Re: RARA-AVIS: Characteristics of noir

From: Al Guthrie (
Date: 11 Feb 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: "Robison Michael R CNIN" <>

> I've been thinking about noir. Oftentimes the origin of noir
> fiction is pegged in the early Thirties, pointing to works by
> James Cain, Paul Cain, Raoul Whitfield, and even Faulkner.
> Can you think of any noir characteristics that separate these
> works from earlier ones by Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare,
> or even Greek tragedy?

To expand on Mario's point:

Here's an extract from "The Revenger's Tragedy" web site.

"REVENGERS TRAGEDY is based on the classic play by Thomas Middleton.

It was first published, anonymously, in 1607, having been performed by Shakespeare's company, the King's Men. Middleton was one of Shakespeare's young collaborators: he also worked on MACBETH and MEASURE FOR MEASURE. In the 1650s, authorship of the play was ascribed to another playwright and poet, Cyril Tourneur. Modern critics view this as a mistake, and attribute the play to Middleton, who also wrote THE CHANGELING, WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN and A GAME AT CHESS.

REVENGERS TRAGEDY was long viewed as the product of a demented or diseased mind. In the nineteenth century, William Archer wrote in The Old Drama & The New: "I will only ask whether such monstrous melodrama as REVENGERS TRAGEDY, with its hideous sexuality and its raging lust for blood, can be said to belong to civilised literature at all? I say it is a product either of sheer barbarism, or of some pitiable psychopathic perversion."

This is how the story is described by Alex Cox, the director of the forthcoming film (my caps):
"the story is about that English class of TITLED GANGSTERS, the
'Aristocracy': with its intrigues, indiscretions, betrayals, lost fortunes, and sudden deaths."

And this is a description of Vindice, the play's main character (not a Jim Thompson psychopath):

"In love with the skull of his dead wife, infatuated with his sister, doing his best to make his mother prostitute her daughter, he has his share of problems," says Cox. "What makes him appealing is that he's so funny. He is a comedian -- a very dark comedian, who murders people in ironic ways."

Noir's just a label. One which no doubt will be applied to film, but, for obvious reasons, was never applied to the play. Noir's been around for a long time, in my opinion. Those Jacobean dramatists were a pretty dark bunch.


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