Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project
A while back, I decided that whenever I started compiling reading lists and taking library and book store trips to find reading materials for a thematic cluster around which each part of this project will be built (noir/crime; 9/11; utopia/dystopia; and so forth), I would try to pick up not only the academic stuff. I would also look for at least a book or two of a more generally accessible nature, so as to not skew this blog too far toward the navel-gazing that we tend to engage in in the halls of academia.
This is what led me to pick up my library’s copy of journalist and film historian William Hare’s Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style. As the title suggests, the book is supposed to be an overview of some of the most classic first-cycle films noirs (early 1940s through late 1950s), although it confusingly “correlates the rise of film noir with the new appetites of the American public after World War II” (although American film noir production did peak between 1947 and 1950, some of the most classic films that would be called films noirs when that label was first applied in France [already in 1946] date from before WWII).
Before I say anything else about the book, I have to at least admit that the book is rich in detail, although it is more than a little rambling and digressive at times. It is also laden with superlative praise of writers, actors, directors, and other creatives involved in producing the films and stories discussed, which makes the subjectivity involved in the selection and presentation of the noir material unmistakable. This might not be an issue for the general reader, but it puts me off the book on a personal as well as a professional level.
Early Film Noir‘s structure leaves much to be desired; at times the order of sub-chapters is less than logically self-evident, making the attempted argument hard to follow. This structural flaw is accompanied by a couple of other big issues relating to presentation: films or novels are presented in a confusing way, portraying the primary source in a fannish way that might be easily understandable for someone who has already encountered the material, but becomes a tangle of unfamiliar names and half-told events for anyone who hasn’t. Another major problem with the book’s presentation is that Hart mixes character and actor names indiscriminately, jumping between them within paragraphs and sometimes using both in a single sentence.
All in all, then, although certainly less bogged down with theory and coded academic language than many of the other books I already have and later will review here, Early Film Noir is not a book I would recommend.