Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Announcing: The blahblahblahgay Noir-a-Thon

Announcing the new Tuesday feature here at blahblahblahgay, Noir-a-Thon.

This has been months in the making, research, planning, ordering DVD's, organising our thoughts, booking time off of work etc. and now it is finally here. The history of Film Noir blogged week by week by myself and Leah from What Indie Nights?

We have selected 125 (at the current time) movies ranging from the proto-noir of 1930's The Blue Angel through to 2010 and Christopher Nolan's neo-noir Inception.

I am still a student of film at heart and I got a little carried away in writing a brief introduction to what film noir is for me but for those of you wanting a little background on what we shall be looking at please feel free to continue reading.

Film noir is more a style of film rather than a genre, noir being the French word for black and black being very much the order of the day in these movies; not just being full of shadows and dark imagery but also of mood. The prevailing mood of the film noir canon is that of despair, heroes go in to battle against an irrational universe with the existential knowledge that death is on their back and maybe not this time, but soon, they won't be coming out of it alive. Nobody lives forever, everybody dies.

Taking their cues from German expressionist cinema, directors working in film noir created a distinct visual style; oddly angled shots, moving cameras, location shooting, a specific use of shadow and light, using these tools to add meaning to almost every shot.

The heroes are almost all alienated from society in one way or another, those unspoken horrors of the past; the long dark teatime of the soul is what binds the narrative together. It's not just the P.I.'s who have the dark past and who place self preservation above all else - every noir hero is running on empty, dead inside or on the verge of becoming that way, suspecting everyone, never fully trusting anyone. And it's a good thing too because those femme fatales would have taken all the men for a ride.

Obsession could be said to drive these alienated heroes onwards; every P.I. won't quit until he's solved the case, there's no time for love when you think the wrong guy has taken the fall, when the great whatsit is still out there, all these men on their knees so desperate to feel again that they cross the line and enter the underworld, rob a bank, kill a man, then blame it on a woman.

Classic noir is most definitely an American style of film, only a few non-US productions have made the list during the period 1941 - 1958 and there was only a slight increase in numbers after that date as we move in to neo-noir, film makers such as Kurosawa and Melville making similar stylistic and thematic choices out of respect for the American movies they loved watching.

We'll be using, amongst others, Dugnant's major noir themes from his 1970 essay Paint It Black and Ebert's list of noir identifiers.

Dugnant suggested that all noir films will include at least one of the following motifs:
Crime as social criticism (miscarriage of justice, bent cops, etc.)
Gangsters (organisational, cops vs robbers, etc.)
On the run (innocents or dangerous criminals looking to escape their fate.)
Private eyes and adventurers (down these mean streets must a man go who is himself not mean.)
Middle class murder (murder taken lightly, men led astray by sex, women as executioner and victim.)
Portraits and doubles (claustraphobia and paranoia, in the dark rainy nights it's hard to tell one character from another.)
Sexual pathology (sadism, doomed love, love-hate relationships.)
Psycopaths (morally bankrupt, spirit of society, tragic confusion.)
Hostages to fortune (largely domestic violence.)
Blacks and reds (political, gangsters as nazis and commies.)

And Ebert has a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek list of noir identifiers:
A French term meaning "black film," or film of the night, inspired by the Series Noir, a line of cheap paperbacks that translated hard-boiled American crime authors and found a popular audience in France.
A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.
Locations that reek of the night, of shadows, of alleys, of the back doors of fancy places, of apartment buildings with a high turnover rate, of taxi drivers and bartenders who have seen it all.
Cigarettes. Everybody in film noir is always smoking, as if to say, "On top of everything else, I've been assigned to get through three packs today." The best smoking movie of all time is "Out of the Past," in which Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoke furiously at each other. At one point, Mitchum enters a room, Douglas extends a pack and says, "Cigarette?" and Mitchum, holding up his hand, says, "Smoking."
Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.
For women: low necklines, floppy hats, mascara, lipstick, dressing rooms, boudoirs, calling the doorman by his first name, high heels, red dresses, elbowlength gloves, mixing drinks, having gangsters as boyfriends, having soft spots for alcoholic private eyes, wanting a lot of someone else's women, sprawling dead on the floor with every limb meticulously arranged and every hair in place.
For men: fedoras, suits and ties, shabby residential hotels with a neon sign blinking through the window, buying yourself a drink out of the office bottle, cars with running boards, all-night diners, protecting kids who shouldn't be playing with the big guys, being on first-name terms with homicide cops, knowing a lot of people whose descriptions end in "ies," such as bookies, newsies, junkies, alkys, jockeys and cabbies.
Movies either shot in black and white, or feeling like they were.
Relationships in which love is only the final flop card in the poker game of death.
The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.

We're really excited by the prospect of viewing 80 years of film history and we hope you'll come along for the ride. Feel free to watch along with us, the full list of films can be found at the brand spanking new Noir-a-Thon page located all over the blog and here and we'll be viewing in chronological order.

Edit: We've left some films out for various reasons, some such as the James Cagney movies I am not fond of, some such as Blood Simple I've seen many times and didn't feel like buying at the time of making the list and others just weren't readily available on DVD at reasonable prices or at all. Phew. I knew I'd left something important out.


  1. Sounds awesome, how many films per week will you be covering?

  2. Wow, this is quite an undertaking. I wish you all the best with it, it sounds freakin awesome. My favourite modern noir is the Coens' Blood Simple. You have to watch that one (though I assume if you're a fan of noir, you've already seen it).

  3. Fantastic!

    I really look forward to this, I'll be reading as many posts as I can.

  4. bt - tuesday nights are going to be set aside for watching the noirs, ideally we will watch more than one per week as it will take more than 2 years to get to the end but we've accepted the fact that this might be the case more often than not.

    tyler - i've now made an edit, thanks for the reminder. i've seen blood simple so many times and couldn't justify buying another DVD as this is costing around $1000 already. but yeah it pretty much sets up their entire career with that one film.

  5. jack - thanks for the support, if you have time feel free to watch along with us some weeks, i'll happily post anything you have to share on the subject. there's already going to be 2 reviews/a review and a capsule/2capsules on each movie so the more the merrier.

  6. Noir isn't something I have a lot of experience with, although I like some of the better examples of noir. I read a blog post recently claiming Sin City and the second in that style... The Spirit (?) are modern efforts of noir. I didn't buy it, but what do you think? Although through the magic of tabbed browsing, I see you've included Sin City in the list, so I'll have to wait and see.

  7. Upon further reading, I totally LOVE Brick. I think it's on my schedule in September and I can't wait to watch it again.

  8. Alan - I'm assuming you mean maltese falcon, big sleep etc? In the real world I meet a lot of people who thinbk it just means black and white films, which isn't the case. Obviously.

    Having seen sin city several times I feel certain it meets a lot of the criteria for a modern or neo-noir - story, characters, style for example. Spirit was a bit for slapsticky but definitely used the expressionist lighting techniques of the classic period.

    As for brick I too loved it, for so many reasons and was terribly disappointed with rian johnsons next film, brothers bloom.

  9. F*ck a Duck Toby.

    You have gone mental!! I bloody love it!!

    As everyone knows I am NOT a film student or do I pretend to be but I love this and if you ever want a week off and want someone to watch a film for you and post an article I would love to stand in for you!!

    Let me know my mate!

  10. Brilliant! Custard you are a ledge mate.

    British colloquialisms aside you are more than welcome to join in at any time, the more reviews or capsules per movie the better. i love this movie blogging community as i meet so few cinephiles in real life. If there's a film you particularly want to watch with us let me know and i'll give you a rough idea of the post date as soon as i have one.

    you never got back to me about my wednday mumble idea, did the mail get lost in the barrage of comment notifictions?

  11. HAHAH I am sorry mate, I read the email and put it to reply and forgot...what a wally!!

    I will email you i a second or two, just doing a gushy 200th post LOL

  12. Sounds great! Looking forward to it!

  13. custard - forget about it, it's in the past, i'm not holding grudges. but next time MAKE SURE YOU REPLY! no i'm just kidding. you are a busy man. and you have kids on top of that. gah! the movies you watch because of kids, i once saw barneys adventure at the cinema because my little sister loved it.

    joanna - good to see you again. feel free to add something to the reviews from time to time.

  14. Ugh. The Brothers Bloom. What a stinker that was. Great cast, passable idea that's been done possibly a few too many times, and terrible movie.

  15. oh you saw that alan? it reminded me of dirty rotten scoundrels but without the class. although i have to admit DRS was a childhood favourite so it may not actually be very good either.

  16. Hi, you have some errors in your list. Film noir is a post war genre. Anything really before 1945 is not really noir. The Maltese Falcon is more of a proto noir. You are missing some of the noirs that are in color, like Leave Her To Heaven. Also film noir is an American genre, so something like Elevator to the gallows and Drunken Angel are not film noir. If you want to discuss this more e mail me verrilla1166@comcast.net. Good list though. I am in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. I have seen almost every noir there is to see. Thanks.