RE: RARA-AVIS: Top 10 Noir Films... AND MORE

Date: 24 Aug 2003


Re your comments below:

> I suppose that nobody here will again try to prove
> that Noir is strictly a
> kind of expressionist crime film produced during a
> certain time frame by
> the American cinema (roughly 40's and 50's).

Then you suppose incorrectly. First of all, I didn't TRY to prove it. I DID prove it. And, having proved it, I wasn't going to bring it up again, but since you have, I'll be more than happy to go over the old ground one more time.

> That's
> a false and obsolete view.

It's a true and valid view.

> Noir film is a genre. And it's international.

It may be international. Certainly many of the
"American" filmmakers associated with the form (Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, even Edward Dmytrik) were born and raised in places other than the US. And crime films with noir-type visual flourishes certainly were produced in countries other than the US (Clouzot's JENNY L'AMOUR, for example).

But it's not a genre. It's a style. A visual style. A visual style that communicates a dark and sinister atmosphere. And, in its heyday, a visual style that was largely unconscious.

MURDER, MY SWEET is a private eye picture. It's also a film noir.

HE WALKED BY NIGHT is a police procedural. It's also a film noir.

LAURA is a romantic suspense/whodunit. It's also a film noir.

THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE is a period women's suspense film. It's also a film noir.

MINISTRY OF FEAR is a spy movie. It's also a film noir.

That's five different genres (or anyway, five different SUB-genres). But what they all have in common is a visual style that eventually, in retrospect, marked them as film noirs.

There is no such thing as noir content. There is only a common visual style that can be used for a variety of different kinds of plots and characters.

In fact the same story could be filmed either as a noir or a non-noir, depending on the visual choices made by the director. 1948's THE STREET WITH NO NAME is a film noir, because it's filmed with the kinds of shadowy contrasts between light and dark that marks film noirs. The 1955 remake, HOUSE OF BAMBOO, a color film in wide-screen with lots of daylight scenes, is not a film noir, though it uses the same plot, and, with some changes in setting, the same script.

Here's an easy way to tell:

1) If it's made before (roughly) 1940, it's not a film noir.

2) If it's made after (roughly) 1963, it's not a film noir.

3) If it's in color, it's not a film noir.

Film noir, by the way, is not an indication of quality, nor is NOT being a film noir and indication of meretriciousness. There are movies that pass muster as film noirs, but which aren't particular good films. There are all sorts of movies that aren't film noir, but which are, nevertheless, very good movies.


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