Saturday, June 02, 2007

Meandering Film Noir Thoughts

my meandering collected commentary from Girish Shambu's discussion of an interview between Fujiwara / Roberts ( view Girish Shambu's blog for the full on version)

I'm more annoyed with too much focus on film noir:

Not that I don't like the actual films, I do, and sometimes very much so. But I think we over-emphasize noir in our current depiction of American film history. I think the over-emphasis on noir gives a falsely positive impression about what our film history actually was. Noir allows us to pretend that the Hollywood studios allowed more ideological and artistic freedom than they really did allow. Also, noir gives us in the present too much freedom to seperate the good crime/gangster films of that time from the many more numerous bad ones. During the heyday of noir, the viewing public didn't see these movies as individual art works, but more like we view crime dramas on TV (which is in fact where noir went).

There's too little critical reflection (except perhaps from Naremore) on why noir literature and film died so abruptly just after both forms were achieving their second highpoint in the mid-Fifties. Lastly, there's not enough contemplation on how noir was a part of a worldwide phenonmenon (Simenon's roman durs being just one example, but many others worldwide: Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square, for just one) that continues as a literary force largely OUTSIDE the US today (Hans Werner Kettenbach, Massimo Carlotto, Gene Kerrigan, Jean-Claude Izzo and many others).
"Why only noir and why not all the other richly deserving genres/periods/filmmakers that are languishing for lack of attention?"It was and is a useful version of history for much of the 1970s film-maker generation (Scorcese, Coppola, Friedkin, De Palma, etc)and those who are too wedded to them. It gave them this secret heroic, manly past (even if that past was mythical). Most of these guys couldn't really do great work outside of the crime / gangster / thriller / war genres. Ignoring everything outside of those genres allowed them to seem greater than they are. See Scorcese's history of American movies, where everything outside of noir and Westerns is close to entirely ignored (Allan Dwan captures more of Scorcese's time than Chaplin and Lubitsch combined).

I.E., most of these guys thought they learned the lessons of neorealism and Cassavetes, but their life works prove that they never had a clue.

If we see American film history with noir being a massive aspect (which, during it's historical moment, it simply wasn't) then that makes these guys look very good because they do make good (and sometimes great) thriller or crime pics. If we see American film history as much more diverse, then many of them look limited artistically. When you have an American film history that more accurately highlights big budget literary items, musicals, drawing room comedies, Jerry Lewis/Frank Tashlin and so on, then you also have a film history where Elaine May, Mark Rappaport and Albert Brooks are the true geniuses of the 1970s and Richard Linklater is the voice of the 1990s/2000s, as opposed to Tarantino.

"And thanks for those Euro-noir names, none of which I know."

Remember that the concept of noir was first established by the French publishing house Gallimard's long series (now over 50 years old) Serie Noire, which published both American noir literature in translation and French contributions as a seperate genre of writing - which was not how it was viewed in the US (in the US it was called hard-boiled crime/mystery and wasn't really viewed as anything intrinsically worthwhile). So the genre is really as much (or more) European as it is American even very early - Simenon's roman durs predate much of American noir. The Euro noir movies, besides Carne and Renoir (who made the first Simenon adaptation with Night at the Crossroads) are extremely extensive. As I've argued before, noir influenced Europe more than the US.

Some things to meditate upon include:
1. the French polar, a continuing genre of French cinema (usually likened to a US police procedural, except that the polar is usually vastly more dark and cynical than the average US version).
2. JP Melville - Samourai, Red Circle, Un Flic, Second Breath, Flambeur
3. Clouzet
4. Germany's Christian Petzold (Wolfsburg, Something to Remind Me)
5. Corneau's Serie noire - an adaptation of Thompson's A Hell of a Woman
6. Tavernier's Coup de torchon - adapting Thompson's Pop. 1280
7. Three largely unknown later American noirs: Murder by Contract, Blast of Silence, Burt Kennedy's The Killer Inside Me (1979).
8. Claude Chabrol as noir film-maker (see The Ceremony)
9. Godard and Truffaut's relationship with David Goodis


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