Critical Perspectives

The critical and theoretical commentary upon film noir has been extensive. The history of film noir begins with international criticism— essays written in postwar France assessing new developments in American film. The context and historical moment is important. New Hollywood films had not been available in France since the time of the German occupation in 1940. When those films at last appeared in postwar Paris, critics like Nino Frank saw evidence of a new sensibility in them, which he termed film noir. Frank contrasted this sensibility with the work of Hollywood's older generation—directors like John Ford. Frank's use of the term film noir carried with it associations of "black" French films of the 1930s, such as Marcel Carne's (1909-1996) Hotel du Nord (1938) and Le Jour se Leve (1939), as well as with Marcel Duhamel's Serie Noire books. The first book-length study of film noir, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton's

Jack Nicholson in Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), which began a wave of neo-noirs. everett collection. reproduced by permission.

Panorama du Film Noir Americain, appeared in 1955. By the time the term caught on in English more than a decade later, film noir had come to mean a historically superseded film movement. These three critical perspec-tives—that of the mid-1940s, describing a vibrant, emerging sensibility; that of the 1950s, categorizing an established cycle; and that of the 1960s, describing a historical, archival category—should not be conflated. They come with different vantage points and different assumptions. They often presume a different body of films (with the post-1960s perspective expanding the canon exponentially). The first two draw upon primarily Modernist presumptions; the last often includes a postmodern sensibility.

The expansion and academicization of film discourse in the 1960s gave film noir its first widespread attention in English. Important articles by Raymond Durgnat in 1970, Paul Schrader in 1972, and Janey Place and Lowell Peterson in 1974 laid groundwork for exploring film noir, posing major questions such as whether it is a genre or a visual style to the growing academic and journalistic film culture in Europe and the United States.

In 1981, Foster Hirsch's The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir detailed historical contexts and proposed major tropes of the form. Three years later, Spencer Selby took a virtually opposite approach in Dark City: The Film Noir. Lamenting what he considered to be the contemporary tendency to fit the films into grand categories, Selby provided detailed (primarily narrative) analyses of twenty-five individual films, along with appendices of historical and bibliographical data, to illustrate his premise that the films must be evaluated individually.

Since the late 1970s, psychoanalysis, particularly Lacanian psychoanalysis, has become the lingua franca of much discourse on film noir; it inflects many approaches. One such approach, as evidenced in collections of essays by E. Ann Kaplan and Joan Copjec, draws

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