I’ve always been fascinated by the Noir genre. The film genre speaks to me with its stark black and whites and use of shadows and light. The world, especially, is fascinating. I love watching a good noir gangster movie or Walter Neff get played by Phyllis Deitrichson. And boy do I love me some Sam Spade. That movie put noir on the map for me. Bogey, Greenstreet, and Lorre together conspire over a bird that turns out to be lead. Can it get more noir than that?
Well, apparently I’ve been wrong this whole time in my understanding of noir. Otto Penzler, the name when it comes to crime fiction has defined noir as dealing with losers, and not about private eyes. So while Double Indemnity is noir, The Maltese Falcon is not.
I was shocked. I was flabbergasted. I felt cheated that my beloved detective stories were not thought of as noir. I was even a little angry that I had been exposed to the article through meandering in a Facebook group. This might seem like it’s no big deal. Seriously, come on, Andy, it’s not as if anything changes by saying that a detective story isn’t noir, does it?
But for me, it does.
I had conceived noir in a certain way, applied it to a genre and hence gained an understanding of that genre, or so I thought. Now that I’m exposed to Otto’s definition, I’ve had to rethink things. I’ve had to reconcile what I thought was noir with what Otto is saying. I viewed many of my own stories as having noir aspects, sensibilities, which I tried to capture. But if Otto is right, then my stories aren’t noir at all. For my detective stories, well, they’re still detective stories, but what about my others?
I’ve put a lot of thought into it, trying to come to terms, and I think I have to disagree, in part, with Otto’s definition. One does not simply throw out the words of Otto Penzler, not with his credentials. But I don’t think he’s entirely on the mark, either. I hope to explain in a little more detail over the course of this series by examining Otto’s claims and applying the ideas to books/films, and the words of a few other experts.
To be continued.