Film Noir is a film Genre coined by Frank Nino who noticed the darkness and downbeat theme of American films. It is the style that most black and white American films possess as early as the 1940s. It lasted in the classical golden age post war-era until 1960s. Noir is argued not only as a film genre but rather a cinematic style, tone and point of view in a film. This is also noted as one historical distinct period of film history. A motion picture can easily be distinguished as a Noir based on the title itself.
It can easily be identified through the tone based on the choice of words presented in the title. Most films talk about cruelty and action stories presented in great American literary works and novels. One who happens to watch Film Noir can easily relate and connect it to other film genres like thriller, horror or science-fiction films. It is also important to examine the elements of a film that would classify it as a noir. The visual themes, plot, structure, narrative devices, character and settings are important elements to be examined in order to distinguish noirs from other film genres.
Moreover, it is also substantial to consider the underlying message of noirs that differentiate this genre and cinematic technique from other conventional motion pictures and cinematographies. . The Etymology and Definition of Film Noir Noir is a French term for “black” which gives people the concept of ‘dark film”. “It is also called film of the night, inspired by the Series Noir, a line of cheap paperbacks that translated hard-boiled American crime authors and found a popular audience in France” (Ebert, 1995). It was coined by French critics after World War II.
The year was 1940 when France was occupied by the Nazis and were not allowed to accept any Hollywood products. After the war, “backlog of American movies which hit French viewers suddenly in one rush, rather than gradually over the years as usual. From a Hollywood point of view, they’d been an audience asleep for half a decade” (Westcombe, 2003). This wass argued as black film since it gave viewers the notion that no happy ending was expected. Noir also refers to the night as a time frame of scenes and the usual back doors and fancy places as settings.
“Relationships in which love is only the final flop card in the poker game of death” (Ebert, 1995). Film noir is also considered as the “dominant American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic” (Ebert, 1995). “Film Noir is the flip side of the all-American success story. It’s about people who realize that following the program will never get them what they crave. So they cross the line, commit a crime and reap the consequences.
Or, they’re tales about seemingly innocent people tortured by paranoia and ass-kicked by Fate. Either way, they depict a world that’s merciless and unforgiving” (Muller, 2005). Film Noir Development and time line Noirs can be traced through the American pulp literature and German cinema years right after the Great Depression and the Third Reich’s rise to power (Muller, 2005). It began in the early 1940’s when American writers decided to combine the storytelling style of German emigres. It was also at the time when feudal death sof American and German soldiers ignited.
It was the French critic Nino Frank who coined “Film Noir” in 1946. Since no one during the 1940’s recognized that they were already making Film Noirs, It became fully developed in 1944 where five significant films were released: Double Indemnity, Laura, Woman in the Window, Phantom Lady, and Murder My Sweet. These 5 films tackled murder which was really a big issue during that time and was presented in a more daring and perverse tone about the subject. “Noir reached its cinematic zenith in 1949-50, when America’s movie screens were inundated with dark, urban thrillers.
So many, in fact, that theater owners in the hinterlands complained that the black tide had to be stemmed, because Hollywood’s depiction of American cities was frightening off Middle America’s moviegoers” (Muller, 2005). The rise and success of film noir as a genre is from 1940s and 1950s it is based on several factors like the influenced of World War Ii and the onset of the Cold War. The genre also flourished due to some relaxation in the film censorship laws during this time. Decline and fall
“Nothing stands still however, and as returned GIs abandoned urban life for the new invention ‘the suburb’, working women were tamed and the Baby Boom began its 10-15 year surge. The new-fangled television forced film noir out to suburbia to compete with ‘pulp’ crime on TV where, in all the bright sunshine and open spaces, noir was effectively dead as a film genre by 1955” (Westcombe, 2003). Noir Resurrection Several films have emerged from the classical era in the late 1950s that encompassed to the boundaries of Film Noir.
Films such as The Manchurian Candidate by John Frankenheimer, shock Corridor by Samuel Fullin, Brainstorm by William Conrad were classified as Noirs. The films Blast of Silence and Cape Fear of the early 60s were also classified as Noirs, given the cynical themes of mental depression within stylistic tonal elements taken from classical Film Noir (Stam & Raengo, 2007). The 70s saw the first true revival of the Noir, as a new era of social upheaval brought about by feminist advocacies and doubtful government morality and substance abuse mirrored a society in distress.
The motion picture Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese blatantly brought Film Noir’s visual themes of urban claustrophobia, voice-over narration and melancholic musical scores to the film, thereby raising it from the grave (Westcombe, 2003). Since the 1980s, Film Noir has savored the fruits of commercial success beginning from Scorsese’s 1981 black-and-white film Raging Bull, which retreats to the visual and thematic ambiance of classical Film Noirs in the narrative of a boxer’s moral destruction.
Films such as Body heat subsequently conformed to the Noir tradition in the form of humidity and erotic implication on the setting which validated the success of Neo-Noir in and age of cultural rebellion with tremors that were felt in recent movies in the films Memento, Insomnia and Batman Begins (Stam & Raengo, 2007). The Qualities of Film Noir Visual Approach The lighting of film noirs are usually dark or set in low to produce dark feel and dramatic shadow patterns (Hirsch, 2001).
In terms of angles, noirs commonly use dutch angles, low angle shots and wide angle lenses to insinuate a disorienting emotion to the audience (Hirsch, 2001). Several techniques include shots of mirror reflections of characters, shots through curved and/or frosted glasses and other objects with a distorted and eccentric nature. A notable noir effect which has become a conventional shot is the shadow of venetian blinds casting over the character, the wall. or the whole setting. The faces of characters, either partial or whole, covered by darkness is another visual style attributed to film noir (Hirsch, 2001).
In spite of the fact that noir is normally characterized by black-and-white cinematography, colored films like Niagara and Vertigo are regarded as noir due to their plots. Structure Film noir tends to break away from the platonic, conventional narration. Noirs often have unorthodox intricate storylines with the use of flashbacks and flashforwards. Voice-over narration by the main character or the protagonist, the supporting character or by a narrator who is not a character in the film is used as a structuring device and are often used by contemporary filmmakers to immediately characterize their film (Hirsch, 2001).
Films such as The Chase in 1946 exemplify the noir style of structure, with contemporaries such as Pulp Fiction in 1994 and Memento in 2000. Plot and Characters Murder is usually the central element of film noirs, murder drivern by greed and jealousy. An investigator working alone or with a partner on a mysterious murder case is the simplest plot of a film noir. Innuendos of conspiracies, organized robbery, swindling and adulterous affairs are common among noir plots (Hirsch, 2001).
Noir’s characters usually have emotion driven actions and a habit of smoking. The characters are usually morally flawed people such as a jealous husband, corrupt police officer, a femme fatale and unsentimental detectives (Hirsch, 2001). Cigarette smoking is an additional element for the characters’ true nature and and adds a distorted feel to the set. Reference: Ebert, Roger (1995). A guide to Film Noir genre. Retrieved February 15, 2008 from: http://rogerebert. suntimes. com/apps/pbcs. dll/article?
AID=/19950130/COMMENTARY/11010314/1023 Muller, Eddie (2005). Film Noir. Retrieved February 15, 2008 from: http://www. greencine. com/static/primers/noir. jsp Stam, R. & Raengo, A. (Eds. ). (2007). A Companion To Literature And Film (Blackwell Companions in Cultural Studies). Oxford: Blackwell. Hirsch, F. (2001). The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. New York: Da Capo. Westcombe, Roger. What is this thing called Noir (2003). Big House Film website. Retrieved February 15, 2008 from: http://www. bighousefilm. com/noir_intro. htmSample Essay of Custom-Writing