film noir从何而来？这个问题很简单，也正是由于简单，导致了它的难。Nino Frank在这篇论述式的影评中最早提及了noir一词，但是倘若大家仔细阅读会发现，作者本人讨论的中心并非日后众多理论家和史学家所关注的那些noir的要素，他仅仅是综合了一个特殊历史时期所看到的一些具有代表性的好莱坞影片，做了一个粗放的集中性的对比陈述，他认为这几部他提及的美国影片有一个显著的变化即：革新了一种业已陈词滥调的套路化的叙事模式，换之以基于当代犯罪文学作品中那些更加注重犯罪心理的主观叙事和反传统叙事的剧本创作原则，这让影片更加具有“忠于生活”的特质，并让影片成为可以让观众一再玩味的深度文本。
The New Kind of Police Drama: The Criminal Adventure
Nino Frank (Translated From the French by Alain Silver )
Here we are one year after a series of poor quality American movies made it seem that Hollywood was finished. Today another conclusion is needed, because the appearance of half a dozen fine works made in California compels us to write and affirm that American cinema is better than ever. Our filmmakers are decidedly manic depressive.
Seven new American films are particularly masterful: Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, How Green Was My Valley, plus Double Indemnity, Laura, and, to a certain extent, The Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet. The first three are exceptional; but we cannot consider them if we want to focus on typical Hollywood productions. Instead let's look at the other four.
They belong to a class that we used to call the crime film, but that would best be described from this point on by a term such as criminal adventures or, better yet, such as criminal psychology. This is a major class of films which has superseded the Western: and there are wry conclusions to be drawn from the displace¬ment of an on-screen dynamic involving chases on horseback and idylls in coaches by the dynamic of violent death and dark mysteries, as well as the change in background from a vast and novelistic treatment of nature to a "fantastic" social order.
This sort of film has now notably changed in the U.S. following the course of popular literature where the preeminence of S.S. Van Dine has ceded to that of Dashiell Hammett. Since Poe, since Gaboriau, and since Conan Doyle, we've become familiar with the formula for detective stories: an unsolved crime, some suspects, and in the end the discovery of the guilty party through the diligence of an experienced observer. This formula had long been perfected: the detective novel (and film) have substituted for the Sunday crossword puzzle and become overshadowed by boring repetition. I don't know of any enlightened devotees of the genre who could not nowadays plumb the mystery from the first fifty pages or the first two reels...
In motion pictures this handicap was heavier. First problem: long explications coming at the end of the narrative, at the exact moment when a film, its action being over, no longer interests the viewer. Another problem: if most of the characters could be lively and imaginative, the hero-that is to say, the detective-was merely a thinking machine and, even under the best of circumstances ([such as Simenon's,] Maigret), a thinking machine while sniffing and stuffing his pipe. One would consider the scenery, a moment of levity, other crimes, anything to spark one's interest.
We are witnessing the death of this formula. Of the four works cited earlier, only Laura belongs to this outdated genre; but Otto Preminger and his collaborators forced themselves to renew the formula by introducing a charming study of the furnishings and faces, a complicated narrative, a perverse writer who is prosaic but amusing, and foremost a detective with an emotional life. To sum up, the result is a film lacking in originality but perfectly distracting and, one can say, successful.
For the other three, the method is different. They are to the traditional crime drama what the novels of Dashiell Hammett are to those of Van Dine or Ellery Queen. They are as what one might call "true to life." The detective is not a mechanism but a protagonist, that is the character most important to us: accordingly the heroes of Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet practice this strange profession of private detective, which (in the U.S.) has nothing to do with bureaucratic function but, by definition, puts them on the fringe of the law-the law as represented by the police and the codes of gangsters as well. The essential question is no longer "who-done-it?" but how does this protagonist act? It's not even required to comprehend all the twists and turns of the action in which he is caught up (I would never be able to sum up coherently the sequence of events of which these two films are composed), only the uncertain psychology of one and the other, at once friend and foe. Still more significantly neither the punch in the face nor the gunshot play a major role until the end. And it cannot be by accident that the two films end in the same manner, the cruelest way in the world with the heroines paying full price. These final scenes are harsh and misogynistic, as is most of contemporary American literature.
I would not go so far as to say these films are completely successful. While Maltese Falcon is quite exciting (and is taken from a novel by Dashiell Hammett), Murder, My Sweet is very uneven and at times vacuous (despite the excellent reputation of the Raymond Chandler novel from which it is adapted).
We rediscover this hardness, this misogyny, in Double Indemnity. There is no mystery here, we know everything from the beginning, and we follow the preparation for the crime, its execution, and its aftermath (just as in Suspicion which Alfred Hitchcock adapted from a remarkable novel by Francis lles with poor results). Consequently our interest is focused on the characters, and the narrative unfolds with a striking clarity that is sustained throughout. This is because the director, Billy Wilder, has done more than merely transpose the narrative structure offered by the James Cain novel from which the film is adapted. He started by creating, with Raymond Chandler, a peremptorily precise script which deftly details the motives and reactions of its characters. The direction is a faithful rendering of this script.
In this manner these "noir" films no longer have any common ground with run-of-the-mill police dramas. Markedly psychological plots, violent or emotional action, have less impact then facial expressions, gestures, utterances-rendering the truth of the characters, that "third dimension" of which I have already spoken. This is a significant improvement: after films such as these the figures in the usual cop movie seem like mannequins. There is nothing remarkable in the fact that today's viewers are more responsive to this stamp of verisimilitude, of "true to life," and, why not, to the kind of gross cruelties which actually exist and the past concealment of which has served no purpose: the struggle to survive is not a new story.
Concurrently with this internal development, there is another, purely formal, change in expository style, the intervention of a narrator or commentator permits a fragmentation of the narrative, to quickly gloss over the traditional plot elements and to accentuate the "true-to-life" side. It's clear that this method permits the story to be rapidly engaged, but it also permits the insertion of a dynamic element into an otherwise static, psychological portrait.
Sacha Guitry was the first to utilize this technique in Le Roman d'un Tricheur. The makers of the films which I have mentioned (except for The Maltese Falcon) utilized it also and revealed both its flexibility and the enhanced possibility of adding a deeper layer to the narrative style. I must note, however, that Preminger in Laura has the story explained in the beginning by a character who cannot know the succeeding events nor, reason dictates, their conclusion.
Has Hollywood definitively outclassed Paris?
It seems to me that we shouldn't rush precipitously to this conclusion. Doubtless after this sort of film, it won't be easy to construct police stories in the usual manner. Doubtless we'll have to work harder, assiduously refine our scripts, and give up beautiful images, camera tricks, and other technical razzle-dazzle which diminish that "third dimension" on screen by creating visual falsehood and "going Hollywood" (in the bad sense of the term). Certainly we've witnessed the emergence of a new class of authors, the Billy Wilders, the Premingers, the Chandlers, the John Hustons, who promise to leave behind the old guard and the old school, the John Fords, the Wylers, and even the Capras.
But from this, to conclude that French filmmakers should fold up their tents...
There is one point, however, that deserves to be underscored for our own filmmakers: the primacy of the script, and the fact that a film is first and foremost a sober story well constructed and presented in an original manner. I read exactly the opposite of what I've just said from my old friend Georges Charensol writing about How Green was My Valley. Charensol and other reviewers seemed to be nostalgic for the silent movie and to judge a film by the quantity of pretentious flourishes it displays. I'm afraid it would be useless to contradict them: the relentless evolution of motion pictures will settle their case-motion pictures, the creation of which are more and more a function of the screenplay and where today one can find more dramatic energy in a static shot than in a majestic panorama.
The proof? Admirable films such as How Green Was My Valley and The Letter, admirable and profoundly boring. On the one hand, production value written in capital letters, graphic beauty, paternalistic traveling shots, and dullness precisely distilled by the camera. On the other hand, filmed theater in all its splendor made possible by a special lens, a ballet going nowhere, magnificently rendered, prodigiously breathed to life, that one follows with a yawn. Both are devoid of life, of truth, of depth, of charm, of vitality, of real energy-of that "third dimension" that I prefer. Trompe-l'oeil and filmed theater, these two antiquated and antithetical formulas come together and compel us to assert, sadly, that such magnificent gentlemen as John Ford and William Wyler are already museum pieces. The meaningful glances in Laura or Double Indemnity-it's sad to say, but it must be said-are more moving than the eloquent compositions of the former or the skilled touch of the latter.
Above all, don't make me say that the future belongs to crime movies told in the first person...