Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Notes from CCMWG Keynote Address by Terry Allen on Film Noir

During the keynote presentation, Terry Allen showed film clips to demonstrate the points he made and to complement his lecture on film noir.

Here are a few things I learned:

Film Noir is French for black film.

Hollywood’s classical film noir period was in the 1940s-1950s, notably when G.I.s returned home from World War II.

Before that period, in the 1920s and 1930s, German film makers created German Expressionism films, which combined elements of film noir with horror.

The neo-noir period is the 1970s, with films such as “Chinatown” and “Blade Runner”

This year’s “True Detective”was also mentioned as an example of the genre.

Film Noir movies have a range of plots from the P.I to the fall guy.

Hard-boiled pulp novels like The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, with first person narrative, were mentioned as books that were made into film noir movies.

The real star of film noir is Fate.

The message is: There’s something dark out there.

The question is: Why me?

And there’s no good answer at all.

FN relies on the importance of dialogue and style. Everything has a purpose.

Key elements are: mood, tone, style, and moral ambiguity.

Text and subtext contribute to the total package, as does the music and background.

Another element is the Femme Fatale – the fatal woman or black widow who lures the good guy out of the sunshine into the shadows and causes him to do something he might not otherwise do.

One example given was how Barbara Stanwyck manipulated Fred McMurray to murder her husband in “Double Indemnity.”

This element of femme fatale in movies (and novels and short stories) brought back something my dad used to say when he read or heard about a decent guy who acted out of character and did something stupid or wrong. Dad would shake his head and say, “Cherchez la femme,” which he told me meant, “Find the woman.”

As a writer, my take-away from the film noir session is the need for consistency in dialogue, tone, mood, and style.

This session also brought to mind what Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the importance of the “unity of effect” in short stories. Everything in a story, from the title to the character name, the mood, the tone, and the individual words should combine to create a consistent effect of the piece.

Are you a fan of film noir? Do you have any favorite movies or novels to recommend?


  1. Donna--Your father was a wise man. Usually, when men do something stupid or underhanded, there's a woman who's motivating him, either intentionally or unwittingly.

    I am NOT a fan of film noir, but I did enjoy Terry Allen's keynote presentation. It was entertaining and informative.

  2. Hi Sioux,
    My dad was a wise man. What I failed to mention is that when a man does something wonderful, there's usually a woman behind that as well.

    Interesting that you're not a fan of FN. And I agree Terry's presentation was entertaining and informative.

  3. I don't think I am a fan film noir either, but did enjoy seeing it explained here!

  4. Terry did make his presentation interesting enough that I want to watch film noir. Nice notes too! And it was good seeing you!

  5. Good tips. I used to like reading True detective when I was in high school. And, I remember Double Indemnity.

  6. Thanks for sharing your notes, Donna. I missed most of this presentation. I don't know if it's considered film noir because it may be too new, but Body Heat fits the description, I think, and it may have been an old movie remade with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt.


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