The term noir in regard to American film and literature dates to the 1940’s, following the rise of organized crime in the Roaring Twenties and the psychic shocks of a Great Depression bracketed by two World Wars. These combined with then-recent movements in Freudian psychology, German Expressionism and Continental philosophy, particularly Existentialism, to create a potent and troubled world-view. Such dark events—indeed, all human actions—could be seen as having been dictated by even darker, fundamental and even sexually perverse impulses in our nature. Not unlike characters in Greek tragedy such as Oedipus, modern man appeared to be sentenced to a cruel, often arbitrary but inevitable fate, in which the only code of honor that mattered was personal, and was small comfort in a world that had lost its way. Noir’s classic period began with the pulp magazines and novels of the ‘30s and films of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and ran its course in both media by the early ‘60s. But its presence and influence continues to be felt as writers and filmmakers reinvent and re-energize its forms, tropes and characters to explore these fertile if dark regions in more contemporary or even futuristic settings.
These essays -- to which Connotation Press has generously devoted this special section, as well as the five noir short stories to be found in the Fiction section -- originated in a graduate course in noir film and literature that I teach at the University of California, Riverside. The authors represent a variety of disciplines; writers in our MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts may specialize in fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting or creative non-fiction, but are encouraged to explore the other genres as well. The noir offering is designed to be multi-genre in its own way, requiring research and critical analysis as well as creative writing. The fresh insights, range and
Sara Green looks at what the film adaptations of two pulp novels have in common, how they differ, and why; Leonid Leonov takes an in-depth look at the first truly noir outer space TV series; David Lopez finds a classic femme fatale at the heart of a Bertolucci love triangle; Alison Minami examines how a film’s visual strategy defines the inner psychology of its characters; S.R. Mishler shows how Hitchcock took noir “psycho-logy” to its limit; Eric Montgomery integrates the African American experience into the noir canon with into Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; Adam Pelavin meditates on Laurence Olivier’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s gloomy Dane; Chris Perry shows how insurance and boxing illustrate noir attitudes toward American male identity; Bala Rajasekharuni provides an extraordinary history of the femme fatale character in Indian cinema; Eric Shonkwiler shows us how a popular Japanese anime series combines noir with a hip sci-fi aesthetic; Valerie Stulman and Jessi Sundell Cramer each examines gender dynamics in noir, and what the treatment of women reveals about the fears and assumptions of the time; while Vicki Barras Tulacro takes a Lacanian approach to the recurring motif of the split self or doppelganger in noir.
The short stories included in the Fiction section include Alison Minami’s “Wall Street Winner,” about revenge on Wall Street; S.R. Mishler’s “The Juice,” a noir-gothic horror tale about the lure of vampire immortality; Adam Pelavin’s “Some Dark, Crawling Thing,” set against the world of mixed martial arts; Erik Shonkwiler’s “Rural Tendencies,” an account of lust, betrayal, drugs and plain bad luck in the midwest; and Vicki Tulacro’s “Patrick,” a nightmare coming-of-age story set in a religious rural community.
Taken together, these pieces demonstrate the nature, power and allure of noir, the surprising variety of form and content it has taken, and how its shadowy world remains alive with creative potential.
And follow THIS LINK to Robin's essay, A Darkening World, found here on Connotation Press.