erasing clouds

The Dark Page: Books That Inspired American Film Noir [1940-1949] edited by Kevin Johnson, foreword by Paul Schrader

reviewed by dave heaton

”What a joy this book is,” are the first words of Paul Schrader in the foreword to The Dark Page. And how appropriate those words are. It’s one of those books that reminds you of the magic of books themselves; when I opened this book my immediate reaction was “wow”, the way a child might feel open entering a library for the first time.

Part of that feeling comes from The Dark Page itself. It is a large, gorgeous hardcover book, pleasing to the eye and touch even before you’ve begun reading.

But the joy of handling and reading a book is also part of The Dark Page’s content. As the title indicates, it is a photographic collection of book covers, of books that were turned into the films that we now know as film noir. Paired with each cover are details on the book and the film made from the book. This volume, the first in a projected three, covers American films of 1940-1949. Films widely known and loved these days -- The Big Sleep, Laura, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- as well as plenty of films that non-experts may not be familiar with. Films, and books, with names suggestive of pain and terrible secrets, names like I Wake Up Screaming and Too Late for Tears.

This book’s audience is thus wide and specialized. It of course will appeal to bibliophiles and cinema fanatics alike. But at the same time it’s an encyclopedia of knowledge for neophytes interested in either field. It tells stories of authors who struggled with personal demons, of filmmakers working hard day-to-day and stumbling across everlasting art made of shadows. And it’s an absolute joy for those enchanted with design, with how a book cover can suggest worlds and stories even if you know nothing of its content. Read the stories behind these books and films, or just let your eyes pull you head over heels into the covers themselves. Either way you’ll find yourself pleasantly lost.


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