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

From: Rene Ribic (
Date: 17 Feb 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: "JIM DOHERTY" <> To: <> Sent: Sunday, February 16, 2003 2:50 PM Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V5 #33 - Noir

> Rene,
> Re your response to Miker's comments below:
> > > 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.
> If Miker's laboring under this misconception it may be
> because of the fact that it's not a misconception at
> all. Film noir IS defined by visual stylistics. And
> that's pretty much ALL it's defined by. It's a
> contemporary crime film marked by partiuclar visual
> stylistics. Period. Those visual flourishes are what
> give film noir a . . . wait for it . . . "dark and
> sinister atmosphere."
> Criminy, Rene, film is a VISUAL medium! What else
> WOULD film noir be defined by BUT its visual
> sytlistics?

Jim, Yes, of course film is a visual medium - you don't need a Jesuit education to know that. However, it is not exclusively a visual medium. Why do you feel that script, acting, etc has nothing to do with film? Film noir is not exclusively defined by visual stylistics - how could it be when there is no one look common to ALL films noirs. I presume (going from the one example given) that you are referring to things such as chiascuro lighting, odd angles, certain recurring images such as venetian blinds, wet streets, urban landscapes, etc. However, these stylistic flourishes are not universal. The term "film noir" was coined in 1946 (not 1960) by French critic Nino Frank after seeing 6 recent Hollywood melodramas in one week: The Maltese Falcon, Laura, Double Indemnity, Murder My Sweet & The Woman in the Window. By your definition, the first two films aren't noir. Other "Non-noirs" would include The Killing, The Asphalt Jungle, High Sierra in black & white and colour films such as I Died a Thousand Times, Desert Fury, Leave Her to Heaven, Slightly Scarlet & A Kiss Before Dying. All these films are listed in both Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style ed. Silver & Ward and Paul Duncan's The Pocket Essentials Film Noir. On the other hand, your definition, based solely on visual style would include Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, the Universal horror movies of the 1930's and Citizen Kane. In short, noir is a mood, not a colour (or absence of it). Mood can be achieved with visual effects but it's not the only way. I have read pretty widely in the critical literature regarding film noir and although no two critics agree on exactly which films make up the noir canon none have defined noir in purely visual terms. I'm also aware of many "crime films" which have a noir look but are labelled as
"gangster" films by critics because they are not thematically noir, e.g.Dillinger, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond - although being about gangsters does not mean it can't be a noir (White Heat, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, High Sierra). I haven't even touched on the films that have been labelled neo-noir which are almost exclusively in colour. How could you possibly come up with a definition of neo-noir that is exclusively based on visual stylistics?



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