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

Date: 19 Feb 2003


Re your comments below:

> Wait a minute, you've added a second condition here,
> that the film is a
> "crime/suspense film." So I guess it's not
> EXCLUSIVELY a function of
> visual stylistics.

Leaving aside the fact that, given the subject of this list, "crime film" is implicit, in my very first post on this thread I said film noir was a ". . . crime film marked by particular visual stylistics." So I'm not adding anything.

> And what makes it a
> crime/suspense film if not the
> plot in the script? So it must have something to do
> with the script.

The same script can be used for a film that is either noir or non-noir depending on the visual approach. In fact, I can give you an example.

In the late '40s, Harry Kleiner wrote a script for a cop movie called THE STREET WITH NO NAME about an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates a gang organized along military lines in some nondescript Midwest metropolis. In the mid-50s, Samuel Fuller took that script, changed the setting and some details (now it took place in Tokyo and the hero was an undercover Army MP infiltrating a gang of American ex-GIs organized along military lines; otherwise the plot and most of the dialog was identical), and remade it as HOUSE OF BAMBOO. This time Kleiner (who didn't actually work on the new script at all) shared screenwriting credit with Fuller. The first film, shot in black and white with the use of light and shadow common to film noirs, was a film noir. The second, shot in color, and mostly in daylight, was not.

Significantly, Fuller was quite capable of using the visual stylistics associated with film noir, as he proved in movies like THE CRIMSON KIMONO and UNDERWORLD USA. He just chose not to use that approach with BAMBOO.

So while both were crime films (and were, as you point out, crime films because of the script), they weren't both noirs because only one of them used noir visual effects. And that's why script and story (story, in this case, was the same and script was virtually the same) isn't the determining factor in whether or not a given crime movie is a film noir and visual approach is.
> So there's a third condition, making it even less
> exactly does self-consciousness manifest itself,
> though? I'd say
> through slavishly imitating the visual stylistics of
> its model. So if
> it self-consciously adopts the style of a director
> (and cinematographer
> and set designer and lighting technician, etc) who
> defined that style
> (whether or not they were aware of it at the time),
> how could it not be
> noir, IF noir is EXCLUSIVELY defined by VISUAL

Self-consciousness manifests itself in the realization that there is such a thing AS film noir. The classic noir filmmakers were, for the most part at least, not aware of this because they'd never heard the term. It may have existed prior to the early '60s, but it didn't come into common usage until then. No doubt the classic noirists were aware of certain stylistic similarities, and, in all likelihood, were influenced by them when they were making films with similar stories, but that's different from consciously setting out to make a film noir.
> In other words, what is it about the visual
> stylistics of the Coen
> Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There that bars it from
> being noir?

Haven't seen it and so can't comment, but most of the Coen films I have seen have been in color, which, at least in the '40s and '50s, would have been an automatic disqualifier.

It's less so now, because color filming has advanced in a way that makes it possible to use color images in ways that are strikingly similar to the ways B&W images were used in the '40s, '50s, and early '60s
(i.e. BLADERUNNER, or SE7EN, for example). But the deliberate intention to make a film that reproduces the visual effects of another era that defined a particular style has the effect of making those visual flourishes seem less like an organic part of the work
(as they were in the '40s, '50s, and early '60s), and more like mimicry. Which is another way self-consciousness manifests itself.


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