Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Perspectives on Noir

The debate over what, exactly, is noir seems unending. Since "noir" experienced a surge in popularity we have books called WASP Noir, Redneck Noir, Tartan Noir...

And if I go by the standard definitions of noir that I've seen, must of what has a noir label slapped on it these days doesn't fall under the traditional definition of noir.

I've been mulling this over for the past four or five days, and still can't get my own thoughts to gel cohesively, because of some excellent perspectives on noir offered in a recent forum discussion.

I think there's only one thing I can safely say about noir - we'll never all agree on the definition, and as long as it's a popular term used more for marketing purposes than truly defining a subgenre we're rushing down a path full speed that ends with the term being irrelevant, because it's so widely applied anymore.

Perhaps when I'm at Noircon (on the Femme Fatale panel and Cyber Noir panel, both on Saturday) I'll figure it out...

10 comments:

Lyman said...

So where does the definition provided by Wikipedia fall for folks?

Noir Fiction - In this sub-genre, (hardboiled) the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think I'm eternally confused. I had a conversation with an author (who I won't name without their permission) who is always referred to as hardboiled. They agreed that, under the standard definition of hardboiled, their work isn't hardboiled.

The more I read, the less certain I feel about it. I've always gone with noir being "starts bad, ends worse."

Lyman said...

That's kind of what I have felt. Noir is about tragedy. It's about the crevices and cracks in humanity. The heroes are simply those who survive and we all know survival for its own sake is pretty damn tragic.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe we don't know what it is but we know what it's not? Once you eliminate what it's not, maybe you begin to define noir.

John McFetridge said...

I always thought it was a term coined by French filmmakers who couldn't afford big budgets for lights and wide shots on city streets, so everything took place in alleys and half in the shadows.

So Sandra, are we maple syrup noir?

Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't know, Patti. I'm leaning in the camp that if the definition of any subgenre is too broad, it becomes meaningless.

John, maybe. And that sounds better than being a shriveled maple leaf, I guess.

(Did film noir really come from budgetary restrictions?)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sandra-Tell me about cyber noir. My husband is writing about cyber stuff and I just read a story that seems to be just that. It's called "A Rape in Cyberspace" by Julian Dibbell. Have you heard of him. It's part of a book called My Tiny Life. Chilling.

norby said...

I always considered noir to be mystery stories that didn't necessarily have the stock happy ending, or that had a dark ending. Not sure if I explained that properly, but I think maybe you all know what I mean.

Linda L. Richards said...

I'm coming in late on this one, so it's possible no one will even notice, but I'm with John here: the French dudes with the cheap moviemaking gear get the blame/credit for the opening bars, at any rate.

If we take that as read and whip in the idea that, when it comes to noir literature, we credit Hammett, Chandler and a few others with the development of what we understand as the written style, we come away with the idea that we're talking about something sparse and spare and inherently elegant where the words that are not spoken or written are often as important as the ones that are and the journey is almost always at least as important as the final destination.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow Linda, you phrased that beautifully.