Dark Art: What Makes a Film Noir?

A post today on the Monochrom.Blog lead me to an excellent article by Chris Fujiwara on this topic in his review, in the Boston Globe on 15 January 2006, of the book, The Philosophy of Film Noir (2006), a collection of essays from the University of Kentucky Press that explores the philosophical underpinnings of movies from the classic noir period and after.

Chris Fujiwara, a writer living in Chelsea, is the author of, Jacques Tourneau: The Cinema of Nightfall (Johns Hopkins University Press), and was working on a critical biography of Otto Preminger at the time he wrote the article.

I have not read The Philosophy of Film Noir, and my post of June 20, The Big Heat: Film Noir As Social Criticism, is purely coincidental, but Fujiwara’s discussion of the influence of Eureopean extistentialism on American noir in the the 40s and 50s is supportive of the views expressed in my post. I recommend the full article to you, and offer these highlights:

The philosophy of noir has also been linked to the European literary and philosophical movement known as Existentialism, though frequently when commentators use that term, it’s less with the writings of Sartre and Camus in mind than as a stand-in for ideas like ”absurdity” and ”alienation.” In an essay portentously called ”Film Noir and the Meaning of Life,” his contribution to ”The Philosophy of Film Noir,” Steven M. Sanders, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, claims that ”the thread running through the design of film noir is the sense that life is meaningless.” Noir, Conard writes, is nothing less than ”a sensibility or worldview that results from the death of God.”…

This kind of analysis isn’t new, but it highlights something that isn’t always discussed about noir: That the genre, which evokes such quintessentially American icons as Bogart and a shadow-filled Los Angeles, actually finds its roots in Europe… [my emphasis]

As ”The Philosophy of Noir” reminds us, during its peak era, noir was the form that imported ”European” alienation, doubt, and dread into the framework of the American crime film.

I should also acknowledge in this post the comment from Lloydville of mardecortesbaja.com to my June 20 post:

You make a good point…  film noir definitely derived in part from European existentialism . . . but existentialism itself was influenced by Poe, via Baudelaire, so the lines of connection are complex.

We can’t see film noir as simply a European product, an import, because it was so wildly popular with the American public, which must reflect an existential malaise that did reach North America after WWII, aroused by the horrific spectacle of the conflict and by the atomic bomb. It reflected a subconscious dread deeply rooted in the American psyche.

Appropriately, Fujiwara concludes his article by saying: As always, however, the definition of noir itself remains in the shadows.

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