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Amos Poe’s neo-noir stage

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At the time of its release Frogs for Snakes (1999), written and directed by Amos Poe, was criticized for its alleged formalism and gratuitous violence and some facile digs at Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Redressing these predominantly negative assessments, the present article views Poe’s overtly theatrical crime movie as a neo-noir parody which joins a considerable part of David Mamet’s dramatic and cinematographic output to classics like All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, The Apartment, All My Sons and On the Waterfront. Either these provided plot situations, characterizations and genre features or else the involvement of their creators in the HUAC – from Mankiewicz and Wilder through Miller, Kazan, Rossen and Schulberg – extend the intertextual network of Frogs for Snakes from its inset production of American Buffalo into a critique of the human expendability behind the American way of conducting business which the noir genre frequently equates with crime and shady dealings. The reception of Frogs for Sa es thus repeated that of American Buffalo in that its middle-class audience failed to see the point of the crooks’ ineffective negotiations, erupting in the junkshop’s demolition and Bobby’s beating, yet falling short of any actual heist. More importantly, the noir references in Frogs for Snakes, prolonging those in Poe’s earlier output, bring out the genre’s dramaturgical influence on Mamet’s drama prior to the release of his first consummate noir exercise, House of Games (1987). Conversely, the social awareness underlying the noir genre and its Depression era predecessors challenges the common critique about American Buffalo’s inconsequentiality and neo-noir’s superficiality. This critique was also levelled against the erotic thrillers of Brian De Palma, who directed Mamet’s screen adaptation of the noir TV series, The Untouchables (1986), and whose Dressed to Kill and Body Double are alluded to at the start of Frogs for Snakes.

Keywords: Arthur Miller; Billy Wilder; Joseph Mankiewicz; crime; intertextuality; metagenre; postmodern neo-noir; social criticism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Publication date: 2012-10-04

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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