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Their book was heavily influenced by a mixture of surrealist and sociological ideas which represented the personal outlook of Borde, in particular, and certain of his colleagues at the journal Positif. It rests on conventions without which it would not be what it is. Attempting to judge it according to a certain surrealist aesthetic or ethic, is: 1.
After a period of unusually — for French cinema criticism — lethargic debate, in December the authors were asked to sum up in Positif how they now perceived film noir. They declared:. In our opinion, the film noir brings an atmosphere of ambiguity and bizarreness, an exaggerated cruelty, a neurotic climate, which are completely new…Before the war, the rule was to make a clear break between the good and the bad characters…In a word, the crime film of was socially wholesome. But the true film noir is a barely-disguised transposition of the nightmare, and it carries the implication of a deeply corrupted social order.
At this point in time they believed film noir to be a defunct genre. But within ten years it was seized on by American critics, and the aspect of their analysis which became prominent in the mainstream was the unnatural and the abnormal, with the social insight which was the original breakthrough pushed into a minor role.
The growth of Film Schools in America and Britain during the s and a search for new directions by young filmmakers coincided with the French New Wave.
The interest shown by the young French directors in s Hollywood films, and in particular in the 'films noirs', led American cinephiles who admired French films loosely inspired by them, like Godard's Breathless and Truffaut's Shoot the Pianist , to re-examine and re-evaluate the earlier films. A fascination with the idea of film noir developed, which has continued unabated and has expanded worldwide. Practical and stylistic lessons were taken from the films, but in addition they became the object of a variety of philosophical theories. They also took into account wider political circumstances of the recent past like the Depression, the menace of Fascism and the flight of many European directors and cinematographers to America.
Then, as interest in the subject of film noir broadened, and new exploration and interpretation became a respectable academic endeavour, writers took up the challenge of placing the noir development within the whole philosophical framework of its period: a period considered by this time to span the late s and early s. He argued that all noir heroes were terrifyingly alone, isolated and alienated from the world, with nothing to depend on but themselves.
Because this article was — and still is — very influential in film noir criticism, it justifies serious discussion. Porfirio went into considerable detail on the constructs underlying existentialism, drawing circumstantial parallels with film noir. However, he admitted that the French philosophy of existentialism, neither fully formulated nor accepted as a new doctrine until after the war, could not have been a direct influence.
In addition, lack of attention to chronology led to works of the s being considered as part of the same phenomenon as much later, even postwar, books. However, the central concern for this investigation is not whether certain film noir heroes could, with hindsight, appear to share qualities with existentialism.
It seems unlikely that this was the case. We never talked existentialism, and anyway it would have been pointless, since I have the least philosophical of minds. It was the man I found so interesting and not the thinker, the man and his internal debate.
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In fact, he wrote in these and later memoirs about all the cultural ideas and theories which interested him, and significantly he barely touched on the subject of existentialism. After we had dada, an explosion of inflammatory joy, then surrealism, the total expansion of the ancient store of dreams, to the point of submerging the whole of life in it. Today, we have what we deserve for having accepted catastrophe: we have existentialism. He argued that there had not yet been an existentialist film, mainly because the doctrine was too pessimistic. The magic of the cinema, on the other hand, lay in its secret collusion with the dreams and desires of the individual, even while paying lip-service to the conventional morality of society:.
Even if the cinema does pay tribute to collective morality, at the same time, mysteriously, it remains a secret liberation of the individual. Again, the same message: for Ribemont-Dessaignes too, the interior life, the psychology of the individual, was fascinating to follow or watch.
The choices proposed by existentialism appeared to him to lead to the restriction, not the liberation, of the human mind and soul. Although Sartre was of the same generation as Frank and the other critics engaged in the debate he was born in , it was not his own generation which responded favourably to his theories, but the generation which began their adult lives as the war ended.
Those who had lived through the between-wars period and the Occupation clung to the belief that the defeat of Nazism could lead, with goodwill and co-operation, to a different, better world. They were still committed to the principle of helping each other, working together for the common good. Their environments were varied but within recognisable social frameworks, although the plot lines — especially of the two private eye films — did develop rather fancifully.
The distinction Frank made was between the robotic characters who peopled most thrillers — which often had a glamorous detective hero set apart from society — and the inhabitants of the new films, who were all faced with difficult moral choices in their social dealings. For him, the new narratives harked back — in aspiration, at least — to Zola or Maupassant like s French films , or further back into centuries of European tragic theatre. The link between film noir and existentialism made by Porfirio has continued to be discussed and developed ever since, but if existentialism is to be invoked, there is a need to distinguish between the films seen in and those from the end of the decade and later, in which isolation and alienation of the main characters begins to be a central theme, and which could more convincingly be held to derive from increasing postwar disillusionment.
It becomes clear, in any event, that the further down this route the concept of film noir is taken, the more the intrinsic characteristics of the films described in this way diverge from the original critical vision. Over this period many works demonstrated confusion in dating quoted articles by French critics, or lack of understanding of the hiatus between the criticism of the s and that of the new s critics.
In the proliferation of theories, the term was in danger of losing its fundamental focus and seriousness. But by the early s, it was so well established that the era it had superseded — that of modernism — was being viewed from a historical perspective.
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Naremore had taken a literary degree in at Wisconsin—Madison home of a thriving film society since the s, and subsequently of the journal The Velvet Light Trap , moving on to spend most of his working life at Indiana—Bloomington. The reference to the New Wave filmmakers was a reminder that Americans began to look at their own s cinema through new eyes, as the result of encounters with Godard and Truffaut and their admiration for, and film homage to, certain Hollywood directors of the period. This shift is seen in a paragraph towards the end, where he imagined himself back in time in the position of the critics and described film noir in terms of recognised characteristics of modernist art and literature.
In fact, in his argument he re-introduced Pierre Mac Orlan's concept of the "fantastique social", directly referencing Frank's article:. In his book, More than Night: Film noir in its contexts , Naremore went further, tracing a direct connection in Paris between the film critics and the modernist writers, and specifically singling out Frank:. For example, Nino Frank, who is usually credited with the first application of the term film noir to American thrillers, was a close friend of James Joyce during the s.
He expanded on the argument from his earlier article that many characteristics of modernist literature and painting were carried over into film:. In noting the debt of the noir films to modernism, he also pointed out that literary figures employed as writers within commercial media organisations were bound to influence the output:. Like modernism, Hollywood thrillers of the s are characterized by urban landscapes, subjective narration, nonlinear plots, hard-boiled poetry, and misogynistic eroticism The affinity between noir and modernism is hardly surprising.
In the decades between the two world wars, modernist art increasingly influenced melodramatic literature and movies, if only because most writers and artists with serious aspirations now worked for the culture industry. This hypothesis appears to fit well with what is known of the intellectual positions of the French critics engaged in the debate. Their cultural interests and the circles they moved in were in literature, art and music before they began to focus primarily on cinema.
They knew the modernist writers and painters of the late nineteenth century as well as of the early twentieth century, and all had some knowledge of Freud and psychoanalysis, of Marx and Nietzsche.
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The search for truth of expression was a central pillar of the modernist project, and this thread runs throughout their discourse, right from their earliest writings. Again, it is the connections of Nino Frank with modernism which are of particular interest. Naremore alluded to this aspect in drawing attention to his relationship with Joyce, but appeared to have only second-hand information taken from a biography of Joyce by Richard Ellmann. At school in Italy, he was a great reader. By the age of 22, he had read in French all the major French writers of the period from to , and written a book on them in Italian, Letteratura francese di ieri e oggi published in He had also read major German, Russian and English classics, the last two languages almost certainly in translation.
He had spent time in France with Max Jacob and through him had met Cocteau and Mac Orlan, gaining introductions to painters and musicians as well as to other writers. When in Ribemont-Dessaignes asked him to help launch the literary magazine BIFUR , his task was to obtain contributions from an international array of distinguished writers and artists. Thus it is indeed possible to place him squarely within the modernist project. But the influence which was most in his mind in the summer of was that of Mac Orlan — certainly part of the modernist phenomenon, but in its very specific aspect of the influence of the modern city on its inhabitants, especially those forced to live in the slums.
A favourite story and film was of Jack the Ripper, which seemed to Mac Orlan to epitomise this ambience, and to illustrate the strange effects the night could have on human behaviour. In his own stories, he drew on what he knew of the slum dwellers of Montmartre from his years there as an unsuccessful painter , on a powerful imagination, and on an ever-present sense of the influence of Chance — or the workings of the subconscious mind — over human destiny.
All these elements can be found, for instance, in his novel Le Quai des brumes , set in Montmartre at the Lapin Agile bar. Up until then, neither he nor the other reviewers had made a positive link between the four films, which all included murder, but otherwise differed widely in both content and style. He must have been mulling over other elements the films had in common — the tendency to use voiceover or a personal narrative, the fast pace and use of gestures and expressions in place of dialogue, the emphasis on the psychology of the characters, which would be important features of his article.
In , Borde and Chaumeton would — almost certainly incorrectly — interpret these references as deriving from surrealism; and it is important to address this misunderstanding, since in a translation of their Panorama appeared, rendered in English as A Panorama of American Film Noir, The fact that it was translated by Paul Hammond, also the editor of The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema , a translation of important surrealist writings and was introduced by Naremore, gave their book the status of a key English-language reference work.
This is a pity, as his text tends to over-emphasise the importance of surrealism in in fact, interest in it had waned by the end of the s, and it was only towards the end of the s that it gained a revived following among a new generation. The idea of this derivation for the term 'film noir' had been put forward by Robert Porfirio in his article, and was accepted by critics during the following years without detailed checks on chronology.
In reality, this lighthearted crime series dreamt up by Marcel Duhamel had barely got going in , and its only publications by the time the crucial batch of films arrived in Paris were translations of two novels by Peter Cheyney and one by James Hadley Chase. The series moved forward very slowly until , and it is much more likely that it benefited from the success of the films than vice versa. The literary origins of the 'noir' in the 'film noir' phrase went back much further, into the classic pantheon of serious French literature.
Naremore's Introduction also gives the impression that Borde and Chaumeton represented the mainstream opinion among critics:. It was written by a pair of intelligent, discerning viewers who were contemporary with the films under discussion…Borde and Chaumeton not only synthesized a decade of French commentary on American film noir, but also constructed a full-scale history of the form. Frank was never a surrealist, but he appreciated all these aspects. Brandenburgisches Konzert Nr. Complete Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo.
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The masters of the place were Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler. They nicknamed their establishment Le Premier Palais des Femmes the first Women Palace and bet on their success, enthusiastically claiming to whoever listened that the Moulin Rouge would become a temple of music and dance. On the very first day, their hopes were fulfilled, the other music-halls just had to learn!!!
For the grand finale, the public discovered, with overwhelming enthusiasm, a new dance, the French Cancan with its dancers, the Chahuteuses the unruly girls , and its boisterous rhythm, which, to the great displeasure of some people, really made heads turn!!! In the Guide to Paris nightlife, edition , the French Cancan dancers are described as an army of young girls in Paris who dance this divine hullabaloo the way its fame demands it… with such an elasticity when they launch their legs upwards that we are allowed to presume that they are at least as flexible with morals….
Amongst these figureheads of Parisian life, some will go down in history, like the famous La Goulue, immortalised by Toulouse-Lautrec. A boisterous rhythm, balance, flexibility, on the verge of acrobacy… and the Quadrille girls in their titillating costume turned the heads of the high society of Paris. It was in , in London, when Charles Morton, a great master of the music-hall who was inspired by the Quadrille, invented the French Cancan. The word Cancan referred to the particularly noisy characteristic of this new dance. Whereas British people were rather shocked by this dance on the edge of indecency, in Paris the popularity of the Cancan was still growing.
It was being shaped progressively, until it became a ritualised dance, exclusively for women, whose main art consisted of doing the splitts and uncovering lacy underskirts. Under colourful and rather roguish stage names, the most famous dancers of that time competed on the stage of the Moulin Rouge, each one with her own temperament.
The undisputed figurehead of the French Cancan is still today the famous Goulue, with her inimitable cheeky humour. Toulouse-Lautrec, one of the more regular clients, was the great witness of this splendid period. Among his paintings, seventeen are directly inspired by the Moulin Rouge, and many are famous world-wide. They represent emblematic characters. On the other hand, would the music-hall have become what it is today without the talented painter? The first ten years of the Moulin Rouge led, from one to another in a whirlpool of, ever more extravagant nights.
In addition to the French Cancan, the first real revues are performed: e. Every night, people come for the 10 p. A beginning trumpeted that lost some of its pomp by the new century. On the 26 December , the last ball occurred in general indifference. The Quadrille was no longer fashionable, the ball of the Moulin Rouge became a concert-theatre under the leadership of M. Paul-Louis Flers, a well-known revue-director in Paris who wanted to turn the Moulin Rouge into a more prestigious place.