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What constitutes Noir?

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RedRiver
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby RedRiver » August 18th, 2011, 6:14 pm

Kids today!

RedRiver
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby RedRiver » August 18th, 2011, 6:19 pm

Somebody remind me what BLUES IN THE NIGHT is about? Have I seen it? Did I like it? Is it time for my medication?

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ChiO
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby ChiO » August 18th, 2011, 6:34 pm

In response the the last three questions only: Yes.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Dewey1960
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby Dewey1960 » August 18th, 2011, 6:45 pm

I'll try to tackle the other question. BLUES IN THE NIGHT is about a group of down-on-their
luck jazz musicians who go for broke and wind up in the clutches of criminals and floozies.
It's generally not discussed much in conversations about film noir--perhaps because it comes
uncomfortably close (for some) to being a musical. Plus it's from Warner Bros. But...it was
directed by Anatole Litvak who had a wonderfully wicked visual style. Personally, I think it's
noir. Very noir. A great cast, too, featuring Richard Whorf, Priscilla Lane, Jack Carson,
Howard DaSilva, Elia Kazan (!), Betty Field, Lloyd Nolan and Billy Halop. Incredible music, too!
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfpVlXNvXto[/youtube]
Here's the trailer...it's astounding!!
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbKOy2hJnZI&feature=related[/youtube]
Last edited by Dewey1960 on August 19th, 2011, 10:11 am, edited 3 times in total.

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JackFavell
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby JackFavell » August 18th, 2011, 10:44 pm

I loved Blues in the Night when I discovered it sometime in the last two years. It was an absolutely unexpected gem of a movie for me - with standouts (in a cast of great players) being Richard Whorf (I loved his mad scene), and Wallace Ford.... you know, taking care of "the problem". Don't want to give too much away. I'd literally never heard of this movie before. I can't wait for it to be on again.

RedRiver
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby RedRiver » August 19th, 2011, 9:23 am

Thanks, everyone. We're adjusting my meds!

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Dewey1960
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby Dewey1960 » August 19th, 2011, 10:32 am

Since we've now jumped back into "what constitutes noir" it might just be that
BLUES IN THE NIGHT constitutes a perfect example of a film that straddles
the noir line of demarcation. Photographed by Ernest Haller (he did a
number of Warner Bros noirish films like MILDRED PIERCE, THE UNFAITHFUL,
and THE VERDICT among others) it more than compensates its periodic
lack of noir with a pretty demented visual style. Here's a scene from late
in the film where things begin to grow increasingly dark...
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C7LLP-N96Y[/youtube]

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ChiO
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby ChiO » August 19th, 2011, 10:44 am

From my perspective, one of the major impediments, if not the major impediment, to developing an agreed upon definition or description of “Film Noir” is that persons who care about film noir use that term in different ways, generally fall into one of two groups.

Group 1: “Film noir” is a category that is circumscribed by certain rules or criteria. If a film does not mean those rules or criteria, then it is not a film noir.

Group 2: “Film noir” is shorthand for a general theme of the search for self or meaning in a corrupt world in which one has, or believes one has, no control. The “rules” espoused by Group 1 are viewed less as rules and more as various means of expressing the theme.

The above description, of course, is an attempt to create ideal types. But if reasonably accurate, it goes a long way in trying to explain the difficulty – the approaches to the various films are opposed and, therefore, communication between the two groups is encumbered by use of the same term, “film noir,” to express two very different cinematic worldviews. The two groups simply talk past each other.

Further difficulty arises because within Group 1 (and, although perhaps to a lesser degree, Group 2) agreement can’t be reached on the “rules”. And, even if there were a consensus on the rules, there is plenty of room for disagreement over their application. “All rules must be met” vs. “A preponderance of the rules must be met” vs. “Only a majority of the rules must be met, but they must be really met.”

Still, it’s all fun to think and (try to) talk about. Few areas of film history create such fervor and that is a great part of the joy in film noir.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

kingrat
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby kingrat » August 19th, 2011, 12:14 pm

Thanks for refreshing this thread. Dewey's list of what constitutes noir is a very helpful guide, and I like ChiO's suggestion of the two different approaches to thinking about noir and how the two groups talk at cross-purposes. Great starting points.

I'd like to add that if we ask "Is Film X noir?", the answer "yes" doesn't make it a better film and the answer "no" doesn't make it a worse film. It's also useful to remember, what I think we all know, that American filmmakers didn't think of themselves as making "films noirs." They were making crime films or thrillers or melodramas. That doesn't mean that film noir isn't a useful way to think about their work.

Something else to add to the list: the protagonists of films noirs are almost always men. When the protagonist is a woman, the film, in addition to its noirish tendencies, usually also has elements of other genres: gothic, which in the classic era is usually a woman's genre (like REBECCA, which isn't noir, but THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is filmed as noir); mystery (PHANTOM LADY, again filmed as noir); woman's melodrama (MILDRED PIERCE is the classic example of a film which is 100% about the choices a woman makes in her life yet also seems to be fully noir). The intersection of noir and woman's melodrama is a sweet spot for me, though not, I think, for ChiO. If you search "house noir" you'll find an interesting discussion about a recent class ChiO attended about women's noir; this same course is discussed by suzidoll under the Movie Morlocks section of the TCM website.

Did Dewey mention voiceover as a common, though optional, device in noir?

LA BETE HUMAINE is an interesting example of a plot that is pure noir but a stylistic treatment which looks forward to neorealism.

RedRiver
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby RedRiver » August 19th, 2011, 2:35 pm

I'd like to add that if we ask "Is Film X noir?", the answer "yes" doesn't make it a better film and the answer "no" doesn't make it a worse film.

Some of the most original movies defy categorization. Is THE APARTMENT comedy or drama? Is THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE a thriller or a bizarre satire? Is DOUBLE INDEMNITY a detective story? We know whodunit, but Keyes doesn't. Perhaps the most intriguing is CITIZEN KANE. Dark and tragic noir? Social commentary? Bio-drama?

Chaplin's best work is heartbreaking. It's also hilarious. I don't hesitate to call it comedy. Still...

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ChiO
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby ChiO » August 19th, 2011, 4:13 pm

kingrat wrote:
The intersection of noir and woman's melodrama is a sweet spot for me, though not, I think, for ChiO.

It can be a very sweet spot for me. THE RECKLESS MOMENT, CAUGHT, MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, THE SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, CLASH BY NIGHT and, to escape the bounds of the classic era of noir, WANDA. And more, I'm sure. (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE and LOVE STREAMS, just to really push the envelope?)

And thank you for the heads up on the Morlock write-up. Therese is a marvelous instructor. We've become very good friends. Other classes I've taken from her include: Ophuls, Duvivier, and Sirk.

RedRiver -- I'm with you. "Film noir", to me, is a flexible, fluid, and evolving short-hand term for a theme that is expressed by extensive use of one or more of the "conventional" film noir means (setting, lighting, camera angles, etc.). But every film noir is also something else -- a Western, a crime melodrama.... As do most movies, it crosses categories. That's why I try not to get hung up on "X is not a film noir." Rather than putting everything in a little box, I tend toward using either multiple or bigger boxes.

P.S. CITIZEN KANE is a social commentary-political-psychological-melodrama-biopic-mystery-Western-musical noir. :wink:
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

kingrat
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Re: What constitutes Noir?

Postby kingrat » August 19th, 2011, 4:49 pm

Three of the films you mention--CAUGHT, THE SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, and MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS--all work into Therese's idea of "house noir," since they involve new husbands and new houses. At least George Macready says he's Nina Foch's husband.

CLASH BY NIGHT fits all too comfortably into the category of "Clifford Odets theatrical opus," despite the efforts of some very talented people.


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