American Neo-Noir: The Movie Never Ends

americanneonoirAuthors of more books on film noir than you have pairs of underwear, Alain Silver and James Ursini now turn their attention to AMERICAN NEO-NOIR in their latest trade-paperback collaboration for Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.

Following the close of the “classic noir” period with Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL in 1958, neo-noir is loosely defined as the next step of the genre — one that embraces the motions of and comments upon its preceding movement. Silver and Ursini weave their way through its history, right up to today, nimbly moving from one title to the next with sheer unpredictability.

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Film Noir Graphics: Where Danger Lives

filmnoirgraphicsCo-editors of many a FILM NOIR READER, cinema scholars Alain Silver and James Ursini let pictures do most of the talking in FILM NOIR GRAPHICS: WHERE DANGER LIVES.

Despite the title, it isn’t entirely restricted to films, and our first indication of that is a 1929 cover of BLACK MASK, promoting a story by some guy named Dashiell Hammett, about some sort of falcon. In fact, many compare posters to the book and magazine covers of their source material — just one of many reasons this art book comes recommended.

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Film Noir Reader 4: The Crucial Films and Themes

Before their new and massive FILM NOIR, THE DIRECTORS volume, the most recent entry in co-editors Alain Silver and James Ursini’s series was FILM NOIR READER 4. The more noir films I watch — and the tally numbers many this year — the more I’m interested in delving deeper into the subgenre’s scholarship; I find their series to be interesting and helpful, not only in gaining new perspectives on movies I’ve just watched, but in getting recommendations for the to-watch pile.

At more than 300 pages, this fourth volume offers two dozen essays, if one is to include Silver’s introduction. I will, since he touches upon noir’s place in the 21st century and lobbies for his own picks of the 10 best noir films ever made … while acknowledging a cheat.

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Film Noir — The Directors

Over the years, Alain Silver and James Ursini have edited a handful of FILM NOIR READER volumes of essays about that darkest of movie subgenres. Now, they’ve gifted crime-film fans a spin-off with FILM NOIR — THE DIRECTORS. At nearly 500 pages, the oversized paperback is one big gift of a book — appropriately in black-and-white.

With a lot of help from almost as many friends, Silver and Ursini throw the spotlight on 28 important filmmakers who greatly contributed to noir. Arguably, whom they have chosen represent the best 28, but that’s a discussion for another book, perhaps.

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PREVIEW >> Film Noir: The Directors

A spin-off from their multivolume FILM NOIR READER series, editors Alain Silver and James Ursini have compiled a companion book, FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS, a lavishly illustrated, 400-page tribute to 30 men who steered some classic crime movies. In this excerpt, contributing essayist Richard T. Jameson considers the noir work of the great Fritz Lang, ironically best known for sci-fi’s METROPOLIS.

Would film noir have happened without Fritz Lang? Probably, since so many factors and forces contributed to its flowering. But would it have been as rich and strange, as philosophically provocative and aesthetically exciting? Among the directors associated with film noir, no other possessed a personal vision—both style and worldview—so apt to that cinematic environment.

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3 New Film Books for This New Year

Now adults, the children of the 1980s clearly are nostalgic, judging from this past fall’s glut of books on that era’s teen movie. Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast came first, followed closely by Kevin Smokler’s travel-leaning Brat Pack America. Now, journalist Jason Diamond joins the fray with Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies, but stands out as unique because it’s a memoir. Hoo-boy, is it ever. As a Chicagoan, Diamond felt a particular kinship to Hughes’ movies — Sixteen Candles; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Home Alone, et al. — which tended to take place there, albeit in the fictional suburbia of Shermer, so the miserable barista longing to be a professional writer embarked on a biography of the iconic filmmaker. Instead, as we witness, the project morphed into this memoir of the author’s own terrible childhood and arguably even worse teenage years, during which Hughes’ CV offered a recurring temporary escape. The end result is raw, real, gut-wrenching and, like Hughes’ work, worthy of resonating with an entire generation. Oh, if only they read more than 140 characters!

With Applause’s paperback release of Film Noir Compendium: Key Selections from the Film Noir Reader Series, newcomers to the dynamic duo of cinematic historians Alain Silver and James Ursini can get a taste of the goods without having to wonder which prior volume to purchase or whether to buy them all. (You may find yourself doing the latter if you enjoy this lovingly oversized presentation, overflowing with hundreds of stills.) Compendium culls some 30 articles from 20 years worth of contents — all with an academic bent, but not to a point of inaccessibility. Standouts include Ursini’s visual breakdown of the Mike Hammer classic Kiss Me Deadly; Todd Ericsson’s 1990 examination of noir’s then-resurrection as a genre (e.g. Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot, Michael Mann’s Thief and William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.); and Paul Schrader’s well-informed “notes on film noir,” which is the equivalent of a master class — no surprise to readers of the Taxi Driver scribe’s Film Comment pieces, past or present. The book’s layout could stand a sharper design, but the words are what really matter here — especially when you have Stephen Farber putting “the bitch goddess” under a microscope.

Which horror films feature the most of Mr. Mephistopheles? Which horror soundtracks are the scariest? Who draws horror comics best? The answers to these and many other superlative-determining questions await in The Thrill of Repulsion: Excursions into Horror Culture. For the Schiffer-pubbed hardcover, Horror News Network contributor William Burns presents nearly two dozen essays on terror-related topics primarily concerning movies, but also not ignoring TV, music and books (comics included). Nearly all of the chapters are presented in the ever-popular list format, each cleverly and consistently going to 13, rather than the standard, ho-hum 10. I was unfamiliar with Burns’ name or work, so I don’t know how much critical credibility he brings to the project, but he obviously is well-versed in cinema that goes bump in the night. I especially enjoyed his countdown of horror films “That Deserve Better,” because his selections prove him right, from The Boy Who Cried Werewolf to the top-slotted The Spider Labyrinth. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Zombie Film: From White Zombie to World War Z

zombiefilmWith THE ZOMBIE FILM, film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini have compiled an irresistible companion to their book-length study of THE VAMPIRE FILM, updated in 2011. While the author duo is known primarily for works on film noir, they know their subject well no matter what that subject is, and I devour every book they write.

Especially here, their work occupies that space between academia and entertainment; they have it both ways, approaching the subject seriously while also having fun with it. Who else, for instance, would write about Bela Lugosi’s distinctive eyes in WHITE ZOMBIE, then plop a tiny photo of those peepers right within the text?

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PREVIEW >> The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to True Blood

Come Sept. 27, horror fans will want to sink their teeth into the release of THE VAMPIRE FILM: FROM NOSFERATU TO TRUE BLOOD newly updated and expanded by Alain Silver and James Ursini. Now in its fourth edition, the 488-page book tracks the genre’s evolution into the 21st century of movies and TV series. In this excerpt, Linda Brookover looks at politics in TRUE BLOOD.

TRUE BLOOD brings an unlikely array of characters out of the swamp into a soap opera of Southern seediness and short shorts. At the center of the tale, based loosely on the ten-volume Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, are the new vampires. Their mission is to coexist with humans and the myriad other weird beings that inhabit Bon Temps, Louisiana and its environs. This setting has the proper Gothic atmosphere for both the novels and the series. Both begin with all the “fangers” outed, and some wanting to be welcomed into red-neck hang outs like Merlottes’ where they can sit a spell with the breathers. Eternal alienation is TRUE BLOOD hell, and the source of its deadpan Grand Ol’ Opry-style humor.

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