The term ‘Film Noir’ was first introduced in the 1940’s after the second world war. However the style emerged during the world war as German emigrants brought German expressionism to cinema.
The characteristics of film noir are very distinctive. Bright direct light is used to create deep and dark shadows which creates the black and white look on screen. The use of veneer blinds in the mise-en-scene creates a sliced light effect which is common in film noir films. There is use of canted angles, low angles and asymmetrical compositions. One key feature is ‘femme fatale’ which is when the female loves you as well as kills you. This female is usually seductive, promiscuous and dangerous to the man who eventually falls for her. The location is usually in an urban setting with scenes taking place in dark alleys or apartment buildings etc. The characters are always smoking cigarettes. The female costume includes low necklines, red dresses, red lipstick, mascara, high heels, floppy hats and elbow length gloves. Whilst men wear fedoras, suits with ties and long trench coats.
Some top rated films include:
Double Indemnity: a 1944 film directed by Billy Wilder
“An insurance representative lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions.”
The Big Sleep: a 1946 film directed by Howard Hawkes
“Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he’s seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.”
Out Of The Past: a 1947 film directed by Jacques Tourneur
“A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.”
- Robert Siodmak 1930-1969
- Fritz Lang 1919-1960
- Otto Preminger 1931-1986
- Billy Wilder 1934-1981
- John Alton
- Nicholas Musuraca
- Burnett Guffy
- John F. Seitz
- Robert Krasker
- Ernest Laszlo
Modern Day Film Noir
Also know as ‘neo noir’
Is where modern films use elements of film noir films. One example is ‘Drive’ (2011) directed by Nicholas Winding Relf. Another example is Fight Club (1999) directed by David Fincher. These films use the cinematic features on previous film noir films. For example the use of shadows and light is prominent throughout as well as the similarities in location.
Is It a Genre?
Film Noir is more of a style than a genre as the genre is usually crime thriller. Also the style of lighting can be applied to any film. In terms of narrative, that would also be a style. Also the term was applied to the films after the films started to have similar visuals applied to them.