Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Planning for the Film Noir List...

OK, it’s been a while since I have posted anything, but I’ve been taking something of a break from blogging and gearing up for the next project. After talking to folks here and seeing comments on the various propositions, I’m going to go ahead with plans for a 100-film countdown of noirs. I suppose you could call it a Top 100, but it’s essentially going to be my personal taste in countdown my favorites in the genre. I haven’t seen everything, as many noir aficionados on the ‘net have, but I’ve seen quite a bit and think that I can do some interesting things with. At the very least, I’ll highlight some overlooked favorites of mine that others may not have seen.

The major issue that comes up in beginning a countdown for film noir is how it is being defined. Is it the strict time frame of 1941-1958 as is often cited? Does it run all the way to the present and include all variety of neo-noirs? How do you handle Hitchcock – noir or not noir? Things like this are what I have been trying to work out in my mind over the last week or two. As was discussed in the last post, I’ve decided that I am for the most part not going to include neo-noirs, because there are many lesser-known classic noirs that I would rather make sure are included. I would rather like to look at the neo-noirs separately afterwards. At the same time, I don’t intend to force myself to stick to the traditional 1941-1958 time frame, and freely admit that movies like Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A. are going to be included, despite falling outside of that period. Still, I don’t want to make so inclusive that many well-known classic films begin clogging things up. What I am leaning toward doing is if it is borderline whether or not a movie is “noir,” the way I can figure to get a resolute answer is to check if it is included in something like Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s Film Noir Encyclopedia. I know it sounds like an arbitrary selection as the final authority, but it would at least be consistent and make decisions on things like which Hitchcock should be included (Notorious, Strangers on a Train) and which should not (Vertigo). Would this system be perfect? Of course not, as I’m not so sure that Vertigo is not a noir in my opinion. But it at least sets a framework and ensures that something other than the usual suspects are in the Top 100. Any thoughts on this are definitely wanted.

As I also said in previous posts, I think the intention with these pieces will be that they are slightly shorter in length than some of the essays from the Year’s Best. In all honesty, my goal would be to try and do one single-spaced page for each film – enough to whet the appetite for those that haven’t seen it and to put in my two cents on why I am a fan. The shorter length in no way implies less quality, as is evidence by the outstanding work done by somebody like Allan at WitD or even Shubhajit with his insightful capsule reviews. The one-page goal would also allow me to attempt to try an everyday pace. Whether or not that is doable remains to be seen, but I think it’s certainly realistic. The ideal start time for me would be the New Year, as it allows the chaotic holidays to have run their course and to start everything fresh.

Thoughts, questions, concerns, issues… post ‘em all and we will proceed!


  1. I'm sure you'll do the classic era proud. I'm looking forward to--and am requesting--that you cover Point Blank (1967). It's a film I've recently become obsessed with!

  2. I have to say, I've never really thought of any Hitchcock as noir. I'm sure there are definitions by which many of his films could be seen as noir, but to me they always seem to have their own texture, their own style, that's very different from what noir is all about.

    Anyway, I'm psyched for the noir countdown. Should be great!

  3. Dave, it seems to me that the list gives you an opportunity to advance your own definition of noir and use your top 100 to illustrate your criteria. Speaking for myself, I can't accept the 1958 closing date because it excludes Odds Against Tomorrow and Blast of Silence as well as Underworld U.S.A.

    Should I assume that the list will include American films only, or will other parts of the world be heard from?

  4. dunno if you missed my comment on the Top 100 post...

    Anyway, I think it's a great idea to do a noir countdown. I think for the most part you should stick to the classi noirs: USA 1941-1958, but you should most definitely add (maybe at an early stage in the countdown) some proto-noirs and neo-noirs to get the taste going for the real deal, and move your way up to Sunset Blvd. and Out Of The Past and Touch Of Evil and such.

    I would start out with a few easy-going exemplary but not as revered noirs (The Lady From Shanghai, The Killing, The Big Heat, Ace In The Hole, ...) and mix those up with proto- and neo noirs (M, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Stranger On The Thrid Floor, Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, Sin City, ...) 'til you have your first half. Then, simply continue with all the bona fide noirs you can come up with. That's how I would handle it.

    I wouldn't worry too much about a film being 'eligible' or no. I mean, I personally do not consider a film like Vertigo to be a true film noir; but in a way, it really is and that would make me want to put it on the list anyway. As long as you add a tiny little comment as to why the film is on the list, you could get away with it quite well!

  5. Dave - good point from Samuel on the need to decide if foreign noir should be included. What to include and what not to include is elusive and there will be controversy but that is part of the fun.

    BTW – I have started compiling my own top 100 noirs but no fear I am not going to reveal it until after you complete your exercise.

  6. Foreign noirs should be allowed I think. A film like Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog, or Carol Reed's The Third Man or Peter Lorre's Der Verlorene should not be omitted. And if you're going to add precursors to the noir, you cannot leave out German films...

  7. Good stuff from everyone. Samuel certainly raises a valid point concerning foreign films. The reality is, I won't consciously ignore foreign noirs, but the majority of the list is going to be composed of American films. Things like The Third Man, which is from the UK, are certainly going to be on the list, so it is certainly not exclusively American.

    Tommorello raises other points, but I don't want to extend the definition to the point where films like Lang's M are involved. I'd like to be a little more strict than that.

    Perhaps Samuel says it best with: "it seems to me that the list gives you an opportunity to advance your own definition of noir and use your top 100 to illustrate your criteria." That's essentially what it boils down to. I'll make a Top 100 and just go with, adding those that I think should be included, leaving off those that I don't. Then, everyone else can agree or digitally stone me for leaving off deserving films! :)

  8. This is a long-awaited move (long-awaited by me). It will definitely serve as a checklist, although I'm pretty sure I've seen 90 percent of the Top 100 noirs. Well, maybe it will turn out that I haven't.

  9. Dave, I do support the inclusion of foreign-language noir in the countdown, though it's clear enough that the genre is overwhelmingly American, as per it's conception. But this would be your call. I concur with your exclusion of neo-noir, and applaud the intent to go with daily capsules, which frankly for the prospects of continuity is really the only way to go. This is the one genre in film, that I must admit I have quite a bit to learn, and I will be looking to this as a learning experience, especially since it's author has already achieve some measure of expertise in this form.

    Great days ahead here at Good Fellas!

  10. Thanks Dave for mentioning about my reviews. Well, to be honest, I'm just too lazy to write long in-depth reviews :)

    I'm all for a separate noir countdown sans neo-noirs, and hence I completely support your decision. I personally feel movies after '58 ought not to be included. But since you are willing to relax the noir era, some foreign-language films like Breathless, Shoot the Piano Player, etc. might get included and further enrich the list in the process (though I'm sure it will be a tough task to place them viv-a-vis classic noirs).

    In fact, if you do include post-'58 foreign-language noirs, I would urge you to watch (i.e. if you already haven't) Satyajit Ray's largely obscure though terrific tribute to noirs - Kapurush (The Coward).

    All the best!!!

  11. I'll admit I don't know all that much about noir but look forward to learning more along the way, Dave.