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

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 20 Feb 2003


As I see it, you narrowly define film noir as a group of crime movies of a certain period that organically developed and displayed a common visual style. So noir is a way of telling a story and not the story itself. In addition, once filmmakers became aware of that style as something distinct and began consciously setting out to make films within that style, they lost its essence and instead made hollow imitations, aping the style, but without the substance. Some of these post-noir (since you reject the term neo-noir) films may even be very good films, but they are not noir.

As I've made clear in several previous posts, I do not agree with this definition (for instance, I happen to think that that last condition may be an argument that a film is poor film noir, but not that it ceases to be film noir). However, I do believe I've been fair in presenting your take. I hope you agree.

So let me move on to your definitions of hardboiled and noir literature: Hardboiled is tough and colloquial; noir is dark and sinister. It strikes me that these are also ways of telling stories, not the stories themselves. So if we follow your reasoning on film noir, once writers became aware of hardboiled and/or noir as a distinct way of telling a crime story that they were also guilty of self-consciousness and therefore could no longer be considered true hardboiled or noir?

Adding your recent (very convincing) case that Hammett (as evidenced by his book reviews) and other classic hardboiled writers were very aware of themselves as presenting a new, distinct way of telling crime stories very early on (even if some, like Cain, did hate being grouped together), doesn't that mean that the vast majority of what most of us consider the canon of hardboiled and/or noir cannot possibly be such because it was self-consciously tough, colloquial, dark and/or sinister?

Finally, you say that any expansion of the definition of film noir is not evolution, but error, that it is what it is and is not what it is not and there is no room for greater inclusiveness (except the "wiggle room" you reserve for yourself). However, you have long maintained that the usefulness of your definitions of hardboiled and noir is exactly this kind of inclusiveness, that it allows a number of different approaches, as long as these minimum requirements are met.

So I guess what I'm asking is: why are film styles defined narrowly with necessary conditions, while literature is defined broadly with sufficient conditions? Why is film exclusive while literature is inclusive?


# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 20 Feb 2003 EST