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Donald:
 
There seems to be some misunderstanding of what 'definitions' are for, and
hence why Damico's has proven to be exceptionally useful - unlike others -
to FILMMAKERS wishing to make films having the FEELING which we associate
with the classic examples of film noir.  Damico's definition is not
intended to encompass every film anyone has ever referred to as an example
of the genre, any more that Aristotle's definition of 'tragedy' was
intended to be exhaustive of conversational use no matter how ill-informed
or foolish.  Rather, it is intended as a prescription for future use of
the term, superceding less-precise former uses, which has the testable
advantage of better distinguishing the wheat from the chaff.  For example,
it divertes a filmmaker's attention away from the irrelevance (or better:
accoutremental nature) of the often-contradictory attributions of visual
'style' which have been diversely claimed for films of the genre, or the
gender-specific roles of so many of the early examples of it, enabling
filmmakers to create works which, while appearing superficially distinct
from the tradition, can be felt to be identifiable identifiable with it.
That's exactly what definitions are for, and the only testable way of
distinguishing among suggested alternatives!  In short, until a more
USEFUL tool than Damico's is proffered for filmmakers (revised as
suggested), I shall use the one he has constructed and credit him not only
for having constructed it, but for recognising what such constructions are
for - in exactly the sense, and for exactly the same reason, that WRITERS
continue to credit Frye for having constructed generic specifications
remarkably more useful than any of their predecessors.
 
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 Thu, 11 Jan 1996, Donald Larsson wrote:
 
> 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.
>
> ----
> 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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