For the love of Noir
The slender curves of the femme fatale, her porcelain skin and perfect features. As she glances at the private eye with a knowing smile, her silhouette is displayed against the wall. Tall, dark and handsome, he produces a match and using his forefinger and thumb flicks the match which flares up and licks the bass of the beautifully rolled cigarette. Smoke and the untold tale of lust is entangled, and lost between the two characters.
Pretentious and boring are two words that are often, and in our opinion, wrongly associated with noir. The skeptical approach is understandable in a world of fast moving technology and 4-D movies but also, quite frankly, wrong. There are many things that the lovers of noir are familiar with, from the precise and well thought-out shots, which probably cost an arm and a leg to produce, to the low-key black and white visuals and unbalanced compositions.
Film noir reflects the beauty of cinematography. With the general era for noir being early 1940s to the late 1950s and rooted in German Expressionism, films noir provide a stimulating experience whilst oozing history. Noir is more than just a genre and to describe it as that could be considered foolish and simplistic. Typically, it breaches conventional Hollywood cinema in many ways however it also coheres to mainstream Hollywood in other cases. It embraces a scope of genres within itself from gangster plots, and Gothic romance to police procedures. Film noir is truly more than what it appears on the surface, that is, a boring black and white film.
Noir is known in particular for its ambiguous sexual references, and with its general cynical attitude toward sexual motivations, this leaves a lot to the imagination. Sexual themes are made obvious yet the seductive and mysterious female showing any skin or talking in a crude manner is quite the scandal. I feel this gives offers something which modern cinema lacks. With its garish and full-frontal sex scenes, many recent film leave nothing to the imagination, therefore the subtlety and cleverly crafted sexual references of noir makes such modern scenes seem brash compared to putting in the effort to create this illusion without the removal of any clothing. When I think of noir I often associate it with erotic tones yet a kiss alone is controversial and raunchy. A noir which plays on this well is Out of the Past (1947), in which there is what can be assumed to be a sex scene between the characters Jeff and Kathie portrayed through the metaphor of a storm. This is brief and cleverly crafted yet conjures all kinds of erotic possibility.
I adore the language used noir. In a culture which has 1,851 emojis readily available and which is engulfed by slang there is something refreshing about the straightforward and formal language used in noir. For example, Walter Neff in Double Indemnity (1944): "I was thinking about the dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us." This form or ‘old fashioned’ language is quite infrequently used with the abundance of swear words which now flower our film dialogue. An hour and a half long film without swearing is quite the modern novelty.
In the heyday of film noir production, there wasn'tthe money to waste on bland shots, every movement had to be significant. This is depicted in the layered format and almost theatrical style of the scenes. Touch of Evil (1958) has a beautiful opening scene which is a staggering 3:30 minute singular shot. Shots were expensive and hard to orchestrate making this an impressive feat. Watching it signifies how loaded a shot and movement is within noir. Each shot stands alone rather than being just part of a scene.
Grant, film noir can be quite challenging to view from a modern perspective, but once you put in a little graft and become literate in this type of film it will open your mind to a whole new way of watching films. It's much more than just a boring black and white film.