films from this classic period reflect an atmosphere of corruption and social decay that attracted such accomplished directors as John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Orson Welles.
The Philosophy of Film Noir is the first volume to focus exclusively on the philosophical underpinnings of these iconic films. Drawing on the work of diverse thinkers, from the French existentialist Albert Camus to the Frankurt school theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the volume connects film noir to the philosophical questions of a modern, often nihilistic, world. Opening with an examination of what constitutes noir cinema, the book interprets the philosophical elements consistently present in the films—themes such as moral ambiguity, reason versus passion, and pessimism. The contributors to the volume also argue that the essence and elements of noir have fundamentally influenced movies outside of the traditional noir period. Neo-noir films such as Pulp Fiction (1994), Fight Club (1999), and Memento (2000) have reintroduced the genre to a contemporary audience. As they assess the concepts present in individual films, the contributors also illuminate and explore the philosophical themes that surface in popular culture.
A close examination of one of the most significant artistic movements of the twentieth century, The Philosophy of Film Noir reinvigorates an intellectual discussion at the intersection of popular culture and philosophy.
Praise for The Philosophy of Film Noir
“The essays work both as solid primers into philosophy, stretching from Aristotle to Schopenhauer, and as lucid excursions into the genre’s dark, mean streets. . . . A fascinating, readable, and provocative book. . . . Highly recommended.” —Choice
“Dense and intriguing, the book suggests noir is best perceived as a slightly warped mirror held up to contemporary society.” —Publishers Weekly
Film noir is a classic genre characterized by visual elements such as tilted camera angles, skewed scene compositions, and an interplay between darkness and light. Common motifs include crime and punishment, the upheaval of traditional moral values, and a pessimistic stance on the meaning of life and on the place of humankind in the universe. Spanning the 1940s and 1950s, the classic film noir era saw the release of many of Hollywood’s best-loved studies of shady characters and shadowy underworlds, including Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil, and The Maltese Falcon. Neo-noir is a somewhat loosely defined genre of films produced after the classic noir era that display the visual or thematic hallmarks of the noir sensibility.
The essays collected in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir explore the philosophical implications of neo-noir touchstones such as Blade Runner, Chinatown, Reservoir Dogs, Memento, and the films of the Coen brothers. Through the lens of philosophy, Mark T. Conard and the contributors examine previously obscure layers of meaning in these challenging films. The contributors also consider these neo-noir films as a means of addressing philosophical questions about guilt, redemption, the essence of human nature, and problems of knowledge, memory and identity. In the neo-noir universe, the lines between right and wrong and good and evil are blurred, and the detective and the criminal frequently mirror each other's most debilitating personality traits. The neo-noir detective?more antihero than hero?is frequently a morally compromised and spiritually shaken individual whose pursuit of a criminal masks the search for lost or unattainable aspects of the self. Conard argues that the films discussed in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir convey ambiguity, disillusionment, and disorientation more effectively than even the most iconic films of the classic noir era. Able to self-consciously draw upon noir conventions and simultaneously subvert them, neo-noir directors push beyond the earlier genre's limitations and open new paths of cinematic and philosophical exploration.
Praise for The Philosophy of Neo-Noir
“Conard can feel confident that these terrific essays will be of interest to film enthusiasts, particularly fans of Neo-Noir. Additionally, for those who come to this volume with some background in philosophy, not only will they be pleased to find fellow philosophers offering accessible introductions to philosophical thinkers and ideas but they are sure to increase their understanding of noir, Neo-Noir, and many familiar film titles, as well as more deeply appreciate the ways in which popular film and television offer wide and varied avenues to doing good philosophy.” —Kimberly A. Blessing, co-editor of Movies and the Meaning of Life
“Taking up such latter-day classics as Chinatown, Blade Runner, and Memento, this volume explores how contemporary filmmakers have taken up the challenge of classic film noir and broadened the genre. In this analysis, even the pastel shades of South Beach take on a dark coloring in Miami Vice. These probing essays locate what is neo in Neo-Noir and thus define it as a postmodern genre.” —Paul Cantor, author of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization
“This collection will serve as a terrif
“Written for both fans of the Coen brothers and the philosophically curious, without the technical language . . . educational and entertaining.” —Library Journal
Joel and Ethan Coen have made films that redefined the gangster movie, the screwball comedy, the fable, and the film noir, but no matter what genre they’re playing with, they consistently focus on the struggles of complex characters to understand themselves and their places in the strange worlds they inhabit. To borrow a phrase from Barton Fink, all Coen films explore “the life of the mind” and show that the human condition can often be simultaneously comic and tragic, profound and absurd.
The essays in this book explore the challenging moral and philosophical terrain of the Coen repertoire. Several address how Coen films often share film noir’s essential philosophical assumptions: power corrupts, evil is real, and human control of fate is an illusion. In Fargo, not even Minnesota’s blankets of snow can hide Jerry Lundegaard’s crimes or brighten his long, dark night of the soul. The tale of love, marriage, betrayal, and divorce in Intolerable Cruelty transcends the plight of the characters to illuminate competing theories of justice. Even in lighter fare, such as Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, the comedy emerges from characters’ journeys to the brink of an amoral abyss. However, the Coens often knowingly and gleefully subvert conventions and occasionally offer symbolic rebirths and other hopeful outcomes. At the end of The Big Lebowski, for example, the Dude abides, his laziness has become a virtue, and the human comedy is perpetuating itself with the promised arrival of a newborn Lebowski.
The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers sheds new light on the work of these cinematic visionaries. From Blood Simple to No Country for Old Men, the Coens’ characters look for answers—though in some cases, their quest for answers leads, at best, only to more questions.
Detectives Jimmy Slomann and Dave Busch investigate the deaths of several young women whose killings resemble that of Blackwell’s wife. Blackwell had been acquainted with all the victims and is convinced that the killer has struck again.
Up-and-coming reporter Michele Stone investigates the tragic story of Blackwell and his wife’s unsolved murder. The reporter shows a personal interest in Blackwell, and he wonders if she’s just using him to get the scoop. Slomann and Busch note the correspondence between Blackwell’s drinking binges and the murders and wonder if he’s involved.
Convinced that the killer is taking revenge on him from some reason, Blackwell’s drinking worsens, and he starts to come unhinged. Blackwell, the detectives, the reporter, and a mysterious stranger who’s been following Blackwell, are all on a collision course in this noir tale of murder and retribution.
Focusing on different works and varied aspects of Allen's multifaceted output, these essays explore the philosophical undertones of Anne Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and reminds us that just because the universe is meaningless and life is pointless is no reason to commit suicide.
Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most original and influential thinkers in the history of philosophy. With ideas such as the overman, will to power, the eternal recurrence, and perspectivism, Nietzsche challenges us to reconceive how it is that we know and understand the world, and what it means to be a human being. Further, in his works, he not only grapples with previous great philosophers and their ideas, but he also calls into question and redefines what it means to do philosophy. Nietzsche and the Philosophers for the first time sets out to examine explicitly Nietzsche’s relationship to his most important predecessors. This anthology includes essays by many of the leading Nietzsche scholars, including Keith Ansell-Pearson, Daniel Conway, Tracy B. Strong, Gary Shapiro, Babette Babich, Mark Anderson, and Paul S. Loeb. These excellent writers discuss Nietzsche’s engagement with such figures as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Socrates, Hume, Schopenhauer, Emerson, Rousseau, and the Buddha. Anyone interested in Nietzsche or the history of philosophy generally will find much of great interest in this volume.
But their dream gets sidetracked when Morris takes in his half-brother, Vince Kammer, who’s just been released from prison. Vince did time for a jewelry store robbery that went sideways, and the local mob boss who bankrolled the crime, Johnny “Stacks” Staccardo, is insisting that Vince pull another job to make up for the loss of the jewels he never received. Johnny Stacks has his gangster wannabe henchmen, Lenny and Mo, riding Vince pretty hard, and to make matters worse, Dick Franks, the corrupt cop who originally investigated the jewelry store heist, has gotten wind that Vince is out of the can. Franks believes Vince has the missing diamonds, and there’s not much that Franks won’t do to get his hands on those stones.
When Morris discovers Vince’s predicament, he has to summon the inner tough guy from his youth (and dig up a gun he had hidden away), to keep Vince from doing anything stupid. Caught between the gangsters, the vicious Dick Franks, and Vince’s own desire for revenge, Morris risks losing his new love, his dreams, even his life in order to save Vince from himself.
Praise for DARK IS NIGHT:
“Dark as Night is a funny, violent, and damn near perfect noir. If you like your heroes flawed, your villains amoral, and your body count high, you might well think that Mark T. Conard has been reading your mind. A fantastic debut.” —Tod Goldberg, author of Living Dead Girl
“If you crossed Anthony Bourdain’s Bone in the Throat with Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and threw in a little bit of Carl Hiaasen for good measure you might get something like Mark T. Conard’s funny and brutal Dark as Night. He’s one to watch.” —Scott Phillips, author of The Walkaway
Over his twenty-plus year tenure in Hollywood, Spike Lee has produced a number of controversial films that unapologetically confront sensitive social issues, particularly those of race relations and discrimination. Through his honest portrayals of life's social obstacles, he challenges the public to reflect on the world's problems and divisions. The innovative director created a name for himself with feature films such as Do the Right Thing (1989) and Malcolm X (1992), and with documentaries such as 4 Little Girls (1997) and When the Levees Broke (2006), breaking with Hollywood's reliance on cultural stereotypes to portray African Americans in a more realistic light. The director continues to produce poignant films that address some of modern society's most important historical movements and events. In The Philosophy of Spike Lee, editor Mark T. Conard and an impressive list of contributors delve into the rich philosophy behind this filmmaker's extensive work. Not only do they analyze the major themes of race and discrimination that permeate Lee's productions, but also examine other philosophical ideas that are found in his films, ideas such as the nature of time, transcendence, moral motivation, self-constitution, and justice. The authors specialize in a variety of academic disciplines that range from African American Studies to literary and cultural criticism and Philosophy.
Academy Award–winning director Martin Scorsese is one of the most significant American filmmakers in the history of cinema. Although best known for his movies about gangsters and violence, such as Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, and Taxi Driver, Scorsese has addressed a much wider range of themes and topics in the four decades of his career. In The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese, an impressive cast of contributors explores the complex themes and philosophical underpinnings of Martin Scorsese's films. The essays concerning Scorsese's films about crime and violence investigate the nature of friendship, the ethics of vigilantism, and the nature of unhappiness. The authors delve deeply into the minds of Scorsese's tortured characters and explore how the men and women he depicts grapple with moral codes and their emotions. Several of the essays explore specific themes in individual films. The authors describe how Scorsese addresses the nuances of social mores and values in The Age of Innocence, the nature of temptation and self-sacrifice in The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead, and the complexities of innovation and ambition in The Aviator. Other chapters in the collection examine larger philosophical questions. In a world where everything can be interpreted as meaningful, Scorsese at times uses his films to teach audiences about the meaning in life beyond the everyday world depicted in the cinema. For example, his films touching on religious subjects, such as Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ, allow the director to explore spiritualism and peaceful ways of responding to the chaos in the world.Filled with penetrating insights on Scorsese's body of work, The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese shows the director engaging with many of the most basic questions about our humanity and how we relate to one another in a complex world.