Alain Silver and James Ursini’s 1999 Harry N. Abrams/Overlook Press The Noir Style is a frequently seen bookstore sale rack and remainders table staple, and that’s where I got mine, the $50.00 (when published 20 years ago) oversize 244-page hardcover still in a shrink-wrap and for only $12.99. Now I can’t vouch for the trade pb edition, but this sumptuous hardcover, designed by Bernard Schleifer, is almost an objet d’art with 170+ duotone photos on matte coated stock, as nicely produced as any coffee table art monograph you’d buy in a museum store.
The book’s title and the glamorous cover photo might mislead you into thinking The Noir Style is about the costuming and wardrobe design of so many memorable film noir femmes fatales and heroines. But no, Silver and Ursini (supported by additional material from Robert Perforio and Linda Brookover) provide a glorious overview of the ‘look’, the ‘style’ and the visual motifs of both classic film noir and more contemporary neo-noir (well, ‘contemporary’ for a book published in the 1990’s). It’s packed with familiar and not-so-familiar images of memorable characters and stars, scenes and set designs, all crisply reproduced and accompanied by a generous amount of text chronicling the roots of film noir, the genre’s evolution, various noir themes (from a visual perspective) and more.
Silver and Ursini have practically made a cottage industry out of film noir books of one sort or another, only a few of which are shown here, and it should be no surprise that I have a few. But they’ve also partnered on books about horror cinema, vampire films and other subjects. I’m usually cautious with film noir non-fiction books, having been burned by a few overly academic (make that downright snooty) ones determined to filter the genre through the author’s personal perspective, Marxist, feminist or other “ist”, which sometimes make sense and often times does not. But if you see The Noir Style at some puzzling low price on a bookstore’s sale table (particularly the hardcover!), snatch it.