Shades of Noir: A Reader

Shades of Noir: A Reader

Shades of Noir: A Reader

Shades of Noir: A Reader


For this was the summer when, after the hiatus of the Second World War, French critics were again given the opportunity to view films from Hollywood. The films they saw, including The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity. Laura, Murder, My Sweet, and The Woman in the Window, prompted the naming and theorization of a new phenomenon: film noir.

Much of what has been written about the genre since has remained within the orbit of this preliminary assessment. While sympathetic towards the early French critics, this collection of original essays attempts to move beyond their first fascinated look. Beginning with an autonomy of that look-of the 'poujadist' climate that nourished it and the imminent collapse of the Hollywood studio system that gave it its mournful inflection-Shades of Noir re-explores and calls into question the object first constructed by it. The impetus for this shift in perspective comes from the films themselves, viewed in the light of contemporary social and political concerns, and from new theoretical insights.

Several contributions analyze the re-emergence of noir in recent years, most notably in the hybrid forms produced in the 1980s by the merging of noir with science fiction and horror, for example Blade Runner and Angel Heart, and in films by black directors such as Deep Cover, Straight out of Brooklyn, A Rage in Harlem and One False Move. Other essays focus on the open urban territory in which the noir hero hides out; the office spaces in Chandler, and the palpable sense of waiting that fills empty warehouses, corridors and hotel rooms.

Finally, Shades of Noir pays renewed attention to the lethal relation between the sexes; to the femme fatale and the other women in noir. As the role of women expands, the femme fatale remains deadly, but her deadliness takes on new meanings.

Contributors: Janet Bergstrom, Joan Copjec, Elizabeth Cowie, Manthia Diawara, Frederic Jameson, Dean MacCannel, Fred Pfeil, David Reid and Jayne L. Walker, Marc Vernet, Slavoj Zizek.


After the only witness to his innocence plunges to her death, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), the escaped prisoner of Delmer Daves 1947 film Dark Passage, no longer stands any chance of exonerating himself of the murder charges on which he was convicted. His only remaining option is to flee the scene and then the country, to continue to try to elude the police as he has throughout the film. Looking about frantically for a way out, he spots a door leading to the roof and quickly decides to take it. Where to go from there? Again, only one option presents itself: the fire escape that runs down the side of the building. In four successive shots from varying angles, the camera remains trained on him; we watch as he climbs down the entire façade of the building, step by step, landing by landing. At each shot change we half expect the camera to cut away to the police as they make their way toward this scene of the crime; but it does not. Parry's escape is not paralleled by a police chase. The effect is somewhat odd. Against the static and monotonous building façade, Parry, the sole moving object in the frame, is more than visible, he is fully exposed. But to whom?

Not to the police, of course, since the narrative point is that Parry escapes detection by them. But if the shots of him descending the fire escape had been intercut with shots of the police, his visibility would have indicated that even if he is not now visible, even if for this moment at least he has successfully avoided detection, in another moment, perhaps the next, he might be caught. The parallel or alternating montage that is so . . .

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