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March 1995, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 17 Mar 1995 10:17:02 CST
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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
It's tough to respond to the Noir discussion without sounding like a
hidebound purist, but I'll give it a try.
To understand film history, it is necessary to understand not only a
particular genre, but its roots and its progeny as well. I agree with
Schrader's notion of today's films NOT being true noir. This is not out of a
desire to exclude but to understand the style, content and the era in which
film noir flourished.
German Expressionism, American gangster films, French Poetic Realism all made
contributions to a style which emerged around 1944 and seemed a natural style
of filmmaking until the mid-fifties when the genre became self-conscious and
inbred. Over the years, the style influenced other films and emerged as
period throwbacks made by several generations who, rather than inventing new
modes of expression, increasingly resorted to assuming the mantle of styles
they had experienced in youth or discovered long after the era had vanished.
Original (or True) Film Noir didn't simply represent a stye filmmakers
assumed, but reflected the political and social realities of the era. The end
of WWII, the threat of atomic annhialation, the Cold War, the witch hunts,
the appeal of the cynical B-mystery writers -- all influenced the look of
these films and their subjects. There may be resonances of those realities
today, but modern times require styles which reflect the present times, not
the borrowed surfaces of other times.
It is significant too that filmmakers who were creating the style never
thought of it as a "style". It was simply their instinctive method of
film-making, responding to the times in which they lived. It was critics who
invented the "style", long after it had ceased to be a force. Just as
tomorrow's critics will begin to make sense of what is going on today, the
style preceded (and became deceased) long before it was named.
Of course, filmmakers should be influenced by and absorb the styles of the
past. This is a natural synthesis and is the primary source of creativity.
However, debasing the boundaries of a true style in order to hitch one's
wagon to an undoubted star, is just laziness and I don't believe that true
artists (not just poseurs) join in the exercise. Most of these claims of true
Noir films being made today are made by critics, often uninformed and lazy.
The real creative artists of today are beating their own paths through the
jungle, guided by artifacts of the past, but not slavishly following them.
Gene Stavis, School of Visual Arts - NYC