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Tout sur le film noir

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xianjiro
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Tout sur le film noir

#1

Post by xianjiro » May 15th, 2020, 7:25 am

I tried to search for "film noir" but that wasn't a good enough query for our search engine - please forgive if there's an existing topic/thread and mods, feel free to move this there if there is. I might add a poll here though later if this thread has interest and enough discussion.

So, what exactly constitutes a 'film noir' in your book, gentle film lover?

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#2

Post by blocho » May 15th, 2020, 2:43 pm

xianjiro wrote:
May 15th, 2020, 7:25 am
I tried to search for "film noir" but that wasn't a good enough query for our search engine - please forgive if there's an existing topic/thread and mods, feel free to move this there if there is. I might add a poll here though later if this thread has interest and enough discussion.

So, what exactly constitutes a 'film noir' in your book, gentle film lover?
Uh oh! Genre boundary discussion. These always go well ...

I believe the term itself came from the mid-century French film critics, so one would have to go back and read what they had to say to get the progenitors' definition.

Putting that aside, this feels like a question partly of categorization. Does film noir go in the narrative category or the style category, or both? The narrative category is complicated. Noir has to do with crime, but I've seen a movie with basically no crime (Clash by Night) described as a noir. Clash by Night more properly is described as a melodrama, which sort of hints at noir's twisted roots in both crime stories and melodrama. There's also the danger of describing any or all crime movies as noirs, which feels like a step too far, but it's something that everyone's favorite forum noir mega-list definitely does. No, when it comes to narrative, it feels more appropriate to describe certain tropes as noirish:
- The decent man drawn haplessly into a criminal underworld
- The femme fatale
- Love triangles in which one suitor is a criminal and the other respectable
- Shadowy pasts that return to haunt men who are seeking brighter futures

So there are narrative tropes of noir, but the genre feels predominantly about style, specifically a style that evokes and augments the dirty, morally dangerous world suggested by the narrative. And this is a style we are all familiar with, including low-key lighting, unusual perspectives and framing, extreme close-ups, etc.

There is also a temporal definition. I once heard a man say that any movie from before 1945 cannot be film noir. This is not a view I support. And while I'm sure there are many disagreements people will make about genre boundaries, including what I've written about, I think most people can agree that the term film noir is used too loosely. Not every moody, dark movie or story about crime is a film noir.

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#3

Post by OldAle1 » May 15th, 2020, 3:27 pm

I will just copy what I wrote on another forum about a month ago - much of which agrees with what blocho has written.


I am generally for a more "open" interpretation of noir - in part because even the so-called or self-described experts don't even agree on what it is, when it existed, where it existed, whether it's still with us, etc. And many of the critics and academics out there who have become important names in the ongoing rediscovery and reassessment of noir make some restrictions but not others, e.g. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, whose fine descriptive catalog Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style makes it's biases obvious - it is VERY strict in defining noir as exclusively American (The Third Man, absolutely definitional to noir for many if not most of us, is absent) but also argue that it existed as far back as the 1920s (a couple of Sternberg films) and that a film like Dirty Harry qualifies. Color is a big argument; even some of those writers who can accept it in the modern era can't tolerate it before 1960 - Vertigo isn't noir to them even though Chinatown is.

Style? Genre? I'm increasingly using the words "tone" or "mood" myself. Noir is invariably pessimistic - and even when the films have "happy" endings, as they usually do during the classic era because of production code requirements, there's always the sense that disaster was averted only by the luckiest of chances. So chance - or rather, determinism, comes into play, and nowhere more than in the work of two of the greatest directors ever to specialize in these films, Lang and Hitchcock, both moody and paranoid men whose works are suffused with Catholic guilt and distrust in institutions like the government and the police. Crime seems to be a defining issue and it's true that noir films are almost always crime-centric or have a crime at their hearts, but I can buy the argument that crime isn't absolutely necessary - sometimes it's old, repressed, unpleasant memories brought to the fore that cause a protagonist to spin into the noir labyrinth or trap - The Red House is a particularly good example.

My own feeling is that noir developed out of the earliest of crime films - Feuillade's serials of the 1910s and some of Griffith's shorts in the same period, especially The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), then Lang's early German crime films, the Mabuse films, Spione and M, the late silent-early sound American gangster cycle, the aforementioned Sternberg films, and various French crime films of the 30s. Most of these don't really feel like "true" noir to me, however great many of them are; I think it's the onset of the worldwide depression and the rise of fascism that really sets the stage for noir, with a particular kind of unease that they brought that is different from the post-WWI mood generally, and to me the earliest films that work purely as an example of the genre/style/mood are Duvivier's Pépé le Moko and Michael Curtiz' Marked Woman from 1937. There are a number of other films from the USA, France and the UK before the war that qualify pretty well also, but it's really 1940-41 where things get going, and of course there's a huge upswing in production of these kinds of films after the war, and we also start to see the noir movement take hold elsewhere, particularly Mexico and Japan while still in the 40s, and then in many other countries in the 50s.

As to the end-point of classic noir, I understand why a lot of people pick 1958 - the year of Touch of Evil, which everybody agrees is noir, and one of the greatest at that; Vertigo, which I think most people would admit to the pantheon if only it were not in color (and maybe not starring James Stewart, not a "noir actor" in many eyes); and Elevator to the Gallows and Cairo Station (probably the first great noir from the Arab world, certainly the earliest that's well-known). Many writers like nice clean start-and-stop, nice round single years so they can say "it began with The Maltese Falcon and ended with...' They like being able to say that this era in film coincided with other eras in other arts or in politics or whatever. I think this is rather silly myself but regardless of that, I can see the point, and certainly films were changing, and the American crime films that would come out at the end of the 50s and into the 60s tend to be "lighter" (the spy movie begins here) and more often in color. But I personally think that even into the early 60s the first wave of noir still holds; films like Odds Against Tomorrow (1959, Blast of Silence (1961) and High and Low (1963). For me it's Godard's Alphaville (1965) that heralds the second wave of noir, and from this period on noir is almost universally self-aware, and most of it is in color. Maybe we've had a third wave since the 1980s with the Coens and Lynch providing the new paradigm, I don't know; I haven't bothered to think too much about that. Of course there are pre-1965 examples that feel more like post-noir (Godard's earlier films of course, along with several others from the nouvelle vague), and later films that feel like they belong more to the earlier era, but if a line is to be drawn at all to me 1964/1965 is as good a divide as any.

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#4

Post by blocho » May 15th, 2020, 4:59 pm

Excellent and enlightening post, OldAle.

I think maybe people need to get beyond saying a particular movie is or is not noir, and just talk instead about elements that are noirish. For example, instead of debating whether Vertigo is noir, we might simply say that it involves several elements (the femme fatale, doubling) that are commonly associated with noir.

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#5

Post by matthewscott8 » May 15th, 2020, 7:41 pm

A film noir is a dreamlike movie with an almost monotone of pessimism, hope simply laid as a bait. We witness: the writhings of the criminal and the deluded writ large on the silver screen (or colour screen!), the perishings of the blameless and the Rube Goldberg machine of fate writ large on a moving mural in the cinéhall. If fatalism and cruelty are absent, know this, ye are no noir.
Last edited by matthewscott8 on May 15th, 2020, 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#6

Post by blocho » May 15th, 2020, 7:50 pm

matthewscott8 wrote:
May 15th, 2020, 7:41 pm
A film noir is a dreamlike movie with an almost monotone of pessimism, hope simply laid as a bait. The writhings of the criminal and the deluded writ large on the silver screen (or colour screen!), the perishings of the blameless and the snowballing of fate writ large on a moving mural in the cinéhall. If fatalism and cruelty are absent, know this, ye are no noir.
Damn that's poetic!

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#7

Post by matthewscott8 » May 15th, 2020, 8:13 pm

Thanks, I tightened it up a little bit with an edit!

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#8

Post by matthewscott8 » May 15th, 2020, 8:45 pm

A top 50, to celebrate! In addition to the below, non-specifically the entire oeuvre of the Brothers Quay.

King of New York (1990 - Abel Ferrara)
Altair (1995 - Lewis Klahr)
Natural Born Killers (1994 - Oliver Stone)
Dementia (1955 - John Parker)
La chair de l'orchidée / The Flesh of the Orchid (1975 - Patrice Chéreau)
Le deuxième souffle / Second Wind (1966 - Jean-Pierre Melville)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955 - Robert Aldrich)
The Big Sleep (1946 - Howard Hawks)
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985 - William Friedkin)
On ne meurt que deux fois / He Died with His Eyes Open (1985 - Jacques Deray)
Prince of the City (1981 - Sidney Lumet)
After Dark, My Sweet (1990 - James Foley)
Heart of Midnight (1988 - Matthew Chapman)
Du rififi chez les hommes / Rififi (1955 - Jules Dassin)
Blast of Silence (1961 - Allen Baron)
Murder, My Sweet / Farewell My Lovely (1944 - Edward Dmytryk)
Retour de manivelle (1957 - Denys de La Patellière)
Notorious (1946 - Alfred Hitchcock)
Touch of Evil (1958 - Orson Welles)
Mickey One (1965 - Arthur Penn)
Scarlet Street (1945 - Fritz Lang)
Equinox (1992 - Alan Rudolph)
This World, Then The Fireworks (1997 - Michael Oblowitz)
Série noire (1979 - Alain Corneau)
Hit Me (1996 - Stephen Shainberg)
The Shanghai Gesture (1941 - Josef von Sternberg)
Liebestraum (1991 - Mike Figgis)
Beyond the Forest (1949 - King Vidor)
The Big Heat (1953 - Fritz Lang)
Max et les ferrailleurs / Max and the Junkmen (1971 - Claude Sautet)
Detour (1945 - Edgar G. Ulmer)
Classe tous risques (1960 - Claude Sautet)
Une manche et la belle (1957 - Henri Verneuil)
Mr Arkadin (1955 - Orson Welles)
Raw Deal (1948 - Anthony Mann)
Toi… le venin / Night Is Not for Sleep (1958 - Robert Hossein)
The Lady from Shanghai (1947 - Orson Welles)
The Glass Key (1942 - Stuart Heisler)
Chinatown (1974 - Roman Polanski)
Chair de poule (1963 - Julien Duvivier)
Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950 - Otto Preminger)
Too Late for Tears (1949 - Byron Haskins)
Romeo Is Bleeding (1993 - Peter Medak)
The Long Goodbye (1973 - Robert Altman)
La lune dans le caniveau / The Moon in the Gutter (1983 - Jean-Jacques Beineix)
Phantom Lady (1944 - Robert Siodmak)
Woman on the Run (1950 - Norman Foster)
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950 - Gordon Douglas)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943 - Alfred Hitchcock)
Born To Kill (1947 - Robert Wise)

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#9

Post by prodigalgodson » May 15th, 2020, 8:55 pm

Copied and pasted from the same other forum as OldAle:

Probably the genre that got me into classical filmmaking, with Casablanca and Sunset Blvd., both sitting around the outer edges of the genre's constraints, the first two old studio films I saw. I was pretty obsessive about watching them for awhile, and got through a couple hundred from the 40s-60s, but it's easier to see their shortcomings and the shortcomings of studio system in general as I get older. Still as an approach or mood or whatever you want to call it one of the most intriguing outcomes of midcentury Hollywood, and has influenced everything from the films I made in highschool and college to the discovery of some of my favorite authors (James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson), and even tinges of its influence in a film will automatically make me more intrigued. Many of my favorites are the usual suspects, with Kiss Me Deadly probably taking the top spot, but many of the less celebrated ones have made huge impressions on my film-watching journey.

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#10

Post by prodigalgodson » May 15th, 2020, 8:59 pm

Cool list Matthew, especially intrigued about that Klahr, which I haven't seen. Now that you mention it, a number of his and Geiser's films could fit the bill of experimental noir, one of the more intriguing sub-genres who practitioners include Phil Solomon and Greg Markopoulos.

I made a top 100 on letterboxd inspired by the FG reddit thread:

https://letterboxd.com/justinkelly1993/ ... ighlights/

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#11

Post by matthewscott8 » May 15th, 2020, 9:46 pm

prodigalgodson wrote:
May 15th, 2020, 8:55 pm
James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson
We have the same bandwith here for sure, it was actually you I believe who turned me onto Hammett's Red Harvest. Imagine if there were more books like that :wub: My latest noir enjoyment was Nada by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

I am going to check out Sorry Wrong Number as it is imminently being released on a new bluray label in Oz. Haven't watched a new "classic era" noir for many a year.

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#12

Post by prodigalgodson » May 15th, 2020, 10:01 pm

matthewscott8 wrote:
May 15th, 2020, 9:46 pm
prodigalgodson wrote:
May 15th, 2020, 8:55 pm
James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson
We have the same bandwith here for sure, it was actually you I believe who turned me onto Hammett's Red Harvest. Imagine if there were more books like that :wub: My latest noir enjoyment was Nada by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

I am going to check out Sorry Wrong Number as it is imminently being released on a new bluray label in Oz. Haven't watched a new "classic era" noir for many a year.
Ah nice, I think it was you who put me on to White Jazz haha! Thanks for the recommendation, and Sorry Wrong Number I remember being extremely entertaining.

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#13

Post by OldAle1 » May 15th, 2020, 10:25 pm

Nice list matthew, and nice little bit of poetry. I've seen the bulk of the American films from your list, very few of the French ones - I may well concentrate on French noir this November, or just concentrate on non-American stuff in general. Just watched Altair, pretty intriguing combo of noir and science fiction in under 10 minutes. Have you seen Mark Rappaport's Exterior Night? A standout in the admittedly vast category that is the modern short experimental noir.

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#14

Post by OldAle1 » May 15th, 2020, 10:54 pm

blocho wrote:
May 15th, 2020, 4:59 pm
Excellent and enlightening post, OldAle.

I think maybe people need to get beyond saying a particular movie is or is not noir, and just talk instead about elements that are noirish. For example, instead of debating whether Vertigo is noir, we might simply say that it involves several elements (the femme fatale, doubling) that are commonly associated with noir.
Thanks. I think the people who obsess a lot over "this is noir" or this is definitely not noir" most often tend to be those who want to set fairly tight limits on what it is. I'm reading James Naremore's More Than Night right now, which is just great, and one of the things that I learned was that in originating the term, in 1946, the French writers who made claims for this "new type" of American film (Double Indemnity, Murder My Sweet and a couple of other examples) were enamored of these films in no small part because they evoked several French films made just before the war, most by Marcel Carné, and they lamented the loss of these kinds of films. And what they focused on most was the violence, the brutality, the hardness and coldness of the films. So to them it was a few examples of American crime films with a particular emphasis on hard-boiled character, that reminded them of recent French films. And yet the critics who have followed in their wake often concentrate much more on visual style - which wasn't of great importance to the originators of the term - and often pretend that it's a purely American type of film - which it clearly isn't. To my mind this means the whole history of writing about noir has been full of people who want to limit it - whether it's American chauvinism, or classic-era chauvinism, or b/w chiaroscuro photography chauvinism - and as a result the genre/style/whatever has been left more murky and muddled than it has to be, because just as many critics and fans want to open up the doors a little bit more, let a bit of color and air conditioning and Spanish or Japanese or Hindi in.

Of course you can say the same thing about the western - but given that that genre did in fact originate in America in the form of romanticized dime novels just after the Civil War, and that most film buffs the world over have always taken "the west" of the western to mean the western part of the USA (or North America in general, sometimes), I think there's typically been a little more clarity there, and even when westerns are made elsewhere they typically pretend to be taking place in Wyoming or New Mexico rather than Bavaria or Wales. It's clear to me that noir is/was a worldwide movement and while I love continuing to watch the more obscure b-noirs from RKO or PRC here in the USA I think there's a lot more of interest to be found outside of poverty row in Los Angeles.

And something I find increasingly fascinating is seeing the noir influence in films that at first glance have nothing to do with noir. There are two brief sequences in La La Land for example that totally evoke noir to me; lots of non-super superheroes like Batman and the Shadow seem to fit to a certain extent into the world of noir; there are several modern Iranian films that to me have a very noir flavor, notably Radoulof's Good Bye and Panahi's The Circle. Etc, etc. It's something that has permeated the whole film culture of the world in fascinating ways; anytime I see a dark alley, and somebody disappears down it, and somebody else follows, I wonder, is this going into the world of noir? It's always a pleasure to think about, a nightmare pleasure to be sure.

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#15

Post by xianjiro » May 16th, 2020, 5:09 am

cool! thanks for sharing your opinions folks! very informative and I hope others add to the discussion.

I'm not going to say I have any opinion on the subject matter at hand other than to say I've had trouble understanding the genre's boundaries and the love it has with fans. I watched Cargo to Capetown last night and it just didn't feel noirish to me on any level. Reading what you all have shared, more so. But if we go back to that early French commentary that these were previously melodramas ... that I can live with. BTW, I rather enjoyed it as a Hollywood drama, but that's about it. It was predictable and in none of the ways discussed as typifying film noir. (See matthewscott's elegant definition especially.) I'd say about the only thing that made it even remotely noir is
SpoilerShow
the death of a child - this goes against the Hollywood tenets and is why dogs are so often in movies: it's okay to kill them off, but not kids, well, unless they are horny teens, but that's a different genre entirely
Will add there were moments where the romantic triangle could have been developed as a noir - hints even - but the resolution just killed that hope. Stabbed it dead. Beat it with a mid-century, mid-earth island bird figurine to death. It went up in smoke, was rendered ashes under a well-turned stiletto heel.

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#16

Post by xianjiro » May 16th, 2020, 5:13 am

ps: if :facepalm: is an official emoji, then I suggest that Image should be reworked as one - just give her the smoking cowboy's cig

Listen, Daddy. Teacher says, 'every time a car alarm bleeps, into heaven a demon sneaks.'
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