Film Noir at Old Torry Community Centre
2 Noir Films to be shown at Old Torry Community Centre
Friday 7th September
7pm - 11pm
1940's Dress-up Night
* Click on images for trailers
The History and Influence of Film Noir
Forming out of German Expressionism and Italian Neo-Realism, film noir peaked in early American cinema, only to reemerge as a popular contemporary film genre.
Film noir remains one of the most important and influential aspects of American cinema. Forming out of German Expressionism and Italian Neo-Realism, the genre would come to dominate early American cinema, only to reemerge as a popular contemporary film genre.
How Film Noir Began
Film noir is difficult to define, as it is not a clear-cut genre. Whereas other genres are self aware, like musicals which break into song or comedies which set up a punch line, film noir cannot be identified that easily. Film noir couldn’t be self-aware because it was not consciously created. It was originally identified in 1946 following the Second World War and the German occupation of France (Schrader, Paul. “Notes on Film Noir.” Film Genre Reader. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: U of Texas, 1986). Having been cut off from American cinema, France received all the films America had made during the war at once. Though film noir is an American genre, it was the French who originally pointed out an emerging mood of cynicism, pessimism, and darkness in Hollywood. They called this movement “film noir” and introduced it back to the Americans.
Film noir is a genre that emerged out of two pre-existing film movement, German Expressionism and Italian Neo-Realism.
During the period of recovery following their defeat in World War One, the German film industry began to develop their own style using symbolism and set to add a dark mood and a deeper meaning to a movie, concentrating on the dark fringes of the human experience. The film genre was influenced by the German Expressionist art movement, which displayed themes that address the darker side of the human mind, such as madness, insanity, and betrayal. German Expressionist art and film featured dark shadows, unwelcoming settings, and framed characters with vertical and horizontal lines to add a feeling of loneliness and helplessness (Schrader, 172-3).
Just after the German-Expressionism movement gained popularity there emerged a new style of film making out of Italy called Neo-Realism.
Neo-Realism gained popularity in Italy during the Second World War. During the war filmmakers set out to make films documenting stories of the poor and working class. Since there was little money for filmmaking at the time, Italian Neo-Realist films were shot on location, often using amateur actors. The films were usually about the difficult and moral condition of the times (Schrader, 174).
Italian Neo-Realism and German Expressionism eventually made their way to America, resulting in a synthesis known as film noir.
Film noir is characteristically about a difficult moral or economic condition, like Italian Neo-Realist film, and uses German Expressionist style shadowing and horizontal lines to heighten this mood of pessimism and helplessness.
The film noir hero is a unique character, unlike the hero of any other genre. In film noir the hero is always morally ambiguous, often taking the shape of a dirty cop or a criminal with a good heart. Film noir also introduced the femme fatal, or the female temptation that inevitable leads to the hero’s downfall.
Since film noir took such a harsh look at American life, it was heavily censored by the Hays Code. This censorship put a significant hindrance on the movement until the gradual evaporation of the code in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
Neo-noir is in some ways a tribute to film noir, and in others an expansion. It features the same themes as film noir, such as the downfall of a morally ambiguous hero, the depiction of a harsh lifestyle and a fixation with shadows, lines and framing. What neo-noir contributed to the dark film tradition was an emphasis on voice-over narration, as well as gorier and more visually displeasing images (Schwartz, Ronald. “Neo-Noir.” Lanham, Maryland: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc, 2005).
While the actual origin of neo-noir is debated amongst film theorists, most agree that the first neo-noir film was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) (Schrader, 193). What made Psycho unique was its use of gore, its dark themes shot in the light of day, and its conscious effort to shock the audience with disturbing images. Though the film was made well after colour was introduced to cinema, it was shot in black and white as homage to its predecessors.
Though there have been many reputable film noir and neo-noir directors in the past, perhaps the most notable contemporary noir filmmaker is Quinton Tarantino. Tarantino returned to the film noir style of mixing up the chronology of a film, using gore and shock like Hitchcock, and using bright-lit sets when depicting a dark mood.
Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), for example, is shot in the light of day but still projects a dark mood. There is still an emphasis on horizontal lines and shadow, though to a lesser degree because of the bright settings. The chronology is distorted, and there are many shocking and gory scenes that leave an impression on the viewer. While there is no narration in Reservoir Dogs, as characteristic of neo-noir, there is a voice over from the radio DJ between every scene that acts as a substitute for the narrator (Martin, Richard. “Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The Legacy of Film Noir in Contemporary American Cinema.” Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press Inc, 1997).
Film Noir Suggestions
-Sunset Blvd. (1950)
-The Maltese Falcon (1941)
-Touch of Evil (1958)
-Strangers on a Train (1951)
-The Big Sleep (1946)
-Out of the Past (1947)
Neo Noir Suggestions
-L.A. Confidential (1997)
-Sin City (2005)
-The Usual Suspects (1995)
-The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Thanks to Jared Lindzon - He is a MA in Journalism Graduate from the University of Western Ontario.