Friday, December 03, 2010

Five best books on film noir

Barry Forshaw's books include British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, along with books on Italian cinema, and a biography of Stieg Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon.

At FiveBooks he told Anna Blundy about the best books on film noir, including:
Film Noir: The Encyclopedia by Alain Silver, James Ursini, Elizabeth Ward and Robert Porfino.

A handsome, arm-straining book which has massive, ambitious coverage. This is an A-Z encyclopedia and is probably the most useful in terms of tracking down more obscure items. This is a book that is very up to date with lots of modern films noirs. It boasts some surprising entries and, as a shopping list to the films you might want to watch, it’s among the best.
But how do you know which ones to watch? Does it rate them?

Well, every one of these books will make you quickly aware that you should be watching Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Having said that, much of the fun lies in the fact that there are so many of them. A lot of films noirs are on DVD now and you can easily track them down. Once you know the directors and stars whose names are a guarantee of quality – Anthony Mann, Fritz Lang, Cagney, Mitchum, etc – you really can’t go wrong.

I like L’Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud.

Louis Malle and the French directors of the nouvelle vague took film noir very seriously. Malle asked Miles Davis, who was living in Paris at the time, to come in and improvise the soundtrack to that one, so it’s got that lovely smoky jazz score. Miles Davis just watched the film and improvised as he watched. And again you’ve got the tragic hero…

I love the premise. Of committing a crime and getting stuck in a lift. A cautionary tale.
Read about another book on the list.

See Forshaw's "critic's chart" of "six American noir masters."

--Marshal Zeringue