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Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light

Both a movie genre and cinematic movement, film noir has one of the highest batting averages of any genre. Because of the core elements (duality, normal people being thrust into crime, moral grays), there are few noirs that aren't interesting, with the photography (influenced by German expressionism, but often done bare due to budget constraints) almost always fascinating. There's more to be gleaned about the genre and its high points in 1995's A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies, and reading Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward's Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style is entirely more thorough — but for a clip show, Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light is entertaining enough, even if it seems made up of questions asked on downtime from other DVD documentaries. It opens with James Ellroy, who says "Here's what film noir is to me. It's a righteous, generically American film movement that went from 1945 to 1958 and exposited one great theme. And that theme is: You're fucked." From there the interviewees range from commentators on other Warner DVDs (including DVD Savant Glenn Erickson), to filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Paul Schrader, Brian Hegeland, Christopher McQuarrie, and many of the crew associated with both The Usual Suspects and Sin City (including Frank Miller and Michael Madsen). The one interesting thing this 67-min. doc dwells on (something that noir historians can still argue about) is the inception of the genre. There are mentions made that it started with Lang's German film M, or in 1940 with the Peter Lorre-staring The Stranger on the Third Floor, while anther interpretation is that noir was the natural cinematic reaction to the returning soldiers of World War II and the grief and ennui that resulted, as the genre fed on (at its best) an existentialism and fatalism that comes from being close to death. The documentary also relies heavily on Warner Brothers titles, spending little time on anything else (although 1945's Detour is paid some respects). Even though this documentary is lightweight, film noir is an interesting enough topic, and this short introduction has no illusions of trying to be definitive — but at the same time, the presence of someone like Henry Rollins (a talent, no doubt, but not contextualized as any sort of authority on noir) suggests a catch-as-catch-can sensibility. Warner Home Video presents Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light as a bonus disc in their "Film Noir Classic Collection: Vol. 3" box-set, presented in full-frame (1.33:1) and 2.0 stereo. Also included are five 20-min. programs from the MGM series "Crime Does Not Pay" — "Women In Hiding" (1940), "You, the People" (1940), Fred Zinneman's "Forbidden Passage" (1941), Joseph Losey's "A Gun in his Hand" (1945), and "The Luckiest Guy in the World" (1947). Slimline snap-case in the box-set.

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