Richard Schickel on Film Noir

Film Noir

TIME magazine film critic, Richard Schickel, has written an article on film noir for the Wilson Quartely, which has been published on-line: Rerunning Film Noir. Generally an excellent historical overview, with some interesting movies discussed, but in some aspects unsatisfying:

Noir, despite its Frenchified name, is a truly American form, as Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward observe in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1979). Yes, many of its leading directors (Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Jacques Tourneur, André de Toth) were born in Europe and well versed in expressionism. But their ­source—­often directly, always at least ­indirectly—­was the American crime fiction of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, W. R. Burnett, and others. Almost all noir actors and many of the directors’ significant collaborators (cameramen, editors, etc.) were American born and certainly American ­trained.

This dismissal of the influence of the European directors is defensive, and does not help readers to understand the real influence of these expatriate directors. Schiekel seems to deride the autuer influence of artists like Wilder, Siodmak, Lang, Tourneur, and others. Existentialism is not even mentioned: the noir anti-hero is more of an outsider than an urban refugee. And of course the French recognised and named the genre, and provided an analytical framework.

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