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About the Film Noir File website

The Film Noir File challenges standard interpretations of film noir, which have been presented as facts both in the mass media and academic literature. These interpretations belong to what I call “the hardboiled paradigm.”

Some of the most common ideas in the hardboiled paradigm are in a front page article, “Film Noir Steps Out of the Shadows,” by film critic Sura Wood in the January 2006 issue of San Francisco Arts Monthly.

The Film Noir File challenges Wood’s description of film noir on point after point. (Italics in her quotes are mine).

“Though the French coined the term, film noir is a distinctly American phenomenon.” This is typical of the hardboiled paradigm, and it can be challenged. (See the pages under Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir and Internationalism of Film Noir, 1923-1963.)

“Known for minimalism and snappy dialogue, these low-budget, black and white, highly stylized movies, which reached their apex in the late ’40s and early ’50s, were stories usually told from a criminal’s point of view, about desperate people driven to the brink.” This represents the hardboiled paradigm, and it can be challenged. (See the pages under Against the Hardboiled Paradigm and Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.)

“The noir universe was populated by a carnival of colorful, shady, often violent characters, who dwelled in an underworld or on the fringes of a fever dream; trouble lurked around each corner.” This represents the hardboiled paradigm, and it can be challenged. (See the pages under Against the Hardboiled Paradigm and Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.)

“Noir has its roots in the pulp fiction/crime dramas of writers Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith and other authors who cut their teeth on the fiction of the 1930s.” This represents the hardboiled paradigm, and it can be challenged. (See the pages under Against the Hardboiled Paradigm and Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.)

Its look was influenced by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, as well as German Expressionism, imported to the U.S. by émigré directors such as Billy Wilder, Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak, who experienced the rise of Nazism and brought with them a pessimistic, existential vision.” This represents the hardboiled paradigm, and it can be challenged. (See the pages under What Explains the Visual Style of Film Noir? and Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.)

No film noir festival would be complete with that staple of noir myth, the femme fatale, a woman who is as relentless as she is unsentimental. The iconic femme fatale is devastatingly beautiful, seductive and more driven by a lust for power than by passion.” This represents the hardboiled paradigm, which has ignored other equally important female characters, especially the woman in distress, the good spy and the underground resistance fighter. (See the pages under Against the Hardboiled Paradigm, Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir and Film Noir Plot Elements: WWII vs. Postwar. For more about the femme fatale, outside the hardboiled paradigm, see the pages under Spy Noirs & the First Femme Fatales. For the challenge to Sura Wood’s claim that the femme fatale “is as relentless as she is unsentimental” — i.e., in the words of Foster Hirsch, another proponent of the hardboiled paradigm, that the femme fatale “cannot be humanized” — see the page International Lady.)

The stereotypical concoction of plot features, iconic characters, plus émigré directors in the hardboiled film noir paradigm are cited for “Assemble the Elements” on the website of the British Film Institute (BFI) on July 22, 2015, under “Infographic: What Makes a Film Noir?” The purpose of The Film Noir File is to challenge the BFI’s simplistic, even misleading, representation of film noir, as well as to provide evidence that film noir is far more complicated, expansive and interesting than the BFI’s constricted assemblage of “elements.”

The Film Noir File also has other pages that I hope will interest you.

You can email me, Dan Hodges, here: dmhodges@pacbell.net