Recent publications on film noir tell of the lively interest in the style/genre/cycle. And ever since film noir was subject to definition (and analysis) by french critics, the question of what exactly it is, a style, a genre, a cycle, a movement, has not been answered in total.
“Film noir,” as reports Homer B. Pettey, “… identifies itself as a genre that has recognizable properties that are paradoxically variable. Defining film noir categorically defies the very nature of the experimentation within the cycle of films delimited by the imposition of a field for the genre. Dynamism, experimentation and variation are essential to the life of any genre, probably most true for film noir.”
Since the ultimate answer to the question of what film noir consists of and how to define it exactly was not expected to be found in this volume either, the ten parts of this volume nevertheless enlarge on further subjects like the hard-boiled tradition, the use of particular soundtracks and the role of gender.
The chapter The Subversive Shade of Black in Film Noir by Charles Scruggs offers some very interesting ideas (since African American culture is hardly ever subject of film noir criticism) about the relationship between African American actors and the genre/style, such as the theme of the outsider, the fugitive or xenophobic attitudes and racist violence towards individuals seemingly intruding the perfect American small town or social patterns.
The last short text is authored by famous film scholars Ursini and Silver on the history of their own writing about the genre since the late 1970s.
Edited by Pettey and R. Barton Palmer, this volume assembles some of the most popular experts on film (noir) as Janet Bergstrom, Robert Miklitsch, Vicki Callahan, Elisabeth Bronfen and others.
Additionally, the reader finds some twenty extra pages of (very usable) film noir bibliography and extensive filmography.
The book was originally published in 2014, this is the first paperback edition.
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2016
Homer B. Pettey and R. Barton Palmer (eds.) Film Noir. (Traditions in American Cinema). Edinburgh University Press, 2016, 240p.