24 June 2014

Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites

Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites
Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites, published by Taschen, is an illustrated guide to 100 classic noir films. At almost 700 pages, it's one of the most substantial Noir film guides, though it's more of a visual celebration of the genre than a work of reference. It has hundreds of large, glossy stills, making it a perfect coffee-table book for cinephiles, though there's no bibliography.

Film Noir was edited by Paul Duncan and Jurgen Muller. Duncan has previously written monographs on Stanley Kubrick (Visual Poet) and Alfred Hitchcock (Architect Of Anxiety), and has edited many other Taschen books, including Horror Cinema, Art Cinema, and Cinema Now. Muller edited Taschen's 100 All-Time Favorite Movies, whose format Film Noir has adopted. Fourteen films are included in both books, with the reviews and illustrations from 100 All-Time Favorite Movies reproduced exactly in Film Noir. (Even the mistakes are replicated, such as the bizarre phrase "smirking toilet seat" in the Psycho chapter.)

The films were selected based on a fairly broad definition of film noir. The Expressionist masterpiece Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, for instance, is not usually regarded as a noir film. (Noir was partly inspired by German Expressionism, though Caligari influenced the horror genre more than film noir.) Similarly, Vertigo, Psycho, and Taxi Driver are all-time classics, though I wouldn't necessarily describe them as noir films. Nevertheless, the lavish illustrations (particularly for Caligari) are ample justification for their inclusion.

Milestones from the original noir cycle such as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Out Of The Past, and Touch Of Evil are all included. The contemporary neo-noir movement is represented by films such as Chinatown, Blade Runner, Pulp Fiction, Memento, and The Dark Knight. There are a few surprising omissions: the B-movie Stranger On The Third Floor, the experimental Lady In The Lake, and Citizen Kane (not film noir per se, but an important stylistic influence on the genre).

There are a few misquotes and factual errors. In Double Indemnity, Walter says "I killed him for money, and for a woman. I didn't get the money, and I didn't get the woman", though the book lazily paraphrases this to "I killed him for the money and the woman, and I didn't get either". In Notorious, the wine cellar was not "an opportune venue" for the famous extended kiss, which didn't take place there. Some mistakes may be due to poor translations from the original German text: Walter's confession in Double Indemnity was made after he was shot, not "at gunpoint"; in Pulp Fiction, the 'Gold Watch' sequence (not "The Golden Watch") happened in a regular family house, not "a children's home", and Vincent revived Mia instead of bringing her "back to life".

Panorama Du Film Noir Americain, by Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, is the founding text of film noir. Twenty years later, Paul Schrader's essay Notes On Film Noir provided a summary of the genre for American audiences. Schrader's essay is included in Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites as an introduction, though it's already been widely anthologised; another introductory chapter, an extended visual analysis of The Lady From Shanghai ("seldom in the studio era has there been a movie with such innovative visual language") co-written by Jurgen Muller, is much more interesting.

Recent noir scholarship has been dominated by Alain Silver and James Ursini, who co-wrote Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference To The American Style (updated as Film Noir: The Encyclopedia), the Film Noir Reader series, and The Noir Style. Silver and Ursini also wrote Film Noir for Taschen, edited by Paul Duncan, and they are among the contributors to Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites.