Sci Fi and Neo Noir

Todd Erickson in his essay Kill me Again: Movement becomes a Genre (in Silver & Ursini), discusses the emergence of noir motifs in films subsequent to the canonical period and suggests studying them as a new genre. “Contemporary film noir is a new genre of film. As such, it must carry the distinction of another name; a name that is cognizant of its rich noir heritage, yet one that distinguishes its influences and motivations from those of the bygone era” (pg. 321). Erickson proposes the term neo-noir because he identifies the films as new forms of noir. Thus neo-noir is “quite simply, a contemporary rendering of the film noir sensibility” (pg. 321). The neo-noir films, according to Richard Martin in his book Mean Streets and Raging Bulls, “not only [..] suggest noir’s continuing exploration of the collective anxieties of American society, but [..] also reflect a sustained tradition of artistic creativity and technical virtuosity nurtured within the confines of American genre cinema” (pg. 6) However, all attempts to validate the term neo-noir and its relation to film noir, deal with, what are by necessity, delicate boundaries considering that the subject of analysis is one of Hollywood’s most unstable genres.

Based on research into neo-noir, I would suggest that there are four basic types (if not more) of production. The first, perhaps the easiest to identify, are those films that constitute a remake of canonical films such as D.O.A, Farewell My Lovely and The Postman Always Rings Twice. The second is that which carries an inflection of nostalgia and make explicit reference to the style and the mood of noir, amongst which are titles such as, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. The third kind could be identified as those films that pay homage to noir by making references to motifs, dialogue and scenes, such is the case of Pulp Fiction and generally of the work of Quentin Tarantino. The fourth category of neo-noir is perhaps the most difficult to define as all the films I have previously mentioned are examples in which film noir is deliberately referenced. This ‘group’ holds films that do not fit in to any of the aforementioned ‘categories’ and yet audiences can easily perceive certain tropes of noir within these films. Among these we find examples of films as diverse as Matrix, Blade Runner, Lost Highway, Basic Instinct and Black Rain.

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More on Noir

I recently found a great website that has some wonderful interviews and a few good film reviews. Those of you interested in FN could profit from these readings.

An interview with Samuel Fuller

An interview with Billy Wilder

An Intro to Film Noir 

Three Anthony Mann pics 

A compilation of reviews on some of noir’s most influential films 

….among other things….


Towards a definition of Film Noir

French film critics concussed the term “Film Noir” in 1946. Due to the war and the German occupation not much cinema could be imported or screened in France during those years and the sudden release of all the movies left critics and audiences in awe and amazement. I dare say that it was the sudden release of these films that allowed French film viewers and critics to recognize certain common traits and moods between the movies. As Billy Wilder recognizes in an interview, filmmakers were not aware of the term “Film Noir” while they made the movies.

The French noticed a certain similarity between the gangster film, the police genre and the detective fiction. Authors like Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and Dashiell Hammett among others were already well know writers and film viewers were already familiar with some of the novels that served as inspiration to the movies, such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Farewell, My Lovely and The Maltese Falcon.


It is no coincidence that when you look up the definition of detective fiction you find that it resembles the definition(s) that critics tend to give of film noir. However, a closer reading of the attempts to define noir as a genre reveals that scholars have found it impossible to capture and define its essence in any absolute sense. In her article on Film Noir and Women, Elizabeth Cowie (in Copjec’s Shades of Noir) discusses the public’s fascination with film noir and how this plays a crucial role in the construction of the category as such. Continue reading

The Western Myth – Approaching genre theory from the western.

Westerns have occupied a very important place in the discussion on genre theory. Despite the fact that westerns are not as popular as they used to be in the 40’s and 50’s, the western is still central to the theoretical approaches to genre.

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Some great articles on The Searchers ::

The Searchers, is one of the most influential, and, I dare say, important films in (American) film history.

Here are some great links that will give you different insights on the movie.

A.O Scott, of NY Times

Images Journal

A review by Tim Dirks.

Roger Ebert’s blog

Jim Emerson – Scanners blog

The Rhetoric of Stagecoach

Nick Browne’s text on the rhetoric of Stagecoach (The Spectator in the Text: The Rhetoric of Stagecoach, in Braudy and Cohen) examines how the narrative unfolds in one of the films most telling sequences while analyzing the role that the spectator plays in the act of storytelling.

In his text Brown explores the connection between the act of narration and the imagery. The way the image is presented, the framing of shots and their sequencing, the repetition of setups, the position of characters, the direction of their glance, all take part in the act of telling a story.


In other words, Brown wants to explore the narrative agencies that take part in the action, who is involved in the act of storytelling while exploring the (not so passive) role of the spectator.
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The Western & the Westerner


** Notes on Robert Warshow’sMovie Chronicle : The Westerner

Title indicates that Warshow is more concerned about the westerner – the western hero-, than the genre itself. However, the western is pretty much defined by its hero and the hero, particularly in the western and in action movies, is the driving force of the film.

Warshow compares the hero of the gangster movie to that of the western in order to:
– Show the differences in both
– Discuss the parallel between both men’s use of guns
– Compare their positions as outsiders
– Contrast their melancholy and loneliness

The outcome shows that “the westerner” – the hero at the center of The western is:

1. A figure of repose
2. Sort of a zen character who understands the world and its code (comes as no surprise to us that Seven Samurai inspired The Magnificent Seven – where the samurai code is equivalent to the code of honor of the western hero)
3. His melancholy comes from the simple recognition that life is hard and serious.
4. Although we never see him working we recognize that there are no luxuries in his lifestyle, – that he has a hard life.
5. Love is not on his side in the sense that he is bound to be doomed and cannot settle for love – there tends to be something of a higher power that calls him
6. Usually the territory is lawless and the westerner is due to set precedent with his actions
7. He will protect those who are weak from the perils of the evil that surrounds the landscape and from the harshness of the landscape itself.

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