Just as film noir isn’t one single definable thing, noir itself contains many offshoots and categories. And every Noirvember, it’s important to not only examine good ol’ film noir, but its corresponding variants as well. One aspect of noir that complicates its designation as a genre or a style is the persistence of neo-noir, a cinematic form that arose in direct reaction to noir. In the US, canonical neo-noirs include films like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown or Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. These were films made by filmmakers who knew cinema’s history, who have seen and studied noir’s origins and staples. These were filmmakers who worshiped film history and used classic cinema as a prototype for their own creation, embedding references to the old while departing from it in creating the new.


High and Low

As discussed in last week’s entry in the cannon of the Criterion Files with Carol Reed’s The Third Man for our themed month dubbed “Noirvember”, the delineation of what is considered film noir is as gray as the pictures that encompass the genre (if genre is what it’s believed to be). It’s many things yet nothing distinctive.

In many cases, the aesthetics of low-angles and dark photography dominating the image mark a common visual signature that’s distinguishable, but not always definitively ‘noir’ and not always present in film-noir. Yet, somehow, we kind of know it when we see it.

In other instances, visual style takes the backseat of the police car in a picture with literary elements of crime, corruption, betrayal and other sinful activity found quite often in the films considered undoubtedly ‘noir,’ yet their presence does not define their categorical placement amongst films like The Third Man. Yet, somehow, we sort of just know it when we feel it.

Taken in its literal context the word ‘noir’ simply means dark. Dark what? Dark anything, really; and that’s part of what makes the genre so non-distinct and occasionally contradictory. A dark film is not necessarily noir, but noir films are in one way or another dark; and some in ways that non-noir films can be.

Therefore, the only definitive fact about film-noir is that it’s an abstract concept thanks to films like Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963), loosely adapted from Ed McBain’s crime novel “King’s Ransom”, and is in many ways the antithesis to what would be considered dark for nearly eighty-percent of its running time. Yet, when you see it, you feel it, and its inclusion in consideration for what is noir further expands what the genre can be, or doesn’t have to be.


Criterion Files

Landon and Adam usually have the lock down on all things Criterion, but lately I’ve been inundated by the important films of old times and new. First it was the package I received from my good friend Travon who took advantage of the Barnes and Noble 50% off sale and his last few days before heading back to Iraq to fight for our freedoms to send The Red Shoes, Paths of Glory and House my way. And, no, there’s nothing ironic about an American soldier sending me movies from the UK and Japan. That’s what this country is all about. In addition to that bountiful harvest, I was also invited to blather on inanely for the Criterion Cast – the podcast whose title is incredibly self-descriptive. That Criterion Cast gang and I were talking Videodrome – one of the best films of all time featuring a chest vagina. Of course, the conversation covered our fears of technology, the future-casting from Cronenberg, and the likelihood that we’ll all grow new VHS-compatible sex organs (hint: we will). Even with my inclusion, the episode is a fascinating one, and I highly encourage you to check it out over at the Criterion Cast site. Then bookmark the site to further bask yourself in the warm glow of film love with future episodes.



Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents the story of a rough private investigator who’s more unethical than the scum he tracks down, the mystery woman he picks up on the side of the road, and the explosive ending that had to have inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark. Plus, it’s a perfect film to check out during Noir-vember.


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Film noir is a much-debated subject amongst cinephiles. It’s often argued to be a genre or an aesthetic, yet any definition designating it as either typically encounters generality and contradiction. Noir takes on many forms. It’s indefinite, but somehow you know it when you see it. In order to pursue a greater understanding of film noir, Adam and I are devoting the next four weeks to examining films noir from various directors, schools of style, and histories from around the globe. So here, an examination of Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), is the inaugural entry in a month of analysis we’ve decided to call “Noir-vember.”

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published: 01.27.2015
published: 01.27.2015
published: 01.26.2015
published: 01.26.2015

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