Film Noir Film Noir is a French term that translates into “black film.” It is a style of film making that is largely dependant on light for its effects.
What is Film Noir? Film noir is a cinematic term used mainly to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas. The classic film noir period is said to stretch from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the archetypal stories and much of the attitude of classic noir come from the era of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Depression.
Themes Crime, usually murder is the key theme of almost all film noirs, It is also often centred around: • Alienation • Entrapment • Corruption • Greed • Jealousy • Criminal Activity • Motivation
Characters Clear archetypal characters of film noir include: • Heroes • Corrupt characters and villains • Hard boiled detectives or private eyes • Cops • Socio-paths or Killers • Crooks • Petty criminals • Murderers • Gangsters • Usually all of which seem to smoke cigarettes!
The faces of characters within film noir can sometimes be partially or wholly obscured by darkness. A visual rarity in conventional Hollywood film-making.
Example of a Film Noir Character The figure of the hard-boiled detective is often taken to be one of the defining features of film noir, particularly shown by Humphrey Bogart, whose performances as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and as Marlowe in The Big Sleep established him as the iconic private eye
Visual Elements • Film noir is famous for its distinctive approach to lighting. • The low key lighting is not strong enough to eliminate all traces of shadows, which adds to the effect of eeriness. • The use of key light is in unconventional positions, usually above, behind and to one side of the actor. • This chiaroscuro lighting helps create a sense of discontinuity, which is supported by the dark and mysterious mise-en-scene. • The shadows of Venetian blinds or banister rods cast upon an actor, a wall or an entire set is an iconic visual element to film noir. The character is film noir; mainly the protagonist experience lack of control as this is expressed through the visual style of many film noirs. J.A Place and L.S Peterson state that “… film noir creates a visually unstable environment in which no character has a firm moral base form which he can confidently operate. All attempts to find safety or security are undercut by the anti-traditional cinematography and the mise-en-scene.”
Mise-En-Scene • Film noir is often associated with American cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. • The Urban settings are presented as cold, eerie, rainy, poorly lit streets. • Bars, nightclubs, abandoned warehouses, low-rent apartments, gambling dens and of course police stations are often used as the action scene. • Characters were always smartly dressed, especially the women, making them seem glamorous and desirable.
Elements of Film Noir Elements of Film Noir • Violence • Use of voice over or narration • Low ceilings claustrophobic settings • Low angle shots and use of shadows to create tension