And while we're at it,
what the hell is "Noir"?

Originally it meant film, but it's now used to describe everything from literature to music. And perfume. And lingerie. And coffee beans. And breath mints. and lawnmowers, probably.

And everyone seems to have a slightly different definition of it.

But once upon a time, it meant something...

  • "Whichever way you turn, fate sticks its foot out to trip you."

-- Director Edgar G.. Ulmer

  • "Film noir is a term coined by postwar French film critics to describe an area of Hollywood film-making that they particularly relished. Concentrated in the ten years following World War II and characterised above all by its atmosphere and its urban settings, film noir gave a broadly pessimistic treatment to melodrama and to crime movies. In a world that should have felt liberated by victory, failure, or the threat of it, haunted the petty criminal, the potential fall guy, the tired gumshoe and the two-bit femme fatale.
    Although the concept of film noir remains nebulous - nobody, until the nostalgia boom of the seventies and eighties, actually set out to make one - it covers a distinguished collection of films that bring together an unrivalled assembly of talent: directors such as Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Robert Siodmak and Billy Wilder, writers including William Faulkner, Daniel Mainwaring and Raymond Chandler, stars like Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck and Ava Gardner...."

-- The Movie Book of Film Noir

  • "Hell, we didn't know what film noir was in those days. We were just making movies. Cary Grant and all the big stars at RKO got all the lights. We lit our sets with cigarette butts."

-- Robert Mitchum in Arthur Lyons' Death on the Cheap

  • "Hard-boiled" is about attitude. Noir is about atmosphere. They're not the same thing, but neither are they mutually exclusive. That which is both tough and colloquial is hardboiled. That's really all there is to it.
    That which is both dark and sinister is noir. That, too, is really all there is to it."

--Jim Doherty, cutting to the chase

  • "I didn't know I was doing film noir, I just thought they were detective stories with low lighting!"

-- Marie Windsor

  • "Noir is the shadow moving beyond the campfire light, the darkness down the back alley, in the unlit doorway, between the street lights, OR in the woods. Or for that matter in the unconscious mind, the dark mind of the Other, the killer.... Death's home, really or symbolically. I will stop before I freak myself out on this rainy morning in London!"

-- Marianne Macdonald waxes poetic

  • "Seriously, are we still so terrified of pussy?"

-- Christa Faust drops the hammer in her essential Ten Rules to Write Noir.

  • "If God answers all players, noir is the colour when He says 'No.'"

-- my quickie response, from A Jury of Twelve Answers "What is Noir?"


Steve Gomez asks twelve miners of the dark vein, including Lawrence Block, Christa Faust, Eddie Muller and Charles Ardai, to pin it down. I think I'm in there simply to cleanse the palate, but there IS a really bad photo of me.

List compiled by Kevin Burton Smith, with suggestions and contributions from Marianne Macdonald, Jim Doherty and Marcel Bernadac.

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