fbpx Brit Noir | Gene Siskel Film Center

Brit Noir

November 5 – 30

This month the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Brit Noir, a series of eight films representing the long-overlooked British branch of the moody film movement that flourished most famously in the U.S.

In their landmark study "Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style" (1979), Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward assert that the film noir, like the western, is "an indigenous American form." That claim has been challenged by later noir scholars, with perhaps the strongest counter-claim being made for a British film noir movement — or Brit Noir, as it is often called.

British noir has a literary heritage stretching back to the penny dreadfuls of the Victorian era, early 20th-century crime novels such as Marie Belloc Lowndes's "The Lodger" (1913), pioneer psychological thrillers such as Francis Iles's "Malice Aforethought" (1931), plays such as Patrick Hamilton's "Rope" (1929), and the leftist "entertainments" of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler in the 1930s-1940s. The British film noir movement is often traced back to either THE GREEN COCKATOO (1937) or THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1938), making it contemporaneous with and even a little ahead of American film noir.

Like its American counterpart, Brit Noir blossomed after World War II, similarly nurtured by sub-surface currents of disillusionment and anxiety in the postwar era. However, Brit Noir tended to have a grayer, more stoical, less flamboyant inflection — attributable in part to Britain's sustained wartime exposure to aerial attack, with rubble still visible long afterward, and to the years of privation and rationing that persisted while America basked in gaudy postwar prosperity.

Other qualities that have been identified as distinguishing Brit Noir from Yank Noir include: a stronger influence of French poetic realism than of German expressionism, more emphasis (of course) on class issues, less reliance on private eye and femme fatale characters, and a greater direction of emphasis away from the individual and toward the community.

This series concentrates on films that have been recently rediscovered, reissued, or restored. Because film noir was a movement that was not widely identified and defined until after its initial heyday had passed, the boundaries of noir have always been highly flexible. We unapologetically include some films (such as THESE ARE THE DAMNED and NINETY DEGREES IN THE SHADE) from the marginal areas where the garden of noir has often produced some of its most fascinating offshoots.

Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming

Special thanks to David Jennings of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Tim Lanza of the Cohen Film Collection, Eric Di Bernardo of Rialto Pictures, and Chris Chouinard of Park Circus Inc.

Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first "Brit Noir" film on any Saturday in November, and get a ticket for the second "Brit Noir" film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)