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

Date: 14 May 2004


Re your comments below:
> However, in an earlier discussion you drew a very
> strict distinction
> between noir movies and books, saying that, by
> definition, no film
> released past a certain year can be noir, that, by
> definition, no
> contemporary film can be labeled noir. However,
> your use of noir when
> referring to books embraces books of any era. That
> tells me you do not
> see noir ooks and films as entirely comparable.

First of all, different techniques are used to set atmoshpere and mood in different mediums. In radio, it would be set by sound effects. In prose by words. Film, being a visual medium, sets it by images.

That's why THE LITTLE SISTER is noir, while the fairly faithful 1969 film version, MARLOWE, is not. The former uses words to set a dark and sinister atmoshere. The latter (in sharp contrast to the Chandler adaptations done in the '40's) does not use visual imagery to set a dark and sinister atmosphere.

Second, until the term "noir" came into fairly common usage in the '70's, no one set out either to write a
"noir" crime novel or to film a "noir" movie. The classification was recognized in retrospect.

Film noir was dependent on B&W cinematography to set its visual mood. B&W largely died out by the early to mid '60's. Crime films made after that time tended to be bright and sunny, at least visually, and at least part of the time (see MARLOWE, BULLITT, MADIGAN, DIRTY HARRY, etc.).

In the meantime, however, writers were still, unselfconsciously, continuing to write novels that used words to create the same kind of dark and sinister atmosphere that had been the hallmark of
"noir" fiction from the time the term was first coined. Filmmakers had largely abandoned the style, but novelists had not.

Then two things happened more or less simultaneously. First, the term "film noir" begins to seep into the public consciousness. Second, color filmmaking advances to a point where it's possible to create dark, sinister high-contrast, film noir-like images in color (see BLADE RUNNER or the first BATMAN movie).

Now filmmakers start to deliberately set out to MAKE film noirs. And when they do, the visual imagery is invariably self-conscious, drawing attention to itself rather than supporting the story. That's why, in my opinion, they are truly film noir, and why no real film noir has been made since, at the very latest, 1964.

Now, assuming that you accept the "dark, sinister" definition, you may still disagree with the assertion that no real film noir has been made since the early
'60's. The two positions are not mutually dependant.

Consequently, arguing that there HAVE been film noirs made since the early '60's has nothing to do with whether or not the "dark, sinister" definition is valid.
> You also consistently confine darkness to
> atmospherics and rule it out
> as indicative of characters or actions (you've said
> no movie set in
> sunlight can be noir; does that apply to books, too?
> I guess much of
> Thompson is not noir), hence you always refer to a
> "noir world," never
> "noir stories."

I refer to a "noir" atmosphere, not a "noir" world. Since atmosphere is set by words in prose, rather than by images, as in film, it is possible to set that atmosphere in sunlight because prose is not dependent on imagery to set its atmosphere.

> And that is my main problem with
> your definition. Yes,
> Marlowe may walk down mean streets in a noir world,
> but I don't think of
> Chandler's books as noir.

Chandler's atmosphere is noir, but his books (which were chosen for the Serie Noir imprint back when the term was first coined) are NOT noir. Interesting.

> I am far more interested
> in finding the
> distinction between Chandler's work and, say, that
> of Goodis. They are
> not writing the same kind of stories. I don't think
> they are even
> writing about the same world. And any label that
> equates the two is of
> limited value -- yes, the Stooges and the Monkess
> both played rock (and
> I really like them both), but any term vague enough
> to accurately
> include them both is not much help in
> classification.

The reason you don't find the terms useful is because you're trying to distinguish between things other than
"noir" and "hard-boiled." Both Goodis and Chandler are noir. Occasionally, (as in Goodis's sinfully under-rated police procedural OF MISSING PERSONS), they're both hard-boiled.

The distinction between them comes from elements OTHER than those that make them both noir and, occasionally, both hard-boiled. Define THOSE elements, and coin a term for them, and you'll have a term you'll find useful.

But don't blame the terms "hard-boiled" and "noir" for not distinguishing the elements you're most interested in distinguishing.


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