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Book Review

Book Cover

Film Noir: Light and Shadow


Edited by: Alain Silver and James Ursini
Publisher: Applause Books
ISBN: 978 1 4950 5897 4
Publication Date: 11 April 2017

Alain Silver and James Ursini present a new anthology of essays that examine the visual style of the filmmakers of cinema's classic period. Some focus on individual films or directors; some discuss elements of style or sub-groups of movies within the movement. All are sharply focused on what makes the noir phenomenon unique in American motion-picture history...

Back in the early '90s part of my university studies involved the examination of Film Noir. I wish, that back then, this book had been available and had been required reading. Alain Silver and James Ursini collect together a wealth of articles on the subject. But, most importantly, there's plenty (500 if you want a figure) of relevant, good quality photographs to illustrate each piece.

For me, the most interesting inclusion was Todd Erikson's Nothingness and Purpose: Light and Shadow in it's a Wonderful Life, which posits that the classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946) was heavily influenced by Noirish trends that were popular at the time. At first I thought this was a rather odd argument - surely you could say that about every black and white film of the time, but the more I read the more it made sense. I mean, those working behind the camera would no doubt have been fans of Noir at the time and so it would make sense that some stylistic choices would verge towards the Noirish side.

In addition to highlighting Silver's and Ursini's own innovative work and that of their late colleague Robert Porfirio, Film Noir: Light and Shadow features the work of many other contributors who have written and edited their own books on the subject including Sheri Chinen Biesen, Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards, Julie Grossman, Delphine Letort, Robert Miklitsch, R. Barton Palmer, Homer Pettey, Marlisa Santos, Imogen Sara Smith, and Tony Williams.As befits the topic, this anthology is lavishly illustrated with 500 images that capture the richness and breadth of the classic period s imagery.

While you might not agree with every idea put forward there are definitely areas here that will open you mind up to the wider implications of the genre.

This should be on the reading list of every Film Studies' syllabus.


Darren Rea

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