Articles, Lobby

Noir: Compassion in the Shadows

wsm roomforrent Noir: Compassion in the Shadows

the ‘meaning’ of the noir city is not to be found in the narrative’s surface
details but in its shadows, in the intangibles of tone and mood

– Frank Krutnik, ‘Something More Than Night’, The Cinematic City (ed David B. Clarke), p 98-99

The more I read about noir, the more I am convinced that few pundits, critics, academics, or film bloggers really know noir. Sure, there are many who write lyrically and compellingly, there are those who can mimic to perfection the hard-boiled lingo, and there are those who have a thorough knowledge of the history and the arcane, but most don’t understand noir.

Noir is a semiotic aesthetic. It is not about the surface, it is about the shadows. The noir narrative is only a framework for holding together a dark but deeply moral vision of life. Noir is not morally ambivalent: it is unforgiving and the transgressor pays for his transgressions. While the punishment of destiny is inescapable, there is the chance of redemption, and redemption comes from a deep compassion. A compassion that comes from the knowledge of the chaos and the utterly random contingency at the core of existence. Noir goes beyond the despair of the existentialists, it finds in the desperate and often violent failings of humanity, the soul. The soul that is not corporeal yet pervades physical reality by manifesting our sins and desires in the dark shadows of night, when the alienating mantel of awareness dissolves into those places where lost souls wander: the dives, the dark city streets, lonely desolate beaches, dust country roads, squalid tenements, and dank stairwells.

Forget all you have read about noir and look at noir with your own eyes and ears. Welcome to the shadows.

4 Comments

  1. “Noir is a semiotic aesthetic. It is not about the surface, it is about the shadows…”

    I most definitely, try to use that “technique” whenever I post screenshots pertaining to film noir on my blog…
    Because I have learned from “hanging” around some film noir aficionados that it’s not what the viewers do see…but what they don’t see…

    Val Lewton, I find used that technique in such films as Cat People, The Seventh Victim, and most definitely, to his advantage in The Leopard Man…

    For instance, in…”A particularly haunting scene from Leopard Man involves a young girl who, on returning from an errand to a local store for corn meal, is mauled by the cat after her mother will not let her in the house. Upon hearing the screams, the mother clamors to open the door as dark blood seeps under the door.”
    Wikipedia

    I must admit that scene is frightening, but this is the particular scene that I’am referring to and that is the scene leading up to the tragedy that befall the young girl after the young girl, purchase the corn meal and return home in the dark facing darkness and shadows…

    …He (Lewton) also used shadows quite effectively, in The Seventh Victim too in the scene right before the dénouement.

    “The noir narrative is only a framework for holding together a dark but deeply moral vision of life. Noir is not morally ambivalent: it is unforgiving and the transgressor pays for his transgressions. While the punishment of destiny is inescapable, there is the chance of redemption, and redemption comes from a deep compassion.”

    I most definitely, agree with this definition of…film noir.
    And
    Forget all you have read about noir and look at noir with your own eyes and ears. Welcome to the shadows.
    *Frank Krutnik, ‘Something More Than Night’, The Cinematic City (ed David B. Clarke), p 98-99

    Tony,
    I must purchase this book and hope that when I read the book that I can try to comprehend what the author is trying to say about Film noir…being all visual (What one sees with their eyes) and sounds.(What one hear(s) with their ears)

    By the way, I have retwittered(Sp) this post over there on my Twitters too!
    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee ;-D

  2. Very nice. I re-posted it here:

    http://responso.tumblr.com/

    Have a nice day.

  3. Thanks DeeDee. Your referencing of Val Lewton’s noirs is very insightful – and thanks for the re-tweet!

    Your welcome Berliac, and thanks for the Spanish translation.

  4. Hi! Tony,
    I have just reposted your post on Tumblr too:

    http://lalumiereetlobscurite2.tumblr.com/page/2

    DeeDee :)