What is noir?
Noir is one of Hollywood’s only organic artistic movements. Beginning
in the early 1940s, numerous screenplays inspired by hardboiled
American crime fiction were brought to the screen, primarily by
European émigré directors who shared a certain storytelling
sensibility: highly stylized, overtly theatrical, with imagery often
drawn from an earlier era of German “expressionist” cinema. Fritz Lang,
Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, and Otto Preminger, among others, were
among this Hollywood vanguard.
and immediately following World War II, movie audiences responded to
this fresh, vivid, adult-oriented type of film — as did many writers,
directors, cameramen and actors eager to bring a more mature world-view
to Hollywood product. Largely fueled by the financial and artistic
success of Billy Wilder’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s novella Double Indemnity
(1944), the studios began cranking out crime thrillers and murder
dramas with a particularly dark and venomous view of existence.
1946 a Paris retrospective of American films embargoed during the war
clearly revealed this trend toward visibly darker, more cynical crime
melodramas. It was noted by several Gallic critics who christened this
new type of Hollywood product “film noir,” or black film, in literal translation.
if any of the artists in Hollywood who made these films called them
“noir” at the time. But the vivid co-mingling of lost innocence, doomed
romanticism, hard-edged cynicism, desperate desire, and shadowy
sexuality that was unleashed in those immediate post-war years proved
hugely influential, both among industry peers in the original era, and
to future generation of storytellers, both literary and cinematic.
this day the debate goes on as to whether “noir” is a film genre,
circumscribed by its content, or a style of storytelling, identified by
its visual attributes. The debate — in which there is no right answer —
is only one of the things that keeps noir fresh for succeessive
generations of movie lovers.
A Guide to Film Noir Genre by Roger Ebert - epic film reviewer
Film noir is . . .
1. A French term meaning "black film," or film of the night, inspired by the Series Noir, a line of cheap paperbacks that translated hard-boiled American crime authors and found a popular audience in France.
2. A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.
3. Locations that reek of the night, of shadows, of alleys, of the back doors of fancy places, of apartment buildings with a high turnover rate, of taxi drivers and bartenders who have seen it all.
4. Cigarettes. Everybody in film noir is always smoking, as if to say, "On top of everything else, I've been assigned to get through three packs today." The best smoking movie of all time is "Out of the Past," in which Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoke furiously at each other. At one point, Mitchum enters a room, Douglas extends a pack and says, "Cigarette?" and Mitchum, holding up his hand, says, "Smoking."
5. Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.
6. For women: low necklines, floppy hats, mascara, lipstick, dressing rooms, boudoirs, calling the doorman by his first name, high heels, red dresses, elbowlength gloves, mixing drinks, having gangsters as boyfriends, having soft spots for alcoholic private eyes, wanting a lot of someone else's women, sprawling dead on the floor with every limb meticulously arranged and every hair in place.
7. For men: fedoras, suits and ties, shabby residential hotels with a neon sign blinking through the window, buying yourself a drink out of the office bottle, cars with running boards, all-night diners, protecting kids who shouldn't be playing with the big guys, being on first-name terms with homicide cops, knowing a lot of people whose descriptions end in "ies," such as bookies, newsies, junkies, alkys, jockeys and cabbies.
8. Movies either shot in black and white, or feeling like they were.
9. Relationships in which love is only the final flop card in the poker game of death.
10. The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.