Saturday, 25 August 2007

Giallo / noir or Noir / giallo

One issue I’m sure everyone interested in the giallo film has encountered at some point is that of trying to explain exactly what it is to a friend, colleague or random encounter at a party.

There’s a good chance that, drawing on the fact that the term, like noir, derives from literature, one will invoke the idea of film noir.

While certainly useful, I sometimes think that a problem in doing this is that it lead us onto a path where noir is the ideal and model by which giallo is measured and found wanting, that rather than having a free play of terms, we end up still with the noir as the positive norm from which the giallo then negatively deviates.

It was interesting, then, to discover that David Bordwell has remarked to the effect that noir cannot not truly be called a genre because at the time of the original noir cycle of the 1940s the term was not in popular use within the USA: “nobody set out to make or see a film noir in the sense that people deliberately chose to make a western, a comedy or a musical.”

Recognition of noir as a genre by this criteria was thus a later phenomenon, occurring after the fact at that point when film-makers and audiences alike began to be aware of this French term.

What I’m wondering, then, is if the giallo film could in a sense be said to pre-date the (American, if not French) noir, insofar as the first generally accepted, unequivocal example of the form, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, would seem to have been clearly understood as a giallo by Italian producers and consumers alike circa 1963. Yes, this is partly because the remit of the term giallo has tended to allow for a wider range of product than noir (i.e. giallo equals just about any mystery or thriller, noir equals a specific type of hard boiled thriller) and, yes, the giallo film would quickly develop a more distinctive identity of its own, but isn’t this is a significant difference, that the Italian giallo film was first of all an emic phenomenon, and the American noir an etic one?

And, going beyond this, whether we could say something similar about filone and genre, given that the latter is again a French import into English, perhaps simply our way of saying type in accord with film studies shibboleths?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am Italian, and I have always found the international term "giallo" misleading. This because of its origin (the Mondadori mystery novel series), which in Italy identifies specifically this kind of books and thus, later on, any whudunnit film (or tv serie) which follows a similar traditional narative and aesthetical structure (Poirot, etc). In order to differentiate what followed after The Girl Who K.T.M., the Ameritalian term "thrilling" became popular.
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