Archive for February 14th, 2011

Noir: An Introduction

by Maurizio Roca

What I’ve discovered as I prepared for this countdown is that thinking long and hard on the definition of film noir can lead to a headache. Everyone has their own ideas on what noir is—and isn’t. To be direct and to the point…there is no absolute answer. Noir is not technically a genre (though I will refer to it as such) but more a stylistic movement that can encompass all types of movies. My own personal definition would be black-and-white films only, between 1941-1958. The focus is primarily on crime films or those with dramatic scenarios in which the protagonist of the picture gets placed in a situation beyond his or her control. These circumstances of fate force the characters into making choices based on temptations, which result in moral corruptibility and/or accountability. My other criteria’s would include: a palpable sense of doom, a liberal use of exaggerated camera angles, low key and chiaroscuro lighting, and expressionistic examples of mise en scene. I also think that true noir is primarily American. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in the countdown.

* 50 film countdown

* 48 American-made B/W films between 1941-58.

* 2 British-made B/W films between 1941-58.

I debated with myself long and hard on whether I should include neo noirs in the countdown. A vague collection of films that is even harder to define than film noir, neo noir is a continuation of the former movement with similar elements and thematic concerns. These films originate after 1958 and are almost always shot in color. They include updated content and a graphic nature that was not possible in the more censored era that classic film noir originated. I decided that a more traditional list is the only sane way to go. Trying to decide what constitutes neo noir was too daunting a task when only including 50 films. I second guessed myself over leaving out certain films that are borderline and felt a traditional list would be better served when boiled down to 50. So, this what you won’t find in the upcoming countdown. (more…)

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Director Lee Chang-Dong on the set of his film Poetry

by Sam Juliano

“Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living!  You said I killed you–haunt me, then!  The murdered do haunt their murderers.  I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered on earth.  Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!  Oh God! it is unutterable!  I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!

                   -Sir Laurence Oliver as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights(1939)

Cupid shoots his arrow today, and hopefully our readers will give their spouses and/or their lovers a special treat, preferably chocolate-covered strawberries or a bouquet of roses. It’s a time to renew our vows, and to make what we can of that inexplicable thing nown as love. Happy Valentine’s Day to all.  Maybe for one day at least we can dispence with the cerebral fare and watch something like Sleepless in Seattle or Beautiful Thing.  Or perhaps some of us have darker and more reflective personalities, in which case Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and the 1939 William Wyler film of it may be the perfect choice for this evening.

At Wonders in the Dark, there’s real excitement in the air.  After Allan Fish announced that movement on the complication of his top 2,500 films was underway, other relevations were posed concerning the real posibility of publication of his full book as an “e” or in physical transcription.  It’s the culmination of a long commitment and tireless investment of time and resourses, and the WitD’s brass are understandably elated.  Secondly, Maurizio Roca has officially commenced with his eagerly anticipated “Film Noir Countdown,” which will run at the site from Monday to Friday.  His plans are announced in this morning’s introductory post.  In the meantime the past week saw a splendid DVD review by Tony d’Ambra on a long-awaited classic The Prowler by Joseph Losey, the 11th installment of Jamie Uhler’s seminal “Getting Over the Beatles” series, a magnificent assessment of the ‘Best Supporting Actor” Oscar race by Pierre de Plume, Jaime Grijalba’s Chilean university film “Manifesto” (which sparked quite the comment thread), two more entries in the ‘Fish Obscuro’ series, and two more remarkable essays from Bob Clark, including the latest on the landmark show Battlestar Galactica.  It has been in fact the most productive and diverse week the site has ever been graced with, and on top of it all is some spectacular sidebar work by Dee Dee, who followed along with the just-completed Fritz Lang Festival, by providing everyday posters, while continuing to post links for noir-related events, including the recently-launched “Film Preservation” blogothon at Ferdy-on-Films.  (more…)

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