Film noir remains one of the most enduring legacies of 1940s and ’50s Hollywood. Populated by double-crossing, unsavory characters, this pioneering film style explored a shadow side of American life during a period of tremendous prosperity and optimism. Edward Dimendberg compellingly demonstrates how film noir is preoccupied with modernity—particularly the urban landscape.
The originality of Dimendberg’s approach lies in his examining these films in tandem with historical developments in architecture, city planning, and modern communications systems. He confirms that noir is not simply a reflection of modernity but a virtual continuation of the spaces of the metropolis. He convincingly shows that Hollywood’s dark thrillers of the postwar decades were determined by the same forces that shaped the city itself.
Exploring classic examples of film noir such as The Asphalt Jungle, Double Indemnity, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Naked City alongside many lesser-known works, Dimendberg masterfully interweaves film history and urban history while perceptively analyzing works by Raymond Chandler, Edward Hopper, Siegfried Kracauer, and Henri Lefebvre. A bold intervention in cultural studies and a major contribution to film history, Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity will provoke debate by cinema scholars, urban historians, and students of modern culture—and will captivate admirers of a vital period in American cinema.
Urban transformations are the burden of Edward Dimendberg’s fitfully brilliant study, Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity: the passage of a historical city of old neighborhoods, traditional if often menacing public spaces, and anonymous crowds into the postwar suburbs, highways, shopping malls, and industrial landscapes… Dimendberg’s animating insight remarks the coincidence of this radical reorganization in American space and the film-noir cycle—from 1939 to 1959 or, as he slyly glosses, from the New York World’s Fair, the construction of Rockefeller Center, and publication of The Big Sleep to the Nixon–Khrushchev ‘Kitchen Debate,’ Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow, and the death of Raymond Chandler. Film noir registers the fears and human toll of all that spatial mutation, yet obliquely, metaphorically, a sort of phantom parallel to everyday enterprise… [A] mostly dazzling scholarly investigation.
[A] splendid, groundbreaking book… Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity is a book that—as I can vividly attest—completely changes the way you view movies… [It is] one of the most outstanding publications in film studies over the past five years.
Dimendberg’s concern is with the way film noir exploits our sense of anomie and alienation through its representation of the city and its varied spaces, the manner in which we are disturbed by the intrusion of the modern and its practitioners, and our nostalgia for a vanishing past and the sense of community it once represented. He draws on an immense range of professional and speculative thinkers from Le Corbusier to Jean-Paul Sartre… There is much of value in Dimendberg’s book, including nuggets such as the suggestive notion that the recurrence of figures falling to their deaths from high-rise buildings is an instance of ‘Bernd Jager’s assertion that falling entails a loss of lived space.’ He is at his best when analyzing individual films, as in the extended comparison between the sensational New York photographs by Weegee in his book The Naked City and the realistic film noir of the same name.
Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity is the sort of title to get most film lovers fleeing the bookshop for the cinema, but they would be missing something worthwhile. After all, almost everyone loves noir, and anyone who has seen a few will have noted how anxiety and its relation to the modern urban environment seem to be constant themes. Edward Dimendberg noted it too, and has explored the connections with lucidity and thoroughness.
Edward Dimendberg’s aim in Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity is to show how closely film noir is associated with 20th-century American urban experience… He shows with lucidity and persuasiveness how throughout its life, loosely 1941 to 1959, noir and its doomed heroes provided a filmic map of a period of disconcerting change… Dimendberg’s book is a fascinating memorial to a film genre and a lost America. It should prove as durable as the urban sites it discusses turned out not to be.
A detailed and carefully considered reading of film noir and its relationship to civic space and architecture. Dimendberg writes with great clarity about the radical changes of the post-war metropolis and its repercussions on filmmakers, artists, and intellectuals. The book evokes the anxiety and eroticism of this fascinating movement.
This is an important and boldly original work, not only one of the strongest critical and historical treatments of film noir, but a work which offers an entirely new approach to the relation between this series of films and urban space. As such, it constitutes a major contribution not only to the discussion of film noir, but also to the interrelation of cinema studies with urban studies. This is a ferociously original book, bristling with new ideas and insights.
This is a remarkable book. American film noir during the 1940s and ’50s has been much discussed by critics, but Dimendberg enables us to see these fascinating films in a new and important way. He begins by pointing out the obvious fact that film noir often deals with urban life, but the originality of his approach lies in his reading and understanding of the films in tandem with historical developments in architecture, city planning, and modern communications systems. Dimendberg convincingly demonstrates that Hollywood’s dark thrillers of the post-war decades were determined by exactly the same forces that shaped and were beginning to reshape the city itself.
For the first time, Ed Dimendberg’s lucid and erudite study demonstrates that film noir (with movies such as Killer’s Kiss, M, or The Naked City) not only responded to America’s evolving urban landscape, but contributed to a broad and complex discourse that ended up profoundly changing the meaning of urban life in America. The strength of Dimendberg’s book lies in the sophistication with which it applies the analytical tools of urban history and theory to key films of the noir genre. By revealing the contemporary meaning of particular movie locations (often sites that were destined to change profoundly in the near future, or buildings that would vanish shortly afterwards) Dimendberg offers a deeper layer of understanding of both these urban environments and the films that reflected them.
In this unique study of film noir, Dimendberg goes beyond the bounds of the film-studies genre to provide us with a brilliant mapping of the spatial discourses of modernity, in theory, philosophy, architecture, and urbanism, activating the spaces of film as critical interpretations of, and contributors to, debates over the pathology and form of the modern city.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.