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The Noir Style Hardcover – December 6, 1999

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Standard histories of film noir commence the coining of the term (which means "black film") by French writers in the years after the war when they saw a new mingling of grit, wit, and swooning Thanatos in movies like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. Alain Silver's and James Ursini's nearly libidinous collection of "duo-tone" (i.e., black and white) movie stills reaches far afield, finding noir's style radiating from the Brucke painters in the 1920s, Edward Hopper's wee-small-hours townscapes of the 1940s, and Weegee's bloody, beautiful photos. In page after oversized page, the authors park perceptive readings beside images of classic rainy streets (Underworld, USA, The Money Trap), doomy women in lipstick (Laura, Gilda), disturbed interiors (Sunset Boulevard), and wrenching ironies (DOA). The commentary reveals how light, frame, composition, body language, and a few other irreducibles charge individual scenes and contribute to the look of noir as a whole, beginning with gangster and horror films in the 1930s and closing with Silence of the Lambs in 1992. The texts lapse occasionally into heavy breathing about Meaning, but the authors invite us to get what we want from this most stylish of American movie genres by just flipping the pages. With hardly a cliché image in the bunch, we can eagerly fall afresh into Jane Russell's outstretched arms (in Macao), zoom down the black sidewalk stretching behind a dying John Garfield (in He Ran All the Way), and contemplate once more the tissue of lies between Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon. --Lyall Bush

Review

"A comprehensive definition of the noir look and its values . . . the commentary is wonderfully set off by 172 gorgeous black-and-white stills." (Elle)

"Smart text and great stills from the classic period . . . through the neo-noir films of the nineties. Perfect for a rainy night." (Helen Frangoulis, Playboy)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Books; 1 edition (December 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879517220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879517229
  • Product Dimensions: 11.8 x 11.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A large, handsome book, suitably published in black and white. If you are a fan of the Noir genre, this belongs on your coffee table. The pictures, from the collections of the authors, are evocative of their milieu, illustrating the classic noir films of the 40's and 50's. There isn't quite as much information about each picture as I would like, and for a couple, such as the cover and frontspiece, no information at all. This book is a supplement to the Noir Readers of the authors, and as such, serves it's purpose well. Do not buy this as a text, but for illustrative purposes. Enjoy looking at the chilling dark dangerous ladies, the crooked cops, the doomed characters. Great pictures.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on March 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Aside from the knock-'em-dead beauty of the photographs from the great days of Film Noir, this is a book about the dark currents that run beneath the mainstream of urban life in America. Think of it as a spelunker's guide to the caverns of the American unconscious.
No, America cannot be explained by IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or THE SONG OF MUSIC. To me, first you have to account for the pain of Orson Welles's corrupt sheriff in TOUCH OF EVIL; the ambiguity of Bogart's character from IN A LONELY PLACE; the darkness of Dana Andrews's detective in Preminger's WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS; the terrible descent of Tyrone Power in NIGHTMARE ALLEY.
These and other memories come welling up as I turn the pages of this wonderful book. Alain Silver and James Ursini have covered this same ground in other books, but with the aid of these images from the spiritus mundi of our misspent youths, it is like being hit in the head with a hammer. Good work, guys!
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While the idea of having two of the most knowledgeable scholars of the noir film host a coffee-table art book on the topic sounds promising, the resulting product is heinously flawed. Despite the brevity of the text, a blocky font makes it difficult to read. The 'duotone' reproduction is achieved by imposing blue plate on the black plate--making vintage photographs resemble a poorly adjusted television screen. Further, the large reproductions merely expose the grain, scratches, and dust spots that any skilled retoucher could have removed. Pick up Mark Viera's SIN IN SOFT FOCUS: PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD and see how this book should have looked.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stephan M. Adams on December 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a gift for Christmas and I can't put it down. The sharpness and clarity of the photos is phenomenal. Along with the authors' informative and interesting texts of the Noir interpretation, this book is a keeper. I highly recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robin Benson on August 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Alain Silver has already written the definitive book on the subject with his (and Elizabeth Ward) `Film Noir: An encyclopaedic reference to the American style' and now with `The Noir Style' he has written the definitive book about the look of these movies.

Most critics agree that style was one of the main elements of this genre and Paul Schrader went further to suggest that noir style was working out the conflict visually. Where would this kind of movie be without its deep shadows and expressive lighting? With over two hundred production stills the authors explore the various characteristics and meanings of this essentially American art form. What makes the book so wonderful for me, apart from the excellent design by Bernard Schleifer, are the stills, mostly large one to a page and beautifully printed as 175 screen duotones, they leap off the page. Each photo has a very comprehensive caption.

As well as the seven chapters there are several spreads called `Motif' where certain visual treatments are examined in more detail, prison bars, dream and flashback, face and gesture, sexual debasement, night and the wheel and one I thought particularly interesting about photographer Weegee (his real name was Arthur Fellig and he got his obscure nickname from his job, in the twenties, at The New York Times, where he worked in the photo darkrooms removing excess water from prints before they were dried, he did this with a squeegee) he covered New York city for various tabloid papers and his style was a photographic version of the noir movies.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has ever seen The Maltese Falcon or Sunset Boulevard will recognize that the film noir style is much more than just a black-and-white movie. The harsh contrasts of light and dark subtly reinforce the emotion of the actors and actresses and jab us with their intensity. The shadows deliberately evoke a sense of fate or emotional conflict that help us to understand the story better. Patterns of bars, shadows, and mirrors suggest the rest of the plot.
Although I had always felt these atmospheric effects and loved them in noir films, I could not articulate how they are accomplished. In this remarkable book, you will examine 172 photographs and supporting essays that will give you both a language for and a greater appreciation of the style's elements.
The book is connected to noir's origins as well as its future in the neo-noir of the 1990s. I found it very helpful to see the kind of images that inspired the noir directors and lighting experts to create the incredible effects.
The authors know their subject very well, and have selected outstanding examples for your pleasure. The photographs are stunning, and I found them simply irresistible. Photographs were used rather than film frames because photographs reproduce better, but most of the stills were actually used in a movie. Unless you are a film student, you will probably not have seen many of these before. Focusing on one or two actors and actresses in most cases, you will see much of the best of the style. I came away much more impressed with the acting in these scenes as I better understood the subtle conflicts that were explained in the essays to help me see how a scene often sets up to express four or five different ideas.
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