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Street With No Name
spins a good web for film noir addicts in Street
with No Name. Although the book is subtitled, A History of the Classic American
Film Noir, the books actual contents are somewhat broader. Dickoss
contention is that the earliest antecedent of film noir is to be found in post-war German
Expressionism, imported to the United States by such figures as Fritz Lang, Robert
Siodmake, Otto Preminger and Wilhelm Dieterle, all of whom immigrated to the U.S. with
sensibilities shaped by the ruder realities of life experienced during the worldwide
Depression and the rise of Nazism, and used their artistry to circumvent the
sunny optimism promulgated by Hollywood and fashion a subversive kind of genre that spoke
to an American audience. Although Dickos acknowledges the influence of the French
screen of the 1930s in the work of directors like Marcel Carne, Jean Renoir and Pierre
Chenal, he contends that it was the blend of the German imported talent with a depression
and war-disallusioned American public that created the specific circumstances necessary
for film noir.
The point is arguable. Film noirs American beginnings have often been attributed to the 1940s detective novels of figures like Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich, and as far back as the gangster films beginning with Von Sternbergs Underworld (1927), to which Dickos gives but fleeting recognition.
But perhaps the most significant addition this book adds to the literature of film noir is the classification of noir iconography, technique and narrative structure, and its exploration, director by director, of how each was used to portray a world thatat the timeexpressed little hope for the redemption of mankind from the tragedy of his self-destruction.
American film noir, like German Expressionism, Dickos contends, was an outgrowth of post-war nihilism and existentialism, where the criminality and passions driving many noir characters stem from the premise that the insecurity of existence here promises little in rectitude, and so pursuing ones obsessions becomes acceptable, even desirable, in the face of an unclear future.
This premise is competently traced through chapter sub-categories such as, The Private Detective, Violence in the Noir, Sexuality in the Noir, and Families in the Noir. Considerable time is also devoted to the development of techniques that noir enthusiasts love most: chiaroscuro, voice-over narration, and flashback as a story-telling device.
Dickos writes on this subject with clean and intriguing prose, and the book is a good read. Recommended especially for film buffs.
- Eva Hunter