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Film Noir Reader Paperback – August 1, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: Film Noir Reader
  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Limelight Editions; 1st edition (August 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879101970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879101978
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I'm including reviews of both "Film Noir Reader" and "Film Noir Reader 2" in the same review until Amazon gets the two books unlinked.

FILM NOIR READER (1)

"Film Noir Reader" is a collection of 22 essays about film noir, written between the mid-1950s and mid-1990s by a diverse group of film theorists, including a few essays by the editors themselves, Alain Silver and James Ursini. Some of the essays are illustrated with black-and-white photographs. Mr. Silver takes the opportunity of the book's Introduction to deliver a scathing rebuttal of French critic Marc Vernet's views before commenting on the book's content.

"Film Noir Reader" has three parts: Part I is "Seminal Essays", which include 8 essays written 1955-1979. An excerpt from Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton's seminal 1955 book "A Panorama of American Film Noir" is included, as well as Paul Schrader's essential 1972 essay "Notes on Film Noir". Other essays discuss film noir's visual style, existential motifs, and there is a very interesting essay by Paul Kerr on the circumstances that caused B movies, including B-noirs, to flourish in the 1940s. Part II, "Case Studies", includes 8 essays about specific films and directors, all but one addressing films of the classic noir period. Essays are dedicated to directors John Farrow and Anthony Mann, while others discuss the films "Phantom Lady", "Angel Face", "The Killers", "Night and the City", "Kiss Me Deadly", "Hickey and Boggs", and "The Long Goodbye". Part III, "Noir Then and Now", includes 6 articles that seemed not to fit into Part I or Part II, including a few about neo-noir films. Karen Hollinger discusses the effects of first-person male voiceovers on the images of female characters in classic film noir.
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Format: Paperback
Barring an English translation of Borde and Chaumeton's seminal Panorama du Film Noir Américain, this collection may well be the most valuable Film Noir reference available. It gathers nearly all the most important essays and articles of the last 40 years, including the introduction to the above-mentioned work by Borde and Chaumeton, Paul Schrader's "Notes on Film Noir", Raymond Durgnat's "Family Tree of Film Noir" and Higham and Greenberg's "Black Cinema" chapter from Hollywood in The Forties. The collection is exceptionally valuable, if rather poorly edited; I wouldn't suggest throwing out one's original, dog-eared copies of the items mentioned above. The book also suffers from a difficult-to-read sans serif typeface. Still, you're unlikely to find all these valuable articles together in any other book. That alone makes it a valuable buy.
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Silver and Ursini's 1996 anthology has quickly become an essential tome for students of film noir everywhere, and with very good reason. Divided into three parts - "Seminal Essays", "Case Studies" and "Noir Then and Now" - it offers a comprehensive selection of essays defining the genre in general and exploring specific instances and variations over the last 70-odd years. Even without the other volumes, this is pretty much all a college-level film student could need or desire for building a solid understanding of the genre and appreciating the central debates it's aroused. General viewers/readers, however, can probably do without the specialist jargon, arcane hair-splitting, and density of argumentation that ultimately consume any academic discipline, and the personal attacks: a large part of Silver's introduction is, astonishingly, dedicated to poleaxing other writers - quite pointedly, Marc Vernet, in whose misspelling of Silver's name Silver reads a dark tendency towards pre-judgment and other fatal flaws in Vernet's critical apparatus, such as a solipsistic arrogance that can presume to correct anomalies it does not understand. Whatever, Alan. Sorry - Alain. If you're writing your own academic essays, or enjoy probing the neuroses of disgruntled academics, then that kind of thing might be useful to you. But general readers will be much better served by one of the dozens of non-academic survey volumes, such as those by Barry Gifford (God forgive me, Alain, I know you hate him so), or, if they're feeling more adventurous, Nicholas Christopher's "Somewhere in the Night" which gives a fluent and accessible exploration of film noir by using the American city as a way into it.
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Format: Paperback
This is a very good anthology of noir criticism. It contains three of the first assessments of noir in English, by Higham, Durgnat and Schrader right next to each other - boom, boom, boom - so one can see the criticism of noir developing before one's eyes.
The rest of the essays/arcticles are mostly very interesting. There is one on John Farrow, who is usually overlooked, so it is good to see his films grouped together and examined. The essay on Anthony Mann's noirs is quite strong, and Ursini's article on noir TV, shows such as "Peter Gunn" and "The Fugitive" is very interesting and makes one wish that there were more written on this part of TV history.
I think this would be an essential part of any noir fan's library.
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Format: Paperback
It's what in academia is sometimes disparagingly called a "non book," a collection of essays with a few contributions by the editors. In this case, it happens to be quite a good non book. The contributors seem to know what they're talking about. Some of the essays are older than others, so it's not exactly a snapshot in time, but that's not bad in itself. The focuses run from early gangster films through the so-called neo noirs of the 1970s and after. (They're the ones in color.)

Here is how Todd Erikson describes the jelling of the genre.

"What made the noir films of the forties such as Double indemnity, The Killers, and Out of the Past so revolutionary in their day was that they distorted the viewer's psychological reference points by establishing a new set of generic codes. This new set of generic codes incorporated iconography from the detective and gangster genres, the distinctive narrative voice (or attitude) of the hard-boiled writers, and the first-person sensibility of the expressionistic subjective camera, through which the underworld could be experienced vicariously by the viewer."

Now, that's writing that both informed and informative. The prose is not for the casual viewer. It's not for tabloid fans. It's a little challenging. You have to think twice about "generic codes" and "iconography" and "expressionistic," but it condenses a good deal of data in a relatively small space.

I'm hardly an expert on the subject of film noir and I admit to not having read this book from cover to cover, page by page, all 327 of them, seriatim. But it's not that kind of a book anyway. It's more like an encyclopedia than a novel. You don't gobble it all down, you have to dabble in it.
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