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The Noir Style Paperback – October 29, 2004
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"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
"The commentary is wonderfully set off by 172 gorgeous black-and-white stills . . . This is a great look into one of the darkest of American popular genres." --Elle --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
Anyone who knows what film production stills are knows they usually don't exactly match the scene as it appears in the finished film. This in itself may nettle you as it does me. But even if the stills were direct frame blowups from the films, as they are in a few instances here, this approach wouldn't work. The most static film has a dimension of movement, duration and progression that would delimit or, at very least, challenge the validity of this treatment. But say, you're so good at it, you DO want to scrupulously describe the contents of photographs of film scenes. How many times can you do it before a whopping case of "okay, we get the point already" sinks in? I believe twelve well-chosen stills can tell you all you will ever need to know --provide a thorough visual glossary-- of noir style acting and visuals. (Maybe this is a case for DK Books.)
Noir Style gets three stars from me, in spite of the one star text, for presenting some nice photography. Many of the pictures in this book are better presented by the same authors, however, in a slimmer and cheaper Taschen volume called Film Noir. It's better because, in that book, at least, we are spared the cruel tease of an analysis of the form that isn't really there. Film Noir is a straight-ahead pretty picture book that frankly delivers, without the let-down that lays at the heart of Noir Style.
In the introduction, it is explained that although there is some text, in viewing these photo stills, room is left for the viewer's "extrapolation". I liked the way they put that. Thus various chapters begin with some narrative about various aspects of film noir. There are also numerous photo stills with accompanying narrative.
The book is both enjoyable and informative. It is as much a work of art as literature.