Yesterday, I revisited an article I read in grad school, Paul Schrader’s short but phenomenal “Notes on Film Noir.” The article isn’t rigidly academic. It’s the best sort of analysis that ends up making you want to go back to the object of its study, in this case, the so-called “black film” of American cinema, ca. 1940-1960.
Schrader’s article provides all sorts of lists: the four major influences, the major stylistic flourishes, the major themes, and then noir’s four major periods. Schrader basically argues that unlike thematically defined genre pictures like the gangster movies of the 30s or the westerns of any decade, noir films were united primarily by their tone. This world-weariness was a sort of paradox. During the 1930s, Hollywood’s movies were almost relentlessly upbeat. Now, in the wake of WW II and the post-war boom, the movies got cynical and jaded in a hurry.
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