America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era


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Free University of Berlin. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Murder by Contract , directed by Irving Lerner , is a deadpan joke on noir, with a denouement as bleak as any of the films it kids. Taxi Driver caustically deconstructs the "dark" crime film, taking it to an absurd extreme and then offering a conclusion that manages to mock every possible anticipated ending—triumphant, tragic, artfully ambivalent—while being each, all at once.

In other media, the television series Sledge Hammer! Sesame Street —curr. Garrison Keillor 's radio program A Prairie Home Companion features the recurring character Guy Noir , a hardboiled detective whose adventures always wander into farce Guy also appears in the Altman-directed film based on Keillor's show. Firesign Theatre 's Nick Danger has trod the same not-so-mean streets, both on radio and in comedy albums.

Cartoons such as Garfield's Babes and Bullets and comic strip characters such as Tracer Bullet of Calvin and Hobbes have parodied both film noir and the kindred hardboiled tradition—one of the sources from which film noir sprang and which it now overshadows. In their original canon of film noir, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton identified twenty-two Hollywood films released between and as core examples; they listed another fifty-nine American films from the period as significantly related to the field of noir.

For instance, The Night of the Hunter , starring Robert Mitchum in an acclaimed performance, is treated as a film noir by some critics, but not by others.

To support their categorization of certain films as noirs and their rejection of others, many critics refer to a set of elements they see as marking examples of the mode. The question of what constitutes the set of noir's identifying characteristics is a fundamental source of controversy. For instance, critics tend to define the model film noir as having a tragic or bleak conclusion, [] but many acknowledged classics of the genre have clearly happy endings e.

Others, observing that there is actually considerable stylistic variety among noirs, instead emphasize plot and character type.


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Still others focus on mood and attitude. No survey of classic noir's identifying characteristics can therefore be considered definitive. In the s and s, critics have increasingly turned their attention to that diverse field of films called neo-noir; once again, there is even less consensus about the defining attributes of such films made outside the classic period. Characters' faces may be partially or wholly obscured by darkness—a relative rarity in conventional Hollywood filmmaking.

While black-and-white cinematography is considered by many to be one of the essential attributes of classic noir, the color films Leave Her to Heaven and Niagara are routinely included in noir filmographies, while Slightly Scarlet , Party Girl , and Vertigo are classified as noir by varying numbers of critics. Film noir is also known for its use of low-angle , wide-angle , and skewed, or Dutch angle shots. Other devices of disorientation relatively common in film noir include shots of people reflected in one or more mirrors, shots through curved or frosted glass or other distorting objects such as during the strangulation scene in Strangers on a Train , and special effects sequences of a sometimes bizarre nature.

Night-for-night shooting, as opposed to the Hollywood norm of day-for-night , was often employed. In an analysis of the visual approach of Kiss Me Deadly , a late and self-consciously stylized example of classic noir, critic Alain Silver describes how cinematographic choices emphasize the story's themes and mood. In one scene, the characters, seen through a "confusion of angular shapes", thus appear "caught in a tangible vortex or enclosed in a trap.

Film noirs tend to have unusually convoluted story lines, frequently involving flashbacks and other editing techniques that disrupt and sometimes obscure the narrative sequence. Framing the entire primary narrative as a flashback is also a standard device. Voiceover narration, sometimes used as a structuring device, came to be seen as a noir hallmark; while classic noir is generally associated with first-person narration i.

Bold experiments in cinematic storytelling were sometimes attempted during the classic era: Lady in the Lake , for example, is shot entirely from the point of view of protagonist Philip Marlowe; the face of star and director Robert Montgomery is seen only in mirrors. In their different ways, both Sunset Boulevard and D.

Latter-day noir has been in the forefront of structural experimentation in popular cinema, as exemplified by such films as Pulp Fiction , Fight Club , and Memento. Crime, usually murder, is an element of almost all film noirs; in addition to standard-issue greed, jealousy is frequently the criminal motivation. A crime investigation—by a private eye, a police detective sometimes acting alone , or a concerned amateur—is the most prevalent, but far from dominant, basic plot. In other common plots the protagonists are implicated in heists or con games , or in murderous conspiracies often involving adulterous affairs.

False suspicions and accusations of crime are frequent plot elements, as are betrayals and double-crosses. According to J. David Slocum, "protagonists assume the literal identities of dead men in nearly fifteen percent of all noir. Film noirs tend to revolve around heroes who are more flawed and morally questionable than the norm, often fall guys of one sort or another.

The characteristic protagonists of noir are described by many critics as " alienated "; [] in the words of Silver and Ward, "filled with existential bitterness". Among characters of every stripe, cigarette smoking is rampant. There is usually an element of drug or alcohol use, particularly as part of the detective's method to solving the crime, as an example the character of Mike Hammer in the film Kiss Me Deadly who walks into a bar saying "Give me a double bourbon, and leave the bottle".

Chaumeton and Borde have argued that film noir grew out of the "literature of drugs and alcohol". Film noir is often associated with an urban setting, and a few cities—Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, in particular—are the location of many of the classic films. In the eyes of many critics, the city is presented in noir as a "labyrinth" or "maze".

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The climaxes of a substantial number of film noirs take place in visually complex, often industrial settings, such as refineries, factories, trainyards, power plants—most famously the explosive conclusion of White Heat , set at a chemical plant. A substantial trend within latter-day noir—dubbed "film soleil" by critic D. Holm —heads in precisely the opposite direction, with tales of deception, seduction, and corruption exploiting bright, sun-baked settings, stereotypically the desert or open water, to searing effect.

Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic. The films are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt. In author Nicholas Christopher 's opinion, "it is as if the war, and the social eruptions in its aftermath, unleashed demons that had been bottled up in the national psyche. Film noir is often said to be defined by "moral ambiguity", [] yet the Production Code obliged almost all classic noirs to see that steadfast virtue was ultimately rewarded and vice, in the absence of shame and redemption, severely punished however dramatically incredible the final rendering of mandatory justice might be.

A substantial number of latter-day noirs flout such conventions: vice emerges triumphant in films as varied as the grim Chinatown and the ribald Hot Spot. The tone of film noir is generally regarded as downbeat; some critics experience it as darker still—"overwhelmingly black", according to Robert Ottoson. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the Carly Simon album, see Film Noir album. Two silhouetted figures in The Big Combo The film's cinematographer was John Alton , the creator of many of film noir's stylized images. Play media. Whoever went to the movies with any regularity during was caught in the midst of Hollywood's profound postwar affection for morbid drama.

From January through December deep shadows, clutching hands, exploding revolvers, sadistic villains and heroines tormented with deeply rooted diseases of the mind flashed across the screen in a panting display of psychoneurosis, unsublimated sex and murder most foul. Gun Crazy D. See also: Neo-noir. Angelo Badalamenti has scored most of David Lynch 's noir-related work.

His work on this track typifies a "modern noir" style, which the director explicitly sought for Lost Highway See also: Tech noir. Merriam-Webster , which acknowledges all three styles as acceptable, favors film noirs , [] while the Oxford English Dictionary lists only films noirs. Only Farrow was credited. See also Ballinger and Graydon , p. Outside the field of film noir scholarship, "dark film" is also offered on occasion; see, e. For description of noir as a genre, see, e.

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For the opposing viewpoint, see, e. The Philosophy of Film Noir. University Press of Kentucky. See also Bould , pp. See also Place and Peterson Vernet notes that the techniques now associated with Expressionism were evident in the American cinema from the mids pp.

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Thrilling Detective Web Site. Retrieved For description of City Streets as "proto-noir", see Turan Silver and Ward list nine classic-era film noirs by Lang, plus two from the s pp. Ottoson lists eight excluding Beyond a Reasonable Doubt [] , plus the same two from the s passim. Silver and Ward list seven by Mann p. Ottoson also lists Reign of Terror a.

America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era
America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era
America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era
America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era
America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era
America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era
America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era America Noir: Underground Writers and Filmmakers of the Postwar Era

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