Five Rules of Noir

This is a BBC documentary that was aired in 2009. I find it very nice, and I loved the tons of footage you can find in here. I was also very interested in learning about the genre and the way it came about, as well as the way it evolved and finally went out of fashion… though not for long.

In this documentary, more than the story of the genre in a chronological way, film noir is presented though its salient characteristics. Let me write them out for you.

  1. Choose a dame with a past and a hero with no future
  2. Use no fiction but pulp fiction
  3. See America through a stranger’s eye
  4. Make it any colour as long as it’s black
  5. It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it

What intrigues me the most is point 3 – See America through a stranger’s eyes. In the documentary is said that some of noir’s most recognizable characteristics, its darkness, its pessimistic feeling, its sense of loneliness and also its expressionist way of presentation were brought to America by immigrants – especially Germans and Jews – fleeing from occupied Europe, and in America turned into a very specific, very recognizable form of expression. These immigrants brought with them their fear for what was happening in Europe (the totalitarian regimes, then the war, the persecutions, the total destruction of entire cities) and as they worked in Hollywood as technicians, as actors, as screenplays, as directors, they poured their anxieties and insecurities into their art.

The influence of Germans seems particularly apparent for me in many sequences. Germany had a very prosperous artistic season during the golden days of the Weimar Republic. The stylized entertainment form of Expressionism and the streamlined forms of the Bauhaus really seem to come forth from many passages in this documentary.

Maybe this is because I am European, but seems to me as if Dieselpunk still retains this fascination with Europe. Many dieselpunk stories I read were set in Europe, many were actually set during WWII or shortly after and they sure expressed a similar sense of anxiety and uncertainty in front of the unknown that seems to be common to the classic film noir.
In truth, even the dieselpunk stories that are set in America and more closely adhere to the classic characteristics of noir seem to follow in the footsteps of expression and the same anxieties that Europeans fleeing form occupied Europe brought with them.

Is this just my impression?


FREE EBOOK - The Roaring Twenties A to Z

Subscribe to The Old Shelter mailing list and get this 56-pages FREE pdf

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

4 Comments on "Five Rules of Noir"

  1. Thanks. Interesting blog. I’ll return to,rad more. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (plugged in now)

  2. Thanks Thom, I do hope to see you back.
    You also have a very interesting blog. I like all your music videos 🙂

  3. Oh neat! I will definitely have to take a look at this documentary. Thanks for sharing. 😀

    Also, I think you’re right about the dieselpunk community’s fascination with Europe. I think it’s a lot like steampunk, in that regard–how so much of steampunk was set in Victorian England initially (which I guess is only natural, seeing as to its origins). Then people like Cherie Priest came along and started writing stories in non-traditional steampunk settings and it was like, “OMG! No way–steampunk…in AMERICA?!” *mind blown*

    Just trying to think of dieselpunk examples that are set in America… I think A Fistful of Reefer is set in the American Southwest (Texas) during the early 1900s. Haven’t finished that one yet, even though I find the premise interesting. (The language put me off a bit; some of the characters are racist, which I can understand for the sake of realism, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read.) Anyway, that’s just one example that pops into mind. 🙂

    • Do check out the decumentary, I really really enjoyed it.

      My feeling is that if the dieselpunk story is related to either World Wars, it’s mor elikely to be set in Europe. If the dieselpunks tory is more related to PI and general 1950s feel, then it is more likely to be set in the US. But it may just be me, you know? 😉

      I’ve read ‘A Fistful of Nothing’ by Dan Glaser that is set in America. And A.J. Sikes’s series, also set in America. These are soem of the most dieselpunk stories I’ve read.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: