Friday, August 20, 2021

TCM: Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller

Dark City
The Lost World of Film Noir
Revised and Expanded Edition
by Eddie Muller
TCM and Running Press
July 2021
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762498970
272 pages

Published in 1998, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir put Eddie Muller on the map. What would soon became a best seller and one of the definitive books about the genre, opened many doors for Muller. He programmed noir screenings for film festivals, started the Film Noir Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation of film noir, and eventually became the host of Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies. The book that started it all is now back in print in a beautifully designed, revised and expanded edition.

"Film noirs were distress flares launched into America's movie screens by artists working the night shift at the Dream Factory." — Eddie Muller

In telling the story of film noir, Eddie Muller imagines all of the stories, their literary origins, the subsequent films, the players involved and the era in which they were born, as a single place: Dark City. Muller traces the origins of different film noir tropes and themes, giving each its own Dark City address. Each chapter is a stop at a different address where the reader learns about a particular theme and how it was used in film noir. Sprinkled throughout are mini biographies that provide crucial background information as well as context. Everything flows together with seamless transitions and Muller's special brand of noir infused language.

The addresses in Dark City include:

Sinister Heights — Corruption
The Precinct — Crime and Punishment
Hate Street — Murder
The City Desk — News and Reporters
Shamus Flats — Private Eyes
Vixenville — Femme Fatales
Blind Alley — Mysteries
The Psych Ward — Mental Illness
Knockville Square — Heists
Loser's Lane — Deranged Men
The Big House — Prison Dramas
Thieves' Highway — Criminals on the Run
The Stage Door — The last days of Film Noir

Interspersed throughout the book are inserts with expanded biographies which are mostly about movie stars with a few exceptions. Each appears where it makes most sense in context of the discussion happening at that point in the book. These are fantastic biographies that range from 1-4 pages and offer more than the mini biographies that appear in the body of text.

Subjects include: John Garfield, Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Ben Hecht, Robert Mitchum, Belita, Joan Harrison, Robert Ryan, Sterling Hayden, Barbara Payton, Ida Lupino, Tom Neal, Desert Fury (1947) and Steve Cochran.

This new edition includes additional chapters, restored photographs and a new layout. Kudos to the team who worked on the design of this book. The pages are beautifully laid out. Whenever an insert appears it's at a natural point in the text where you don't have to stop mid paragraph in order to read another section. That's very difficult to do but worth it for a better reading experience.

Eddie Muller does a fantastic job of immersing the reader into the world of film noir from all the fascinating information, context galore and stylish language that puts you right into the heart of Dark City. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book: 

"[Orson Welles] changed the grammar of motion picture storytelling and set the cinematic syntax for film noir: the quest for truth in morally ambiguous terrain, the cynical take on the corrupting influence of power, the off-kilter visual style."

"Power-mad women are smart enough not to bloody their own hands. That's what men are for." 

"In Dark City, psychiatrists are as corrupt as gangsters, misusing their power over mind to dominate the hapless and disturbed."

"The blurring of moral distinctions was part and parcel of noir."

"In the wake of the studios' Communist purge, social criticism was out. Films could no longer suggest that people did bad things due to economic pressure."

My only minor quibble is with the use of some words to describe female characters. However, we're dealing with some nefarious characters in many of these stories so the usage is not completely out of context. The book itself is quite large which makes it perfect for flipping through to look at photographs but not as easy for someone, like me, who read the book cover to cover. It made me want to invest in an ergonomic book stand!

Dark City by Eddie Muller is evocative of a long gone era of filmmaking that still captivates film lovers today. It effectively transports readers into the world of film noir with its fine use language, images, context and information. A must have for film noir fans.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of Dark City for review.

This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

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