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January 1996, Week 2


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 10 Jan 1996 10:11:11 -0600
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Peter Latham inquires:
"I have been looking for a simple and quotable definition of "film noir.""
This request is probably going to generate a fair amount of disagreement, as
you note that definitions in effect are by no means in agreement with each
Unlike a particular genre (eg. the Western), film noir has no *single* set
of conventions that define it, and unlike various stylistic movements (eg.
German Expressionism) so *single* set of stylistic effects.
A good starting place might be Paul Schrader's groundbreaking essay, "Notes
on Film Noir," one of the first examinations of the (whatever it is) in
America.  (It is reprinted in two brand-new collections: MOVIES AND MASS
CULTURE [Rutgers], ed. John Belton; and FILM GENRE READER II [Texas], ed.
Barry Grant.)  Schrader points to the problem of definition as a starting
place and proceeds to discuss stylistic and generic aspects, as well as
tracing it as a historically defined body of works in the American cinema.
That probably still won't give you the snappy quote you are looking for, but
this is a category that evades such snappiness.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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