Tag Archives: Noir Definition

Noir Definition | Film Noir vs. Crime Movies

A recent discussion with a noir-loving friend from Liverpool, UK (Hi Hobnob!) has inspired me to make some changes here on noirWhale.com. We were discussing Scarface, and he was asking me how I can justify defining it as a film noir. The answer is, I can’t. Even though the film has many noir aspects, and can easily fit into the noir definition that I have crafted, it still isn’t inherently film noir. The piece of my definition that is missing is the stylistic element of film noir. The light, shadow, and dramatic cinematography is just as vital as any other component present in a completed noir work.

Film Noir

(via mistercrew.com)

This style, coupled with the noir definition, separates a film noir from a crime movie. Now, this is not to say that crime films are not noir. Quite the opposite actually, as crime films have their ancestral roots in the golden era of film noir. And the same is true vice versa. Some film noir pieces are crime movies, some are not. But there must be a division, a line drawn in the sand.

Going forward, I’ll be dividing the films that I review into two distinct categories, Crime Movies and Film Noir. The Crime Movies category will be home to the noir-inspired works that aren’t quite film noir, and the Film Noir category will be home to the stylistic masterpieces of the genre.

Here is a list of the film reviews I’ve done so far, reassigned to their appropriate categories:

Film Noir

The Third Man (1949)

Night and the City (1950)

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Crime Movies/ Neo-Noir

Chinatown (1974)

Scarface (1983)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Sin City (2005)

Max Payne (2008)

*Thank you Nicolas from Mugre Y Sangre for the further clarification between Film Noir, Crime Movies, and Neo-Noir. I truly appreciate the correction. Thanks for helping to make noirWhale.com great.

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Noir Definition | Racism

Noir Definition Saul Leiter. Harlem 1960

(via liquidnight.tumblr.com)

This last week it was brought to my attention that there was a problem with my noir definition. A frequent visitor to NoirWhale.com pointed out that I had misappropriated the term “blaxploitation.” After some research and review I concurred with his analysis. Blaxploitation actually refers to a process of stereotypical media that was meant to appeal to black, not offend them.  I had been using it as a term synonomous with racism, and while it has a racist element, they aren’t the same thing.

Thus I append the noir definition; instead of removing the element altogether, I’m renaming it “racism” because that is what I truly meant in the first place. It should be noted that blaxploitation can be found touching several areas of the noir genre, it’s just not as frequent a theme as racism. So moving forward, I’ll still be pointing out the generally racist nature of much of the genre, I’ll just be using the proper term for it.  Thanks Justin!

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Noir Definition | Emasculation

Noir Definition UPDATE: January 28th 2012

10. Emasculation

Noir Definition Mad Men

Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Don Draper, Joan Holloway, Pete Campbell (via celebrations.com)

Only recently apparent to me is the frequent theme of emasculation in the noir genre. Emasculation in noir refers to robbing a male of his “manliness” in some degree; either through humiliation or through some means of impotence. Examples: A man can’t provide for his family, he’s beaten or humiliated by some thugs, he loses his livelihood, he can’t land the femme fatale, his health fails, or he literally has his “manhood” taken away (read Sin City: That Yellow Bastard). Often the driving theme of a noir piece is the fear of emasculation, even if it hasn’t occurred yet. In Night and The City, Harry Fabian becomes more and more desperate as he becomes more and more emasculated by his failures to succeed.

If you’re still failing to grasp what I’m referring to, look at Mad Men for example; Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling, and others each have a certain masculine ideal which they subscribe to. For Pete it’s success in the workplace without the aid of others, for Don it’s strength and privacy, for Roger it’s health and sexual conquest, for others it’s something else. Although each man may have a slightly different definition of masculinity, ALL of them fear its loss and panic when it’s endangered. Pete’s marriage suffers when he fails at work, when Don’s secret past rears itself he attempts to flee, and as Roger’s health plummets he weeps like a child; each of them are emasculated by their greatest fears. Thus our noir definition is expanded.

Got any ideas for the noir definition? email me: chad.delisle [at] gmail.com


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Video Game Noir | Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Those who are closest to me know that I have an unhealthy obsession with Metal Gear Solid. I would like to stress the fact that I am NOT writing this video game noir review of Metal Gear Solid 3 simply because of this obsession….but it may have something to do with it. As always, I will closely examine the most “noir” aspects of this game against the noir definition we have made. Then you can tell me whether it’s noir or not (and whether or not I’m just a crazy MGS fanboy run a muck). Now, the story-line of this video game noir is as convoluted and varied as they come, and I have NO interest in attempting to “synopsize” it . If you would like a run-down of the plot, please visit the Metal Gear Solid Wiki.

1) The Seedy Underworld

The early 1960’s : The thick jungle of Southern U.S.S.R. – overgrowth laden warehouses, snake infested caves, jungle huts, mountain top bases, and sprawling military compounds. Sometimes behind a waterfall, sometimes in a sewer, the backdrops are creative and alluring from beginning to end.

2) The Anti-Hero

Video Game Noir Metal Gear Solid 3 Naked Snake

Jack, "Naked Snake," "Big Boss"

Naked Snake, a special forces operative that would later go on to win the title “Big Boss” is the anti-hero of this video game noir. His origin (acknowledged or not) is firmly rooted in the detective novels of the 1930s and 1940s. He is forever caught in a struggle to exert his masculinity and dominance in a world that endlessly contests it. While his outward actions are confident, cool, and calculated; inwardly he is insecure, sensitive, and emotionally wounded. These issues are classic masculine struggles in any noir piece.

3) The Femme Fatale

Video Game Noir Metal Gear Solid 3 EVA


This video game noir is unique in that its plot is dominated by the presence of two femme fatales. I cannot decide is this is an attempt by Hideo Kojima to balance the masculine issues of the anti-hero, or if it is an example of the old adage,”two is better than one.” Eva, a sexy undercover double-agent with whom Naked Snake must work with, and Boss, his mentor, rival, and closest ally are the femme fatale pair in the game. Interestingly enough, they are opposite in nearly every way yet they both fit neatly in the noir defined role of femme fatale.

“I bet if I kissed you, you’d taste like a wild beast.” -Eva

4) Misogyny

Video Game Noir Metal Gear Solid 3 Volgin

Col. Volgin

The only character to truly exercise any level of misogyny is Col. Volgin, a Russian separatist commander with lightning powers. He abuses “Tanya” (Eva in disguise) sexually at frequent intervals in the game. The player is never privy to their intercourse, but the scars of his sadism are clearly seen on her fair skin. She asserts that she is merely allowing his behavior in order to keep her cover, but in reality she isn’t strong enough to stop him. He treats her like a mere toy of amusement, and grips her most feminine curves at various intervals in several cinemas.

5) Redemption

The central theme of the entire video game noir is redemption. Specifically, the redemption of America. The plot begs the question: what is the price of America’s reputation?

6) Loss of Innocence

Video Game Noir Metal Gear Solid 3 Boss

The Boss

I would say this portion of the noir definition applies directly to Naked Snake. His heart is wrenched as his mentor betrays America, and he learns disgusting truths about the men he serves so selflessly. These revelations literally break him.

7) Eroticism

2 moments of eroticism worth mentioning: 1) Col. Volgin’s sadist adventures with Eva  (not because they are generally arousing but because they are bizarre and outré) and 2) the ever memorable behind the waterfall campfire scene. Basically Eva attempts to seduce Snake and gets shut down hard.

8 ) Blaxploitation

Well, the only example of blaxploitation in this video game noir is found with the character Sigint. I’m not even black and I was offended by the “over-the-top” Ebonics-style  dialogue. He “jive” talks every time you speak with him, and it gives you the impression that he is an idiot.

9) Smoke

Cigars and cigarettes a plenty. If you’re sneakin’ your’e smokin’.

I finally accomplished my dream, connecting Metal Gear Solid with the noir genre. Feel free to burn me at the stake, but I believe the evidence speaks for itself. The HD remake comes out this November. A video game noir that MUST be purchased.


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Noir Definition | Blaxploitation and Smoke

Noir Definition UPDATE: August 26th, 2011

8. Blaxploitation (or Racism)

Noir Definition Blaxploitation

Black Caesar

“1970–75, Americanism ; blend of blax (respelling of blacks ) + exploitation.
the exploitation of blacks, especially in movies featuring or intending to appeal to blacks.”
– dictionary.reference.com/browse/blaxploitation

One aspect of the noir genre that has recently leapt out at me is the heavy-handed theme of racism. Condescending language, disparaging remarks, and sexual abuse are all hallmarks of Blaxploitation. This racism may be a byproduct of the era in which the noir genre was birthed, but it certainly thrives in the contemporary time period as well. Understand that the racism in film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics is not only directed at Blacks; others feel the sting as well. I believe this theme rests entirely upon power, control, and illusions of power. The white male desires to remain in control, so he inflicts emasculating and denigrating roles upon white females, blacks, and any other race or people he considers inferior. In this way power threatening groups are robbed of their ability to affront the acceptable order established by he and his cohorts. What do the white females, blacks, and other races do in response? They mimic the abuse inflicted upon them by white males and perpetrate heinous crimes against one another. And thus the only way they can obtain power is by accepting roles and behaviors that are white male defined.

9. Smoke

Noir Definition Smoke

anyone know who this is? (Dorian Leigh, 1917 - 2008, THANKS MARK!)

Anyone who has seen an episode of Mad Men will understand why “smoke” must be added to my noir definition. Curling tendrils of cigarette smoke portend sexual encounters in seedy hotels, cruel seduction, and infidelities. Profanity and profundity crosshatch the hanging smoky-mirk in scene after scene of film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics. Smoke caresses the lips of the femme fatale, stings the eyes of the innocent, and tickles the throat of the stooge. It stains the teeth, fingernails, and wallpaper of the anti-hero, yet entombs him like a viking king on a floating pyre. Disgusting in real life? Yes. Amazingly enticing in noir? Yes. I know this seems obvious, but in hindsight “smoke” should have been the first quality that defines the noir genre.

As with my other noir definition updates, I’m sure there are more to come…


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Noir Comics | Criminal Volume 2: “Lawless”

Noir Comics Criminal Deluxe Edition Cover

My copy of the Criminal Deluxe Edition

The following is my review of the second installment of the noir comics series Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Mr. Brubaker has said that the reason he created Criminal was so he could write several noir crime fiction stories featuring unique characters under the same umbrella. So it is with this second trade paperback in the series. The characters of the first are either gone entirely or make fleeting appearances throughout. Because this story differs enough from the first, I’m going to run it through our noir definition so far:

1. The Seedy Underworld

We return to Central City in this trade, a blacker shadow of New York than we are typically comfortable with. The Christmas season is our time-frame, though it’s lacking in spirit and cheer. The most prominent returning hub is a bar called The Undertow (originally called The Undertown, but the neon ‘n’ has been out for years). Symbolism drips from the name alone, because we can infer that those who visit such a dive are being “towed” deeper into the underworld.

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Tracy and Ricky

Tracy and Ricky Lawless

2. The Anti-Hero

Tracy Lawless has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with a chip on his shoulder. That chip being the murder of his little brother Ricky. The pain Tracy feels is caused more by the guilt of past sins against his brother than by the murder itself. He has always felt that he abandoned him to an abusive father and a bed-ridden mother in a selfish act to crawl out of that hell. He’s in Central City for revenge and closure, closure that he may never find.

3. The Femme Fatale

Mallory. She may be linked to the murder of Tracy’s brother Ricky, she oozes sex appeal, and there is no end to her cigarette supply. Need I say more?

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Femme Fatale Mallory

sexy tendrils of smoke caressing her skin...

4. Misogyny

Misogyny in this noir comic is hard to write about without dropping spoilers. But let me just say that the same theme of emasculation presents itself where our femme fatale is concerned. Tracy is warned that he should be wary of Mallory’s advances, because it may in fact lead to his downfall… (Also, it’s somewhat implied that she has an insatiable sexual appetite. Think Angelina Jolie’s character in Gone in 60 Seconds, turned on by crime, raunchy in the extreme. Very misogynistic writing).

5. Redemption

“Lawless” is drenched in the theme of Redemption. But I would argue that it is a selfish brand at best. As much as Tracy may believe that he is attempting to redeem his brother from unjust murder, he is truly craving redemption for himself. Throughout the entire story he is driven by guilt not by love. Criminal volume 2 is about redeeming a damned family.

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Tracy

infiltrating his brother's old crew.

6. Loss of Innocence

Tracy and Ricky share the trauma of an abusive childhood. Their father, Teeg Lawless, is one of the most brutal sonofabitches ever to pass through Central City (We learn his story in volume 3 of Criminal). His horrendous impact on his children casts a pall over the entire plot. You can’t “get” Tracy without “getting” Teeg.

7. Eroticism

Rounding out this near perfect example of noir crime fiction, the theme of eroticism does present itself in several ways in “Lawless.” I will mention two of them: 1) The leader of the Ricky’s old gang is really into S&M (you don’t see anything crazy, but it’s implied) and 2) the femme fatale Mallory at one point dons a nun costume for some sexy foreplay with Tracy.

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Teeg's Abuse

the pain of an abusive father never subsides.

“Lawless” is a feather in the cap of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ noir comics catalog. The art was better than “Coward,” and the script was masterful. Well done. (Below is one of my favorite pages, split into three different images. The getaway is taking place on Christmas Night, and the red and blue color motif was breathtaking).  My Criminal Deluxe Edition is from Amazon.com.

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Noir Pics | Noirwhale.Tumblr.Com

Over the last few weeks I have been steadily collecting noir images from various places on the web. These images range from femme fatales to anti-heroes, and each has been selected according to its adherence to the noir definition previously discussed. Get over there and check it out!:


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Noir Definition Update

I have always wanted to create a very robust noir definition for noir in all of its forms. Thus far I have previously set forth 5 unique elements that are found in any noir media. They are: The seedy underworld, the ant-hero, the femme fatale, misogyny, and redemption. Recently I have thought of two more that must be added: Loss of Innocence, and Eroticism.

Noir Definition Loss of Innocence

giving us the reason why

6. Loss of Innocence

This aspect of noir is the one that hits us in the gut. It wrenches our emotions and makes us uncomfortable. Torture, rape, sin, and abuse all fall under this thematic umbrella. Usually, the loss of innocence within any noir piece holds the responsibility of answering the question “why?”, as in: “why is this character this way?” or “why do they do what they do?” This is closely related with the Redemption aspect of noir because usually the loss of innocence is what causes the need for redeeming.

Noir Definition Eroticism

eroticism in the 80's

7. Eroticism

One thematic element of noir that has caused the most controversy in the genre is that of eroticism or sexuality. These tend to not be the main stream accepted types of sexual behavior, instead they are the outré and bizarre fetishes that make us cringe. Prostitution, adultery, sadomasochism, and other unmentionables are the mainstay of noir. Most often, lust plays a huge roll in any noir crime fiction as well as lack of self control. Those characters that can control their sexual desires are those that are the most successful, while those who succumb are the victims of their own self destruction. This is closely related with the theme of Misogyny in our noir definition, especially as it pertains to the portayal of the femme fatale.

Well, I hope that we can continue to add to our noir definition in the future! Please email me if you think of any aspect that needs to be addressed! Chad.deLisle[at]gmail.com

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Noir Comics Giveaway | Criminal Vol. 1 Winner!

Congrats to Jessica C. ! She is the winner of Noirwhale’s very first Noir Giveaway! I’ll be putting Criminal Vol. 1 in the mail today! Here is here Noir Definition:
“Beautiful dark shadows neon lights Smoking Anti-Hero detective seductive murderess.”

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“Coward,” a Criminal Edition of Noir Comics

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Brubaker Phillips

one of the greatest noir comics ever created

Those of you who interact with me on a daily basis know that my affection for Ed Brubaker‘s Criminal series runs deep… too deep… like, suspiciously deep. All I can say is that I see it as a crown jewel in the realm of noir comics. Perhaps my infatuation stems from the fact that “Coward” was my first, and you never forget your first (that was more sexual than I intended). The best part about reading Brubaker is that you can tell that he is a huge noir crime fiction fan, and that he is as invested in his characters as you are. Perfectly counterpointing his creative narrative is the seedy pulpy art style of Sean Phillips. Seriously, this creative team could not be more elite. We are talking Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan style noir comics team up.

So, I’m settling into a bit of a tradition here on noirwhale.com: the first part of any series that I review will be held up to the noir definition as has been previously described. I believe this will give us a great foundation for evaluating any work in the noir genre.

1. The Seedy Underworld

Noir York City. Present day. Crooked cops, crooked schemes, and a pay day around the corner. Superb.

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Setting

just a taste...

2. The Anti-Hero

Possibly the best character in any noir that I have read, Leo Patterson plays with the reader’s emotions because he is so dang likable. He takes care of his dead father’s best friend Ivan (an Alzheimer/Heroin addicted old man) with a tenderness that can only be described as familial. Also, he cares for each of the people he works with, and he won’t take chances with their lives. He isn’t a risk taker, and he follows his own code to a fault. Because of this, Leo has gained a reputation in the criminal underworld that is two-fold: Some say he is the best thief in the business and others say he is a coward.

“Prisons are full of assholes who valued their own lives only slightly more than other people’s. And I’m not ending up on death row because some moron listened to too much hip hop growing up.” -Leo Patterson a.k.a. “Coward”

3. The Femme Fatale

A dame what goes by the name of Greta is the femme fatale for this noir comic. While she plays the typical role of causing the anti-hero to compromise his code, she also becomes the catalyst for the new code which he adopts at the end of the trade (no spoilers this time). She also is always portrayed (and treated by Leo) as an equal, a confidant, and a partner, which is definitely a stretch for our noir definition. A revision required perhaps?

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Femme Fatale Greta

the plot (like so much smoke) thickens...

4. Misogyny

One of the most interesting aspects of this noir comic is its lack of traditional misogyny. Ivan, the demented old man that Leo cares for, is the only one who seems to show any disrespect for women. I think there is method in this because I believe that Brubaker wrote Ivan into the story as a representation of the “old-school” noir crime fiction, a time when women were objects instead of equals. Ivan represents a dying age, and his misogyny looks childish compared to the genuine respect and care for Greta displayed by Leo.

“Does what it take to survive change you —  to the point where you are no longer who you are? To the point where, though your body survives, the deepest part of you — the human part– does not?” -Tom Fontana

5. Redemption

Leo grew up in the world of noir crime. Back in the old days, his father Tommy and his “Uncle” Ivan ran the most successful pick-pocket crew in New York City. But now things are different, and Leo is struggling to come to grips with all of that. His father was shanked to death in prison, and Leo is terrified of ending up the same way. Ivan, Leo’s only living representation of that bygone era (and by extension his father), is a constant reminder of how things will never be the same. “Coward” is a classic story of a son striving to redeem his father by escaping his own seemingly predestined fate (Luke Skywalker).

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Greta Leo

babies and bullet holes

I love this book. I love this series even more. READ IT! (I got my copy of “Coward” a Criminal Edition from Amazon.com) Also, check back with me the first Monday of June! I’ll be making a big announcement concerning “Coward”!

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