The only useful specification of 'film noir' I know was offered by James
Damico in FILM READER, Vol. #2 (February 1978, issue #3), mimicking the
example set by Northrup Frye on other dramatic genres. As given, it reads:
"Either because he is fated to do so by chance, or because he has been
hired for a job specifically associated with her, a man whose experience
of life has left him sanguine and often bitter meets a not-innocent woman
of similar outlook to whom he is sexually and fatally attracted. Through
this attraction, either because the woman induces him to it or because it
is the natural result of their relationship, the man comes to cheat,
attempt to murder, or actually murder a second man to whom the woman is
unhappily or unwillingly attached (generally he is her husband or lover),
an act which often leads to the woman's betrayal of the protagonist, but
which in any event brings about the sometimes metaphoric, but usually
literal destruction of the woman, the man to whom she is attached, and
frequently the protagonist himself."
Unlike Frye, Damico is seemingly tone-deaf with respect to sentence
structure, and uses 'sanguine' where he obviously means its opposite,
'cynical'. But if you take the time to restructure his clauses into
intelligible discourse, eliminating the gender specifications along the
way (thus retaining the form without arbitrarily restricting it to its
engendered paradigm), you will come close to catching the core composition
of the 'film noir' tale, even in its present mismanifestations.
Evan William Cameron Telephone: 416-736-5149
York University - CFT 216 (Film) Fax: 416-736-5710
4700 Keele Street E-mail: [log in to unmask]
North York, Ontario
Canada M3J 1P3
On Tue, 9 Jan 1996, Peter S. Latham wrote:
> I have been looking for a simple and quotable definition of "film noir."
> Unlike most film terms which have fairly standard meanings, the definitions
> of "film noir" that I have seen vary widely, e.g. "any crime movie depicitng
> a fatalistic universe made between 1941 and 1960" or "any crime movie made in
> black and white with odd camera angles and low-key, high contrast lighting"
> etc. etc. Any thoughts?
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