Monday, March 26, 2012

Guest Post: Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir by Steve Brewer


This week, I introduce eighteen college students to Sam Spade.
We're viewing the John Huston film "The Maltese Falcon," watching Humphrey Bogart outsmart Mary Astor and pals as they pursue "the black bird."
The students are enrolled in a class I teach in the Honors Program at the University of New Mexico. The class is called "Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir." I've taught it before, and always come away amazed at how little these very bright students have been exposed to private eyes in fiction and film. Most have never heard of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald before they take this course. A few have never watched a black-and-white movie before.
They do have a sense of what a private investigator is and what he does, but it's a vague notion of fedoras and trenchcoats and window-peeping. Until we talk about it in class, they're not aware of the place the private eye holds in the fiction tradition of the lone hero facing overwhelming odds and an uncaring society.
For those of us who write contemporary P.I. series, this lack of knowledge in the next generation of readers feels daunting and worrisome. Is there no place for the private eye anymore? Do today's youth only care about Harry Potter and sparkly vampires and Grand Theft Auto?
Here's the good news: It takes only a little exposure to get young people jazzed about private eyes. Once they've read some stories, they uniformly love the Continental Op and Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. My students will debate long and loud over the merits of other types of hard-boiled stories or films noir, but they always recognize the private eye as a heroic figure, even when he doesn't act heroically. The students respect a man who does his job, no matter how nasty or dangerous it becomes. And that's been the lure of the private eye all along.

(Steve Brewer is the author of 20-plus crime novels, including nine stories featuring Albuquerque private eye Bubba Mabry. The latest in the series is the new novella PARTY DOLL.)

272 comments:

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Dana King said...

Good points, all. I believe PI fiction is in one of its periodic lulls. Not the quality or quantity of the writing, but in its appeal to mass readership, at least as far as developing new readers. I've read this is a product of the times, that we are in a period where the lone wolf bucking the system is not the preferred here. Now it's government agencies fighting serial killers and terrorists. It will turn, and the iconoclast will become more popular again. it always does.

Dan_Luft said...

I remember, years ago, showing STRANGERS ON A TRAIN to my young nieces who thought all B/W movies were musicals. They loved it so after that we watched Orson Welles's THE STRANGER. I had to pause the disc to explain what a "communist" was but they really like d that one too.

resumewritersworld.com said...

Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.

essay help said...

Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.

carl brookins said...

Good post, Steve

royalessays said...

keep it up looking forward to the next ones :)

Larry said...

Well said ... er, well typed, Steve Baby.

academia research said...

never thought about it.

essay-writing-service review said...

very original

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