As an avid fan of film noir for over 25 years I was more than pleased to read this book by Ian Brookes. I wanted to see if it could add to the canon of knowledge about this visual style, genre, movement or category, take your pick! Brookes covers all the familiar tropes and confirms much about the existing debates on this subject. However, I am glad to say that this book has added much to my understanding and also took me on some unexpected journeys.
This book contains some sound scholarship and covers many of the contradictions of the film noir movement. There are broad explorations of the historical and cultural roots that began with six movies from the 1940’s, which impressed French critics so much after the 2nd World War. The book makes direct references to and analyses the work of the established critics and experts including Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, E. Ann Kaplan, Foster Hirsch and James Naremore. To me this indicates that all the bases have been covered. The author has realised that Film Noir is an ever-expanding universe with a multitude of opinions and explanations offered as to why a cowboy movie with Joan Crawford in it should be classed as noir.
What I found most fascinating was the social dimensions of the post war US society that these films were created to reflect or comment upon. This was where the book departs from the many texts that I’ve read.
The chapter devoted to the new science of sociology sought to address the changes in the social structures and disillusionment with the organs of the Government during and after WWII. It reflects upon the role of masculinity as it sought to re-establish itself despite economic challenges and feminist assertions.
The veteran problem – this was something that politicians and media were fully aware of but the sheer scale of 13 million plus service men returning from a life-altering world war was difficult to contain. In the narratives of the films quoted this is a problem that was tackled in many ways with the resolution always resting in the balm of domestic stability.
The extreme left became the main focus of paranoia during the late 40’s and 50’s. The House Un-American Activities Committee found the means to neuter and expel the creative critics of the social conditions in the US.Whilst Communism was seen as a world evil by the state some filmmakers were more concerned that the extreme right was actually more established and more dangerous while remaining overlooked. References to Racism and Anti-Semitism wasn’t overt but was at the heart of films like Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk,1947)
This is book is an important critical introduction to the most important film category that Hollywood had the good fortune to originate and return to time and time again no matter the format whether that be in black and white, colour, sci-fi, western or television series. Noir is here to stay.
Karl Foster Monday 26 March 2018