East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Learn about the films you like, and those are film noir

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Today I was talking to a friend about learning the basics of film language in order to write reviews that do not suck. She’s a very serious, thorough person, and so she was looking for a basic primer on film language.
This made me think about a long time ago, the late ’80s, when I started reading books about movies, and those books were about film noir.

As I thought I mentioned in the past, between the ’80s and the ’90s I watched an awful lot of old movies on the TV, while at the same time reading a few movie magazines. The TV fare that was offered us covered the whole spectrum: westerns, mysteries, noirs, historicals, peplums and biblicals, screwball comedies…

So, after spending long hours watching movies, as I hit my twenties I decided I wanted to read more on the subject, and went looking for books. At the time, the Libreria Comunardi, about 100 meters from my university, had an excellent selection of film-related books, so I spent a few lunch breaks perusing their shelves, searching for… something.

And here comes the interesting bit, because back then, the only popular film genre with a consistent critical body of work available was noir. Oh, there was of course a wide choice of volumes on “serious” cinema, Bergman and Truffaut, Tarkovski and Kubrick and Eisenstein, but outside of that, if you were looking for genre movies, the only genre-wide surveys were focused on noir film.
You might manage to get a book on Hitchcock or or John Ford, and maybe something about Welles.
But for a whole genre? Noir.

And the good thing was, of course, that I liked noir movies – and so I started reading on the subject.
And I still am reading on the subject, even though today is a lot easier to find works on science fiction movies, or fantasy, and a lot about horror.

So, everything I knowabout the movies I learned watching noirs, and reading about them.
And it was a lot of fun.
So my general rule of thumb, if you want to learn the basics of film, is to read some good essay on a genre you like, and make sure that genre is noir.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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