Cover Image: Film Noir Style

Film Noir Style

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Having read as many books about film noir as humanly possible, with the publication of Kimberly Truhler’s Film Noir Style: The Killer 1940s I was surprised to realize it was the first I’d read dedicated to the fashion of the genre. Given how influential the looks from these years have been on style, all the way to the present day, that’s surprising. Truhler ably manages the task of exploring the most distinctive looks of forties noir, how they were created, and their influence on fashion. 

Film Noir Style covers twenty films, appropriately arranged in sections relative to World War II. By dividing the selections into pre-war, wartime, transition, and post-war, Truhler is able to note the dramatic changes in style that came with each period, where rationing, changes in the status of women, and a radically shifting United States all played a role in the looks that made it to the screen. Because those changes were so dramatic, it helps that each section begins with an general overview of each period covered.

Truhler notes the direct line from German Expressionism to Film Noir, as directors like Fritz Lang and Josef von Sternberg brought a shadowy style with them to Hollywood after cutting their teeth at the famous German studio UFA. This moodiness extends to the clothing: dark, sensual, and spare due to wartime rationing.

While many of the most famous designers are represented here: Irene, Edith Head, and Orry-Kelly among them, I was especially fascinated to learn about lesser-known costumers who created highly influential work, like RKO’s Edward Stevenson (Out of the Past [1947], Murder My Sweet [1944]) and Universal’s Vera West (The Killers [1946]). Some of these artisans seem to have drawn inspiration from their own noir-like lives, with West the most unfortunately similar to a doomed character she might have costumed.

The film selection features many clear noir classics like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Laura (1944), but also includes some interesting outliers like The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Lady in the Lake (1946). While they didn’t all strike me as solid noirs (not entirely in agreement that Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious [1946] is a noir, though it’s not completely off-base as a choice), they work well together as a reflection of genre style.

While the book is filled with jaw dropping pictures of many of the fashions discussed, I found myself a bit frustrated by their arrangement. It would have been nice to have seen more of the photos presented alongside the text describing them and perhaps have some sort of footnote-like reference to make everything easy to find. Of course, it would have been ideal, and likely very difficult to manage, to have pictures of all the costumes described in the book, but the representation here is excellent. Just have a good search engine on hand.

Overall this is a thoughtfully written book which elegantly pulls together the threads of society, cinema, and the brilliance of costumers. In the end I was struck by how personal costuming can be: created for specific characters, plots, and body shapes, and yet it can influence the daily fashion choices of a wide audience around the world and across time. Something to think about the next time you shop for a trench coat or a dramatic black gown.
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The photos in Film Noir Style are positively striking, which helps to build author Kimberly Truhler’s case that, unlike many film genres, style is at the very core of film noir. 

I really enjoyed that Truhler dissects specific films, many of which are well-known noir films, but a number of which are lesser known to even the more well-versed viewer. After reading Film Noir Style, I’m curious to check out I Wake Up Screaming and The Shanghai Gesture. Truhler includes some really interesting war-era posters that are funny and instructive. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in film noir or WWII-era American history.
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Loved it!  Just great photos that simply capture the style and feel and dress and atmosphere of the great noir movies from the forties and fifties. And the book makes it clear that the style was not at all random, but was well thought out and designed with historic stylistic roots. And the looks are so cool. Just get a copy-if you are a fan of noir you will love it too.
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Film Noir Style: The Killer 1940s by Kimberly Truhler is a fascinating read. I can't resist the film noir genre, hard-boiled crime fiction, or anything noir-esque if we're being honest so I knew I needed to give this a try as soon as I saw it. I enjoyed looking at the still photos, reading about the history of the films, and all about the fashion designs that helped make the film come to life. I didn't learn a whole lot of new to me information because like I've said I really like the genre and its background. That said it's still worth picking up if you're interested in the genre and I added a few noir movies I've never had the chance to see before to my watchlist.
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Alas, I could not open the file for FILM NOIR STYLE. I so wanted to see the clothing of 1940s femme fatales and their shady male counterparts. So I read everything I could find online about the book and the look. 

Truhler, a fashion historian, suggests this genre was influenced by German Expressionism as well as the designers who made costumes that defined the characters and films. Think sexy black gowns, structured suits with shoulder pads, double-breasted trench coats for actors like Bogart. 

The author uses 20 films to illustrate how style evolved from 1941 to 1950, impacted by WWII and its rationing, as well as the severity of noir. We also get to meet the actresses and actors of the era and the designers themselves who had such enormous influence. 

5 of 5 Stars for the cover and the intriguing concept. 

Pub Date 29 Sep 2020

Thanks to the author, GoodKnight Books, and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine. 

#FilmNoirStyle #NetGalley
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