RARA-AVIS: Re: Everything's Noir?

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 20 May 2007

Re "Crimeflix's" comment below:

"In France it was used, of course, but in the U.S. noir was used almost exclusively for film noir (which, incidentally, I think has a much broader definition than noir fiction. For example The Big Sleep is undoubtedly a film noir, but the novel doesn't fit my definition of noir at all."

I keep on wanting to avoid these discussions, and then somebody says something that compels me to respond.

Noir is just crime fiction that's dark and sinister. That's it. Now, I don't disagree with the general notion that it's applied way too widely nowadays, but that doesn't mean that the "true" definition is a particularly narrow one.

And the idea that noir means something different in film than it does in prose fiction is absurd. The only reason film noir is called film noir is because it's a film that tells the same kind of story as a noir novel or short story.

If "noir" means something different in film than it does in prose fiction, it's the only term in the entire mystery genre that means something different depending on the medium it's applied to. A police procedural novel and a police procedural film both depict the profession of law enforcement with authenticity and accuracy (or at least the pretense and appearance of authenticity and accuracy). A hard-boiled private eye novel and a hard-boiled private eye film both tell stories of tough, colloquial professional detectives who work for private clients. A tradtional "cozy" whodunit novel and an traditional "cozy whodunit movie both feature fairly presented clues, minimal violence, a comofortable, usually upper-class setting, and a villain whose identity is concealed until the final revelation at the end.

But, in the face of all that, we're somehow supposed to conclude that "noir" means something different in prose than it does in film?

THE BIG SLEEP was one of the first entries in Gallimard's Serie Noire line. Serie Noire, as has been pointed out several times before, was where the term "noir," as used to describe a particular type of crime fiction, was coined. "Film noir" was coined to describe a film that told the same kind of story that the novels published under the Serie Noire line told. Indeed, to describe movies that were often direct adaptations of books published under the Serie Noire line. If the film version of THE BIG SLEEP is noir, it's precisely BECAUSE it's a fairly faithful adaptation of a book that's noir.


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