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Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir 1st Edition

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801882173
ISBN-10: 0801882176
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Editorial Reviews


"This volume stands out as one of the best and perhaps the single most essential book in English on film noir. Biesen reveals an untold part of the movement with originality, sophistication, and vitality. Her work will become a foundation for subsequent interpretation of film noir, as well as an ideal text in film, history, and cultural studies courses." -- Brian Taves, film historian, author of The Romance of Adventure: The Genre of Historical Adventure Movies

"Biesen adds a new perspective that enhances scholarship on the subject and makes this book a must." -- Choice

"Ms Biesen describes too how film noir drew on societal anxieties as Americans faced fear, loss and shortages during the war and viewed ever-more-harrowing newsreel footage. 'As life on the homefront became increasingly hard-boiled,' she writes, 'so too did American film.'" -- Nina Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Biesen's book is readable, informative and jargon free... Biesen uses her research into studio archives, the films' attendant publicity and the contemporary press to bring alive the wartime period of film noir and its transformation into a post-war genre for dealing with troubled veterans returning home, the coming of the Cold War, nuclear angst and the effects of McCarthyism on Hollywood and the nation at large." -- Times Literary Supplement

Biesen's book is readable, informative and jargon free.Times Literary Supplement

"Readers will come away from Blackout with a fuller understanding of the industrial and historical contexts of wartime film noir." -- Charles Maland, Cineaste

"This text offers a compelling history of wartime Hollywood and a provocative challenge to current noir scholarship." -- Southern California Quarterly

"An important contribution to the history of film noir." -- Jan-Christopher Horak, Screening the Past

"A film noir aficionado, Biesen provides the most detailed and thoroughly researched interpretation of this era's American film noir." -- Clayton Koppes, American Historical Review

About the Author

Sheri Chinen Biesen is an associate professor of radio, television, and film studies at Rowan University.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (October 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801882176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801882173
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,699,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on September 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Yes, Shari Chinen Biesen has detonated a landmine in the field of film noir studies with her contention that, far from being a postwar movement, noir is totally tied up with actual conditions of the war being felt and fought during Hollywood studio production; so we might come to see the heyday of film noir as not the release of OUT OF THE PAST, nor any of the location-dominated "March of Time" inspired docudramas, but much earlier on, with the filming of THIS GUN FOR HIRE with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

She invites us to attend to the way WWII scared the daylights out of Los Angeles and curtailed social activity through a literal blackout in which the previously iconic klieglights were darkened "for the duration," while West Coast citizens and government officials and conspiracy theorists worried about how soon the Japanese would attack southern California by bomber or submarine or from within.

Secondarily the arrival of so many talented artists from Nazi-dominated Europe gave film a darker cast, both in front of the camera and behind. She points to STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, THE MALTESE FALCON, PHANTOM LADY, and DOUBLE INDEMNITY as beneficaries of this process. With the top male stars in uniform, like Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, the studios had to improvise and invent a new sort of cinema, one in which their female stars would henceforward be paired with freaks--old men, foreign men, little boys--the refuse of the draft.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brian Taves on December 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
This volume stands out as one of, if not the, best book in English on film noir, a movement previously largely defined mostly through stylistic analysis and psychoanalytic interpretation. It differs from traditional approaches, offering background which the other books fail to include. By relying on historical sources and context, Biesen indicates noir's rise with the social and most particularly production circumstances brought about by World War II. None of this has been treated before, in any detail, and many of her points are original (such as the impact of realism on film noir). Demonstrating how actual wartime life and daily constraints led to the genre will be one of the ways this book will be important for historians of all types for this era and its culture. The book is simultaneously accessible yet sophisticated, vital and engaging, and is written to attract the widest possible audience.

The primary research mines lodes of information too often overlooked in film studies, demonstrating the manner in which such sources as censorship and studio publicity may enhance a critical and theoretical examination. Biesen demonstrates a familiarity with the films and supporting documentation which are the source of the book's assertions. Unlike so many studies marked by excessive theoretical speculation and cursory historical research, this book combines a wide range of examples with a determination to remain rooted in the evidence they offer.

Biesen merges close interpretation of individual films, production history, censorship records, publicity, critical response, audience reception, the star system, industry history, and genre analysis.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Terry Sunday TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Blackout" is subtitled "World War II and the Origins of Film Noir," and Sheri Chinen Biesen, an assistant professor of radio, television and film studies at Rowan University, delivers the goods in this scholarly book. At the end of World War II, a large backlog of American films suddenly became available overseas. The French, seeing these films for the first time "all at once" instead of over a period of years, noticed a "dark" trend in them that had not been especially obvious to their American producers. French critics coined the term "film noir" to describe what they saw as virtually a new genre in filmmaking.

Films noir typically (but not exclusively) featured hard-boiled private detectives, alluring but deadly "femmes fatale," stories told in flashbacks, complex plots, unconventional camera angles and stark black-and-white photography. Many of them involved crimes gone wrong, double- and triple-crosses, murder and mayhem, and the nastier side of human relationships. "Blackout" shows how these characteristics arose from the political, social, cultural and material conditions that existed in America during World War II. For example, films noir are "dark" because: a) lights were in short supply, b) power was rationed, and c) the West Coast (where most films during the War were made) was blacked out nightly because of the fear of Japanese submarine attacks. Many film noir stories took place at night, because the Government prohibited daytime photography that could accidentally include defense installations--thus eliminating most of the favored movie-making locations in Southern California.
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