Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler's "Noir Feel" for LA (was Denise Hamilton)

Date: 14 May 2004


Re your comments below:

> Don't get hung up on Jim's definition, Steve. Some
> of us have our own
> definitions. In my case, I don't see how you can
> separate noir from
> character.

You separate character from noir by looking at the stories that were originally classified as noir, and the movies that were originally classified as noir, seeing what they had in common, and concluding that those common elements must be the defining elements.

Since, under Duhamel's (the guy who coined the term)umbrella , "noir" spreads pretty wide, covering Hammett and Chandler as well as Cain and Woolrich, it follows that the common elements have to be something that can include the hard-boiled heroics of Chandler/Hammett, the tragic fatefulness of Cain, and the claustrophobic paranoia of Woolrich.

In film (and by extension, in the books the films derive from) noir's also been applied (and applied correctly, in my view) to semi-documentary cop films like NAKED CITY and HE WALKED BY NIGHT, gangster films like JOHNNY EAGER and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, and even romantic suspense films, like LAURA and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.

What do they all have in common? A dark, sinister atmosphere.

Conclusion: that must be what defines the style. Not character. Not worldview. Not urban settings. Just a dark, sinister, and, yes, if you want to call it that, a "gothic" atmosphere.

> In noir, the sinister element comes from
> the character's
> perception of the world (a worldview which is often
> twisted and paranoid --
> 'noirotic', if you will).

No, it comes from the author's (or filmmaker's) ability to set mood.

> And Jim's definition
> doesn't take into account the
> mortality of the protagonist, which is hugely
> important in (and possibly
> even fundamental to) noir (as Russell James once
> pointed out). I see the
> difference between hardboiled and noir in the
> reaction to events. For
> example, when a hardboiled character is shot it
> makes him angry and acts as
> a spur to further acts of toughness; when a noir
> character's shot he spends
> the rest of the book dying (if he's shot in the
> foot, he'll prod and poke
> and eventually the wound will become infected). To
> respond to your original
> post, Steve, I'd agree that Chandler's hardboiled,
> but I see Marlowe
> operating in a hardboiled (not noir) world.

My definition doesn't take morality into account because because the morality of the protagonist isn't what sets the mood for the story.

A heroic, ethical character can exist in a dark, sinister atmosphere, so it follows that a character's heroism and ethics must not be a bar to a dark, sinister atmosphere. And, since a dark, sinister atmosphere is the only common element, and, consequently, the defining element, of noir, it follows that the character's heroism and ethics aren't a bar to story's being noir.

Similarly a tough, colloquial (that is to say, a hard-boiled) attitude is not a bar to a dark, sinister atmosphere, so, it also follows that being hard-boiled and being noir are not mutually exclusive.

Hence, the ethical, tough, and colloquial Marlowe is hard-boiled and exists in a noir world.


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