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Evan Cameron suggests the following:
 
>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.
 
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This definition is interesting, but no less problematic than any other
 definition
of "film noir."  Aside from the fact that it says nothing about film *style*,
usually regarded as a key component of "noir," whatever its definition, the
statement fails to cover many cases.  It certainly applies well enough to such
films as DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, as well as some
versions of "neo-noir" like BODY HEAT.  But it doesn't apply at all or applies
only with some generous stretching to such films as SUNSET BOULEVARD, THEY LIVE
BY NIGHT, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, or IN A LONELY PLACE, to name only a few from the
1940s.  Neither does it apply to such films of the 1950s as  THE ASPHALT
JUNGLE, THE BIG KNIFE, KISS ME DEADLY or TOUCH OF EVIL.
 
One might say of noir what Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography:
"I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."
 
 
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
 
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