RARA-AVIS: Re: Nihilism and Willeford

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 13 Sep 2009

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    Re your question below:

    "So you consider Wilkie Collins' THE WOMAN IN WHITE, noir?"

    Of course. I thought it was obvious that it was noir.

    "I don't really agree with you, Jim. I think your definition is too broad."

    No, it's not too broad. It's precisely broad enough to fit all the various examples likely to come under consideration, without excluding those that should be included despite not having a protagonist who gets "screwed."

    It's broad enough to fit a police procedural film like T-MEN or HE WALKED BY NIGHT. It's broad enough to fit gangster films like THE ASPHALT JUNGLE or THE KILLING. It's broad enough to fit private eye pictures like MURDER, MY SWEET and KISS ME DEADLY. It's broad enough to fit cloak-and-dagger flicks like JOURNEY INTO FEAR and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. It's broad enough to fit romantic suspense "chick-flicks" like LAURA and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.

    It's broad enough to fit novelists ranging from Cornell Woolrich to Jim Thompson, from Dashiell Hammett to James M. Cain, from Chester Himes to W.R. Burnett, from William P. McGivern to Elizabeth Sanxay.

    It was a broad term when Duhamel set the parameters with the Serie Noire mystery line he edited for Gallimard. It was broad when the term went on to be used by French film critics like Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier to describe the kind of crime film that was likely to have been photographed by John Alton. And it still is broad.

    The problem is not that the definition I propose is too broad. It's that every other attempt to define it is too narrow.

    "What about Jayne Eyre and Wuthering Heights? Are they noir?"

    Depend on how broadly you define crime fiction. You might have a point with JANE EYRE. Certainly all those "gothic suspense" paperback originals that were so popular back in the '60's, which are the direct descendants of JANE EYRE are noir.

    WUTHERING HEIGHTS is not a crime novel, so it's not noir.



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