Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Noir Primer

So it has been brought to my attention that maybe, just maybe, there are a few of you out there that don't know what Film Noir is. I said this couldn't be true, but it seems 'the man' has been keeping some of you down (or so Mark has lead me to believe). So to begin, I am just going to do a quick run down of what Film Noir is, and isn't (which is becoming a very large grey area as you will see).

Noir, is (some would say a completely co-opted) genre of filmmaking that was originally invented to showcase movie directors' cynicism with the world. In great movies like Out of the Past and The Big Sleep, clever plot twists, hard-boiled dialogue, and dangerous dames offered viewers an exciting glimpse of society's underbelly. Most of this was a direct reaction to world events in the 30's and 40's. It is pretty hard to stay peppy with facists, dictators, and a second world war brewing.

Noir of course means black, and the use of light and shadows was used extensively to showcase an uneasiness about the world and the people in it. The use of lightening in Film Noir creates the world our characters live in. It is a place where everything is twisted and warped by greed, power, and sex. Our characters are those who are down and out and they operate in the shadows. These are dark people whose dealings happened at night.

Though experts can't totally agree on all the conventions that label something as Film Noir (hence why many have felt it has become co-opted and over exploited) there are a few things you can almost always count on. You will most likely have the world-weary main character, battered and bruised by an uncaring world or by transgressions committed when he was younger and stupider. The unpredictable love interest, who most likely is the reason our hero is so bitter. You never know if she is a femme fatale or a misunderstood good girl until she is either slitting your throat or saving your butt. The flawed, but loyal best friend, and the prerequisite small time crooks barring your way to the real mastermind turning all the gears. Characters in Film Noir are generally not nice people, nor do they usually have good intentions. Which is probably why these movies are so well loved. We can identify with flawed losers who are just trying to get through life far easier than Tom Cruise's goody two shoes Mission Impossible character.

Next week we will talk about Neo-Noir. So for now we'll keep it on the QT and very hush, hush.

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