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More than Night

More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, Updated and Expanded Edition

James Naremore
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 2
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    More than Night
    Book Description:

    "Film noir" evokes memories of stylish, cynical, black-and-white movies from the 1940s and '50s-melodramas about private eyes, femmes fatales, criminal gangs, and lovers on the run. James Naremore's prize-winning book discusses these pictures, but also shows that the central term is more complex and paradoxical than we realize. It treats noir as a term in criticism, as an expression of artistic modernism, as a symptom of Hollywood censorship and politics, as a market strategy, as an evolving style, and as an idea that circulates through all the media. This new and expanded edition ofMore Than Nightcontains an additional chapter on film noir in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93445-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface to the 2008 edition
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: This Is Where I Came In
    (pp. 1-8)

    For most people, the termfilm noirconjures up a series of generic, stylistic, or fashionable traits from certain Hollywood pictures of the 1940s and 1950s. There are, for example, noir characters and stories (drifters attracted to beautiful women, private eyes hired by femmes fatales, criminal gangs attempting to pull off heists); noir plot structures (flashbacks, subjective narration); noir sets (urban diners, shabby offices, swank night-clubs); noir decorations (venetian blinds, neon lights, “modern” art); noir costumes (snap-brim hats, trenchcoats, shoulder pads); and noir accessories (cigarettes, cocktails, snub-nosed revolvers). There are also noir performances, often associated with the “radio voices” of...

  7. 1 The History of an Idea
    (pp. 9-39)

    It has always been easier to recognize a film noir than to define the term. One can imagine a large video store where examples of such films would be shelved somewhere between gothic horror and dystopian science fiction: in the center would beDouble Indemnity,and at either extremeCat PeopleandInvasion of the Body Snatchers.But this arrangement would leave out important titles. There is in fact no completely satisfactory way to organize the category; and despite scores of books and essays that have been written about it, nobody is sure whether the films in question constitute a...

  8. 2 Modernism and Blood Melodrama: Three Case Studies
    (pp. 40-95)

    After an art-historical category has been named and its key members identified, critics usually try to explain its causes or genealogy. This is the task undertaken in the second chapter of Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton’sPanorama du film noir américain,in which the authors discuss six major “sources” of American film noir. Three of the sources are sociological: a new realism about violence in the wake of World War II, a rise in the American crime rate, and a widespread institutionalization and popularization of psychoanalysis. The rest are artistic: the hard-boiled crime novel, the European cinema, and certain Hollywood...

  9. 3 From Dark Films to Black Lists: Censorship and Politics
    (pp. 96-135)

    Hollywood’s self-appointed censors have always tried to remain above the factional and potentially unprofitable level of national politics, claiming that their purpose is transcendentally moral. The 1930 Production Code, for example, described commercial movies as “entertainment” and “art,” as distinct from “pictures intended for churches, schools, lecture halls, educational movements, social reform movements, etc.”¹ For his part, Will Hays repeatedly argued that “entertainment is the commodity for which the public pays at the box office. Propaganda disguised as entertainment would be neither honest salesmanship nor honest showmanship.”²

    Hays’s logic was typical of the American right wing throughout the 1930s, and...

  10. 4 Low Is High: Budgets and Critical Discrimination
    (pp. 136-166)

    Murder stories are easy to produce, and a medium-budget, occasionally cheesy-looking thriller likePushover(1954) is almost as fascinating to watch asDouble IndemnityorRear Window,two expensive films with which it has a good deal in common. But as Andrew Sarris suggests, there are also some important cultural reasons for the large number of “fondly remembered B pictures” in the noir category. The very idea of film noir took root in America retrospectively, during the heyday of urban art theaters, when Bogart thrillers were especially popular in revival houses and college film societies, and when advanced film criticism...

  11. 5 Old Is New: Styles of Noir
    (pp. 167-219)

    The visual style of film noir is often associated with low-key lighting, unbalanced compositions, vertiginous angles, night-for-night exteriors, extreme deep focus, and wide-angle lenses. These and other noirlike camera effects have been discussed in a well-known essay by Janey Place and Lowell Peterson, who do an excellent job of explaining how certain familiar images of the 1940s and 1950s were created. But Place and Peterson base their analysis on a small sample of films, and several of their generalizations seem questionable—for instance, their claim that “camera movements are used sparingly in mostnoirfilms.”¹ All the stylistic features they...

  12. 6 The Other Side of the Street
    (pp. 220-253)

    In previous chapters, I argue that film noir occupies a liminal space some where between Europe and America, between high modernism and “blood melodrama,” and between low-budget crime movies and art cinema. As an idea in criticism and as a market category in mainstream entertainment, the term has a similar quality; it describes both action pictures and “women’s” melodramas, problematizing the usual generic or gendered distinctions. Still other kinds of liminality are depicted in the films themselves. The stories frequently involve characters who have an ambiguous social position between the law and the underworld, or who seem in danger of...

  13. 7 The Noir Mediascape
    (pp. 254-277)

    One day in 1993, Emmy Award–winning filmmaker Ara Chekmayan visited a Pennsylvania fleamarket, where he discovered a statuette that looked exactly like the Maltese Falcon. Chekmayan purchased the black bird for eight dollars, and not long afterward, believing it to be one of two identical props that had been used in the famous 1941 Warner Brothers movie, he offered it up for auction at Christie’s, who estimated its value at fifty thousand dollars. Before an auction could take place, however, a Los Angeles collector pointed out that identical copies of the statuette could be purchased at forty-five dollars apiece...

  14. 8 Noir in the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 278-310)

    One purpose of this book has been to dispel certain prevailing ideas about the American film noir. Almost a decade after the book’s initial publication, however, some of the ideas still circulate. Here, for example, fromThe New York Timesof August 22, 2006, is the opening of Dave Kehr’s review of a special DVD edition ofDouble Indemnity:

    The simplest way of describing film noir is as a collision between the visual conventions of German Expressionism and the lurid plotting of the American pulp novel. “Proto” film noirs, like Joe May’s 1929 “Asphalt,” filmed in the Babelsberg studios in...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 311-342)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 343-354)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 355-384)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 385-385)