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The Many (Contorted) Faces of Neo-Noir

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | February 17, 2011 |

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | February 17, 2011 |

I just started reading James Ellroy’s newish collection “The Best American Noir Of the Century.” Given that he wrote “The Black Dahlia,” “L.A. Confidential,” and, my favorite, “Blood’s a Rover” Ellroy’s opinion on what makes good noir is one I value highly. Noir is a favorite genre of mine and what makes this collection worth picking up is Ellroy’s inclusion of so much modern noir. Of the 39 stories in the anthology, 20 of them were written in the last two decades. While the term noir (coined by a Frenchman of all people, for such an American genre) will always conjure for me stark black and white images, high-contrast lighting, men in fedoras and women with impeccably waved hair, it’s good to remember that it’s the themes of noir, more than the setting or the look that makes it such a compelling genre. And what great themes they are.

A noir has more capacity to break your heart than the most maudlin country song. Your gal done you wrong? You don’t even know the half of it. It’s the heart wrenching betrayal and double cross of the noir that keeps me coming back. While I will always love Chandler and Hammett, it’s nice to see those themes translated into either a modern setting, or at least with a more modern sensibility. But, like I said, noir will rough you up but good. Here are some examples of the toll that can take on ya mug, ya poor saps.

L.A. Confidential-The Grim Determination of The Heavy


Spanish Prisoner-The Squinty-Eyed Befuddlement of the Sap


Dark City-The Sizzling Lust of the Femme


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang-The Cool Disbelief of the Skeptic


Brick-The Bruised, Battered and Bloodied Face of the Hero


Joanna Robinson does not regret that JGL is headlining two of our posts today. It’s the man’s 30th birthday! If you want to know her favorite noir film, it’s Out of the Past. Trite but true.