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Film noir is more than a cinematic genre. It is an essential aspect of American culture. Along with the cowboy of the Wild West, the denizen of the film noir city is at the very center of our mythological iconography. Described as the style of an anxious victor, film noir began during the post-war period, a strange time of hope and optimism mixed with fear and even paranoia. The shadow of this rich and powerful cinematic style can now be seen in virtually every artistic medium. The spectacular success of recent neo-film noirs is only the tip of an iceberg. In the dead-on, nocturnal jazz of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, the chilled urban landscapes of Edward Hopper, and postwar literary fiction from Nelson Algren and William S. Burroughs to pulp masters like Horace McCoy, we find an unsettling recognition of the dark hollowness beneath the surface of the American Dream.
Acclaimed novelist and poet Nicholas Christopher explores the cultural identity of film noir in a seamless, elegant, and enchanting work of literary prose. Examining virtually the entire catalogue of film noir, Christopher identifies the central motif as the urban labyrinth, a place infested with psychosis, anxiety, and existential dread in which the noir hero embarks on a dangerously illuminating quest. With acute sensitivity, he shows how technical devices such as lighting, voice over, and editing tempo are deployed to create the film noir world. Somewhere in the Night guides us through the architecture of this imaginary world, be it shot in New York or Los Angeles, relating its elements to the ancient cultural archetypes that prefigure it. Finally, Christopher builds an explanation of why film noir not only lives on but is currently enjoying a renaissance.
Somewhere in the Night can be appreciated as a lucid introduction to a fundamental style of American culture, and also as a guide to film noir's heyday. Ultimately, though, as the work of a bold talent adeptly manipulating poetic cadence and metaphor, it is itself a superb aesthetic artifact.