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Forty years after Raymond Borde and tienne Chaumeton defined the challenge critical commentators on film noir continue to grapple with it Ironically American writers did not immediately take up consideration of this indigenous phenomenon and the question of its essential traits Only gradually in a frequently cross-referenced series of essays in the 1970s did they begin to express themselves There are now a dozen full-length books in English concerning film noir and undoubtedly more to follow As noted in the Acknowledgments the sometimes difficult process of tracking down significant earlier writings for an essay in Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style OverlookViking 1992 gave us the idea for this book As it happens the two most recent volumes on noir Shades of Noir Verso 1993 and The Book of Film Noir Continuum 1993 are anthologies of new essays by mostly non-American writers Past and present commentators have brought and continue to bring to bear on the noir phenomenon a variety of critical approaches and that is the foundation of Film Noir Reader Of course we are bypassing the point of view of someone like Barry Gifford author of the informal survey The Devil Thumbs A Ride who deems all such endeavors to be academic flapdoodle In 1979 the introduction other essays and individual entries in Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference were the first published attempt in English to search the entire body of films for essential traits I remarked there that the full range of the noir vision depends on its narratives its characterizations and its visual style In fact that style is a translation of both character emotions and narrative concepts into a pattern of visual usage No doubt a pop critic such as Gifford could assert that it is formalist mumbo-jumbo to detect alienation lurking beyond the frame line in a vista of the dark wet asphalt of a city street or obsession in a point-of-view shot that picks a
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