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Let's try and define Noir

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Hey, I hear ya. Once we start to try to measure the ratio of noir visuals to non noir visuals we are in the twilight zone.


As for Moviemadness, well I just read in another thread a post and there it clearly implies he she has a very broad difinition of what his noir (based on a massive list of 'noirs', where a movie like Bad Dad At Black Rock is listed (a good movie to debate as 'noir or not?)).







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Oh come on you really think it would be that difficult with a DVD player, this isn't rocket sicence, lol.


It wouldn't be that hard to do, pop the DVD in, get a start time Fast forward and then pause & mark the beginning and end time on the Noir Lit sequences (not individual scenes), a lot of Noir scenes will all run together. How hard it that going to be???


Total Noir Lit sequences over total Running Length of a film will give you a percentage just round it up or down.


It will get a handle on what people are unquestionally calling NOIR.


I can do it with the Noirs I have pretty easily. I just though maybe it would go a lot quicker with more participating.


I bet the results will be surprising.


Edited by: cigarjoe on Oct 10, 2011 4:50 PM

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misswonderly I came up with the definition on my own, it is not in any book. I think you have to be able to define noir or it makes no sense, and having a whole bunch of criteria to me defeats the purpose, it has almost become a theory like a said, a String Theory.


Should I just accept what others have written and leave it at that? I could, but then I watch these movies and mostly go huh?


Let's go back as I already mentioned Baby Face, let's look at another older film I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,1932, you must have seen it. The guy starts out honest, gets caught on a robbery he didn't do and convicted, goes to the chain gang, escapes and goes straight to become a wealthy guy as an engineer.Then turns himself in due to a femme fatale to serve more time. They lied and he has to escape a second time. At the end he lives in darkness, saying he has to steal to survive, end of movie.


Sounds like a noir to me? Straight guy end up stealing at the end, goes real dark and has to give everything up.


This movie was ahead of its time, as if it was done in the 40's it would also be noir. My point is what separates the movies they list as noir from these others? It isn't the desperation or other things, it has to be something else.


Spencer Tracy in Fury 1936 is very much like this. Nice guy turns sour after they try to lynch him for doing something he didn't do.


If we go by other criteria then Fury and I Escaped from a Chain Gang should be considered noir, but they generally regard noir as having started in the 40's. By my criteria they are not noir either, but for a different reason. There did not have a noir lighting style so it is simple. Great crime dramas but not noir.


My point though is the crime movies of alienation started in the 30's. if not early ( I imagine some silents even have this).


Take a look at Five Star Final 1931, this is way better than Call Northside 777 as far as what reporters do. In Five Star Final they directly bring back a case that makes people commit suicide, all for the sale of newspapers. Five Star Final is way more of a noir type movie, but it was ahead of its time.


The Murder Man 1935 same thing with Call Northside, this time the reporter actually commits a murder. More noirish to me.


So it goes to reason that if these aren't noirs, then others like Northside should not be.


I really don't think we needed a new genre or category of movies called noir for movies like this, these were all mosty crime dramas already and fit in with other movies peacefully. I could see a new category for those special movies that have a different style to how they were filmed, what I call the real noirs.


I am apparently way in the minority on this and most accept the very broad definition of noir to include many, many things. As I said above though these movie types are not new, they have the same types in the thirties if not earlier.


Have I read what the books say, yes, but they often cite other books as to what Noir means. That is not good. If you write a book you should be able to define it, or else we end up in theory, and noir right now is theory to me.


Most noir movies I see as crime dramas, and think of them as that. I wish they had stuck to my easy definition but it is too late. Hundreds and hundreds now are noir and that will always be.


As to your question on why I am not open to the broader definition, it is simply explained above. Those are crime dramas and were crime dramas when made, we already had them in a category. Take a look at spaghetti westerns, if we had to model noirs after something it might be this. Spaghetti westerns are easily defined, and are a sub genre of westerns.


Crime noir could have been made as a sub genre of crime dramas easily defined by lighting styles. People can usually tell a spaghetti western so should be able to tell a crime noir.


That would have made more sense than the "I can tell when I see it" definition. However I respect those that do it that way and am not here to ruffle feathers. I love crime dramas so regardless of how they classify it I will watch it. I still go huh? though quite often, lol.


PS If I wrote a book it would have a simply definition and there would be about as many noirs as Spaghetti westerns, if not half of that. I would probably title my book The 25 Real Noirs.

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MovieMadness, I have the appendix to the American Encyclopedia of Film Noir and they do list earlier films some you just mentioned:



1928-The Racket


1931-City Streets

1932-Beast of the City

I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang

1935-The Scoundrel


1937-You only Live Once

1940-The Letter

Stranger on the Third Floor


and from here we get the usual suspects below


1941-Among The Living

High Sierra

The Maltese Falcon

The Shanghai Gesture

1942-I wake Up Screaming

Johnny Eager

Street Of Chance

This gun For Hire



BTY give us those 25 ;-)

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I again have to question the use of 'they' since to me 'they' is only used to create a strawman.


The book I often reference Film Noir by Silver Ward (Overlook Press), has an Appendix B that contains a chronology of Film Noir.


It starts with the 1927 film Underworld. It list both "I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gain (32), as well as Fury (36).


So who is this 'they' that is getting it all wrong?


I also see way too much emphasis on 'how they were film' instead of the characters and the 'tone' as defined by the plot or storyline.


While I find the entire concept of 'real' or 'true' noir folly I still find it interesting!







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I didn't mean to imply it would be difficult to do, just a waste of time in my view.


The visual is just ONE element that define noir in my view. The fact Out of The Past has less 'noir time' than another movie just isn't interesting to me.



This setence is where we view things differently: It will get a handle on what people are unquestionally calling NOIR.


First who are these 'people'? Second anyone that doesn't see the gray (i.e. that would say X is unquestionally Y), isn't very open minded. I know that isn't where you are coming from but I don't see a reason to 'get a handle' on these misguided souls.





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This whole idea started when I was reading the Nick Ray thread, and it veered off course into a discussion of what was considered Noir misswonderly mentioned The Big Heat and I believe MovieMadness and another poster said they didn't consider it Noir because it didn't have the Noir stylistic lighting.


I mentioned all this at the beginning of this thread "they" were MovieMadness and another one or two posters.



Is it a problem for you if I pursue this? its for fun, and for my interest, really, and right at the moment I have a lot of free time.



I just thought it would fun for any who wanted to participate.


I would like to find out personally what some stalwart Black & White (pun intended) folks consider the "Hard Core" no question in their minds NOIR FILMS.


There are probably a handful of 100% stylistically Noir lit

and they will go gradually grey from there. I also suspect that the other two factors the CHARACTERS and the DIEGETIC WORLD will take up more of the slack as the style drops off.

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As I said I might find some of this discussion e.g. what is true or not, silly but I do find it interesting. Hey, otherwise I wouldn't reply.


As for The Big Heat - the movie is consider to be a noir because the element of corruption (the dead cop was on the take, and his wife cashes out on this), as well as the fact that after all is done Bannion really doesn't change things much. This is a common noir theme related WWII. i.e. that this war to end all wars didn't end 'evil' but only replaced one (Nazis), with another (commies).


Just like Bannion after all the death and destruction going on around him doesn't put a dent into mob corruption. But I can see why some would classify The Big Heat as a crime drama with a noir theme instead of a 'pure' noir.


As for a pure noir; well if there isn't a flashing neon light scene in the movie it really isn't pure noir! :)



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I also suspect that after WW2 with the availability of lighter more mobile cameras the VISUAL component of the stylistically lit studio bound sets gradually gave way to the "real" DIEGETIC world outside the studio using actual locations giving NOIR Films a "neorealistic" quality at least for the exteriors.

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> {quote:title=jamesjazzguitar wrote:}{quote}


> As for Moviemadness, well I just read in another thread a post and there it clearly implies he she has a very broad difinition of what his noir (based on a massive list of 'noirs', where a movie like Bad Dad At Black Rock is listed (a good movie to debate as 'noir or not?)).





The movies in the other thread I listed are ones that come from my master list of over 500 movies considered noir by the books you guys keep citing. So if they ain't noir, don't blame me, my list is much smaller. ;)

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> {quote:title=cigarjoe wrote:}{quote}Oh come on you really think it would be that difficult with a DVD player, this isn't rocket sicence, lol.




No, film noir is NOT rocket science, which is why it isn't a suitable candidate for precise, mechanistic, quantitative analysis. It is not only art, but a very fluid genre of a highly varied artform. Trying to be precise about it is as pointless as trying to pin down a blob of jelly. No matter how many pins you stick in it, it's still a blob of jelly, and you still can't pin it down.


I've long considered *M* to be the first true noir, but I haven't seen the three earlier films you listed. Coincidentally, (and I really mean that,) *M* was directed by Fritz Lang, a German Expressionist director, who went on to direct several fine noirs in the US. German Expressionism is generally regarded as one of the stylistic inspirations for film noir.


On the newer end, Films like *Red Rock West*, *Blood Simple*, and *Memento* are just as clearly noir as any of the classic 40s noirs, to me.


Robert Wise's 1948 film *Blood on the Moon* is a western, starring Robert Mitchum. To me, it is also clearly a noir. I believe it even meets MovieMadness's rather narrow definition of a noir. Should we NOT call it a noir, just because it's a western too?

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A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, this is interesting to ME, regardless, and guess what, the VISUAL component can be measured easily with a DVD, a remote pause button, a pencil and paper.


I'm not trying to make carved in stone pronouncements of what is and what isn't Noir. I'm just interested in the films, all of them, "Noir to Gris" The Hard Core stylistic ones to the Gray ones.


I want to see for myself how Noir evolved from the VISUAL stylistic films that first caught the attention of the critics to the films that had more of the CHARACTER and DIEGETIC (real location) components come into play.


I also suspect that a certain amount of cinematic memory comes into play especially with the use of a stable of actors who regularly appeared in Noir films, their presence alone would bring the memory of past Noir performances and enforce the DIEGETIC component.


That is why I'm curious, because somewhere the VISUAL component began to imperceptibly become supplanted by the other two until they had equal or more weight in fans, reviewers, & critics minds.


If you guys/gals have read my posts on the Near Noir thread you'd know that there are a couple of dozen films that usually nobody considers Noir that I think are VISUALLY related to the style. My tend is to be more inclusive than exclusive.

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Ok just watched *The Woman on Pier 13* (1950) on TMC, Its not even listed in the American Encyclodedia of Film Noir, but yes I definitely say its a Noir no question about it. Basic breakdown the first 19 minutes are sunny California Coast happy newly weds Robert Ryan and Lariane Day nesting, then as soon as they run into Ryan's old flame Janice Carter boom its right into NOIR land, also has supporting cast of Robert Gomez & William Talman. This has plenty of the Diegetic of Noir also, waterfront docks, a carnival sideshow, a strip joint, card carrying commies. I enjoyed it.


Anyway the VISUAL breakdown was easy non noir minutes 19/72 minutes total = 74% of the film is visually Noir.

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In the book Film Noir (Silver Ward, Overlook Press), The Letter is classifed as a noir.


Regardless of what the book says I also view the characters in the film as classic noir characters and thus it is a noir in my book (the one I have yet to write! :) ).



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cigarjoe, I applaud your project here - did not mean to give the impression I was dismissing it, or not interested. But I'm not about to get out my film noir collection ( which is considerable) and start messing about with stopwatches and whatnot just to time how long the "shadowy" scenes are, or whatever. For me it's not about that - you can' t pin things down that way - I can't, anyway. If you get a kick out of experimenting with that sort of thing, go ahead - I'll read your results, I just don't really want to go to all that trouble to contribute my own ( results.)


I think what I like more than defining film noir is discussing film noir. "But we can't discuss it until we define it." Yes we can.

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This is always an interesting discussion.


I will say what I have said before, after you watch some of the "defined" noirs (*Out of the Past, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, Laura, Mildred Pierce*, etc) from there, you can just "go with your gut" because I think from these films, you get the idea about story, visual, characters. I think some films may skimp on the gritty visual style noir is known for, maybe for budget reasons, while others may not have that noir character we expect. I think I would have a larger list of films I consider noir than others.


I usually cross reference film noir books (which also include films that are not noir) and the website Noir of the Week.

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MovieMadness, I hope you're still following this thread, because I just thought of something. Wasn't it you who started a thread, suggesting that *Lolita* could potentially be considered a film noir?

I remember thinking "No, no way, now just about everything is in contention for the noir title. *Lolita* ! No way ! "

This is pretty ironic, considering that you seem to feel more strongly than the rest of us that noir has too broad a definition, that it encompasses just about anything people want it to. Yet it was you who was nominating *Lolita* as a film noir ! I like the movie, but it most definitely does not strike me as a noir in any way . ( Ok, some dark stuff going on in the film, but as you yourself have argued, just because there may be psychological or even political darkness in a movie, that does not necessarily a film noir. Obsession with adolescent girls on the part of much older men is not a traditional noir trope.)


At the risk of overstating my point, I'm amazed that you'd dismiss a film like *The Big Heat* as a noir, yet would seriously consider something like *Lolita* as a canditate for the genre.

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misswonderly I think I explained why it might be considered a standard noir in that thread but at the end after watching it this was a definite no. Think about this, if a great noir director had that story could he have turned it into a noir? I think the answer is yes. :D


One of the things that bugged me about the movie is at the beginning (which is really the ending) Mason seemed calm and composed when going to kill our buddy Quilty, this is supposedly that time right after he broke down to leave Lolita and gave her the money. This is not how I would have expected a noir movie to do this, nor is the lighting in any way noir.



But in a way *Lolita* proves my point that the story itself cannot make a movie a noir, there has to be more. To me it is also the characters, the acting and the lighting. I still think *Lolita* could have been a noir, just as some of the movies I love as noir could also not be had they been done differently.



So as shot Lolita is not a noir. BTW I watched *Lady in the Lake* 1947 and that movie is shot about as noir as *Lolita* is, yet is usually considered a classic noir. I know, Lady involved Phillip Marlowe, the detective, but to me it is a detective drama as shot not a noir.



Now let me add that *Lady in the Lake* is a great detective movie, great acting and the way it was shot. Interesting I went back to read a review of that movie when released and they said after a few minutes of seeing the way it was shot as though the camera is the detective they said it was almost boring. Boy were they spoiled back then, lol.



*Night and the City* was also panned, according to the reviewer back then it was a gutter movie not to be watched, depressing with many crazy shooting angles.



*The Big Combo* was also panned, saying the police can't act this way anymore, lol.



So it is interesting how when released many of these movies were not given the high praise they are today, so in a way maybe the noir title has helping a lot of these become better appreciated.



ValentineXavier mentioned the Western *Blood in the Moon*, in my master list of over 500 movies that one is listed as a Western noir already. Much more noir than a lot of the other westerns listed to be sure.


As to your last point that I dismiss *the Big Heat* as a noir, it is because of the way it was shot that doesn't make it a noir to me. See how I am being consistent here? *Lolita* is also not a noir due to the way it was shot.


So with a simple definition on noir you can do this, not one that finds noir hundreds and hundreds of times.

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Thanks for the response, when I went back and re-read that Lolita thread, you do come to the conclusion that it's not a noir. Good movie - yes. Noir - no.


As to your definition of the genre regarding the importance of the "look", I have to concede that you do seem to assess a would-be noir that way.


So at least you're consistent, and there's something to be said for that, especially when talking about a category of film where sometimes it does seem "anything goes."

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Under another 'noir' thread you posted this:


Late tonight/tomorrow on TCM are a number of movies listed in my massive noir list...


Woman on Pier 13

Beware, My Lovely

The Racket


Act of Violence

The Set-Up

Bad Day at Black Rock (Yes a color movie)




Are you saying hat Bad Day at Black Rock fits your visual 'requirement' for being a noir? I fail to see how it does based on 'the way it was shot' (but it does have some noir themes; e.g. obsession.


I only ask because of the comment related to The Big Heat.



As to your last point that I dismiss *the Big Heat* as a noir, it is because of the way it was shot that doesn't make it a noir to me. See how I am being consistent here? *Lolita* is also not a noir due to the way it was shot.




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That list is not my personal Yes it is 100% no doubt noir list but a noir list from all of the authority books on the subject gathered together. So if a movie is listed then I noted it in that thread as a possible noir. I say possible because I haven't seen some of these and as you mention Bad Day at Black Rock is a color movie. I don't think Bad Day at Black Rock is a noir movie myself, not in the classic sense.


I think of those color noirs listed as what might have been had they been shot in B&W. Niagara is another one when you watch it seems to be noirish, but it is also in color.


However please don't confuse what I wrote in this thread with that list of movies in the other thread. Those are some of the generally accepted or mentioned noirs listed in the books on the subject. My list of real noirs is much much smaller.

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Thanks for explaining where the 'list' come from. It all make sense now. What would be interesting would be to compare the list from various sources and then categories them from their.


Say there are 4 sources. Then we have these categories:


Every Source says this is a noir

3 of 4 say this is a noir

only 1 says this is a noir


This comparison would tell us about how each source defines a noir (well at least to some degree).


As for color noirs, I don't think a movie like Bad Day at Black Rock is a noir but I do believe Niagara and Leave Her to Heaven are. But as I noted my criteria is more character plot driven than visual.


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OK Like I said I have plenty of time and today was a rainy day to boot so did a little run through of some of the Noirs I own (aside from *The Woman on Pier* 13) and here is the break down of Noir-ishly lit Visuals to regularly lit sequences:


*The Set-up* 100%

*The Asphalt Jungle* 97%

*Criss Cross* 90%

*The Narrow Margin* 87%

*Crossfire* (flashbacks to club lightest sequences) 80%

*The Woman on Pier 13* 74%

*The Naked City* (little noir sequences dispersed throughout) 11%


The big surprise is of course is The Naked City the small amount of Noir'ly lit sequences are more than made up for in NYC locations, this may illustrate the gradual definition/perception change from stylistic Noir to "neorealist" type Noir. We'll see what we get as we continue this. Again feel free to investigate


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