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TCM Offers Free Online Film Noir Class

Plus 24 hours of film noir every Friday through July on TCM

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart star in one of the classics of film noir,

Credit: Warners

Above: Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart star in one of the classics of film noir, "The Big Sleep." It will be screened on TCM June 19.

Richard Edwards, professor, Ball State University
Beth Accomando, arts reporter, KPBS

Today kicks off "Summer of Darkness" on Turner Classic Movies. The cable network will air an unprecedented 24 hours of films noir every Friday in June and July. At the same time, TCM is offering a free online noir history class. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando is taking the class and says TCM is expanding the notion of what the film community is through social media and the Internet.


Today kicks off "Summer of Darkness" on Turner Classic Movies. The cable network will air an unprecedented 24 hours of films noir every Friday in June and July. At the same time, TCM is offering a free online noir history class, and is expanding the notion of what the film community is through social media and the Internet.

Noir always involves a dame. Like Lisbeth Scott in "Too Late For Tears" who asks tough guy Dan Dureya, "What do I call you, besides stupid?"

So we're talking tough dames, and ones that make you want to sleep with one eye open. Take Jane Greer's Kathy in "Out of the Past" and her exchange with Robert Mitchum's Jeff.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: RKO

Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum star as a femme fatale and a guy who knows she's no good in "Out of the Past," a classic film noir that will screen June 26 as part of TCM's Summer of Darkness.

KATHY: "Oh Jeff, you ought to have killed me for what I did a moment ago."

JEFF: "There’s still time."

Yeah, plenty of time for things to go bad. Professor Richard Edwards said noir defines a particular kind of humanity that never seems dated: "There is grim reality, there is a kind of dread in these films, these are not films that have a particularly happy endings and yet they are compulsively easy to watch because these films are made with such a fierce imagination that they experiment with the full register of what it means to make a film."

Edwards is a researcher into educational innovation at Ball State University and he’s teaching a free online course as part of Turner Classic Movies Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir.

"This course really came out of the desire to really share a love of movies to a broad audience," Edwards said.

That dovetails perfectly off of the popular cable network’s mission statement to share and celebrate the entire spectrum of film history with an engaged and growing community of movie lovers, its general manager Jennifer Dorian said.

"We’re always curating the movies, providing context around why they matter and why you might enjoy them and how they relate to each other, and we’re always building community around film, the love of film and the different types of film and actually there’s value in that community, people like meeting like minded folk," Dorian said.

That’s where the self-styled “Czar of noir” Eddie Muller comes in. He's the founder and president of The Film Noir Foundation, and he will be introducing many of the noir films on TCM.

"I don’t tell people what to think about a movie. I don’t tell people you have to like this movie," Muller said. "But I do provide them with a context for this is what was going on when this movie was made and why it was significant at the time… I think it’s very helpful and useful for people to understand all that because it will affect their appreciation for the film."

That’s precisely what Lost Highway blogger Angela Englert wants: "I want to see some movies with some guidance that will give me a better appreciation of them than going into them utterly cold and I’m sure that they have an active and abiding interest in curating material like this so that someone who is a neophyte or who just has a pretty superficial understanding of noir can be introduced to it without being intimidated."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Columbia

Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth star in "The Lady From Shanghai," screening July 3 as part of TCM's Summer of Darkness film noir festival.

They can also find support from a community of film lovers well versed in the shadowy world of noir. Professor Edwards said it’s all about introducing noir to a new and younger audience, and providing them with that curated experience.

"If people are fans of films, there is so much more you can get out of watching a film with just a little bit of background knowledge of how these films work, how these films were made… and if I can help contribute to that conversation I think it starts to increase the ability to have more and more cultural conversations about the importance and the power of film," Edwards said.

To help achieve this, Edwards has come up with "what we call 'A Daily Dose of Darkness.' We send out a five minute learning module by email every morning that involves a film clip from one of the films that will be playing on TCM Festival and that just gives people a moment to engage with the films for a brief moment maybe just over their morning coffee."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Bette Davis coolly disposes of her lover in the opening scene of "The Letter," one of the Daily Dose of Darkness clips provided in the free TCM online noir class.

Like the shocker opening from "The Letter" where Bette Davis shoots a man to death.

"It’s really spurred on conversations on Twitter and at the TCM message boards as we create learning materials for this course we’re activating this incredible community of film noir fandom," Edwards explained.

Miguel Rodriguez is an educator as well as a lover of classic films and festival director. He said he’s not a fan of online education but is excited about how TCM and Edwards are testing new waters. Plus, with 11,000 currently enrolled, a virtual classroom is the only one large enough. Rodriguez (with whom I volunteer with on multiple film festivals) is already an active participant in TCM’s virtual film community.

"In terms of a film community, TCM has been very good at fostering a community with their fans," Rodriguez said. "When the TCM Party hashtag started a few years ago, TCM as a network caught right on and really appreciated that and helped to boost the visibility of that hashtag, and the TCM Party is on Twitter where a community of classic film fans watch TCM movies and tweet about the films in a sort of conversation with that hashtag (the hashtag allows them to find each others tweets easily) and it’s almost like you are watching films in a living room with friends except the living room is the earth."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: MGM

John Garfield and Lana Turner are up to no good in "The Postman Always Rings Twice," screening June 26 as part of TCM's Summer of Darkness noir festival.

Blogger and journalist Will McKinley signed up for the class. He said there’s clearly a business angle to all of this with increased social media engagement creating potential new consumers of the TCM brand. But he doesn’t think that’s the bottom line for TCM.

"TCM exists because people love film and the people that work there feel the same way so I think fundamentally at the basis of this is a love that transcends a profit sensibility," McKinley said.

And he loves that TCM is creating a community that he wants to be a part of.

"Years ago, if you liked something that was unique, it could be a lonely experience," McKinley said. "Nowadays, thanks to platforms like Twitter and Facebook, blogging, etc, lots of people who like the same weird things that you like are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it fundamentally makes the experience of liking unusual things less lonely and more fun."

Edwards said noir is fun to investigate because you can never solve its mystery: "It will lead you down so many fascinating and interesting roads and make you feel like the journey is worth the bother."

Now there are 11,000 online travelers traversing those shadowy noir streets, and you can join their ranks up until July 19.

If you are not a subscriber to TCM you can still access many films on YouTube. I'm part of the TCM online community along with Miguel Rodriguez and Will McKinley, and all of us are currently enrolled in the class. Check out the schedule for the first 24 hours of noir in "Summer of Darkness." I plan to take off a few Fridays and see how many of those 24 hours of films I can manage to watch. Could be the best movie summer ever.

And some references online:

Eddie Muller defines film noir.

A timeline for noir cinema.

And some noir filmographies: Sidney's Film Noir Page; Letterboxd noir encyclopedia; and They Shoot Pictures Don't They?


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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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