For this task I am going to research into the genre of film noir and what makes one. I will look at classic noir films as well as more modern noir films, the techniques used to make a successful noir film and how to achieve these well.
On dictionary.com the definition they gave for film noir was, ‘a motion picture with an often grim urban setting, photographed in somber tones and permeated by a feeling of disillusionment, pessimism, and despair.’ (Dictionary, no date).
The genre was mostly implemented into american crime dramas in the post World War 2 era. The phrase ‘film noir’ is french for ‘dark film’, french critics branded the genre film noir due to the use of low-key lighting used to strategically improve the style of these dramas. The title of film noir wasn’t commonly used in public until the publish of ‘Panorama du film noir americain (1955) by Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton.’
You can normally tell a film noir from the use of black and white and the amount of shadows used, however there are a lot of other things that makes up the noir genre. One of the commonly used techniques that make up a noir film are frequent use of flashbacks, this is used to tell the story but not in chronological order. There would be flashbacks to an event in the characters life for character development or a flash back of a crime scene to explain to the audience what happened.
There are intricate plots that tend to consist of a crime or a mystery as it is common that the main protagonist is apart of the law enforcement or a hired private eye. This gives the film a mysterious story that both the audience and the characters need to solve.
‘ the dark, gritty, and often deceiving visuals are a reflection of the characters, who themselves are dark, gritty, and deceiving.’ (Sasaki, 2015). This quote really sums up what a lot of the characters are like in the classic noir film, the characteristics of the story go hand in hand with the characters and give the whole film a sense of uncertainty and makes the characters untrustworthy.
The picture above supports my explanation of how film noir uses shadows and lack of light to create a specific tone in a scene. By choosing to have little light in this shot, it creates a feeling of tension which goes hand in hand with the man is towering over the woman sitting down.
Neo-Noir stands for ‘new black’. This is what all the modern noir films are named under. A few films under this are, ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995), ‘Collateral’ (2004) and ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
‘The Usual Suspects (1995)’ is a modern film that took techniques and ideas from the noir genre, the use of flashbacks is a big part of this film as its all told from the perspective of the protagonist during a interrogation. It cuts back and forth between the present and the past and as if he’s telling the story it shows us what happened.
(iPhilR’s channel, 2009)
The story follows a similar crime drama narrative as a classic noir film would based around a group of men who are told to work for a man that no one has ever scene before. The person they are working for is considered just a myth by some people and others fear him tremendously without ever meeting him. This is a good character for a noir styled film as it is mysterious, anyone could be him and it has you thinking the whole way through.
Experimenting with Noir
I went out and took some photos experimenting with noir and the ideas around it being dark and mysterious by using shadows and shots.
This shot shows three characters walking in a hallway, the shadows on the floor are strong however the ones on the wall are not as sharp which can be fixed with three point lighting, however the overall photo worked well for noir.
This photo resembles a chase down a dark stairwell. The shadows would have made more of an effect if better lighting was used however I didn’t have access to any lights so had to try and use natural lighting. I still think it works well and would be a nice shot to use in a noir film.
This is a nice shot of light coming in from behind a set of doors. This is mysterious and uses shadows well to create a curiosity about what might be behind the doors.
Film noir is a technique that is only used for certain genres and can also be called a genre in itself. It is a very powerful technique used mostly in crime thrillers which has built the reputation around it. It is becoming more popular in modern day and is being experimented on all the time such as using colour within the black and white noir genre.
I have found that lighting is one of the biggest parts of Film noir, without it the genre would be really dull. Shadows and lighting bring life to the black and white, saturated films making them more interesting on the eyes and to the audiences.
Campbell, C. (2014) 11 modern film noir movies you must see. Available at: http://www.fandango.com/movie-news/11-modern-film-noir-movies-you-must-see-748489 (Accessed: 24 January 2017)
Dictionary (no date) ‘The definition of film noir’, in Available at: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/film-noir?s=t (Accessed: 22 February 2017).
Double indemnity Blu-ray (2014) Directed by Michael Reuben Blu-ray.com. (Accessed: 19 February 2017)
iPhilR’s channel (2009) The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnGo6Qm0Wt8 (Accessed: 25 January 2017).
Sasaki, K. (2015) The cinematography of film noir. Available at: http://www.screenhead.com/the-cinematography-of-film-noir/ (Accessed: 24 January 2017).
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2005) ‘Film noir | film genre’, in Encyclopædia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/film-noir (Accessed: 24 January 2017).