In The Dark About Noir
June 20, 2008 2:58 PM   Subscribe

After reading this article on Weegee, I started thinking about the concept of Noir and wondered about this question. "Does Noir exist as a current idiom or appear in a culture in America in 2008, and if so where might it be found?"

I know that Weegee's art is a classic example of Noir and was a reflection of the culture he photographed. If a photographer wanted to take similar pictures today where might he'/she go to catch a glimpse of Noir?
posted by Xurando to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Technically, "noir" was something that happened (or imagined as happening) in the US during World War II. "Noir" is how the French referred to the new wave of cynical American films, which was a surprise from a nation that had previously come up with so much happy musical pap.

However, you can still find noir-ish themes: the law defeated, labyrinthine plots in which the hero becomes the villain without realizing it, emasculating women, drinking and smoking like there's no tomorrow, small-time thugs who are guilty of one thing, but get punished for another, mysteries that have no solution...

Los Angeles?

That's where a lot of the noirs took place anyway. Doesn't seem to have changed much.
posted by bingo at 4:15 PM on June 20, 2008

I would say that movies like "The Departed" (or "The Debarted") are what passes for noir these days. But I'd also posit that a film genre like that can only exist naturally at its time. It was a fad of the industry. Anything that attempts to recreate it is inauthentic and phony. And not for nothing, the black and white film did a lot to solidify it as a genre- you just can't do some of the things with lighting and shadows in color and make it work.

I would argue that "emasculating women, drinking and smoking like there's no tomorrow" wasn't a component of noir, but of society at the time and especially of film at the time.
posted by gjc at 4:51 PM on June 20, 2008

Battlestar Galactica has many, many elements of noir.
posted by oddman at 5:03 PM on June 20, 2008

In the United States, I'd say that, no, Noir is basically dead. You do get stuff like The Man who Wasn't There and such, but most of the time what you wind up with is stuff like Roger Rabbit (which was clearly written by people who were fond of Chinatown).

On the other hand, Infernal Affairs (from Hong Kong — remade as The Departed with an hour added and most of the pacing broken) does a great job of emulating the Noir aesthetic, down to the hosed-down pavement and the slow interior pan shots from unusual angles, as well as the emphasis on talking over action. There's also a huge amount of moral ambiguity in there, as well as minimal female character presence.

I actually had to write a term paper on this, so…
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:04 PM on June 20, 2008

Sin City has a lot of the trappings of noir, but it's kind of just window dressing (although very pretty window dressing) on an action flick.

Brick, while in color, does a pretty good job at capturing the feel of noir.

Ocean's Eleven/Twelve is even kind of noir in its heritage although you wouldn't really say that the films themselves are noir. (Look at the rat pack Ocean's Eleven, then check out Kubrick's The Killing).
posted by juv3nal at 5:21 PM on June 20, 2008

Not movies, but the comic books of David Lapham (Stray Bullets, Murder Me Dead, and the current Young Liars) are most definitely noir.
posted by jtron at 5:37 PM on June 20, 2008

I'd like to add that Veronica Mars, while certainly not authentic Noir, has quite a few quite-authentic Noir elements.
posted by clcapps at 6:25 PM on June 20, 2008

I recommend checking out some graphic novels, as the genre is alive and well in comics. There are lots of comics that I would say captures the "noir" feel in addition to David Lapham's excellent ones. I recommend "Criminal" and "Sleeper", as well as 100 Bullets.
posted by gemmy at 7:05 PM on June 20, 2008

There's a certain confusion between noir and pulp in all this, but noir is still a pretty viable sub-genre of mystery and crime writing. Ken Bruen is great at it, and his books are fabulous. There's a magazine out of Baltimore/Pittsburgh collecting crime writing, much of which could be considered noir, call Murdaland. It's excellent.
posted by OmieWise at 7:06 PM on June 20, 2008

Going out on a limb here...

What about CSI (particularly CSI: Miami). The way the show plays with light and shadow seems noirish to me (from my limited noir experience.) See This article from the New York Observer is interesting on the topic.though I don't agree with everything it says.
posted by Jahaza at 9:18 PM on June 20, 2008

Noir as a cultural idiom comes and goes out of fashion. There was a burst of films in the mid-90s that were pure noir: most prominently the work of John Dahl (see Red Rock West and The Last Seduction) and James Ellroy (LA Confidential). Looking a bit wider, Bladerunner is noir dressed up in a scifi setting, and there's Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Payback, Casino, Blood Simple, A Simple Plan, To Live and Die in LA, The Underneath, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, all from about the last 20 years. The IMDB tags "noir" and "neo-noir" has a host of examples, albeit with many fanciful ones. The point above about Infernal Affairs is well made: the Hong Kong film industry specialises in cliches, and thus produces a lot of genre film. France still cranks out many noirish policiers: see 36 Quai des Orfèvres and The Good Thief. Currently though, noir would seem to be slightly out of fashion. No doubt it will be back.

As for noir "in a culture", my suspicion is that the closest you would find is in those liminal cities on the transition between industrial and post-industrial societies, where there's money and aspirations, and a large population of have-nots with a chance of becoming haves.
posted by outlier at 3:47 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

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