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Dr. Rich Edwards

Into the Darkness Video Lecture #1: The Heist (Official Discussion Thread)

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The only thing i worry about is if the noir definition is open too wide, any and every crime and detective movie will be classified as noir and we will miss true noirs. Of course I know the definition has become too broad when Sherlock Holmes films are classified as noirs. Thankfully, that has not happened. What I'm hoping for is some unknown noirs will come to surface.

 

This lecture has me seriously looking at which catagory films noir fit into. I feel that it is afilm movement that inspired its unique style and genre. It looks like nothing else being made in Hollywood at the time. 

 

Perhaps it is a diservice to put films noir is a neatly packaged box with a label. It's pretty fitting for it not to need a label. I will be interested to see how my perception changes throughout the course as I learn more about the histoy and legacy of film noir.

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Video Lecture #1: Style, Genre, Movement?

In the lecture, you (Rich Edwards) mention that you don’t like categories, and I feel the same way. Categorizing something seems to rob it of its individuality, distinctiveness, and singular contributions. But that’s what makes film noir so much fun to discuss. I’m not sure I know how to define film noir exactly, but I do think that angst is a crucial element. Without it, it would be difficult to categorize a film as noir. I wonder, too, if the attitudes that developed in response to twentieth-century events, especially economic collapse and two world wars, were crucial. All this leads me to believe—for now—that film noir is a style more than a genre or a movement. I hope to have a better idea about how to define film noir by the time that I finish this course!

 

Thanks Marianne! It's a bit of tightrope to walk talking about categories, that is why I spent almost an entire page on the topic in the Introduction: No Bottom to Module 2, and mentioned it again in the lecture. On the one hand, categories are quite useful. They allow us to have discussions like this and curate an amazing film festival like Summer of Darkness. And 70 years later, we can see that the category of film noir does exist and that means certain films are noir and some aren't. On the other hand, categories can be limiting and exclusionary. I know a lot of scholars who like to keep their lists of films noir more limited to focus on what they see as essential texts. But I tend towards a more expansive definition - as a scholar, I don't see the harm of having a larger definition of noir that seeks to include a lot of films, that maybe at first don't seem as "classically" or "canonically" noir. But I want to mention we have only gotten started and I have much more I want to share with all of you about the history and historical debates about film noir, before you make up your own minds about the value of categories. For right now, I urge those of you new to noir to keep an opening mind and focus on making your own lists through your own personal viewings of the films in the Summer of Darkness lineup. We still have many more lessons to go - we are only in Week 2!

 

Since the movies of film noir are the result of cultural, artistic, cinematic, political, economic, and historical factors, there are lots of reasons to keep thinking about the reasons why, during a glorious period of Hollywood film history and the height of the studio system, so many talented filmmaking crews turned their attention away from stories that had been quite popular in the 1930s and during the Depression (films that had been the bread and butter of the early days of Hollywood) and embraced instead these bitter and grim black and white gems of fateful desperation done with style to burn at the onset of WW II. I will address some of those reasons in lectures still to come. 

 

No has, and no one ever will, get to the bottom of what is film noir - and to me, that is great. It's the journey, not the destination. And boy, I'm ready to get on that road, each and every time, if it means I get to keep watching and talking about the films we have to share in the Summer of Darkness festival. 

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The only thing i worry about is if the noir definition is open too wide, any and every crime and detective movie will be classified as noir and we will miss true noirs. Of course I know the definition has become too broad when Sherlock Holmes films are classified as noirs. Thankfully, that has not happened. What I'm hoping for is some unknown noirs will come to surface.

 

I feel pretty much the same way.  Certainly Prof. Edwards has warned us not to get too hung up on categorizing these films; and this has to be especially true in light of how early on we are in this course. Still, I’ve been watching some of the movies scheduled for this week (almost all of which are in my personal film library), and there’s no mistaking that these films are loaded with noir-ish elements.  However I’m not so sure how one could include ‘Ministry of Fear’, ‘Danger Signal’, and ‘Deadline at Dawn’ in the same genre with ‘Laura’, ‘Murder, My Sweet’, and ‘Detour’.  So I’m thinking that film noir, as a style, is an established thing.  Then I’m wondering if, perhaps, film noir, as a genre, is a subset of that noir-ish style.  Does that make any sense at all?  Because often I don’t, and I’m old enough to admit that now.

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Yes.does make sense to me. I have been remaining open minded through out the course- We're very early in the game. I never considered High Sierra a noir.  But from reading module #1 can defintely see strong noir elements (Mad Dog Earl is doomed). I see it as a crime drama / pre-noir,but not a pure noir like Out of the Past.  So I will continue on the Case of the Noir... Actually I'm looking on the TCM scheduled viewing list and the bulk I see as noirs. There's a few I have never seen, which I'm happy about. I love viewing noirs new to me. Which makes me think: did the noir style cross over to other genres because it was popular at the time and film makers wanted those elements in their films?? 

I feel pretty much the same way.  Certainly Prof. Edwards has warned us not to get too hung up on categorizing these films; and this has to be especially true in light of how early on we are in this course. Still, I’ve been watching some of the movies scheduled for this week (almost all of which are in my personal film library), and there’s no mistaking that these films are loaded with noir-ish elements.  However I’m not so sure how one could include ‘Ministry of Fear’, ‘Danger Signal’, and ‘Deadline at Dawn’ in the same genre with ‘Laura’, ‘Murder, My Sweet’, and ‘Detour’.  So I’m thinking that film noir, as a style, is an established thing.  Then I’m wondering if, perhaps, film noir, as a genre, is a subset of that noir-ish style.  Does that make any sense at all?  Because often I don’t, and I’m old enough to admit that now.

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Great first lecture with lots of things to think about. I know we're not supposed to decide yet but I can't help myself. I've changed my mind from genre to style ( for this week) we'll see how things change as the course wears on. Film noir style is evident in so many other neo noir movies (I hope I'm using that term correctly) such as science fiction ( 12 Monkeys and Blade Runner) and even comedies (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and My Favorite Brunette) . So right now I'm thinking film noir might transcend genre and be style.

 

On the other hand I'm very excited to learn about historical influences that led to film noir. I'm a history buff and have always enjoyed seeing the influences history has on literature, art, and the movies. Postwar cynicism is very evident in film noir. So who knows I might change to movement before long.

 

I agree with our instructor that labels may not always work. But I also agree with his idea that it is the journey not the destination. As a another poster on this site said ( I'm sorry I can't remember who you are and now I can't find your post) sometimes it's fun to try to pin things down.

Looking forward to next week's lecture and finding out what I will think film noir is then. Keeping an open mind and having fun and enjoying reading everyone's insights. :)

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Thank you for the first video lecture. What struck me was the French critics that was able to watch a large volume of these movies in a short time and could clearly identify this group of films as different, rougher around the edges than what they had seen previously released from american studios. Sometimes you have to be on the outside to see the changes. I appreciate the instructor vast knowledge base and challenging us to question our form of thinking, categorizing, organization and judgement. I look forward to learning more and watching more Film Noir films.

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Jazz rarely used in Noir? I beg to differ. Jazz is quite diverse and much more than the solitary saxophone. There's be-bop, big band, gypsy, swing, etc. I hear quite a bit of different subgenres of jazz in many films noir. For example:

The Third Man uses Gypsy Jazz throughout the film.

Double Indemnity, Laura, Touch of Evil, Postman Always Ring Twice, Big Sleep all use jazz that is predominantly sax and piano.

Man with the Golden Arm is more be-bop jazz

Asphalt Jungle uses swing

 

Diegetic (aka source music) or not, it's still a soundtrack. Rear Window, though there may be no orchestra, still has a jazzy soundtrack nonetheless through diegesis.

No wait,correction. Ah ha!...I found a slow sax bit in Detour,at the 41 min mark where they get the room. Neal even says "I wish that guy with the sax,would give up!" Looool. Don't know how I didn't remember that. Guess I'm too busy laughing at Savage being so mean to notice.
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From a historical point of view it's also crucial to keep in mind that the classic Film Noir period lasted from around 1940 to 1960. A period of twenty years, during which the U.S. and the world saw dramatic events and went through huge political and social changes. 

 

While there are probably central and unique Noir themes running through the entire time frame, I'm pretty sure there are tonal shifts separating the early Noirs from later Noirs. 

 

It would be great to look into this and see if and what these shifts are. 

 

What I personally like to do is pinpoint the actual date of a film's release, and see what other films were released in that specific year. I think it adds perspective.

 

For instance OUT OF THE PAST is from 1947. Most successful film of that year was DeMille's adventure movie UNCONQUERED, but also saw the release of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, ROAD TO RIO, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, and LIFE WITH FATHER. 

 

THE BIG SLEEP is from 1953. No.1 film of that year was THE ROBE. Also released were SHANE, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

 

Just showing that Noirs had to compete with, and be successful versus these crowdpleasers.

 

(On a side note, 20 years ago, 1995 saw the release of one of the greatest Neo-Noirs ever: SEVEN)

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The only thing i worry about is if the noir definition is open too wide, any and every crime and detective movie will be classified as noir and we will miss true noirs. Of course I know the definition has become too broad when Sherlock Holmes films are classified as noirs. Thankfully, that has not happened. What I'm hoping for is some unknown noirs will come to surface.

 

I think Richard Edwards made it clear in his lecture that the difference between the old style detective thriller and the noir detective was the emotional involvement of the detective.  It is this involvement which usually leads to his downfall.  Sherlock Holmes was pure intellect who never allowed the emotional problems of his suspects to bother him.  He only wanted the facts of the case and the thrill of solving the problem.  In this area, noir is the antithesis of the classic British Detective crime novel/film as evinced by Agatha Christie.

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This discussion on Jazz and film noir is actually fascinating to me because it is bringing out something very important to, if not film noir, then definitely neo-noir.  Noir already has a concern with how much we know about certain characters and how much the noir detective story is about a subject trying to literally piece together something out of the past.  I think neo-noirs take up this thread in really interesting ways. The kind of sexy arpeggiated jazz and trumpet instrumentals we associate with films noir did in fact come later with neo-noir.  I mostly think of Polanski's Chinatown (one of the best movies ever, right?).  Many neo-noirs will actually take up the themes of amneisa, memory, and notions of the past, and part of the task of harkening back to older noirs is including signifiers of the past.  And neo-noirs with sexy jazz scores (Chinatown, Bladerunner, LA Confidential) attempt to get at the past in this way.  It's a really interesting thread in noir that I'm excited about following, namely: how we use films to think about historical time.  When did we start thinking movies with Bogart had a soundtrack filled with sexy Jazz solos?  When did we start thinking that was what the past sounded like?  Like the noirish detectives making sense of reality out of little pieces and seeing what plays and what fits, how did we become amnesiacs ourselves? 

I think it has to do with the same attitudes that brought about the Hayes Code, jazz was the "devils music" it was usually used in diegetic sequences where bad things happened. lol

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Thanks Marianne! It's a bit of tightrope to walk talking about categories, that is why I spent almost an entire page on the topic in the Introduction: No Bottom to Module 2, and mentioned it again in the lecture. On the one hand, categories are quite useful. They allow us to have discussions like this and curate an amazing film festival like Summer of Darkness. And 70 years later, we can see that the category of film noir does exist and that means certain films are noir and some aren't. On the other hand, categories can be limiting and exclusionary. I know a lot of scholars who like to keep their lists of films noir more limited to focus on what they see as essential texts. But I tend towards a more expansive definition - as a scholar, I don't see the harm of having a larger definition of noir that seeks to include a lot of films, that maybe at first don't seem as "classically" or "canonically" noir. But I want to mention we have only gotten started and I have much more I want to share with all of you about the history and historical debates about film noir, before you make up your own minds about the value of categories. For right now, I urge those of you new to noir to keep an opening mind and focus on making your own lists through your own personal viewings of the films in the Summer of Darkness lineup. We still have many more lessons to go - we are only in Week 2!

 

Since the movies of film noir are the result of cultural, artistic, cinematic, political, economic, and historical factors, there are lots of reasons to keep thinking about the reasons why, during a glorious period of Hollywood film history and the height of the studio system, so many talented filmmaking crews turned their attention away from stories that had been quite popular in the 1930s and during the Depression (films that had been the bread and butter of the early days of Hollywood) and embraced instead these bitter and grim black and white gems of fateful desperation done with style to burn at the onset of WW II. I will address some of those reasons in lectures still to come. 

 

No has, and no one ever will, get to the bottom of what is film noir - and to me, that is great. It's the journey, not the destination. And boy, I'm ready to get on that road, each and every time, if it means I get to keep watching and talking about the films we have to share in the Summer of Darkness festival. 

This is what I came up with a while ago on my own personal Noir quest: 
 
It would almost be better to say that, rather than call these films a genre call them a style/tool of film making used in certain film/plot sequences or for a films entirety that was used to convey claustrophobia, alienation, obsession, and events spiraling out of control, predominantly in Crime, Thriller, Horror and Suspense films (but also occasionally in other genres) that came to fruition in roughly the period of the last three decades of B&W film (though there are some color examples). 
 
Then you can say we have this Film Noir Style that can have two opposite poles one would be Films de la nuit, Films of the night, the opposite would be Films Soleil, films of the sun, those sun baked, filled with light Noirs, then all the rest would fit in the spectrum in between being various shades of grey or Films Gris. No? ;-) 
 
A few Examples:
 
Films de la nuit 
 
Armored Car Robbery 
The Asphalt Jungle 
The Big Combo 
Black Angel 
Crime Wave 
Criss Cross 
The Crooked Way 
Crossfire 
The Dark Corner 
Dead Reckoning 
Detour 
Double Indemnity 
Edge of Doom 
Fallen Angel 
He Walked By Night 
Killers Kiss 
The Killers 
The Killing 
Kiss Me Deadly 
The Narrow Margin 
Night And The City 
99 River Street 
The Phantom Lady 
Raw Deal 
Red Light 
Scarlett Street 
The Strange Lives of Martha Ivers 
Sudden Fear 
Storm Warming 
T Men 
The Set Up 
They Live By Night 
They Made me a Fugitive 
Touch Of Evil 
Where Danger Lives 
Where The Sidewalk Ends 
The Window 
 
Films Soleil (a lot of light in these comparatively to those above) 
 
Ace In The Hole 
The Hitch-Hicker 
High Sierra 
Gun Crazy 
Bad Day At Black Rock  (color)
Highway Dragnet 
Roadblock 
Inferno (color)
Desert Fury (color)
Niagara (color)
The Naked City 
Violent Saturday (color)
Nightfall 
The Lineup 
Suddenly 
Down Three Dark Streets 
The Breaking Point 
Cry Vengeance 
The Phenix City Story 
Jeopardy
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ahhh another angle to view noirs from. could it be these films were so good because what else was being produced at the time. I can see why the classic period is called the Golden Age of Hollywood.

 

 

From a historical point of view it's also crucial to keep in mind that the classic Film Noir period lasted from around 1940 to 1960. A period of twenty years, during which the U.S. and the world saw dramatic events and went through huge political and social changes. 

 

While there are probably central and unique Noir themes running through the entire time frame, I'm pretty sure there are tonal shifts separating the early Noirs from later Noirs. 

 

It would be great to look into this and see if and what these shifts are. 

 

What I personally like to do is pinpoint the actual date of a film's release, and see what other films were released in that specific year. I think it adds perspective.

 

For instance OUT OF THE PAST is from 1947. Most successful film of that year was DeMille's adventure movie UNCONQUERED, but also saw the release of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, ROAD TO RIO, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, and LIFE WITH FATHER. 

 

THE BIG SLEEP is from 1953. No.1 film of that year was THE ROBE. Also released were SHANE, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

 

Just showing that Noirs had to compete with, and be successful versus these crowdpleasers.

 

(On a side note, 20 years ago, 1995 saw the release of one of the greatest Neo-Noirs ever: SEVEN)

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Richard, I greatly enjoyed the first lecture. I think before you posed the question, I would have probably called Film Noir a genre, mostly due to my misuse of the term than anything else ("style" probably was a better match for my intent. And I'm cognizant of those who strictly define it by the time period, which I see as a result of the source material as much as the social environment (pre-and-post-war disillusionment, isolation, fear, etc.). The explosion of theatres and the absence of TV also created a market so demanding that many of these were given a green light as less expensive "B" movies with the resulting freedom to experiment and blaze new trails.

 

I won't argue the Noir vs. neo-Noir point beyond stating that I find "Body Heat" and "Memento" and even a small indie like the recent "Bad Turn Worse" as appealing to me for the same reasons that I revere "Out of the Past" and "The Killing". These films contain many of the elements (see below) that intrigue me and pique my interest, even though they might have a brighter canvas or be disguised as something else ("Gone Girl", anyone?). But for all the shadows and camera angles and symbolism, if it isn't a good script and it isn't compellingly acted, it won't ring the bell.

 

My favorite "elevator speech" definition is things are not what they appear to be. But to quote a couple of classic titles - "Quicksand" and "Whirlpool" - it all starts when someone makes a decision and is thrust into a situation that they can't completely control. Maybe they make the wrong choice and can't get out. Maybe, despite all their efforts, one loose thread unravels the entire quilt.

 

Yes, the characters can be fatalistic, perhaps cruel, often misogynistic. Toss in subversive, flawed, desperate, obsessive as well. But never boring...never.

 

Hollywood is too concerned with blockbusters and sequels to make many intelligent and challenging films; but there are people out there keeping the flame alive. So I'm thankful for the ability to not only rediscover the classics but to seek out the new ones that do make it through the gauntlet despite the odds. Looking forward to sharing my discoveries and following the recommendations of others, but that's for a separate thread.

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I think it has to do with the same attitudes that brought about the Hayes Code, jazz was the "devils music" it was usually used in diegetic sequences where bad things happened. lol

 

I agree with your 'devil's music' comment which is why I mentioned bebop jazz being used in 40s and 50s noirs.   Of course Buzz in the Blue Dahlia called it 'monkey music'  (but sadly that might have been an offensive racial slur).    I have a Times Magazine from 1949 that I purchased because Olivia DeHavilland is on the cover for the film The Snake Pit.    The magazine also has an article on the new form of jazz;  bebop.    Very interesting article but the overall impression is that this type of music was for folks on the fringe of society as well as certain racial groups.     

 

Of course it only took a few years before Rock and Roll became the music the squares hated and felt would ruin society.  (and of course other forms replaced Rock and Roll in this regard). 

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Richard, I greatly enjoyed the first lecture. I think before you posed the question, I would have probably called Film Noir a genre, mostly due to my misuse of the term than anything else ("style" probably was a better match for my intent. And I'm cognizant of those who strictly define it by the time period, which I see as a result of the source material as much as the social environment (pre-and-post-war disillusionment, isolation, fear, etc.). The explosion of theatres and the absence of TV also created a market so demanding that many of these were given a green light as less expensive "B" movies with the resulting freedom to experiment and blaze new trails.

 

I won't argue the Noir vs. neo-Noir point beyond stating that I find "Body Heat" and "Memento" and even a small indie like the recent "Bad Turn Worse" as appealing to me for the same reasons that I revere "Out of the Past" and "The Killing". These films contain many of the elements (see below) that intrigue me and pique my interest, even though they might have a brighter canvas or be disguised as something else ("Gone Girl", anyone?). But for all the shadows and camera angles and symbolism, if it isn't a good script and it isn't compellingly acted, it won't ring the bell.

 

My favorite "elevator speech" definition is things are not what they appear to be. But to quote a couple of classic titles - "Quicksand" and "Whirlpool" - it all starts when someone makes a decision and is thrust into a situation that they can't completely control. Maybe they make the wrong choice and can't get out. Maybe, despite all their efforts, one loose thread unravels the entire quilt.

 

Yes, the characters can be fatalistic, perhaps cruel, often misogynistic. Toss in subversive, flawed, desperate, obsessive as well. But never boring...never.

 

Hollywood is too concerned with blockbusters and sequels to make many intelligent and challenging films; but there are people out there keeping the flame alive. So I'm thankful for the ability to not only rediscover the classics but to seek out the new ones that do make it through the gauntlet despite the odds. Looking forward to sharing my discoveries and following the recommendations of others, but that's for a separate thread.

Gone Girl is an interesting choice. Except for black and white film, it's a film noir, although I wouldn't have thought of it that way before you mentioned it. I read the book and didn't like it too much, but I saw the movie anyway and thought it was so much better! In the book, Amy Dunne was almost laughable, I thought. In the movie, she was frightening. Hats off to Rosamund Pike for a fantastic portrayal.

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From a historical point of view it's also crucial to keep in mind that the classic Film Noir period lasted from around 1940 to 1960. A period of twenty years, during which the U.S. and the world saw dramatic events and went through huge political and social changes. 

 

While there are probably central and unique Noir themes running through the entire time frame, I'm pretty sure there are tonal shifts separating the early Noirs from later Noirs. 

 

It would be great to look into this and see if and what these shifts are. 

 

What I personally like to do is pinpoint the actual date of a film's release, and see what other films were released in that specific year. I think it adds perspective.

 

For instance OUT OF THE PAST is from 1947. Most successful film of that year was DeMille's adventure movie UNCONQUERED, but also saw the release of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, ROAD TO RIO, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, and LIFE WITH FATHER. 

 

THE BIG SLEEP is from 1953. No.1 film of that year was THE ROBE. Also released were SHANE, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

 

Just showing that Noirs had to compete with, and be successful versus these crowdpleasers.

 

(On a side note, 20 years ago, 1995 saw the release of one of the greatest Neo-Noirs ever: SEVEN)

Pardon the riff, but you mention SHANE.  It would be interesting to examine how Westerns evolved in parallel (or in reaction to) noirs.  The protagonist in SHANE (as well as that of HIGH NOON) is much like the noir protagonist, a loner determined to do the right thing against the odds whether the world at large cares or not.  This type of protagonist contrasts with the grand heroes of John Ford's films, who are larger than life and swagger their way through hardship without a hint of self-doubt or irony.  Anyway, these are thoughts for another summer.

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Pardon the riff, but you mention SHANE.  It would be interesting to examine how Westerns evolved in parallel (or in reaction to) noirs.  The protagonist in SHANE (as well as that of HIGH NOON) is much like the noir protagonist, a loner determined to do the right thing against the odds whether the world at large cares or not.  This type of protagonist contrasts with the grand heroes of John Ford's films, who are larger than life and swagger their way through hardship without a hint of self-doubt or irony.  Anyway, these are thoughts for another summer.

Quite a few directors made films in different genres, in this case both Westerns and Noirs. People like Anthony Mann (T-MEN, RAW DEAL and THE NAKED SPUR, THE TIN STAR), Nicholas Ray (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, IN A LONELY PLACE and JOHNNY GUITAR), and Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST and CANYON PASSAGE) to name but a few. So yes, it would be interesting to discuss how they went about in various genres.

 

I'm not sure if I agree with your assessment of John Ford. Films like THE INFORMER (talk about a proto-Noir), THE FUGITIVE and MY DARLING CLEMENTINE don't exactly have the bigger than life protagonists. 

 

But maybe for a next course indeed :)

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Quite a few directors made films in different genres, in this case both Westerns and Noirs. People like Anthony Mann (T-MEN, RAW DEAL and THE NAKED SPUR, THE TIN STAR), Nicholas Ray (THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, IN A LONELY PLACE and JOHNNY GUITAR), and Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST and CANYON PASSAGE) to name but a few. So yes, it would be interesting to discuss how they went about in various genres.

 

I'm not sure if I agree with your assessment of John Ford. Films like THE INFORMER (talk about a proto-Noir), THE FUGITIVE and MY DARLING CLEMENTINE don't exactly have the bigger than life protagonists. 

 

But maybe for a next course indeed :)

Next course?  I'm never going to get any work done!

 

Anyway, point taken on John Ford.  I was thinking of his films with John Wayne, but that would only be a portion of his filmography.  I'll need to add the three films you mentioned to my watchlist!

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I confess, although the genre label is tempting, I tend towards the "movement" school of thought where film noir is concerned: "The Maltese Falcon" through "Touch of Evil." 

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Does anyone, including our fearless lead investigator and instructor, know where we might locate an English translation of Nino Frank's article "A New Police Genre: the Criminal Adventure"? I feel that it would be important for our course reading. Merci!  ;) 

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I confess, although the genre label is tempting, I tend towards the "movement" school of thought where film noir is concerned: "The Maltese Falcon" through "Touch of Evil." 

yea that's the general consensus, though some Neo Noirs of the 60s could easily be tacked on to the Classic Noirs

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Does anyone, including our fearless lead investigator and instructor, know where we might locate an English translation of Nino Frank's article "A New Police Genre: the Criminal Adventure"? I feel that it would be important for our course reading. Merci!  ;) 

 

It can be found in Silver and Ursini's Film Noir Reader 2, along with other important early essays on film noir. For those of you who want to dig more deeply into the key essays on film noir, I recommending buying both Film Noir Reader 1 and 2. They are filled with great reading for those who want the rest of the story...

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I confess, although the genre label is tempting, I tend towards the "movement" school of thought where film noir is concerned: "The Maltese Falcon" through "Touch of Evil." 

 

Although I could be swayed by persuasive arguments that film noir is a genre or a style, at the moment I think I lean towards categorizing it as a movement as well.   Really, I've always considered true noir to be only the films of the 1940's and 50's and everything after, I've always called neo-noir. But, it's the neo-noirs that trouble me now.  If film noir is a movement, then what do we consider the films like Chinatown or Brick that very clearly belong to the noir family? Or films like Blade Runner or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, that use noir conventions in other genres? This brings me back around to the idea that perhaps, film noir is a style.  Could the movement have given birth to a style that we now use? I'm not sure I'll ever actually come to any sort of definite conclusion.

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So you want to talk about the black film? Alright, let's talk about it. I'm a man who likes to talk to a man who likes to talk...or a woman, or whatever. Hard to be satirically biting and politically correct simultaneously...

 

My guess is that the ORIGINS of the Black Noir are many and varied. So many alleys to drive up and down on this topic so I'll just rant briefly in a dozen different directions...

 

Let's look at Jewish refugees...shunted to Hollywood at the peak of their game due to local conditions in Europe circa 37-45. Their bleak outlook, paranoid outsider status and self mythologies (like Lenny Bruce said, "Have you ever seen one Jewish bad guy in the movies?..Never. Who's the bad guy? The Irish drunk!")

 

Weimar's fantastic film industry (UFA) (already controlled by Paramount Pictures distribution machine) now fled to Hollywood (Directors Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder...actors Edward G Robinson, Peter Lorre, etc.)

 

German expressionism became noir (Caligari to Call Northside 777). Noir humor is German humor...dark and maelevolent

 

The wealth of films noir (what we treasure about them) is their vagueness, their elusiveness...they are the stuff that dreams are made of...why didn't they just spout off about sex and perversion like they did in the thirties? Three words...Hollywood Production Code. Noir was a necessary backroad around the prudish restrictions by white anglo saxon bigots who didn't want to be reminded that they slept around and crooked the system too...So the commie leftwingers surreptitiously created a movie underground that exported forbidden ideas and deviant messages until the Red Scare co-opted and "republicanized" noir in the 50s.

 

So much need for films in the 40s and 50s that the studios divided the load between prestige pictures and cheapo second features to fill up the bill...a perfect subversive feeding ground. Lack of funds = creative answers. Smoke and shadow to cover up cheap set decor. Non glamorous character actors and lower rent actresses who needed the work. Great scripts from anti social, alcoholic writers and activist liberals with an axe to grind.

 

That's a short list of some of my usual suspects...RATS! I just read Eddie Muller's overview and I'm repeating everything he already said....and said better. I have Eddie envy.

 

But I tend to disagree with Mr Muller about the French romantic connection to noir. (There is one French caper film, Rififi, I wish it were on the list, I'd love  to see it again). But the French are much more about romance and philosophy  "L'existentialisme est un humanisme"...while film noir philosophy is more along the lines of "the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter". I never really saw the connection myself. C'est la guerre.

 

As for the eternal debate what is noir? I'm reminded of Dizzy's comments about popularizing bebob in the late 40s. He was so proud of what he and Bird had wrought that he accepted the critic's label "Bebop" even though it was really just popular music. He realized later that when they pigeonhole you, that's when you give them the power to control and limit you. He regretted the choice. Same with noir. It's neither a genre, nor a movement nor a cycle...it's just good movies.

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So you want to talk about the black film? Alright, let's talk about it. I'm a man who likes to talk to a man who likes to talk...or a woman, or whatever. Hard to be satirically biting and politically correct simultaneously...

 

My guess is that the ORIGINS of the Black Noir are many and varied. So many alleys to drive up and down on this topic so I'll just rant briefly in a dozen different directions...

 

Let's look at Jewish refugees...shunted to Hollywood at the peak of their game due to local conditions in Europe circa 37-45. Their bleak outlook, paranoid outsider status and self mythologies (like Lenny Bruce said, "Have you ever seen one Jewish bad guy in the movies?..Never. Who's the bad guy? The Irish drunk!")

 

Weimar's fantastic film industry (UFA) (already controlled by Paramount Pictures distribution machine) now fled to Hollywood (Directors Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder...actors Edward G Robinson, Peter Lorre, etc.)

 

German expressionism became noir (Caligari to Call Northside 777). Noir humor is German humor...dark and maelevolent

 

The wealth of films noir (what we treasure about them) is their vagueness, their elusiveness...they are the stuff that dreams are made of...why didn't they just spout off about sex and perversion like they did in the thirties? Three words...Hollywood Production Code. Noir was a necessary backroad around the prudish restrictions by white anglo saxon bigots who didn't want to be reminded that they slept around and crooked the system too...So the commie leftwingers surreptitiously created a movie underground that exported forbidden ideas and deviant messages until the Red Scare co-opted and "republicanized" noir in the 50s.

 

So much need for films in the 40s and 50s that the studios divided the load between prestige pictures and cheapo second features to fill up the bill...a perfect subversive feeding ground. Lack of funds = creative answers. Smoke and shadow to cover up cheap set decor. Non glamorous character actors and lower rent actresses who needed the work. Great scripts from anti social, alcoholic writers and activist liberals with an axe to grind.

 

That's a short list of some of my usual suspects...RATS! I just read Eddie Muller's overview and I'm repeating everything he already said....and said better. I have Eddie envy.

 

But I tend to disagree with Mr Muller about the French romantic connection to noir. (There is one French caper film, Rififi, I wish it were on the list, I'd love  to see it again). But the French are much more about romance and philosophy  "L'existentialisme est un humanisme"...while film noir philosophy is more along the lines of "the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter". I never really saw the connection myself. C'est la guerre.

 

As for the eternal debate what is noir? I'm reminded of Dizzy's comments about popularizing bebob in the late 40s. He was so proud of what he and Bird had wrought that he accepted the critic's label "Bebop" even though it was really just popular music. He realized later that when they pigeonhole you, that's when you give them the power to control and limit you. He regretted the choice. Same with noir. It's neither a genre, nor a movement nor a cycle...it's just good movies.

You got to add WWII resource rationing, and west coast blackouts, into the mix also. Check out "Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir" Paperback – October 19, 2005 by Sheri Chinen Biesen

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