RARA-AVIS: Re: Nag, Nag, Nag Noir

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 23 Jul 2009

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    Re your question below:

    "I'm not sure when writers first started thinking of themselves as 'noir', but I wouldn't imagine it was very long ago. I'd be very interested in finding out when the term came to be in general use in relation to fiction, if anyone has any information on that."

    As James points out, the first use of "noir" to describe a type of crime fiction is Gallimard's mystery line, SERIE NOIRE, and the term film noir, to describe films that do visually what SERIE NOIRE novels do in prose, came up shortly thereafter.

    However, I suspect you're talking about COMMON use of the term in English.

    As near as I can determine, "film noir" first started burrowing its way into the language in the early to mid '70's, and was pretty well established by the '80's, when new films like DRESSED TO KILL and the remake of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with Nicholson and Lange were actually being advertised as film noir. The use of the term "noir" to describe a type or style of prose crime fiction seems to have followed the widespread acceptance of the term to describe a type or style of crime film. (What airheaded movie actress was heard to explain it thus, "It's like, y'know, French for, like, 'black.'")?

    This, in turn, led to the common, though mistaken, impression that a noir novel is a novel trying to be like a film noir (although, in some individual cases that may actually be true given the self-referential times we live in), when, in fact, it was, historically, the other way around, back when crime novelists were just trying to tell compelling stories and didn't care what labels some publisher or film critic on the other side of the Atlantic had slapped on them.



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