In an excellent essay on NYMag.com Angelica Jade Bastién asks if the modern noir has "atrophied":
True Detective is the clearest example of the emptiest aspects of modern noir: vengeful, self-centered white men; casual racism; violence without grace or purpose; mistaking the cliché strong female character for something meaningful; lack of levity or humor; labyrinthine plotlines without verve.Not sure if she's talking True Detective 1, 2 or both; haven't seen the latter, am a fan of the former. Bastién continues:
In the early 1940s, noir began as a movement born of a number of factors: the changing gender and racial landscape of America during and after World War II, the Expressionist influence of European-refugee filmmakers like Billy Wilder, and studio-system economics.Missing from her list: the novels and short stories on which the movies were based. That's your problem right there: the source material. Look at Michael Winterbottom's version of The Killer Inside Me. Jim Thompson's novel was published in 1952: viewed from this side of the century it's fifty shades of go fuck yourself.
Contrary to any rosy academic spin one might apply now the so-called "classic" noir movies were typically violent, sexist, populated by gender and racial stereotypes, hacked by studios and curdled by portentous public service messages and disclaimers. But they were good because the stories were good, and they remain powerful because their subversive, disturbing messages ring true.
(I'm suspicious of art that tells you how things should be: far more interested in what tells you how things are -- and even better, how bad it can get. There is no rule in the manual that says art should be virtuous.)
If you want to set your tuner to classic film noir pick up a copy of Barry Gifford's The Devil Thumbs A Ride: a film diary by one of my favourite fiction authors.
If you want to see where film noir is going, check out Mr Robot. Show creator Sam Esmail talked to Engadget about his approach to the series:
... I really wanted to do a character piece about one specific character from this world. I wanted to be inside his head as intimately and as close as possible. Then the character of Elliot started to form. Taxi Driver hands down is probably one of the best character pieces in cinema, so of course that was an inspiration. The use of VO (voice over) and the sort of isolation, in terms of the filming and storytelling -- really you're just locked in with this guy.And if you want the real thing? Go read a book.
(Pic: Jessica Alba in The Killer Inside Me (2010), dir. Michael Winterbottom.)