Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prelude to noir

I'm not prepared for an official post for the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon and Fundraiser, hosted by Ferdy on Film and Self-Styled Siren, but it does have me thinking. Film noir one of my favorite genres... or subgenres or eras or moods or whatever you think it is... and yet I always feel inadequate to the task of writing about it.

"Film Noir is not a genre..." by Greg Ferrara explores some ideas of what film noir is by analyzing the seminal essay Notes on Film Noir by Paul Schrader.

Film noir always seems a bit tough to put one's finger one. It tends to be one of those "know it when you see it" things, but then, like most such things, not all eyes agree.

Two terms seem to come up time and again, though, "Post-war" and "cynicism", often as not in conjunction with one another. The question is whether people really grasp what Post-war cynicism is the most important, though.

I got a copy of The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics for Valentine's Day - because I have the best Valentine ever! - and I've been reading it on the bus to and from work. Among other things, I've been reading Agent X-9 by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond, which helped fuel my thinking.

Generally, people using that term seem to mean World War II or to think they do.

While film noir can be tied to any of a number of influences, the two most basic building blocks are clearly Hardboiled literature and German Expressionism. In fact, it would be impossible, no matter what other influences one ignored, to adapt a Hardboiled story in the style of German Expressionism without creating something that everyone would understand as film noir.

So it seems certain that the most important war that film noir grows from remains World War I.

It's arguable that the post-WWII period even brought about the end of film noir, which had slowed significantly in its growth as a genre by 1949. I'm not sure how that understanding informs my reading of film noir, but it's interesting to consider.


Anonymous said...

"Dark Cinema", by Jon Tuska. Very clear explanation of film noir, it's antecedants, hisatory, etc.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, got interrupted - noir is Greek tragedy: the hero discovers, or is driven to discover via a mistaken perception of reality, a terrible secret that destroys him. It's power is in the audience's realization that the chance event/error in perception could be theirs given the right set of circumctances. And why even in a low-budget cheapie programmer noir, the payoff can hit hard. That's the nutshell, Tuska writes an awesome tome about all this citing ancient Greek writings (some his own trnslations from fragments) and cross-referencing all the golden era noirs to support his thesis (variations get as much detail as true noirs). Seek it out, it's far the best book ever written on the subject.

Neil Sarver said...

Interesting. It definitely sounds like something I should check out.

I'm feeling compelled to discuss it further, but I probably need to read the whole thing over first. I definitely see the connection, though.

Neil Sarver said...

I also found The Roots of Film Noir -- February 15, 2011 by Joe Thompson an interesting article that touches on the subject of the beginnings of noir, although not directly the effect of WWI.

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