Film Noir

I enjoy film but am not an expert. I just like what I like. A friend of mine is a devotee of Film Noir. She watches a special feature every week. I decided to find out what it is. I guessed from the word “noir” (black in French) that it has a darkness to it. Would it fall along the lines of detective fiction? Murder mysteries? Horror? There would likely be suspense and a shadowy, haunting feel.

Here’s the definition that came up: “a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.” Apparently, the term was originally applied by French film critics to American thriller or detective films made in the period 1944–54. Examples are directors such as Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and Billy Wilder.

Two men in an empty park, one at far distance.

How does this compare to literature? I’d think writing with a dark edge, such as Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Sharp Objects would qualify. The cinematographic aspect suggests a visual quality of darkness, or just the mood of foreboding that might be captured by a novel like Jane Eyre. A lot has been written about the film noir topic. A book, The Dark Page, discusses how film noir relates to literature. The author explains that film noir is not a genre but a style, that the “noir thread” runs through every genre, including science fiction! According to Kevin Johnson, film noir was brought about by the influence of German film makers (I’ve seen some great Berlin films that attest to this.) A cultural cynicism after the world wars coincided with hard-boiled storytelling that started in print in the 20’s and hit Hollywood in the 40s. Interesting!


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