RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Noir etc

From: Robison Michael R CNIN (
Date: 14 Feb 2003

Charlie Williams wrote: Regarding shadows and darkness and unlit doorways, I've always been dubious about this because it shares so much with gothic horror. Since you take movies as your example here, have you seen The Crow? Shadows and darkness galore, night all the time, and a lot of bad feeling. But to me it's not noir. It ends with redemption and a righting of wrongs. To me, that's anti-noir. If it's noir it's got to be noir all the way through. Not mostly noir but with some blanc at the end.
*********** Gothic horror, if it isn't noir, is the daddy of noir. Paul Duncan: "The French coined the phrase Roman Noir (Black Novel) to describe the Gothic or Terror novels which first appeared in the second half of the 18th century in England. These were novels about the dark side of life."

So one of your criteria for noir is a depressing or unhappy ending? That's not an unusual demand on noir. Certainly most noir does have an unhappy ending. I'd say that more than 90% of the strict noir I've read has the main protagonist either dead or cruelly defeated in the end. But Jim has stated that a "happy" ending does not rule out noir, and I'm with him on this. The Dead Calm movie had a fairly happy ending, and I would still call it noir.

What do I mean by strict noir? A lot of hardboiled detective novels have been labelled with the noir tag, like THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP. Paul Duncan smirks and gives a big thumbs down to this. Duncan's definition of noir concentrates on protagonists who are swimming in the abyss, not merely teetering on the brink. Duncan refuses Hammett and Chandler entry to the noir club because of this. The protagonists exhibit too much control. Duncan's noir definition is stricter.

Mario also recently took away Hammett's noir tag, and after I got over the shock of such a bold statement, I had to agree. Why? Like he says, Hammett's novels are simply too tough. Most of the dark and sinister atmosphere in noir is generated by the sweat, fear, and desperation of the characters. The body count can rival WWII, but if they don't sweat enough, it ain't noir.


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