New book: What Is Film Noir?, by William Park ’51 (Bucknell University Press)
The author: William Park taught at Hamilton College, Columbia, and for 38 years at Sarah Lawrence College, where he co-founded the film program. His articles on film have appeared in The Hudson Review, The Velvet Light Trap, and The Journal of Popular Film. The co-editor of The College Anthology of English and American Poetry, he also is the author of The Idea of Rococo and Hollywood: An Epic Production — which “takes the reader on a poetic romp through Hollywood’s razzle-dazzle history,” wrote director Jon Avnet.
The book: Film scholars and film critics don’t agree on “what exactly” film noir is, writes Park in his study of the film category. “Some consider film noir a genre; others think it a style.” Park argues that this confusion stems from the fact that film noir is both a genre and a period style, and therefore unique in the history of Hollywood. In his book (which includes images from films), Park examines the various theories of film noir, defines the genre, and explains how film noir relates to the style and the period in which it was created.
Opening lines: “What is film noir? Most commentators agree on the essential films that make up the category, films such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Out of the Past (1947). They also agree that the ‘movement’ began in earnest in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (the third Hollywood version), that it peaked in the late 1940s and early 1950s, that it included a semi-documentary phase, and that its classic period ended in 1958 with Touch of Evil. Every writer acknowledges the same sources of noir: German expressionism, pre-Code Hollywood, French poetic realism, the pulp fictions of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Cornell Woolrich. As to ‘causes,’ there too we find the usual suspects, most of them the result of World War II.”
Review: “Park dissects with academic detail the definition of the noir film as genre and style and its progression during the Golden Age (1940-1958),” wrote a reviewer for the online magazine Blogcritics.org. “What Is Film Noir? is a highly recommended reading for fans of the genre who want to elucidate their doubts about the categories and context their favorite noir films belong to.”