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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Eddie Muller's "Dark City" Provides a Stylish View of Cinema's Most Cynical Genre: Film Noir

Noir is an elusive style of cinema often misunderstood by film aficionados, and baffling to the novice movie fan. Few people are capable of putting into words a satisfactory description of the conventions of the cinematic codes, unifying features, visual narrative, and complex depth of emotion intrinsic to the genre. Eddie Muller is one of those few who has a firm grasp on the machinations of Film Noir, what it means and its significance in cinema history. This is made particularly evident with the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) publication of a revised and expanded edition of Muller's highly regarded book, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir.

TCM is well known for producing books about the many facets of cinema. If you visit the TCM Shop Library you'll find more than two dozen items in their collection, all of which have been featured at the TCM Film Festival gift shop, and stuffed into each year's press kit swag bag (thank you!). So, it's only logical that the classic film network would partner with Muller (Gun Crazy, The Art Of Noir) in producing an updated version of his work deemed the definative Film Noir bible. First published in 1998, Dark City played a key role in kick-starting the film noir revival. The original book sold more than 40K copies but is long out of print. This revised edition features three new chapters, a complete redesign, and new images throughout. The annointed "Czar of Noir" has achieved something truly remarkable in creating an accessible, yet not pandering, guide to an elusive world with this elegant and beautifully designed volume.

The gorgeous new book cover (designed by Josh McDonnell) is a lush visual welcome mat to what the reader can expect to discover in the pages within. The iconic image of John Garfield and Lana Turner from the seminal Noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is as alluring as a sultry siren out to seduce her next target into a gritty underworld full of dangerous mystique. The anticipation is wondrously palpable. I literally admired the presentation for a day or two before I could bring myself to bend the binding. Once I did, I halted when noticing how distinctly my fingerprints soaked into the semi-gloss dust jacket. I gave a lighthearted scoff, "how apropos." I wondered if such a facade could uphold its tantilizing promise. Short story: I can't believe I wasted time waiting.

Now, I am a certified classic film geek. I also have a predilection for black and white films, particularly those about the fringes of society. I attribute this fondness to having been exposed to such films during my impressionable college years at San Francisco State University (thank you, Mr. Kitses!). And although my professors were quite exceptional (I'm looking at you, Jameson Goldner), I dropped the ball when it came to fully understanding the dark genre. For years I was under the misperception that all you needed to fulfill the definition was a bitter hero and a femme fatale. Fortunately, my appreciation has grown immensely over the years. After reading Dark City I realized I still had only scratched the surface. And if you think you know all there is to know about this uniquely American art form, this immersive dive into every aspect of the style, including actors, directors and craftsmen, will have you wondering if you really understand the genre at all.

Twenty-three years ago seems like a rather random number of years in which to wait for an update, so I asked Muller about the odd number of years between publications and why he didn't have a twentieth anniversary or a twenty-fifth silver celebration. His answer was simple: "That's just the way it worked out. There were other projects, the research took as long as it took, licensing photos takes time, and we finished when we did. You never know how long these things are going to take." And of course, if you're going to do it, you want to do it right. Mission accomplished.

The book, described by the San Francisco Examiner as, "a pictorial anthology on the American existentialist crime movie ", has an unsurpassed collection of restored photos that illustrate the mythic landscape of the shadier side of the silver screen. To quote Muller, it has a "better, cleaner design than the first edition." There is definately a "non-academic feel" to the book. The written words work in tandem with the subject being discussed. In other words, you're not looking at some random picture example of Noir, but a still or poster from the films and/or niche being discussed on the same page. And although there are some big words that required me to use a dictionary in order to understand them, that's due in large part to Muller approaching the content in a flowing storylike structure as in one of his novels (The Distance, Shadow Boxer). He sets a very vivid scene, full of picturesque analogies (such as "cinematic cocktails"), that streams one film or stylistic description into the next like an interwoven story. Just like a good Noir book full of intriguing characters, twists, turns and unexpected surprises, you may not be able to put Dark City down until you see how the story ends.

I'm not going to spoil the ending (because why would I want to steal that memorable moment from you). I will say that even after you finish your trip through the underbelly of Hollywood's moodiest canon, you're going to want to experience the seductive world again and again just like a true victim of Noir who can't resist the temptation. Being such a browsable book, it makes an ideal coffee table companion. An even better idea is to buy your film fan buddies their own copy. It makes a terrific birthday or holiday gift, and if you order it today, you'll receive it in time for Halloween!

I want to make it clear that I get absolutely nothing out of promoting this book, or if you use any of the highlighted or picture links provided above there is no percentage provided to me as with the link to Amazon on the front page of this website. It's out of my pure love and passion for cinema that I share with you my opinion of this distinctive book. I know you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Here is some information about the author of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. With an impecable pedigree as a Noir expert, Eddie Muller (Wikepedia page) is the founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, a programmer of film festivals, a curator of museums, a designer of books, and he provides commentary for television, radio, and DVDs. He has been instrumental in preserving America’s Noir heritage, which to date has included restoring and preserving more than 30 nearly lost classics in partnership with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. He has also presented and lectured on Film Noir at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Muller also produces and hosts NOIR CITY: The San Francisco Film Noir Festival, the largest noir retrospective in the world, which now has satellite festivals in seven other U.S. cities. And when he finds some spare time to spend in Atlanta, Georgia, he acts as the on-air host of Noir Alley for Turner Classic Movies (full disclosure: I borrowed most of this paragraph from the TCM press release).


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