Toward a Definition of Film Noir

The File On Thelma Jordan

In their seminal book, A Panorama of American Film Noir, 1941-1953, authors Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, closed the opening chapter with these thoughts on the recurring motifs of films noir in the classical period:

It is easy to come to a conclusion: the moral ambivalence, criminal violence, and contradictory complexity of the situations and motives all combine to give the public a shared feeling of anguish or insecurity, which is the identifying sign of film noir at this time. All the works in this series exhibit a consistency of an emotional sort; namely, the state of tension created in the spectators by the disappearance of their psychological bearings. The vocation of film noir has been to create a specific sense of malaise. (p.13)

In his Introduction to the English translation, James Naremore refers to the Surrealist critique of cinema, and makes this telling observation:

At certain moments, even in ordinary genre film or grade-B productions, [cinema] could involuntarily throw off bizarre images, strange juxtapositions, erotic plays of light and shadow on human bodies, thus providing an opportunity for the audience to break free of repressive plot conventions and indulge in private fantasies. (p.xi)

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