Is noir about attitude? Atmosphere? Doom? Destiny? The term is French; the first and most prominent practitioners have been American. Who else exemplifies noir?
I can define noir no more precisely than that American Supreme Court justice defined obscenity when he wrote:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."Without claiming to be an expert, and with little hope that my words will live as long as Potter Stewart's, I know noir when I feel it. It hits like a punch in the stomach when I see the protagonist going down, and down is the only direction in noir.
The protagonist may face his destiny (or hers) with resignation or with unnerving detachment. He may knowingly initiate his descent, and those stories may be the most chilling of all. The descent need not culminate in death. In fact, death may be too easy an end. The noir protagonist may not even recognize his own hopelessness (here my definition may part ways from those of other readers), but the reader does.
OK, that's a bit of what noir means to me.
What does noir mean to you?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008