Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V5 #33 - Noir

From: Rene Ribic (
Date: 13 Feb 2003

> Marianne Macdonald wrote:
> ....Noir seems to me to be
> neither character- nor plot-dependent, but a matter of the setting.
> It's the shadow moving beyond the campfire light, the darkness down
> the back alley, in the unlit doorway (Third Man, right?), between the
> street lights, OR in the woods. Or for that matter in the
> unconscious mind, the dark mind of the Other, the killer....
> Death's home, really or symbolically.
> *********
> I think that you have pointed out a difference between film
> and fiction noir. Film noir is heavily into style. Turn on
> the smoke machines and turn off the lights that don't cast
> dramatic shadow and, like you said, you don't even need
> characters or a plot. But noir fiction is different. It's
> all about atmosphere, and this atmosphere is very dependent
> upon the characters. There's gotta be that heady blend of
> sweat, fear, and desperation.
> Take Williams's DEAD CALM. I don't think that anybody would
> argue that the book is juicy noir. But what about the movie?
> The movie content is dark and wicked, and I would personally
> call it noir because of this. But I think that a lot of
> people would hesitate to call the movie noir simply because
> it's missing a lot of the classic noir props. It would get
> the "thriller" tag instead.
> Thanks to everyone who posted.
> miker

miker, I think you're labouring under a (very popular) misconception re: film noir - i.e. that film noir is defined by visual stylistics. While it is true that many films noirs share a certain look - I think most people here would know what I'm talking about - very many do not. Even during the classic film noir period, approximately 1940-1960, some noirs were made in colour & many noirs went for a flat, naturalistic look influenced by European neo-realism as well as the new technology & styles originally developed for newsreels. It's the writing that made these films noir. After the classic period the "noir look" faded away but people have continued to make films that are noir right up to the explosion of "neo-noirs" of the 1990's to now. Some of these, such as Chinatown & L.A. Confidential go for a self-conscious noir look that pays homage to the classic noirs. Others, & I would include Dead Calm & more recent examples such as Memento & Fargo as films that are very much noir although they do not avail themselves of the stylistic devices that we associate with the classic film noir. On the topic of city vs everywhere else as noir setting, my take is somewhat paradoxical. Although fully aware of how much noir (& hardboiled) has been set away from the Mean Streets right from the earliest identifiable days of the genres/styles I still think of noir as being primarily urban. My justification? (Or rationalisation?) I think in the modern world, certainly in the 20th & 21st centuries, anyone is only hours away from the big city. Rural areas, small towns, the desserts of the USA & Mexico & anywhere else a noir or hardboiled story would be set is basically a suburb. I think that maybe why the western and the hardboiled novel often overlap is because they are often set in the same geographical area - here I'm thinking of noir films & novels set in the desert or badlands : Detour, Gun Crazy, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, God is a Bullet. On the one hand, these stories are set in the same badlands that good & bad cowboys & Indians fought & died in Westerns but on the other hand, the protagonists are a drive away from the modern city. So, apologies for rambling but I think Dead Calm in either medium qualifies as noir. If the universe is caving in on you, you are now entering the Noir Zone, which, like its close cousin the Twilight Zone, can be anywhere. Cheers, Rene

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