RARA-AVIS: Re: Digest Number 1548

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 08 Jul 2007


Re your questions and comments below:

"I agree with Jack. First off, please use examples of falling outside those parameters."

Okay, first, as to Gallimard's Serie Noire line:

You're on record as saying that Mickey Spillane "is not and never has been noir." (I might not have the post exactly correct, but that, IIRC, was the gist).

At least two of Spillane's novels, including the Hammer novel SURVIVAL ZERO, have been published under the Serie Noire imprint. Therefore, in the opinion of the editors who coined the term "noir" to describe a particular kind of mystery, and presumably knew what they meant when they coined it, Spillane does fit the parameters of "noir," despite being outside of the parameters set by you and Jack.

Other examples: THE CASE OF THE COURTEOUS KILLER by Richard Deming, a police procedural based on the radio-TV series DRAGNET; James Bond Spy novels by Ian Fleming, Matt Helm spy novels by Donald Hamilton, and Sam Durell spy novels by Edward S. Aarons; Max Allan Collins's BUTCHER'S DOZEN, a procedural about the search for a serial killer in Depression-era Cleveland, featuring real-life Cleveland police chief Eliot Ness as the hero; two Railroad Police novels by Bert and Dolores Hitchens; three Chet Drum PI novels by Stephen Marlowe; and nearly 100 American-set hard-boiled detective novels by prolific Autralian writer Carter Brown; all deemed "noir" enough to qualify for publication by the original noir publisher, none qualifying as noir under Jack's (and presumably your) definition.

Second, as to films listed in Silver & Ward's FILM NOIR:

Private eye movies like THE MALTESE FALCON and MURDER, MY SWEET (the French book editions of which were both published by Serie Noire); procedurals like THE NAKED CITY, HE WALKED BY NIGHT, and T-MEN; and spy movies like THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET and I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE F.B.I. All of them deemed "noir" enough to be included in a standard reference on film noir, yet none of them qualifying as noir under Jack's (and presumably your) definition.

Finally, as to references in THE BIG BOOK OF NOIR, an anthology of essays about noir in prose fiction, film, comics, radio, and TV edited by Lee Server, Martin Greenberg, and Ed Gorman:

A chapter on John D. MacDonald by Gorman; a chapter on Ross Macdonald by Burton Kendle; a chapter on Donald Hamilton by Robert Skinner; and two chapters by Max Allan Collins, one on Spillane, and the other on Jack Webb. All of them regarded by the editors as noir enough for inclusion in the anthology, but none of them fitting Jack's (and presumably your) definition.

"Second, my definition is even narrower than Jack's. Series Noir (or Roman Noir, whatever) and cinema noir exist in a very tight time frame. As a pre-war sensibility or Depression-era style and as an immediate post war style. It was all over by 1955 at the latest. Many of you consider David Goodis noir. I don't. Really like his writing and he's a fun read but he ain't the thing we mean. Touch of Evil is not noir. It is junk. When I see some of the examples that pop up on this list, I'm dismayed. I really enjoy this list, don't get me wrong. But I see the attempts at a definition of noir in the way the military sees mission creep. In fact, it had a very short life-span and was incredibly influential but like the art movement Dada, it was what it was and there are no neo-dadists, or post-dadists or whatever-dadists."

You start by saying that your definition is even narrower than Jack's, then go into a long explanation about how all that was truly noir fit into a fairly tight period of time.

But you never give your definition. We know what you think is NOT noir. But what is?

You might actually have a point about the tight time frame, at least as to film, but it's hard to know what you mean when you give no specific definition. Telling us that David Goodis isn't noir, Mickey Spillane isn't noir, and the film TOUCH OF EVIL isn't noir, doesn't amount to a definition. Tell us who or what actually is so we have a frame of reference. Or at least tell us why you think none of them are truly noir.

"The naming convention is the key to the whole mess. It was an almost off-hand remark by a French critic who never announced the beginnings of a movement or school or anything with rules or regulations or secretaries reading the minutes of the previous meeting. Talk about vague (and yes the pun is intended)."

Well it wasn't entirely off-hand. It was a comment about a style of film that mirrored a style of prose fiction that was exemplified by Gallimard's Serie Noire line. In fact, in many cases, the films referred to were directly based on books that had been published by Serie Noire. Hence, Film Noir. So it all comes back to Gallimard's name for its mystery line.

But, in any case, doesn't the very fact that, as you point out, the parameters were vague, argue strongly for an inclusive, general definition, rather than one that is as exclusive and specific as Jack's (and presumably yours)?

"So I really don't care about somebody's big book of this or that or conversations about how noir is alive today. It isn't. What is being touted as the new noir is more a fashion than a style. That's not to say that some of these books aren't good or not worth reading. But having definitions of post-1955 noirishness is sometimes funny and every time has helped me with my own evaluations of the form."

Which you still haven't specifically explained.

"But the waving of books and quotations is a little too Mao for me."

Then why did you challenge me to do just that at the beginning of your message?

Apropos of nothing in particular, there are many on this list who will no doubt be highly amused at my being labeled, of all things, "a little too Mao."

Sorry you're leaving the group. I wish you'd reconsider.


____________________________________________________________________________________ Building a website is a piece of cake. Yahoo! Small Business gives you all the tools to get online. http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/webhosting

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 08 Jul 2007 EDT