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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Just Finished Reading: The Philosophy of Neo-Noir edited by Mark T Conard (FP: 2007)

This was another one of those books whose title (and cover featuring Sean Young as the replicant Rachel from Bladerunner) made it irresistible to me. As my readership already know I am a huge fan of Film Noir and its modern successor Neo-Noir so I was really looking forward to reading about the philosophical underpinnings of the whole thing. I was however slightly disappointed with the whole thing – though only slightly and only until I adjusted my preconceptions a bit. For although the word Philosophy was prominently displayed on the front cover and even mentioned several times in the various articles between its covers the main thrust of the book was very much from the film studies genre rather from any philosophical point of view. Of course, by and large, this was no bad thing and I must admit that I did learn a thing or two about Neo-Noir in general and the movies discussed in particular it’s just that I would’ve liked a bit more philosophy and a bit less discussion of the cinematic arts (to say nothing of one particular section that I found almost unreadable as it was chock full of film jargon and, to be frank, so far up its own arse as never to see daylight again.)

Anyway….. After a general explanation of what exactly Neo-Noir was – basically Noir type movies made after the classic Noir films – a selection of authors dived into various movies to discuss the ins and outs of each one logically starting with Bladerunner (1982) as it appeared on the cover. This was probably the most philosophical of all the articles concentrating on the idea of humanity, free choice and authenticity in the Sartre sense. Then we had several interesting articles on Point Blank (1967) and Memento (2000) discussing personal identity (without memories who are we really?) and the nature of reality (how can we be sure that any of our experiences are actually real?). After that it got a bit less philosophical with a discussion of The Onion Field (1979) and the idea of guilt vs justice, A Simple Plan (1998) and the idea of moral corruption, Hard Eight (1996) and atonement, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Kill Bill 1 & 2 (2003, 2004) and the idea of redemption. After that I felt that we moved fully away from any philosophic bent and moved straight onto film criticism (with a slight tinge of philosophy to shoe-horn the articles between the pages of a philosophical publication) as various authors discussed Chinatown (1974), Blood Simple (1984), Fargo (1996), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), The Big Lebowski (1998) and finally – and bizarrely to my mind – the 1980’s TV series Miami Vice.

Now I didn’t exactly dislike this book. Once I got over the mild disappointment of it not being as philosophical as I had hoped and expected it was reasonably interesting. I certainly learnt quite a bit about various aspects of Neo-Noir that I would probably never have considered prior to reading this book. It probably would have helped if I’d have seen more of the films being discussed (I think I managed about 50% to be honest) so maybe the feeling that it could have been a better more engaging book stems from my apparent ignorance of the modern genre. It’s certainly possible. So although I won’t be giving this a blanket recommendation I’ll leave it to other Noir fans to decide if this is a good book or not.   

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