“Noir is a retroactive label, applied first by vigilant French cineasters who discovered an unexpectedly dark tone in a group of American crime films released in France at the end of World War II” (Hirsch, Detours and lost higways, 1999, p.2)
Wether or not film noir is a genre or just a movement is debatable. Is it only a product of time; “World War II [with an Atom bomb for the world!], German Expressionism, existentialism and Freud as they were filtered into pop culture” as writer Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) would argue. Or has it distinct universal features as the femme fatale, the private eye burdened with his own code of honor and the mix of violence, sex, greed and loss of innocence.
Surely these features are more consolidated and full-fledged in “after noir” movies as Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil or Polanski’s Chinatown. Quoting Marx, history is not an entity in itself, but merely a product of man, such as other idealistic phenomenas: God, King and State. Film Noir therefore were probably only fully grown as genre when the synthethical “after noir” movies brought together the film interpretations of antitheses and theses in the current movement discovered by the French cineastes in 1955 (Panorama du film noir americain, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton)
According to Foster Hirsch the era of Film Noir can be said to take it’s beginning in 1941, where the “chiaroscuro, canted angles, ceiling shots, and deep focus” shots create neurotic and unstable mise-en-scène in films as The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane (though one should not forget Fritz Lang, German Expressionism and poetic realism in prewar France (Carne’s Jour se lève, 1939 and Renoir’s Chienne 1931 and Bete humaine, 1938))
What is neo noir then? Godard’s A bout de souffle, 1959, alters the image, L.A. Confidential, 1997, merely makes a pastiche, and Lynch’s Twin Peaks, 1990, just a parodi? Which qualifies for the genre?
And on regard of Twin Peaks: Joy, joy, to read Søren Staal Balslevs review/commentary, Noir parodi (in Danish), on the DVD-release of Twin Peaks.
The list of films
The Third Man, 1949, (Carol Reed’s, might be the one and only!)
The Killing, 1956 (Kubrick’s, screenplay by Jim Thompson)
Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959
Cape Fear, 1962 (and a Scorsese remake from 1972)
The Manchurian Candidate, 1962
Point Black, 1967
Le Boucher, 1969 (Chabrol’s meditation on a serial killer. of new wave instructors Chabrol, the French Hitchcock, pursued a much more conventional course than either Godard or Truffaut)
Dirty Harry, 1971
The Long Goodbye, 1973 (Altman’s, with the iconic figure: Philip Marlowe)
Hammeth, 1983 (Wenders’)
The Underneath, 1995 (remake of Criss Cross, 1949)