The Left Hand Of Noir

Lloydville of has posted another interesting and provocative article on the origins of film noir: MORE ON FILM NOIR AND THE DEATH OF GOD:

…certain modern commentators want to see film noir as a phenomenon with essentially political implications – something that’s not hard to argue given the leftist leanings of many of the great masters of the noir tradition, a number of whom were eventually blacklisted. But seeing film noir as essentially political expression I think sells the phenomenon short… If film noir were simply a reflection of the politics of its leftward-leaning makers, it ought to be terribly dated today, after the demystification of Communism and Stalin, those ephemeral shibboleths for which the Hollywood radicals martyred themselves.

Lloydville’s post has prompted some musings of my own.

The concern with existential angst is what attracted me to films noir, and Lloydville’s recent posts have prompted me to look at certain films in new ways. More particularly, I have always dismissed Detour (1945) as an oddity that I didn’t take too seriously, mainly because the protagonist brought his fate upon himself by his own foolishness, and I saw the plot as too contrived. But now after reading Llloydville’s post I feel that perhaps, Al makes disastrous choices because he has lost a defining paradigm for life and his  immaturity. An indifferent universe may have played a stronger role in his downfall, than I previously thought.

I agree that there are elements of the socio-political in many noirs: Dassin, Lang, and Wilder come immediately to mind, but I disagree with some aspects of Lloydville’s analysis of leftism and film noir. Many of the great European film noir directors that landed in Hollywood, fled fascism, and I see no evidence that they had any Stalinist inclinations. We must be careful not to confuse leftism with authoritarian communism.

The leftist critique of the intellectual left of Europe was a response to existentialism and, as Lloydville says, the death of God. For others the response was an inclination to nihilism, and yes, Stalinism. We can see nihilism too in many noirs.

That said, I agree the political is only one element of many in the film noir genre, and placing exclusive emphasis on this element in a director’s oeuvre is invalid and limiting.

I also cannot agree with Lloydville’s view that “Hollywood radicals martyred themselves.”. They were destroyed for the most part because of past associations or beliefs that they in most cases no longer held, and principally for their innate decency and courage when they placed loyalty and morality ahead of self-interest. If they were martyrs, their sacrifice was for the highest ideals not “ephemeral shibboleths”.

4 thoughts on “The Left Hand Of Noir”

  1. On your last point . . . . while I deplore what was done to the Hollywood dissidents in the blacklist, and feel as you do that the determining issue was freedom of speech and thought, a high ideal to be sure, I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that most of those persecuted were defenders of Stalin’s regime, even in the face of massive evidence of his massive crimes.

    They may not have been Stalin’s operatives in America, as their oponents saw them, but they had an irrational faith in the Soviet system, even under Stalin, which to me was closer to religious belief than to considered political thought.

    In the era of “the death of God”, Communism became a kind of alternative faith for many. The image of Stalin as a kind of new and more authentic Jesus Christ was being retailed in Russian art as early as 1929.


  2. Tks for your comment Lloyd.

    I suppose we could say that many of us have an irrational faith in our politicians, and that political loyalties for some is akin to religious fervour…


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