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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