While many scholars have focused on noir as a dark visual style, or a worldview marked by the anxieties and stark realities of modernity, few have addressed noir's high degree of self-consciousness or its profoundly quirky humor. In their new book, The Maltese Touch of Evil: Film Noir and Potential Criticism, Clute and Edwards focus on these underappreciated characteristics of noir to demonstrate how films noir frame their "intertextual" borrowings from on another and create visual puns, and how these gestures function to generate both compelling narratives and critical reflections upon those narratives.
Drawing on the on the concept of "constraint" articulated by the Oulipo (a French acronym for "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle," or "Workshop of Potential Literature"), Clute and Edwards demonstrate that noir was among the most constrained of film styles, and the constraints noir embraced gave rise to its infinite variability and unprecedented self-reflexivity—the very characteristics that have often forced scholars to bracket off noir, framing it as an exception to the otherwise tidy world of studio-era American cinema.
In this video essay, Clute and Edwards use the simple constraint of run time percentage to recombine iconic moments from 31 films noir and neo-noir, and in the process create a short film that is at once a noir narrative and an investigation into the narrative constraints embraced by noir.
A special thanks to Kylee Wall, editor extraordinaire, for her great editing work here.