Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Exploring Film Noir

Film noir was a term first coined in the mid 1940's by French critic Nino Frank, and although it grew to become a very popular genre with many mid 20th century Hollywood films, the name was not widely adopted until the 1970's. The genre is generally associated with Hollywood crime films, particularly those involving cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. These types of films generally had a black and white visual style rooted in German Expressionism amongst several other influences. In his book What is Film Noir?, author William Park writes:

"What is film noir? Most commentators agree on the essential films that make up the category, films such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Out of the Past (1947). They also agree that the "movement" began in earnest in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (the third Hollywood version), that it peaked in the late 1940's and early 1950's, that it included a semi-documentary phase, and that its classic period ended in 1958 with Touch of Evil. Every writer acknowledges the same sources of noir: German expressionism, pre-Code Hollywood, French poetic realism, the pulp fictions of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich."
In terms of the visual characteristics of the film noir genre low-key lighting was a major contribution. This lighting style was key for creating the great light and dark contrasts - also known as chiaroscuro - also allowing for great shadow play; faces and bodies obscured by shadows. The lighting can also also help with setting the mood of a particular scene.

Noir films also employed methods of disorientation including multiple mirror reflections, strange natural forms, obscured view points (i.e. frosted glass) and low, wide and tilted angle shots. Most films were also shot at night - also known as Night-for-Night shooting - as opposed to faked night scenes (Day-for-Night shooting)

Shadows of window blinds fall upon private eye Jake Gittes, Chinatown (1974)

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