For my final post, I wanted to experiment with incorporating texts we’ve read recently in class or films we’ve watched, and my first post regarding superheroes and their major cities. I really enjoyed writing my first blog and even researching more on that topic; however, I have found it challenging to integrate this superheroes and the city idea with a deep analysis of in-class texts. Nonetheless, as I reviewed the film noir, Kiss Me Deadly, I realized just how similar the city in this film was represented to Batman’s Gotham City. Though I have explored general views of Gotham in my previous post, I plan to further investigate the fictional city and share its connections with the Los Angeles city in Kiss Me Deadly. I hope this last post will serve as a stepping stone to my final project topic, in which I would love to elaborate on something along these lines, bringing in superhero elements to enhance textual analysis.
In class, we recently discussed “qualities to look for” in film noir, and more specifically in Kiss Me Deadly. Some of which included canted camera angles, conflicted relation to modernity, and even stylized language. These are just a few characteristics that help us know when a film can be considered “film noir”. Among these qualities, I found that Batman’s Gotham City in DC Comics seemed to qualify by possessing numerous traits similar to the film noir we watched in class.
In Kiss Me Deadly, it is physically easy to see how ominous and oppressive the set of Los Angeles is on the film. Of course, the low-key lighting, characters, and obscure actions add to this eerie feel as well. Within this film, Los Angeles is portrayed as mostly dark and mysterious, with deceit and danger hiding among the shadows. I thought it was an interesting choice to allow most of the action to occur at night, giving the film a mostly dim and grey-like view. Similarly, the city of Gotham in the Batman comics is described in the same way. Bruce Wayne wears all black, lurking beneath the shadows of the city streets in attempts to protect his city. Gotham is consumed with smog, giving it a grey look as well, which could easily represent how complex Batman’s character is. Batman’s city possesses some extreme cases of classic noir behavior and traits. Denny O’Neil once described Batman’s domain as “a distillation of everything that’s dark, moody and frightening about New York. It’s Hell’s Kitchen. The Lower East Side. Bed Stuy. The South Bronx. Soho and Tribeca off the main thoroughfares at three in the morning”. In both Gotham and Los Angeles, crime and shady actions happen at night and give audiences that there is more evil than good within the cities. They each share the same dark and ominous physicality of the streets and the same sense of danger throughout the stories set there.
Both cities also share similar detective-like protagonists, Bruce and Mike, who seem to take matters into their own hands. Each man has a unique relationship with the law, but doesn’t trust their city’s law enforcement to get the job done. Bruce and Mike come encounter with the law in a civilized attempt to “work together” but both protagonists act as detectives to solve their own questions and have to work around city officials in order to do so. not only do they make contact with law officials, but with shady people in high society positions, such as the doctor in Kiss Me Deadly.
Another similarity between Gotham and Los Angeles, is the abrupt and excessive violence that is displayed in the cities. Bruce Wayne experiences an excessive load of violence from an early age by helplessly witnessing the murder of his parent on the street as a young boy. Gun shots, explosives, physical fights, and almost any other type of violence can be found within the two comparable cities. These violent acts add to the somber, gritty, and hazardous feel each city gives off. Mike also experiences violence on numerous occasions, especially in scenes with the doctor’s “gangster men”. These violent acts are so impacting on each protagonist because of another film noir quality the protagonists share: limits of the human body. Nether Bruce nor Mike contain supernatural powers, they are simply human. For Batman, this seems to be more of an issue. I find myself wishing he had superhero powers as I read the comics and watch the movies, but his mortal humanity is what makes Bruce Wayne relatable and more realistic. Mike, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily need supernatural powers, of course it would help, but it’s not as much of a need as it would be for Batman. Nonetheless, this limits what each protagonist can do to only what a simple human body can do–nothing more, nothing less.
Social status and high/low cultures play a part in Gotham and Los Angeles as well. Distinction between upper and lower classes or social structures are completely evident in both cities, and the protagonists seem to also play a large role in it. For example, Bruce Wayne is extremely wealthy and contains a high social status by day, yet by night he is brawling with the criminals of low cultural society in the streets. In the film noir, we also see Mike talking down to almost everyone. He is portrayed as a man placed in high society, while the ethnic people he comes in contact with do not seem to hold the same value or authority that he does. This says that money basically runs the social statuses of these cities. Both protagonists seem to possess large amounts of money, allowing people to pay their way to the top of the social ladder, buying them prestige and authority. This says a lot about how the two cities operate. Everything and everyone has a price.
The final quality I’m providing that both cities equally share is: gender norms. In both Gotham and Los Angeles, men take on the dangerous and more public spaces, while the women are depicted as inferior and weak by being told to stay either stay inside a building, vehicle, etc. These stereotypical roles are shown here by portraying women as helpless and men as heroes. Batman has to rescue women from danger in the city streets constantly, and Mike’s troubles first began after trying to help a woman, Christina, in the streets. These scenes seem to reiterate the idea Jacobs introduced and we studied earlier that claims women in public are not only endangering themselves, but men on the street as well. In both Gotham and Los Angeles women do work in the city and are accepted in the work force however we don’t get many chances to see them actually outside of a building physically, and the main female characters within these cities are not married. Thus, they have to work to take care and provide for themselves, much like those in Skyscraper. It is evident that public city streets are still viewed as dangerous for women who are incapable of taking care of themselves. Bruce’s and Mike’s relationships with women is another small similarity, in which neither men seem to want to make a commitment. Bruce doesn’t want to “get too close” and reveal his heroic identity to his love interest, Julie Madison, and is also afraid that if one of his enemies discovers his feelings for Julie, they will use it against him and put Julie in danger. Mike seems to be a “player” type who loves the bachelor lifestyle and technically being “single” yet still sleeps with his assistant, Velma, and has feelings for her, but wouldn’t seriously show or act on them until the very end of the film.
In summation, Gotham City and Los Angeles share numerous similar qualities that connect their stories, underlying messages, and characters on a deep level. These cities share several film noir qualities such as: low-key lighting with lots of shadows, oppressive/ominous atmosphere, abrupt or excessive violence, and detective-like protagonists. Though Gotham City is fictional and Los Angeles is only filmed in the way the director wanted to portray it, they still each relay significant issues that link back to earlier class discussions and reading materials like women in public spaces, gender norms/roles, working around law enforcement, and high/low cultures or social statues. Though these are a handful of topics, they are only a few of the similarities between the depictions of Batman’s Gotham City and Mike’s Los Angeles.
Kiss Me Deadly film noir