Police Procedural

This past March, the Mark Gordon-produced, Ben Ripley-written, Duncan Jones-directed science fiction thriller Source Code hit theaters to both critical and commercial success. So much commercial success apparently that the film is being commissioned by Gordon and CBS for a TV adaptation without Jones or Ripley involved. According to EW, the series will focus on “three former federal agents who are part of a top-secret program. Each week, they’ll use “Source Code” technology to jump into the consciousness of people involved in tragic events.” Clearly that’s a fairly big leap from the film where the main protagonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) had no clue that he was inside the Source Code. The series will mark the first time ABC Studios will produce an off-network show. But as this will clearly be more of a procedural, it will fit right in at CBS who has actually been taking stabs lately at more high concept versions of the genre (like Person of Interest).

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Ten years ago the Law & Order franchise was the king of the cop show castle with the mother ship at the peak of its ratings dominance, Law & Order: SVU well into a successful third season and the new series Law & Order: Criminal Intent finishing up a successful freshman year. All seemed well in the world that Dick Wolf had birthed, but everything was starting to change. In the following ten years, the unstoppable force that was the mother ship series was cancelled after a hefty twenty-year run (had it gone on for one more season it would of surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted drama on television), Criminal Intent dropped in ratings and was forced to shift to the USA Network, new spin-off series Trial By Jury and Conviction were ratings bombs and the monstrosity of this past year known as Law & Order: LA was, well, a monstrosity. The only glimmer of hope the franchise had left lied in the hands of Benson, Stabler, Fin and the rest of the Special Victims Unit. The question is whether that’s a hope they should hold on to.

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Criterion Files

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.

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Robert Fure knows you’ve come to this site just to read this column. Who told him? You did. Just now.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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