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Their environments were varied but within recognisable social frameworks, although the plot lines — especially of the two private eye films — did develop rather fancifully. The distinction Frank made was between the robotic characters who peopled most thrillers — which often had a glamorous detective hero set apart from society — and the inhabitants of the new films, who were all faced with difficult moral choices in their social dealings. For him, the new narratives harked back — in aspiration, at least — to Zola or Maupassant like s French films , or further back into centuries of European tragic theatre.

The link between film noir and existentialism made by Porfirio has continued to be discussed and developed ever since, but if existentialism is to be invoked, there is a need to distinguish between the films seen in and those from the end of the decade and later, in which isolation and alienation of the main characters begins to be a central theme, and which could more convincingly be held to derive from increasing postwar disillusionment.

It becomes clear, in any event, that the further down this route the concept of film noir is taken, the more the intrinsic characteristics of the films described in this way diverge from the original critical vision.

Over this period many works demonstrated confusion in dating quoted articles by French critics, or lack of understanding of the hiatus between the criticism of the s and that of the new s critics. In the proliferation of theories, the term was in danger of losing its fundamental focus and seriousness. But by the early s, it was so well established that the era it had superseded — that of modernism — was being viewed from a historical perspective. Naremore had taken a literary degree in at Wisconsin—Madison home of a thriving film society since the s, and subsequently of the journal The Velvet Light Trap , moving on to spend most of his working life at Indiana—Bloomington.

The reference to the New Wave filmmakers was a reminder that Americans began to look at their own s cinema through new eyes, as the result of encounters with Godard and Truffaut and their admiration for, and film homage to, certain Hollywood directors of the period. This shift is seen in a paragraph towards the end, where he imagined himself back in time in the position of the critics and described film noir in terms of recognised characteristics of modernist art and literature. In fact, in his argument he re-introduced Pierre Mac Orlan's concept of the "fantastique social", directly referencing Frank's article:.

In his book, More than Night: Film noir in its contexts , Naremore went further, tracing a direct connection in Paris between the film critics and the modernist writers, and specifically singling out Frank:.

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For example, Nino Frank, who is usually credited with the first application of the term film noir to American thrillers, was a close friend of James Joyce during the s. He expanded on the argument from his earlier article that many characteristics of modernist literature and painting were carried over into film:. In noting the debt of the noir films to modernism, he also pointed out that literary figures employed as writers within commercial media organisations were bound to influence the output:.

Like modernism, Hollywood thrillers of the s are characterized by urban landscapes, subjective narration, nonlinear plots, hard-boiled poetry, and misogynistic eroticism The affinity between noir and modernism is hardly surprising. In the decades between the two world wars, modernist art increasingly influenced melodramatic literature and movies, if only because most writers and artists with serious aspirations now worked for the culture industry. This hypothesis appears to fit well with what is known of the intellectual positions of the French critics engaged in the debate.

Their cultural interests and the circles they moved in were in literature, art and music before they began to focus primarily on cinema. They knew the modernist writers and painters of the late nineteenth century as well as of the early twentieth century, and all had some knowledge of Freud and psychoanalysis, of Marx and Nietzsche.

The search for truth of expression was a central pillar of the modernist project, and this thread runs throughout their discourse, right from their earliest writings. Again, it is the connections of Nino Frank with modernism which are of particular interest.

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Naremore alluded to this aspect in drawing attention to his relationship with Joyce, but appeared to have only second-hand information taken from a biography of Joyce by Richard Ellmann. At school in Italy, he was a great reader. By the age of 22, he had read in French all the major French writers of the period from to , and written a book on them in Italian, Letteratura francese di ieri e oggi published in He had also read major German, Russian and English classics, the last two languages almost certainly in translation. He had spent time in France with Max Jacob and through him had met Cocteau and Mac Orlan, gaining introductions to painters and musicians as well as to other writers.

When in Ribemont-Dessaignes asked him to help launch the literary magazine BIFUR , his task was to obtain contributions from an international array of distinguished writers and artists. Thus it is indeed possible to place him squarely within the modernist project. But the influence which was most in his mind in the summer of was that of Mac Orlan — certainly part of the modernist phenomenon, but in its very specific aspect of the influence of the modern city on its inhabitants, especially those forced to live in the slums.

A favourite story and film was of Jack the Ripper, which seemed to Mac Orlan to epitomise this ambience, and to illustrate the strange effects the night could have on human behaviour. In his own stories, he drew on what he knew of the slum dwellers of Montmartre from his years there as an unsuccessful painter , on a powerful imagination, and on an ever-present sense of the influence of Chance — or the workings of the subconscious mind — over human destiny.

All these elements can be found, for instance, in his novel Le Quai des brumes , set in Montmartre at the Lapin Agile bar. Up until then, neither he nor the other reviewers had made a positive link between the four films, which all included murder, but otherwise differed widely in both content and style. He must have been mulling over other elements the films had in common — the tendency to use voiceover or a personal narrative, the fast pace and use of gestures and expressions in place of dialogue, the emphasis on the psychology of the characters, which would be important features of his article.

In , Borde and Chaumeton would — almost certainly incorrectly — interpret these references as deriving from surrealism; and it is important to address this misunderstanding, since in a translation of their Panorama appeared, rendered in English as A Panorama of American Film Noir, The fact that it was translated by Paul Hammond, also the editor of The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema , a translation of important surrealist writings and was introduced by Naremore, gave their book the status of a key English-language reference work.

This is a pity, as his text tends to over-emphasise the importance of surrealism in in fact, interest in it had waned by the end of the s, and it was only towards the end of the s that it gained a revived following among a new generation. The idea of this derivation for the term 'film noir' had been put forward by Robert Porfirio in his article, and was accepted by critics during the following years without detailed checks on chronology.

In reality, this lighthearted crime series dreamt up by Marcel Duhamel had barely got going in , and its only publications by the time the crucial batch of films arrived in Paris were translations of two novels by Peter Cheyney and one by James Hadley Chase. The series moved forward very slowly until , and it is much more likely that it benefited from the success of the films than vice versa. The literary origins of the 'noir' in the 'film noir' phrase went back much further, into the classic pantheon of serious French literature.

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Naremore's Introduction also gives the impression that Borde and Chaumeton represented the mainstream opinion among critics:. It was written by a pair of intelligent, discerning viewers who were contemporary with the films under discussion…Borde and Chaumeton not only synthesized a decade of French commentary on American film noir, but also constructed a full-scale history of the form.

Frank was never a surrealist, but he appreciated all these aspects. Francis Lacassin, introducing the eighth volume of their Cahiers Pierre Mac Orlan , was in no doubt not only that he was a modernist, but that he was seen in this light by the young writers including Frank who knew him in the s:. They admired his new approach to the novel, whose field and themes he had enlarged by introducing street-girls, soldiers, sailors, and other marginals of night-time life. No doubt they appreciated even more his faculty of sublimating, under the name of 'social fantastic', neglected aspects of the marvellous in the everyday.

Later writers have also played down the connection because they could see little evidence of any stylistic influence of the French s films on Hollywood. What Frank and his fellow critics saw, however, was not an influence, but a similarity of purpose: to present the characters of crime films — often based on actual crimes reported in the press — as real human beings and not part of a sterile puzzle. In this respect, again, they were following in the traditions of modernist literature, while also justifying the inclusion of cinema as a serious modern medium comparable with literature and the other arts.

However, the direct influence on Frank in this context was not his relatively superficial or transitory relationships with important international figures as has been suggested , but his longlasting closeness to the marginal and undervalued modernist, Mac Orlan.

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Finally, in , he obtained the backing of Gaston Gallimard. This is the article which critics often group together with Nino Frank's article, as containing the earliest mentions of the American 'films noirs'. Billy Wilder had insisted on going to New York for the exterior shots, and on filming Don Birnam Ray Milland walking the length of Third Avenue, trying to pawn his typewriter to get money for a drink. The cinematographer, John Seitz, took many of the shots with his camera concealed inside a truck, so that passers-by were unaware that they were being filmed.

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It was not present in this context in the writings of the French critics. American spellings retained. La Fille du Diable , film noir, est le comble de conformisme. This site uses cookies. For further information, please see our Privacy Policy. Nino Frank: from Dada to Film Noir. Toggle navigation. He insisted that what postwar cinema needed was precisely: a third dimension: a touch of substance, a touch of depth, the logic of cinema definitively replaced by the logic of truth. He argued that pessimism seemed to be the new conformism, and damning Double Indemnity with faint praise, he compared it unfavourably to The Thin Man : The noir Double Indemnity is a good film.

He commented on the aptness of film as a medium for conveying this state of unease: The street, confusing and sinister as soon as sleep overtakes the houses bordering it 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: as grim a tale of human frailty as any since Eric von Stroheim shot the works on the masterpiece, Greed.

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"]. Chartier was impressed by the technical virtuosity with which Murder, My Sweet conveyed the sensations of the battered detective falling into unconsciousness: plays on swirling forms which recall the experiments of "pure cinema", and the reconstruction of a nightmare with confused, blurred images in the style of former avant-garde cinema.

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. Jean George Auriol, introducing an article on Siodmak, defined what he felt was really happening in postwar Hollywood: the recent development of the influence of the old middle-European school in American cinema 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.

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.

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.

Bridge to the future 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 magic of the cinema, on the other hand, lay in its secret collusion with the dreams and desires of the individual, even while paying lip-service to the conventional morality of society: Even if the cinema does pay tribute to collective morality, at the same time, mysteriously, it remains a secret liberation of the individual.