Robyn Remington: A Fascination with Film Noir

Robyn Remington

Robyn Remington is passionate about everything Film Noir. Its history, cinematic nature, and her childhood memories of “Saturday Night Cinema Classics” and “The Agatha Christie Hour” keep her coming back for more.

Robyn’s interests include Film Noir authors like Agatha Christie, known for her murder mysteries like “Death on the Nile,” and Arthur Conan Doyle, famous for his Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories.

Robyn is not overly fond of films with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Instead, she would rather spend evenings watching black-and-white movies and Film Noir because the storyline and old Hollywood is fascinating.

“I’m in love with the art deco design of the era, the jewelry, old automobiles, and horse-drawn carriages,” says Remington, “and the often missed but storyline necessary details, like location, clothing, and furnishings.”

 

Film Noir: A Backstory

Film noir’s origins are deeply tied to social and historical factors, and its style was influenced by French and German Expressionism. However, as critic James Naremore explained, it seems undefinable, ”It has always been easier to recognize a film noir than to define the term.”

The film noir era refers to movies about the dark side of society that were typically produced between the 1930s and 1950s. The style of filming involves high-contrast, low-key chiaroscuro lighting and while it is not necessarily factual, noir films get to the soul of the shadiest corners of society and humanity: Its “bas-fonds” or underworld. It reveals the world’s dark city streets, gritty crime, and corruption using a shadowy, moody style reminiscent of European films of the 1920s.

 

A Postwar Phenomenon

The French labeled America’s post-WWII film phenomenon as “film noir” (black film) because of its dark nature. French audiences noted similarities between these movies and roman noir novels, a subgenre of crime fiction. The storylines center on protagonists, usually victims, suspects, or perpetrators. Noir characters are often self-destructive and are either the victim or the victimizer. Reportedly, Nino Frank, a French movie critic, coined the term film noir in 1946. He explained that these movies stepped outside the usual pre-war police dramas. Instead, they are psychological stories that focus on faces, gestures, and words rather than the action, no matter its level of violence. Instead, noirs concentrate on the character’s truth and depth.

For example, in the 1940s, American author Cornell Woolrich published noir novels using the word black in the title “The Bride Wore Black” 1940, “The Black Curtain”, 1941, “Black Alibi”, 1942; “The Black Angel”, 1943; and “The Black Path of Fear” 1943.

In 1945, the word noir was used by a French publishing imprint company, Série Noire, founded by actor and screenwriter Marcel Duhamel. Some sources claim that the company’s name led Frank to begin using Flim Noir to describe Hollywood’s post-WWII movies. Série Noire also released a series of crime thrillers novels featuring authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Horace McCoy, Brabazon Raymond (using the pseudonym James Hadley Chase), and more. In addition to publishing novels, a film with the same title dropped in 1979 based on Jim Thompson’s 1954 novel “ A Hell of a Woman.”

Then in 1984, the company name was used as the title of a French TV series created by Pierre Grimblat. Additionally, between 2014 and 2015, the Quebecois Radio and TV series also used Série Noire as its overall title. It centered on a crime drama series,” La Loi de la justice." It is unlikely that Frank created the term film noir since it was used in a review of Pierre Chenal’s 1939 “Le Dernier Tournant,” which was the first adaptation of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James M. Cain, 1934. It seems logical that, while Frank was not the first critic to utter film noir, he could be the first critic to assign the term to America’s post-WWII film phenomenon.

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