A narrator or commentator is introduced, making it possible to break the story up, to slide rapidly over transitional scenes, and to accentuate the sense of "living" the characters' experiences. It is evident that this procedure makes it easier to get the story going, and that it also puts a certain dynamism into a psychological treatment otherwise lacking mobility.
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What never varies is his need to be in the world, to work there, to be there in the midst of others, and to be mortal He experiences these limits, but they serve for nothing if he does not accept them, that is does not, of his own free will, live his existence according to them. Thus he was bringing together ideas from literary and film debates, to describe in a multi-faceted article the direction of his thinking.
New York reviewers had reacted in a similar way to Double Indemnity when it was shown in September , recognising real human characteristics in the protagonists, vicious as they might be, and also referring back to serious films of the past:. To the French, cut off from Hollywood films since , the impression was that the change had happened overnight. In fact, The Maltese Falcon was made in and the others in , well before the end of the war. The corruption, the scheming, the questionable morality, all came directly from the novels: the films were original in daring to reproduce accurately the spirit of the plots, and breathe life into their screen dialogues by using a linguistic register akin to that of the books.
Barrot, in his article on Double Indemnity , similarly spoke knowledgeably of the works of Cain. They argued, even more strongly than Frank, that not only could a new aesthetic approach be perceived in film direction, there was also a general will in Hollywood to keep experimenting and moving forward. The new approach involved dwelling on the interior lives, the thoughts and feelings, of the characters, so that the spectator understood their motives and agonised with them over their choices. The characters in Laura — a rare experience — have a real existence The fact that this is a crime plot is not important.
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Laura could equally well have been introduced into a family drama or a love story The miracle is to have brought her to life. Even more impressive was his ability to create a fellow-feeling between the public and the young investigator, not normally an object of sympathy. The article linked Dana Andrews, somewhat fancifully but with deliberate intent, to Jean Gabin, the most famous hero of French s noir films:.
The miracle desired by the public is first longed for, subconsciously and without hope, by the romantic lead — and we forget that he is just a cop ["poulet"]. We even sympathise with him And most of all, thanks to a brilliant performance by Clifton Webb, solidarity was felt even with — especially with — the murderer:. Clifton Webb It matters little to us whether he is guilty or not, or that he is hateful in his inhuman sophistication Face to face with this presence, we live out his fate with him We would all have been murderers.
The implicit conclusion was the same as that made explicitly by Nino Frank. Hollywood cinema had taken a step forward from the theatrical melodramas and crossword puzzle detective films of the past; henceforward it would be possible to expect more realistic acting and characterisation. A principle had been established too: it was not necessary to look at auteurial or artistic films for new and interesting developments — in Hollywood they could as readily be found in mass-market products.
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The review described how the first-person narrative drew the spectator in to live the experience with the narrator — to imagine the fear, confusion and physical pain of the private eye in Murder, My Sweet , the hopeless despair of the alcoholic in The Lost Weekend , the lust and greed of the insurance salesman in Double Indemnity. Chartier was impressed by the technical virtuosity with which Murder, My Sweet conveyed the sensations of the battered detective falling into unconsciousness:.
But he was most interested in the fact that it was the character of the narrator which was under the microscope, explained in detail in his commentary on Double Indemnity :. The triggers are not exterior to the action: the seduction of the young man by a calculating harlot, the temptation of the perfect crime, the subconscious challenge to the friend responsible for uncovering swindles, acquire such an air of reality that we ourselves feel entangled in this sombre story.
Chartier was disturbed by the depravity and degradation of the characters in these films.
It is hard to imagine sinking further into pessimism and disgust with humanity Thus for him, if the American films were taken to be serious works, there was a nastiness to them far beyond — indeed foreign to — the French films of the s. It is important to emphasise the centrality within this article of The Lost Weekend.
This film was seen by several reviewers at Cannes in October , and reached Paris early in The sense of folly and senseless void left by the spectacle of this young man, possessed by this single passion, makes The Lost Weekend one of the most distressing films I have ever seen. He was also excited by the genuine New York street scenes, and the value of these settings in conveying the sense that the film dealt with real life:. Anguish and shame weigh on the spectator, led by Billy Wilder to identify himself with the culprit, as in Double Indemnity.
And the great success of the film is also, for the first time in years, to make a real city, New York, rather than studio sets, a participant in the action. Billy Wilder's marvellous, icy editing skill. Double Indemnity revealed the Racinian purity of this cinematographic language. In Lost Weekend the simplicity of style achieves the perfection of the invisible.
The first group of films was joined by The Woman in the Window in early September, and the debate took a different, more genuinely sombre turn. The story had inbuilt tragic possibilities to which the other films could not aspire.
The Woman in the Window is a criminal adventure, a "noir" film which develops in this atmosphere of chiaroscuro dear to the young Hollywood school. The sense of strangeness, of the fantastic, which we experience here owes nothing to the supernatural: on the contrary, it rests on the realism of the situations and of the characters' behaviour Everything seems so probable that every spectator can think that in similar circumstances he would have acted like the involuntary murderer.
Fritz Lang has only ever treated one subject, the fundamental tragic subject of man defeated by his fate As in Greek tragedy before Socrates, the hero is neither good nor evil: morality is excluded from the matter; it features man, depersonalised, at grips with a specific adventure which Fate has prepared for him.
The tragic intensity strikes us the more because the events take place in our everyday world and Professor Wanley's adventure could happen to any of us This was the majority reading, among critics both in America and in France, who felt cheated by the 'happy' ending: it had all been a dream. But in America, where a thriller must function according to fixed rules, and in France, where living the narrative with the protagonist was too important to be compromised, the ending was ultimately unacceptable.
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In This Gun for Hire we can again admire technical excellence, but it lacks a director's distinctive mark. The new technique was not uncommon, it seemed, among Hollywood directors; but technique alone could not convey the psychological depths of the human situations portrayed. Jean George Auriol, introducing an article on Siodmak, defined what he felt was really happening in postwar Hollywood:.
This article signals the beginnings of disillusionment at a tendency for the new crime films to lose their psychological insight and slide back into formulaic detective or gangster films:. The opening of the film is stunning. You expect brutal plot development, on the level of psychology as well as action The flashbacks Auriol summed up the feelings of critics about the origins and essence of the films. The noir films coming to us from America which prolong the old French and German realist style from Zola to Wedekind You feel more fear following the thread of Ariadne which he has unwound relentlessly in The Woman in the Window than watching the scenes of brutality in Murder, My Sweet or The Maltese Falcon.
But you don't breathe the same depressing air as in the films adapted or imitated from James Cain and others It had briefly looked as though a new understanding was being developed into the cinematic representation of human character in depth, but French critics quickly perceived a superficiality and slavishness to convention in most of the home-grown Hollywood films which followed.
French critics formed in the prewar period had clung on, through the war years, to a certain romanticism. Later commentators have pointed to stylistic influences from prewar German films, but for the critics the primary consideration was not one of style.
They had seen at first hand the prewar struggles of European filmmakers to speak out against evil in their films, and felt that the new American crime films could represent the opportunity for a surreptitious continuation of that work within unashamedly entertainment films.
Over the next few years, the term 'films noirs' continued to be associated by French critics with crime films produced by Hollywood, but they soon concluded that the later films were being churned out to a profitable formula and had lost the original vision. As far as they were concerned, this series of films had run its course, and by the time the book came out it aroused only mild interest among most French critics. Its importance today lies in the fact that it was discovered during the s by academic film commentators in the United States, where little interest had previously been shown in this French interpretation of s American crime films.
Few French film magazines of the late s had crossed the Atlantic at the time, and had certainly not been translated. Thus the first definition of film noir to make a significant impact at first mainly in American film schools, among those who could read French was the one laid down by Borde and Chaumeton. A striking example of this is the difference between the social analyses of The Lost Weekend by critics in see quotations and the emphasis on drink-induced madness in their book in Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend had been classified rather lightly in the noir genre, no doubt because of the hospital scenes and the description of delirium tremens.
But abnormality and crime were missing.
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The authors belonged to a later generation than the critics debating the issue in the s, and were not in Paris at the time, although in Toulouse they would have seen the films and read the articles. Their book was heavily influenced by a mixture of surrealist and sociological ideas which represented the personal outlook of Borde, in particular, and certain of his colleagues at the journal Positif. It rests on conventions without which it would not be what it is.
Attempting to judge it according to a certain surrealist aesthetic or ethic, is: 1. After a period of unusually — for French cinema criticism — lethargic debate, in December the authors were asked to sum up in Positif how they now perceived film noir. They declared:. In our opinion, the film noir brings an atmosphere of ambiguity and bizarreness, an exaggerated cruelty, a neurotic climate, which are completely new…Before the war, the rule was to make a clear break between the good and the bad characters…In a word, the crime film of was socially wholesome.
But the true film noir is a barely-disguised transposition of the nightmare, and it carries the implication of a deeply corrupted social order. At this point in time they believed film noir to be a defunct genre. But within ten years it was seized on by American critics, and the aspect of their analysis which became prominent in the mainstream was the unnatural and the abnormal, with the social insight which was the original breakthrough pushed into a minor role.
The growth of Film Schools in America and Britain during the s and a search for new directions by young filmmakers coincided with the French New Wave. The interest shown by the young French directors in s Hollywood films, and in particular in the 'films noirs', led American cinephiles who admired French films loosely inspired by them, like Godard's Breathless and Truffaut's Shoot the Pianist , to re-examine and re-evaluate the earlier films.
A fascination with the idea of film noir developed, which has continued unabated and has expanded worldwide. Practical and stylistic lessons were taken from the films, but in addition they became the object of a variety of philosophical theories. They also took into account wider political circumstances of the recent past like the Depression, the menace of Fascism and the flight of many European directors and cinematographers to America. Then, as interest in the subject of film noir broadened, and new exploration and interpretation became a respectable academic endeavour, writers took up the challenge of placing the noir development within the whole philosophical framework of its period: a period considered by this time to span the late s and early s.
He argued that all noir heroes were terrifyingly alone, isolated and alienated from the world, with nothing to depend on but themselves. Because this article was — and still is — very influential in film noir criticism, it justifies serious discussion. Porfirio went into considerable detail on the constructs underlying existentialism, drawing circumstantial parallels with film noir. However, he admitted that the French philosophy of existentialism, neither fully formulated nor accepted as a new doctrine until after the war, could not have been a direct influence. In addition, lack of attention to chronology led to works of the s being considered as part of the same phenomenon as much later, even postwar, books.
However, the central concern for this investigation is not whether certain film noir heroes could, with hindsight, appear to share qualities with existentialism. It seems unlikely that this was the case. We never talked existentialism, and anyway it would have been pointless, since I have the least philosophical of minds. It was the man I found so interesting and not the thinker, the man and his internal debate.
In fact, he wrote in these and later memoirs about all the cultural ideas and theories which interested him, and significantly he barely touched on the subject of existentialism. After we had dada, an explosion of inflammatory joy, then surrealism, the total expansion of the ancient store of dreams, to the point of submerging the whole of life in it. Today, we have what we deserve for having accepted catastrophe: we have existentialism.