Remember back in December 2015 when I investigated all these new-to-me genres? Nano-punk, nano-technology, or cyber-punk?
Well, it’s happened again. A number of bloggers I follow have reviewed stories recently they’ve categorized as “Noir.” If it sounds French, it is, and means “dark” or “of the night.” It is usually a genre that deals with violence or sex, but definitely corruption in some manner. (BTW, noire is just feminine for noir, but you knew that, huh.)
Yes, I remember film noir, but “classic” (or roman) noir is considered a “hardboiled” genre that usually includes a self-destructive protagonist. I’m not writing the rules here, only relaying what I found in research–and it’s not pretty folks. Although I must say, we’ve definitely done a number on the original noir fiction spawned from Dashiell Hammett ( 1894-1961) “the dean of the… ‘hardboiled’ school of detective fiction.” The protagonist is not a rumpled, raincoat cloaked, cigar-chomping thoughtful-hearted protagonist, but rather a perpetrator. Forget Columbo! Think Humphrey Bogart. No, much worse. Think Kevin Spacey in LA Confidential. But there is a huge difference in the definition of “noir” and what we are calling forms of noir today.
Harking back to the Huff Post updated in December 2017 by Otto Penzler who didn’t mince words when he described the genre, “noir is about losers,” not private detectives. This is the down and dirty–doesn’t do well and never will. The protagonist in a noir story is driven by just about everything bad a human can exhibit: greed, lust, jealousy. They aren’t ever going to triumph. They can’t! (It’s noir.) And this is what separates the private detective or family noir from noir fiction–the moral ground.
The problem then, as Noir Fiction has splintered off as many sub-genres as the previously discussed fiction novels, is the evolution. Here are just a few:
Classic noir (Hollywood crime dramas emphasizing derisive attitudes and/or sexual motivations)
Family noir (domestic noir)
Pulp noir (classic noir with urban influences)
Scandinavian noir (Scandi noir)
I think it was the Scandinavian noir that set me to scratching my head. A Scandi noir? Certainly, it was the film industry that influenced the change of the hardboiled nuance into a neo-noir flavor. Definitely a contemporary or more modern version of film noir, the term neo-noir was popularized by two French critics back in 1955. It appears these were retro-actively applied to much earlier crime movies including the 1940s as well as the 1950s in the U.S. (Think Bogey)
So I jumped on Goodreads again, my go-to of all things bookish, and noted that on their (current) favorite noir list the first six of nine is divided between Raymond Chandler at number one (Farewell, My Lovely (Philip Marlowe, #2) and two and Dashiell Hammett at number three (The Glass Key).
It was Hammett who created Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon after a character he knew living in San Francisco. His authentic period dialogue was included in the movie famously played by Humphrey Bogart.
Raymond Chandler? Really? Because if you were surprised by Hammett’s life dates, Chandler is right there, born in 1888 and died in 1959. Wikipedia notes he began writing after losing his job as an oil company executive. He published a short story in Black Mask Magazine, a pulp magazine in 1933. (First issue April 1920-final issue 1987) Along with Dashiell Hammett and other Black Mask writers, he is considered to be a founder of the hardboiled detective fiction. Philip Marlowe, his protagonist, was also played by the quintessential Humphrey Bogart. He said of the hardboiled detective, “he is the white knight who walks the mean streets, but is not himself mean.”
Cinematically, Lee Marvin cemented the neo-noir style of film when he starred in Point Blank (1967), introducing a new level of violence in film and established the foundation for later escalation of ferocity and brutality.
I suspect there would be some argument over whether the film Pulp Fiction is actually pulp noir or film noir. Jessica Jones – pulp noir? Where would you classify any of the dark noir books (Gone Girl) (or movies) that you’ve read (seen) lately?
But really, a family noir? OMG–it’s gotta be sad, depressing, and can never be made right.
I don’t need it.
I want peaceful.
I want happy–if not happily ever after–a light at the end of the tunnel. Some small promise it’ll be okay.
And hopefully soon.
©2018 V Williams