If Bordwell was not aware of Altons book when he wrote critics have not succeeded in defining specifically noir visual techniques, he certainly must have known Janey place and Lowell Petersons essay on visual motifs in noir. Place and Peterson themselves"d Higham and Greenbergs 1968 book hollywood in the forties on the subject of visual style. The visual analysis of film noir was further developed by janey place in Women and Film noir and by robert Porfirios extensive work in his dissertation The dark Age of American Film: a study of American Film noir. In fact, the evocation of a noir look goes all the way back to borde and Chaumeton. In 1979 I cited the years of production immediately after World War ii as the most visually homogeneous of the entire noir cycle. One might still consider a random selection of motion pictures released over an eighteen month period such as The big Clock (Paramount, 1948 Brute force (Universal, 1947 Cry of the city (20th Century-fox, 1948 force of evil (mgm, 1948 Framed (Columbia, 1947 out of the. These people of great and small technical reputations created eight otherwise unrelated motion pictures with one cohesive style.3_. I have previously contended that the noir cycles consistent visual style is keyed specifically to recurrent narrative patterns and character emotions.
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What is at first innovation or anomaly only becomes a genre through repetition and eventual critical classification.2_ If nothing else, this is certainly a more cogent expression of the obvious that either Vernet or Bordwell make. So they didnt go down to the bijou to see stranger on the Third Floor or Two seconds (Vernets candidate from 1932) because it was the first film noir. To answer presentation in kind, so what? Did the first audiences for The Great Train Robbery or Nosferatu congratulate themselves on attending the first Western or the earliest adaptation of Bram Stokers Dracula? The best answer to anyones assertion that filmmakers of the classic period never specifically decided to make a film noir is still cinematographer John Altons evocation of the noir milieu in his book painting with Light: The room is dark. A strong streak of light sneaks in from the hall under the door. The sound of steps is heard. The shadows of two feet divide the light streak. A brief silence follows. There is suspense in the air.
Unfortunately, in this latter context, a reactionary commentator like vernet offers nothing new but just another brand of breezy assumptions. Actually, he offers a void, a noir hole long where there once was a body of films. Much of Shades of noir progresses from the suggestion made by david Bordwell in The Classical American Cinema that film noir is merely an invention of critical commentators. In discussing this concept in Film noir: An Encyclopedic Reference, bordwells assertion was cited to the effect that critics have not succeeded in defining specifically noir visual techniques or narrative structure. The problem resembles one in art history, that of defining non-classical styles. At first glance there is nothing to dispute in Bordwells remark. The tautological nature of his position is clearer in a more recent expression by a reviewer: Genres are invented by critics. When the first film noirwhatever you might consider that to be was released, nobody yelled, hey, lets go on down to the bijou! The first film noir is out!
They are, therefore, not revolutionary but conservative. Actually, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. The communist Manifesto, in order to see the subject of film noir as it is, one need mini look no farther than the films. Vernets revisionism is like any of the neo-freudian, semiological, historical, structural, socio-cultural, and/or auteurist assaults of the past. Film noir has resisted them all. Why then are critics like vernet interested in the phenomenon of film noir? Are they at heart all neo-platonists and Il Conformista the film that they watch over and over late at night? Perhaps many of the new European essayists need to tear apart the foundation laid by borde and Chaumeton in order to build something new. Certainly there is justification in James Damicos lament in Film noir: a modest Proposal that an order of breezy assumption seems to have afflicted film noir criticism from its beginnings.paper
As such it is the unique example of a wholly American film style. (Right, Orson Welles as Hank quinlan and akim Tamiroff as Uncle joe grandi plan to use susan Vargas Janet leigh to embarass her husband in touch of evil, one of the last classic period film noir.). Vernet makes some assertions about film noirs origins, about censorship and prejudices in both America and France from which he concludes that post-World War ii french critics created film noir. Can anyone seriously contend that critics created anything but the term? As Edgardo cozarinsky notes film noir defies translation into English, though its object of study is mainly (and, one may argue, its only legitimate examples are) English-speaking.1_ The suggestion of Vernet and others arrogates the very concept of creation. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, films are made by filmmakers not by critics, whose understanding of the process is necessarily limited. To paraphrase vernet, the primary consideration is not the technical process nor the financial process, but the expressive process, which relies on the audiencethe perceivers of the expressionfor completion. This is the fundamental transaction on which Vernet or any critic should concentrate.
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But how can it be glibly summarized as a triumph of European artists presenting American actors? Putting aside for a moment questions of auteurism or whether these filmmakers were more significant to the cycle of noir films than American-born directors from Robert Aldrich to robert Wise, does the national origin pdf of the directors change the nationality of a film? Did Joseph Losey continue to make american movies in England? Do john Farrows origins make his films for Paramount and rko early australian film noir? When Borde and Chaumeton wrote the first book-length study of the phenomenon in 1955 they called it, naturally enough, panorama du film noir Am? The title itself expresses the second truism of film noir. Vernet and others may have some reason other than Eurocentric bias for stressing the non-American statement aspects of film noir.
The three british and French publishers of Film noir: An Encyclopedic Reference probably did not delete to the American Style from the title just because they thought it was too long. Still, while many subsequent writers have questioned both specifics and generalities of Borde and Chaumetons seminal work, none have questioned the very existence of the phenomenon which they tried to define. In 1979 I wrote that, with the western, film noir shares the distinction of being an indigenous American form. But unlike westerns which derive in great part from a preexisting literary genre and a period of American history, the antecedents of film noir are less precise. As a consequence, the noir cycle has a singular position in the brief history of American motion pictures: a body of films that not only presents a relatively cohesive vision of America but that does so in a manner transcending the influences of auteurism. Film noir is not firmly rooted in either personal creation or in the translation of another tradition into movie terms. Rather film noir is a self-contained reflection of American culture and its preoccupations at a point in time.
Aside from its remarkably unembarrassed Eurocentric bias, such a statement completely ignores paul Schraders decades-old warning that there is a danger of over-emphasizing the german influence in Hollywood; and it typifies many recent attempts both to break down the myth of film noir and. As Borde and Chaumeton realized from the first, there is no easy answer. The noir cycle is an event garmented in the uneasy synthesis of social upheaval and Hollywood. Given its brief history film noir has inspired more than its share of discussion. Part of what has always troubled some critics of film noir are its character themes, its protagonists who often perish because of an obsessive and/or alienated state of mind. Must it be really so remarkable, when methodologies from Marxism to Freudianism to Existentialism assailed the moral and political status quo, that a movement such a film noir should develop characters with a sense of alienation and despair?
It may be unduly simplified to erect such a causality or to cite a fortuitous confluence of factors as responsible for the appearance of the noir movement, but that does not make it incorrect. Much has been made of the crisis of masculinity in film noir. Much could be made of the crisis in Judeo-christian patriarchal structures since the mid-point of the 20th Century. The dramatic crisis of film noir is the same as that which drives any convergent group of characterizations. The unprecedented social upheaval of two world wars compounded by economic turmoil and genocides on every continent was globally promulgated by broadcasts and newsreels and all condensed into a thirty year span from 1915 to 1945. Just as the technique and technology of filmmaking has progressed in its hundred year history, the ideological outlook of its artists cannot have been unaffected by the other events in the world during that span of time. Whatever one may believe about the delimiting factors of film noir, then or now, its first expression in what is generally accepted as the classic period was solely in American movies made in America by American filmmakers. Vernet seems to imply that Fritz lang, robert siodmak, anthony mann, Otto Preminger, and Billy wilder were european or, more specifically, german artists. The issue of European expatriates is a significant one, not just for film noir but for American filmmaking in general.
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This is particularly true with writers on motion pictures, who are addressing an expressive medium that is the most complex in the history of art. But Vernets assumption about how a particular name should writing be spelled is telling in that it reveals his tendency towards pre-judgment and succinctly exposes the problem with his critical outlook. Vernet sees a simple contradiction: a french first name like those in the credits of LAnn? Marienbad and an English last name right out of Treasure Island. Of course, he deduces, this must be an error. Some unnamed researcher has made a mistake, which he is correcting by Anglicizing the spelling. It seems quite clear from this where vernets outlook is rooted. It derives from a solipsistic arrogance that can presume to correct anomalies which it does not understand and can generate the offhanded observation that film noir is the triumph of European artists even as it presents American actors.
On the other hand he presents the ultimate obfuscation by calling it impossible to criticize. What then is he writing about? (Left, bogart as Spade in The maltese falcon, the stuff that dreams are made of and the unofficial beginning of the noir cycle. A hero cannot be both strong and vulnerable?). One can tolerate being abstractly dismissed by vernet and even overlook having ones actual name misspelled, as when he changes Alain to Alan. Vernets is certainly not the first bibliographic reference paper with that particular misspelling. Nor am I suggesting that critical writing should be about crossing every t or including every.
as the various essays reprinted in this volume will confirm. Michael Walkers opening comments in The book of Film noir reveal a fairly straightforward auteurist bias. But what can one say about a viewpoint such as French critic Marc Vernets in his introductory essay, film noir at the Edge of doom in Shades of noir? Certainly it epitomizes the sort of criticism which Gifford scorns; but Giffords opprobrium is not the issue. In the third edition of Film noir: An Encyclopedic Reference our review of the literature on film noir included Vernets previously published conclusion that a hero cannot be both strong and vulnerable, the woman good and evil. The assertion made therethat his observations were part of a simplistic, structuro-semiological rush to judgment clearly at odds with the narrative position of film noir as a wholestill pertain. Where once vernet merely puzzled over contradictory icons, in Edge of doom he indulges in pointless deconstruction. On the one hand Vernet now bemoans complacent repetition about film noir.
Of course, we are bypassing the point of view of someone like barry gifford, author of the informal survey the devil Thumbs a business ride, who deems all such endeavors to be academic flapdoodle. In 1979, the introduction, other essays, and individual entries in Film noir: An Encyclopedic Reference were the first published attempt in English to search the entire body of films for essential traits. I remarked there that the full range of the noir vision depends on its narratives, its characterizations, and its visual style. In fact, that style is a translation of both character emotions and narrative concepts into a pattern of visual usage. No doubt a pop critic such as Gifford could assert that it is formalist mumbo-jumbo to detect alienation lurking beyond the frame line in a vista of the dark, wet asphalt of a city street or obsession in a point-of-view shot that picks a womans. I would argue that to resist such readings is to deny the full potential of figurative meaning not merely in film noir but in all motion pictures. Obviously none of the various elements of visual styleangle, composition, lighting, montage, depth, movement, etc.
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Film noir Essay, research Paper, forty years after raymond Borde and? Tienne Chaumeton defined the challenge, critical commentators on film noir continue to grapple with. Ironically, american writers did not immediately take word up consideration of this indigenous phenomenon and the question of its essential traits. Only gradually in a frequently cross-referenced series of essays in the 1970s did they begin to express themselves. There are now a dozen full-length books in English concerning film noir and undoubtedly more to follow. As noted in the Acknowledgments, the sometimes difficult process of tracking down significant earlier writings for an essay in Film noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (Overlook/viking, 1992) gave us the idea for this book. As it happens the two most recent volumes on noir, Shades of noir (Verso, 1993) and The book of Film noir (Continuum, 1993) are anthologies of new essays by mostly non-American writers. Past and present commentators have brought and continue to bring to bear on the noir phenomenon a variety of critical approaches, and that is the foundation of Film noir reader.