Q: What Is Film Noir? A: Watch These Two Documentaries And Find Out

fn1I’ll be honest, I love a good film noir. As a matter of fact, I often love a bad film noir. Yeah, it’s just kind of that way. We all have those genres which we are willing to give more leeway to than others, I suppose.

So what exactly is it that makes a particular movie a “black movie” (that is, after all, what the term film noir translates to)? What separates it from other, more straightforward detective stories? What are its origins, its influences, its “rules”, and its repercussions? And why are there no really modern films noir? Or are there? (Personally, I’d argue that there are, and that I’d like to see more, but that, I suppose, is a post for another time.)

Those are some of the questions that these two documentaries, one from PBS’s American Cinema series, the other produced by the BBC, set out to answer. Though there is, obviously, and necessarily, quite a bit of overlap between the two, I didn’t find them as repetitive as you might expect. They each have their own approach to the subject, and vary quite a bit in some of the examples that they use to illustrate their various points and in the filmmakers and scholars that they interview on the subject.

Taken together, they provide both a good framework for further exploration of the genre, and a number of movies that you might want to add to your Netflix queue or find in other ways. (Here’s a hint: not unsurprisingly, a number of these films, along with other good examples of the genre, are readily available on YouTube.)

Anyway, for now I simply invite you to sit back and take a couple of hours to walk the mean streets and back alleys of a genre I love. But be wary: there’s a lot going on in those shadows, and as always, cherchez la femme.

First, from PBS’s American Cinema series, an episode simply titled Film Noir:

Second, from the BBC, The Rules of Film Noir:

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BBC4 Documentary Reminds Us Just Why Films Noir Are So Good

220px-Double_indemnityA British documentary on a decidedly American film genre with a French name. The Rules of Film Noir is definitely a first class documentary that does everything a film doc should. In its slightly under one hour run time, it takes us from the beginnings of the genre, through the starkly dark heart of its pinnacle to the bleak and inevitable end that very well suits its subject matter. Along the way it dissects and provides opinions on just what it is that makes films noir so unique not only to America but to their time period. Most of all, though, it leaves the viewer with the feeling of wanting to immediately seek out some of these films and just bask in their dark glow.

For those who are true students of the genre I can’t say that there’s anything truly new here, but if you’re like me and have some familiarity with the topic and want more, this documentary is a great watch, because it not only serves as a reminder of just what makes these films from the 40s and 50s so entertaining, but also provides a great list of films with just enough clips to whet your appetite for further exploration. There are so many good movies previewed here that the only real question one is left with afterwards is “Okay, which one am I off to watch now?”

And if you’re new to the genre, well… I’ll just say that after watching this you’ll definitely be wanting to explore his new and fertile ground to see the kind of films you’ve been missing.

Obviously, this documentary gets my highest recommendation, and the good news is, that you don’t even have to leave this page to watch it. Just click play below, sit back, and let the glorious darkness of one of my favorite film genres wash over you.