Screening the Femme Fatale (introduction)

The Femme Fatale archetype has her footprints all over culture, throughout history. From ancient mythology to todays videogames. And the Film Noir version of the Femme Fatale is a specialized, socially relevant and easily identifiable class.

The six fatal women I chose to write about belong in a time frame and to a specific genre, the original Film Noir, which reigned cinemas and induced romantic paranoia from 1944 to 1954.

The implication of the word ‘fatale’ strikes two important chords: That of it being fatal, deadly. But also the fatalistic theory, of things being related to fate and therefore, inevitable. The Femme Fatale speaks to the imagination and is forever alluring as a fatalistic fantasy, to men and women alike. 

To this day, the Femme Fatale is a recognizable term, often used free from the Film Noir connotation. In modern culture such as fashion editorials and advertising she is portrayed dark and mysterious. Usually clad in black, wearing red lipstick. Today, she represents more of a “free woman” than an actual lethal one.

Her presence in art and literature is woven through morality tales as well as depictions of a more tantalizing nature, and has proven to be a great commercial conveyer of individual feminine sexuality. 

Cinematically she is revamped constantly, adjusting along with the times. For one solid century she has been out there, lurking in the dark, preying and striking successfully. And we keep coming back for more.

Her power – besides being drop dead gorgeous – lays in the kiss of death. The Femme Fatale offers a sinister pledge that the most thrilling and sensational kiss one could ever experience will also mean one’s demise. 

Barbara Timmers

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