Unimpressed with recent neo-noir films, William Park, author of the new book What Is Film Noir?, confesses: "As much as I admire Chinatown I come away disappointed that John Huston can get away with incest and murder. I thought The Long Goodbye the very worst of all Raymond Chandler's adaptations. And I detested the triumph of evil in Se7en." Park also doesn't understand Camille Paglia's admiration of Basic Instinct, criticising the amount of moral pollution enclosed in Verhoeven's film.
Brian De Palma expressed a similar opinion to Park's: "I think traditional noir doesn't work in contemporary storytelling because we don't live in that world anymore."
Through its eight chapters — "Theory of Genre", "Film Noir: The Genre Defined", "Objections", "Style", "Period Style", "Alfred Hitchcock", "Meanings","Last Words" — and three appendices: "Within the Genre", "Borderline" and "Period Pieces", Park dissects with academic detail the definition of the noir film as genre and style and its progression during the Golden Age (1940-1958).
Park explains that Hitchcock is often excluded from this list on the basis that his films lack the integration provided by voiceovers and flashbacks. But if we think of the canonized noir which lack these two elements we have: The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, The Big Combo, The Big Sleep, The Dark Corner, Fallen Angel, In a Lonely Place, Kiss Me Deadly, Scarlet Street, This Gun for Hire, Woman in the Window and Touch of Evil.
Park also cites Paul Schrader's essay "Notes on Film Noir": "...most every dramatic Hollywood film from 1941 to 1953 contains some noir elements", and some of these "one-shots" were terrific: Edmund Goulding's adaptation of Nightmare Alley, Frank Borzage's Moonrise, Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Fred Zinnemann's Act of Violence were made by directors who had never been previously associated with film noir.
Fritz Lang's The Blue Gardenia (1953), while not quite a noir, morphs into a tale of romantic despair (the Wagnerian theme of Tristan und Isolde) and an exploration of America's obsession with pulp, tabloids and personal violence, starring Anne Baxter as telephone operator in fear of becoming a murderess.
One of my favorite chapters of What Is Film Noir? is Chapter Five as it covers the theory of period style, and in which Park condenses the several notions that have remained embedded in the thesis about the significance of the style and the concept of noir, entwining American critic and essayist Robert Warshow on the Gangster Film, author and literary critic John T. Irwing's views about hard-boiled detective fiction, and its historical influence in modern thrillers:
The demise of Bogart in The Roaring Twenties is justified. Killing him thus gives the down-and-out Cagney protagonist an opportunity to redeem himself. The scene is set in the darkness of the rain-slicked streets. 'He used to be a big shot'. With this statement, the gangster ceases to exist as a glorified motion picture hero. Yet interest in criminals and amoral characters, or in violence generally for that matter, never completely vanishes. Film noir is one outlet. All genres which feature lonesome, melancholy, gunslinging protagonists. Audiences tastes really never changed much at all.
Park analyzes the uneasy balance between our identity and our super-ego as the essential premise of noir concept in film and, as a member of the audience for whom film noir was first created, Park suspects he's not the only one disappointed with most of neo-noir modern movies, since he supposes "our moral instincts are just as strong as our voyeuristic ones."