I know it's not for everyone.  It's not even for me sometimes. But when I want noir, I want great noir, whether it's a movie or a book.  

For example, "Out of the Past" with Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and the amazing Jane Greer, with Jacques Tourneur directing.  Or "Gun Crazy" with John Dall and Peggy Cummins.  

Or Megan Abbott's "Bury Me Deep" or Queenpin" or Christa Faust's "Money Shot," or anything by the amazing Sam Reaves.

Nominations, anyone?  And what is noir, exactly, and what is it we like about it?  

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Eric, there's always been a dichtomy for me as to what the true definiton of noir might be. Yours is one of the commons--but I wonder. Isn't noir more about mood and setting than about bad people and bad things?
I was being somewhat flip, B.R., and not comprehensive. I agree mood is an important factor in noir. Not sure about setting. You can have both high and low settings in noir, right?
I think "bad things happen to bad people" is a great start, flip or not. Settings -- I don't know. What couldn't be a noir setting? Seems to me you could do noir in period fiction, in sci-fi (Blade Runner?) even in high school (Election with Reese Witherspoon). I think noir is a perspective more than anything else, and it seems to me that a primary aspect of that perspective might be that the usual bets about happy endings/the good coming through unharmed, etc. are all off.

Just thinking out loud.
Noir is tragedy in a way.
Yes, but not on a grand scale. In fact, I think part of its appeal is that it's tragic in a slightly seedy way. The texture of really good noir writing reminds me of a linoleum floor with a yellow buildup of old wax. Even the shiny things are likely to be cheap.

Thought to chime in that the Noir (Big City) anthologies from Akashic Books, NY, are good examples. Was in the Seattle Noir Anthology, released last summer. I had to make the ending harder, edgier and darker. My sense is noir is about the darkness of the human soul, with a sense that there can be something redeemable--though this doesn't always happen. For me, I now have to redeem my poor protagonist, Gus Maloney, who's been out in four stories, now.
Lucky you, being in an Akashic anthology. They're one of my favorite presses in America. In fact, I just this minute got back from the LA Times Festival of Books, where I went over to the Akashic booth to say thanks and there she was -- ohmigod, I felt 12 years old -- Nina Revoyr, whose THE AGE OF DREAMING was the best novel I read in all of 2009. So I gushed all over her and bought a second copy and she wrote something long and really nice in it, and I turned around and walked directly into a guy who weighed about 900 pounds.

I'd love to have something published by Akashic. Class all the way.
Timothy, Good to hear your reaction and reception and experience with Akashic. I was very pleased to make it into the anthology. Besides the fact the noir is by "definition" dark, I also think that the best has a whisper of redemption, or almost depleted hope, that something good and shiny might be ahead somewhere. Maybe that's just with series characters. Thinking dark night of the soul before the breaking dawn, I suspect. Cheers, Pat
I also love "proper" noir when I need my fix. When I say proper I am specifically talking about movies made in the original period: 1941 (ish) - 1953 (ish). However some neo-noir movies such as Chinatown are also absolutely superb.

I believe that noir is the perfect mix of European style, and 30's/40s paranoia allied to American's muscular language and deeply individual culture. The stories are all cynical, dark and far from melodramatic and explore the role of the police detective/gumshoe whilst using cinematography techniques that were honed during the German Expressionist period.

Some of my favourite noirs are: Murder, My Sweet, The Big Sleep, Kiss Me Deadly, Maltese Falcon, and Double Indemnity.
Just thought of some other things to say and thought I would post a bit more...

I think it is the settings and themes that set apart original noirs from their contemporary films. The are all set in urban environments and are rooted in exploring corruption and scandal. There are, of course, also specific characters which help us to define the genre: the lonewolf, the patsy, the femme fatale, etc etc. As such there have been a number of neo-noirs (or noirs produced after the strict original period) that have met these genre expectations: Chinatown, Farewell My Lovely, Sweet Smell of Success, LA Confidential, The Man Who Wasn't There, Brick. However I think if look at the original noir period was also obsessed with lighting, camera angles and setting mood which far outstrips late neo-noirs. Take a look, for example, at the pinnacle of bizarre camera arrangements in Kiss Me Deadly...still strange after all these years.

If you are interested in the theory and stories behind Film Noir check out the book Dark City: Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller. It is a must read for enthusiasts.

Now onto noir books...that's a whole other post!
Oh, thank you for the recommendation. Just this second ordered the Muller book.

I think I read somewhere that one of the reasons noir films are lighted so selectively, with much of the screen underilluminated, was that the budgets of a lot of the original films were on a par with one big business lunch, and the lack of light in the background, for example, saved a fortune on set dressing.

I have to admit as I write this that it seems too facile, given the psychological impact of that lighting, but on the other hand, the great original noirs were all in black-and-white, which also seems psychologically perfect, but as Orson Welles says somewhere, it's just an accident that black-and-white film preceded color film. If color film had come first, b&w would look very strange to us.

So I'll wallow in ignorance until I read the Eddie Muller book.

Great comments, DTK.


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