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Neal G. Moore
IU School of Informatics

Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008

IUPUI professor turns his fascination with film noir into a podcasting phenomenon

Aug. 25, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- As far as Richard Edwards is concerned, they don't make 'em like they used to -- Hollywood that is.

Edwards, an assistant professor of media arts and science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is an expert on the genre of film noir, the highly stylized films that were a staple in American movie theaters during the 1930s and '40s. Celebrated for its use of deep shadows and stark lighting in detective thrillers often set in the back streets of New York City, film noir is among the most popular genres of years past.

Richard Edwards

Richard Edwards

Print-Quality Photo

"Film noir is one of the great American styles," explained Edwards, who teaches at the IU School of Informatics at IUPUI. "It is one of the most recognizable styles in the history of Hollywood cinema. But my fascination is more with the stories that can be told in noir. I like the darker themes and existential despair that are part of the noir universe."

Edwards and a former colleague from St. Mary's College of California are hosts of "Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir," a popular podcast featured in Apple's iTunes store. The free audio download features a series of discussions about the genre and its impact on filmmaking and popular culture. Newer forms of noir filmmaking are also examined.

"These are not films with easy answers or simple resolutions. Noir captures the hard-boiled reality of life and these are some of the greatest and most complex films ever made in the Hollywood system," said Edwards. "While many films of the postwar period are unwatchable, noir continues to register with contemporary audiences."

Edwards, who earned a Ph.D. at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television, co-hosts the podcasts with Shannon Clute, a Cornell University Ph.D. in Romance Languages. The two met while teaching at St. Mary's College and learned of their shared interest in film noir.

"As we began to talk about working on a project together, we had the idea that we could use podcasting to record our discussions about film noir, and that was the genesis of the project," explained Edwards. "We saw podcasting in 2005 as a new form of scholarship, and we wanted to experiment with how podcasting could support this type of collegial dialogue. We have created more than 45 episodes to date, and each focuses on one classic noir or neo-noir in depth."

The duo says the podcast has exceeded all expectations with an average show audience of about 4,000 listeners, and more than 200,000 downloads worldwide from every continent except Antarctica. About a third of the podcasts focus on neo-noir films, many made in the last decade -- films such as Batman Begins, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Hollywoodland.

"Shannon currently lives in Atlanta, so we have to produce the show virtually," explained Edwards. "We both record our portion of the podcast on our local machines and he then transfers the raw files over a network, and I edit the two feeds into a final compilation and put it online in mp3 format."

Their work is gaining traction for its scholarly value, having been used in many college courses focusing on film noir, and university librarians often reference "Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir" as an important example of podcasting as scholarship.

"We also feel that a major goal of our podcasts is to bridge the fan/scholar divide in film noir. We feel we have reached out to both fans and scholars of noir by making a podcast that is focused on critical analysis in a lively and engaging fashion," said Edwards.

While loath to single out his favorite noir films and characters, Edwards notes that Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice are great examples for learning about the genre. And, he gives a tip of the old felt fedora to Orson Welles and Touch of Evil. For contemporary film noir, Edwards is smitten with Jack Nicholson's character Jake Gittes in Chinatown.

This past summer, Edwards taught an online course on "Noir and Digital Culture," and the duo has written a book on film noir, based on the podcasts.

The IU Newsroom has featured the podcast, available here: Additional information about Edwards is available here:, and at the duo's Web site: