RARA-AVIS: Re:can noir writers advocate social reform?

From: jimdohertyjr ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 25 Nov 2006


Re your comments below:

> I don't really agree with you here, Jim. Noir concerns
> the nature of the hero. Sam Spade and Philip Marlow
> are hard boiled characters. They may not be 100% in
> line with the police. They may be rebels in the face
> of authority. But they are always on the side of
> "good." They may be indiscreet, but they will never
> fail to out a killer even if they love her. Noir
> characters, on the other hand, are morally of a
> different stripe. The characters in Jim Thompson and
> James M. Cain's work are perfectly disposed to do evil
> if they encounter the right woman or the wrong
> opportunity. Amorality, not atmosphere, is the heart
> and nature of noir. Amorality is a socio/political
> problem. Noir always poses a question of the right
> direction to take, and the fruits of the easy
> decision.

Characters aren't noir, unless you're French-speaking and you're talking about people of African descent.

Nor is hard-boiled a sign of some sort of moral or legal superiority to noir. Richard Stark's Parker is as hard-boiled as they come, and he's also as amoral as they come.

Hard-boiled's not about taking the difficult, but morally righteous road. It's about attitude and style.

Noir, on the other hand, isn't about taking the easy but morally questionable road. It's about tone and atmosphere. That's what the books published by Gallimard under the SERIE NOIR line, the line that associated the word "noir" with crime fiction, had in common.

It certainly wasn't a line that EXCLUDED hard-boiled fiction or hard- boiled characters. On the contrary, both Hammett and Chandler, writers you specifically, and erroneously, exclude from the "noir" label, were among the first writers to be published under the SERIE NOIR logo.

So to say that "noir" means exclusive of hard-boiled is to say that the people who coined the term were, in the very act of coining it, using it incorrectly, which is a ludicrous assertion on its face. I'll grant that it doesn't always mean hard-boiled, and that hard- boiled doesn't always mean noir, but they certainly aren't, and never have been, mutually exclusive.

When the word was extended to refer to a specific type of crime film, the films the word was used to describe were invariably either based on books that had been published as part of the SERIE NOIR line, or based on the same sort of books, or had original screenplays that told the same sort of stories that the SERIE NOIR books told.

Movies like THE MALTESE FALCON (based on a novel by Hammett) and MURDER, MY SWEET (based on a novel by Chandler) are widely regarded as seminal benchmarks in film noir, and were cited as such by the film critics who coined the term.

Hard-boiled's about attitude and style. Noir's about tone and atmosphere. And that's all they're about. And all they've ever been about.


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