You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

Watch: Who Were the Great International Noir Directors?

Watch: Who Were the Great International Noir Directors?

What
exactly is film noir?  Is it a movement, a mode, a style, or a genre?
 These questions have preoccupied film scholars for decades. According
to filmmaker Paul Schrader, noir began with The Maltese Falcon and ended with Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.
 He’d add that it was largely an American movement that applied certain
stylistic (high contrast lighting, voice over narration, non-linear
storytelling) and thematic (existentialism, the cruel mechanizations of
fate, amour fou) elements in genres ranging from melodramas to detective
films. Another film scholar might add that directors like Fritz Lang
and Billy Wilder never described their films as being “noir.”  They
thought they were making thrillers. Film noir?  That’s a term the French
critics applied retroactively. 

This
video essay series takes the fairly provocative stance that film noir
became a genre.  Essentially, in its golden age during the 1940s, noir
was a mode/movement that was superimposed onto other genres.  In the
words of genre theorist Rick Altman, genres can start off as
“adjectives”–fragments of the style and theme might be there, but the
genre has yet to fully solidify because the filmmakers and audiences
haven’t quite gotten their heads around it yet.  However, by the time
Robert Aldrich was making Kiss Me Deadly in
1955, the writings of the French critics had made it stateside (in
fact, there’s a picture of him reading Borde and Chaumeton’s Panorama du Film Noir on the set of Attack!),
and perhaps the filmmakers and audiences had finally begun to think of
noir as being a noun.  When neo-noir flourished in the 1970s (thanks to
filmmakers like Schrader), the movement emerged–fully formed as a
genre–from its black-and-white cocoon.  

I
write this trajectory into this introduction to the series because I
can imagine that some of my colleagues might have been troubled by a
video essay that calls film noir a genre. I am more than aware of the
history of this debate and it was covered in Part III on Pragmatics.
 Part V is a shift in gears.  There isn’t much in the way of an academic
argument regarding noir or genre to be found here; it’s simply a poetic
supercut of international noir films that the interested viewer should
check out (a list of films – in the order they appear – can be found
below).  

What
I’m attempting to do here is to craft the video essay equivalent of an
encyclopedia entry on film noir for the undergraduate student with a new
episode each month.  If you’re already familiar with the films and the
key debates, you may not find much in the way of “new” knowledge here.
 My main audience–at least in terms of an intellectual presentation–is
the uninitiated.  I assume the pleasures of the more advanced fans and
scholars of noir will be found in the aesthetics of the pieces, although
maybe they’ll be surprised by a “new” recommendation (in this case, I
obviously love Elevator to the Gallows!).
 For those who have followed me through this five part series, I thank
you for watching, sharing, and for the wonderful words of encouragement.
 For those new to the series, I welcome you and urge you to start at
the beginning.  

FILMS (IN THE ORDER OF APPEARANCE, INCLUDING REPEATED CLIPS): 
OSSESSIONE

BREATHLESS

THE THIRD MAN

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

DRUNKEN ANGEL

ODD MAN OUT

PIERROT LE FOU

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

BAND OF OUTSIDERS

SERIE NOIRE

STRAY DOG

RIFIFI

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI

BOB LE FLAMBEUR

THE CRYING GAME

TOKYO DRIFTER

MADE IN U.S.A.

DRUNKEN ANGEL

LA BETE HUMAINE

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

BAND OF OUTSIDERS

ALPHAVILLE

JE JOUR SE LEVE

LE SAMOURAI

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

SERIE NOIRE

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

LE SAMOURAI

DRUNKEN ANGEL

TOKYO DRIFTER
BREATHLESS

STRAY DOG

ODD MAN OUT

Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  He the co-editor and co-founder of[in]Transition:  Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and Cinema Journal).  [in]Transitionrecently won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared inanimation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing a manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style.

This Article is related to: News and tagged , ,