│Zeke Saber is an MA Candidate in the department of Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Southern California. At USC, he acts as a graduate teaching assistant while focusing his research on topics including medium specificity, film sound, film realism, and representations of mental illness across media. He has a peer-reviewed article forthcoming in Cinephile, and will be presenting a paper at the 2016 SCMS Conference that explores Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton’s claim in Panorama du film noir américain (1941-1953) that film noir bears the marks of “a total submission of the cinema to literature.”

Detection, Self-Surveillance, and Paranoia from New Hollywood Conspiracy Cinema to the Popular Sphere

This paper traces the lineage of a paranoid style of mind from the American political sphere, through film noir of the 1940s/50s, and up to certain conspiracy thriller films of the 1970s. It argues that the detective protagonists of these frustratingly incoherent 70s thrillers undergo epistemological crises on the order of paranoia, and, ultimately, that the films themselves succeed in tempting subsequent spectators to adopt a similarly paranoid style of viewership. For both detective protagonist and film spectator, this particular type of paranoia involves – as a reparative effort – the creation of a delusional system to make up for a lack of understanding.

Often permitted access to the flashback/voiceover mechanism, the noir detective uses language to create a schism between past events and their present explication, effectively rereading and re-narrativizing his own life. But this process of self-surveillance forces him to reconsider past experiences, discovering unrealized connections and applying coherence and structure in the form of narrative. By nature, this process is delusional, leaving nothing unexplained while crafting a flawless and comprehensive theory.

Close readings of films such as Klute (1971), The Conversation (1974), and Night Moves (1975) ultimately suggest the transference of a paranoid style of mind from the detective protagonists to the film spectator, culminating in the final scene from All the President’s Men (1976). Taking cues from noir detectives of the 40s/50s, the 70s conspiracy protagonists approach their worlds as if detectives, combatting a lack of understanding or meaning with delusional, paranoid systems that integrate imaginative perspective into actual lived experience. This is a form of “reading,” in Paul Ricoeur’s sense, but it is also a way to apply coherence and structure to their lives in the form of narrative. I will make the argument that, due to the final teletyped scene in All the President’s Men, this type of narrativizing is taken away from the protagonists and used by the film itself to involve viewers in a paranoid style of thinking that still has currency in our contemporary moment.