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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Do I Love the Noir Genre?

The philosophy behind the noir genre is diametrically opposed to my personal philosophy, but I know we have all been there, done that, if not in this lifetime, in some other one.


I am reading Best American Noir of the Century, a collection of short noir fiction, compiled by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. It was today's kindle daily deal, offers I now receive via email thanks to my sister-in-law, Ann. 


In the Foreword, Ellroy says:
"Noir works, whether films, novels, or short stories, are existential, pessimistic tales about people, including (or especially) protagonists, who are seriously flawed and morally questionable. The tone is generally bleak and nihilistic, with characters whose greed, lust, jealousy, and alienation lead them in to a downward spiral as their plans and schemes inevitably go awry. Whether their motivation is as overt as a bank robbery, or as subtle as the willingness to compromise integrity for personal gain, the central figures in noir stories are doomed to hopelessness. They may be motivated by the pursuit of seemingly easy money or by love–or, more commonly, physical desire–almost certainly for the wrong member of the opposite sex. The machinations of their relentless lust will cause them to lie, steal, cheat, and even kill as they become more and more entangled in a web from which they cannot possibly extricate themselves. And, while engaged in this hopeless quest, they will be double-crossed, betrayed, and ultimately, ruined. The likelihood of a happy ending in a noir story is remote, even if the protagonist’s view of a satisfactory resolution is the criterion for defining happy. No, it will end badly, because the characters are inherently corrupt and that is the fate that inevitably awaits them."
and in the Introduction ... 
"Noir sparked before the Big War and burned like a four-coil hotplate up to 1960. Cheap novels and cheap films about cheap people ran concurrent with American boosterism and yahooism and made a subversive point just by being. They described a fully existing fringe America and fed viewers and readers the demography of a Secret Pervert Republic. It was just garish enough to be laughed off as unreal and just pathetic enough to be recognizably human."
I really enjoy the genre, particularly in film.

1 comment:

Caleb J. Ross said...

Me too. I grabbed the collection as soon as I heard about it. I write grotesque noir and consider many of the included authors heroes. I haven't dived too deep into the collection yet; I need to savor it.