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Film Noir!? I Hardly Know 'Er!

Penguin IncarnatePenguin Incarnate King of KafiristanRegistered User regular
edited August 2010 in Social Entropy++
Film noir is probably something most of us here love, but I'm also willing to bet that it's something most of us are in the dark about (rim shot). It's a far larger and wider genre than people like Frank Miller present it to be. It's been around since the 1930's and it's as storied and respectable as any other genre, even though most of its source material can safely be considered pulp garbage (but what can't be, these days?).

With that said, I'm going to shoot my mouth off about it. Let's take a journey through film lore, shall we?

Film noir was created out of a few factors in the late 1930's. In general there was a malaise in the American public (and ditto abroad). It hadn't quite recovered from the Great Depression and Hitler's maneuvers half way across the world wasn't making anyone feel any better about their lot in life. Many of the movies were direct adaptations from the hard-boiled novels of the era. Authors like James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett (who wrote about the east coast), and Raymond Chandler (who wrote about the west coast). Even writers of proper literature like William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway could be folded into the heritage of film noir.

Another influence was the surge of German and European film makers fleeing Europe due to the specter of Nazi Germany. As a result, many talented film makers like Fritz Lang, who were a part of German expressionism took what they knew and moved it to Hollywood. While for many, their best work was behind them, the abstract, moody, and stylized lighting of the movement helped steer the genre into what it would become.

During the brief era that film noir were popular and numerous they weren't actually called anything more than B-movies or crime movies or distractions from the various horrors occurring in Europe and in the Pacific. It wasn't until WWII ended that the French discovered a whole crop of gritty, American crime dramas that weren't available for almost five years. It was then that a whole new audience began to notice the similarities of all of these American crime movies-- both good and bad.

So, French critics dubbed the movement "film noir," meaning "black film," which probably came from a combination of the low lighting prevalent in the movies (because why build a set when you could light it dramatically?), as well as the dark themes.

(By the way, if you ever want to be a know-it-all, if someone calls a book "noir" correct them by saying "Uh, actually, it's only noir if it's a film. <span style="font-style:italic;">Duh</span>." Also, you'll get double points for pronouncing it as "new-ah.")

Putting a name on it, probably also helped hasten its end. Howard Hawks and Jules Dassin and all of the great directors never sought to make a movement or a genre or anything besides an interesting film. Once something like that becomes self aware, it's only so long before it starts to get too ornate or rigid for its own good and someone starts to parody it. Things can only become so baroque before they start too become gaudy and ridiculous.

The same thing happened to Spaghetti Westerns. Leone, more or less, started the movement copying and exaggerating the tropes of American Western directors like John Ford. In less than ten years the sub-genre was kaput, a victim of its own success, and by its end, even Leone himself was making parody movies

Film noir, as a movement started with Howard Hawkes' adaptation of The Maltese Falcon in 1941 and it ended with Orson Welles' Mexican border crime film Touch of Evil in 1958.

While the movement and its influences lasted well past the date of 1958, the golden age of the era ended with Welles' butchered opus.

The classics of the era are numerous, but a brief list would include:

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The Maltese Falcon.

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Casablanca, a rare classic that is better than everyone says it is. The movie features one of the best screenplays of all time, as well as an incredible cast of characters, ranging from Syndey Greenstreet to Peter Lorre and, of course, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

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Touch of Evil, directed and starring Fat Orson Welles, along with Charlton Heston as the single most unbelievable Mexican in film history, it isn't a perfect movie, but it has more than a few moments that make it the last gasp of a great era-- including one of the longest and most impressive single-take crane shots in film history.

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Double Indemnity had its screenplay written by Chandler (based off of a Cain novel) and was directed (and written) by one of the great directors of all time, Billy Wilder.

Then there's the French copycats and prototypes, which are equally numerous:

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Elevator to the Gallows is an interesting movie, because it's both directly influenced by American film and by ugly pieces of French history like the Indochina War. What makes it stand out is its rather avant garde soundtrack by Miles Davis, who, as I recall, recorded the whole thing in one day. It's also a movie that shows that the French hate police officers.

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Les Diaboliques, which was later remade in the 1990's. The film is directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who is one of the great French directors that didn't make it to the New Wave.

When William Friedkin met Clouzot in the 70's, he told him that he'd be remaking his movie The Wages of Fears. Clouzot then said to him, "Well, it won't be as good."

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Le Samourai. I've spoken about this movie a lot. In fact, it's been the subject of no less than three identical sig/avatar combos on this forum. It's the epitomy of cool. It's not a fast moving film, but Jean-Pierre Melville proves that he's a methodical director and that Alain Delon is more than just an obscure punchline in the first season of the British version of The Office (it's the episode where the guy throws the shoe on the roof). Also: Le Samourai was a heavy influence on John Woe-- The Killer is more or less the same exact plot.

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Rififi, directed by American Jules Dassin, it's regarded as one of the greatest heist movies and French crime films of all time. It was later heavily borrowed from by Jean-Pierre Melville in his own fantastic movie, Le Cercle De Rouge.

There could be a whole other thread about the atavistic works and films that made film noir what it is, but if you boiled down the genre, what you would find are a few, basic tropes-- especially in the movies-- that define what film noir is.

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There's the reluctant hero (or the plain anti-hero). In Westerns people like Gary Cooper and John Wayne did what was right and punished the bad guys. In film noir, more often than not, the protagonist would get his head kicked in by the sheriff. He doesn't want trouble and he doesn't care about it, it just finds him.

The doppleganger (which is much harder to express in a single still image so I'm going to skip it), but usually the guy is either framing the main character or being chased by him. This character more or less underpines the idea that being a hero isn't all that different from being a scumbag on the street.

And, of course, there's the femme fatale.
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The femme fatale kind of gets a bad rap. While she is bound to the Production Code's rule that a sexy woman is evil, they're interesting because, often they're what starts the plot in most of these movies. It isn't Philip Marlowe that goes out looking for trouble, but rather, some crazy dame that-- somehow, every time-- gets him mixed up in everything. They aren't exactly paragons for the feminist movement, but having a women this powerful and this sexual in a genre as murky as film noir was an important part of

Some people like to drop film noir as an idea that went and died and are clever for bringing back, but film noir has always been with us. It's too good of an idea to be left by the wayside and, unlike the western, its nowhere near as costly or complicated to replicate.

In the 1974 Roman Polanski directed Chinatown, a tribute to the classic American detective movie. It was written by Robert Towne.

Even though the movie didn't intend to bring anything back in and of itself, it did signal a new wave of films inspired by film noir.

Neo-noir, much like the creation of the modern action movie, established itself formally during the 80's. In many ways neo-noir shares a heritage with action movies (which didn't exist as we know them know until the 1980's).

America wanted (and needed) old fashioned films and something to rationalize the ugliness of the past twenty years. Action movies were the more direct way to deal with the failures of twenty years of bad governement and in a way both the action movie and neo-noir were a way to deal with American losing its first war, the government transforming into a villain, having drugs run amok in the streets, JFK and MLK having their heads blown off. have feminism and civil rights and Indian rights and everything else turn the status quo on its head, not to mention Watergate, the fuel shortage, joblessness, and the general failure of the Great Society. Obviously the 60's and 70's were no picnic anywhere else in the world, but in America, I think the movies we got later were a symptom of this mass, disappointment with the world.

On the plus side, at least we didn't get another Shirley Temple.

So what movies count as neo-noir?

The original wave would include (but not be limited to):

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Chinatown is as perfect as it is depressing. It might have been directed by a child raping, prison dodging goon, but the work itself is flawless. It's kind of ironic, now that I think about it.

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Body Heat, which, like many movies on here, isn't great, but it's worth seeing if only for some crazy, hot, sweaty sex the likes of which is rare in American cinema. And as bonerlicious as it is, it's a rare movie (like Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog) that makes you feel how muggy and unpleasant the weather in the movie is.

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Blade Runner is a confluence of sci-fi and hard-boiled and the results aren't exactly perfect. It's one of my favorite movies of all time, but it's plagued with fiddling by the studio and didn't get a proper release until a few years ago in its full restored glory. Blade Runner mixes a lot of old LA noir tropes (like the Bradbury Building and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright) with the (then) fledgling come back of big special effects pictures.

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No Country For Old Men. The movie was based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy and takes place on the Texas border in 1980. The movie mixes up a lot of ideas about Westerns along with the classic crime/thriller/chase movie. There's lots of things going on in this movie and it's one of the best to come out of the past ten years. The Coen Brothers directed the movie and one of the defining features of their work is that they always seem to be leaning heavily on past features (The Hudsucker Proxy was a throwback to the screwball comedy and O Brother Where Art Thou was based, in part, on Sullivan's Travels).

The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn't There, and Blood Simple are also infused with film noir aesthetics and sensibilities, perhaps more apparently than the movie above.

The Killer Inside Me, which is also based off of a novel (have you seen a theme, yet?) by Jim Thompson which was written in 1952. While movie has received mixed reviews, mostly based off of its alleged mysogyny, it's safe to say that with a subject matter like this, yeah, it's film noir.

And, of course, LA Confidential, which was based off of the novel by James Ellroy, a Los Angeles native and gifted crime writer. There's plenty of movies that attempt to copy that era of LA, but none have done it as well as this movie. It's impressive considering that most of the leads aren't from this country.

Genres are like anything else in art, they aren't rigidly defined and even though you can attach a definition and an understanding to them, there's so much bleed over and overlap that you can't ever fully get a grip on it. There's no real end to the Western, you see it in every TV show where someone has a revolver or wears a hat. The Simpsons still do musical numbers, even if it's probably much easier to wrangle a stray cell than a crappy dancer (Now that I think about it, Blazing Saddles was a Western and had a musical sequence). We still have "Women's Pictures" and melodramas, too (Tyler Perry is a fairly shitty replacement for Douglas Sirk, then again, most people are).

I'm tired now, you talk about film noir (feem newah).

Penguin Incarnate on
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Posts

  • Spectre-xSpectre-x Rating: AWESOME YESRegistered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I gotta watch more of this. I love this stuff.

    Spectre-x on
  • I Win SwordfightsI Win Swordfights all the traits of greatness starlight at my feetRegistered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I think I had a dream you made this thread

    I Win Swordfights on
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  • BogeyBogey I'm back, baby! Santa Monica, CAModerator mod
    edited July 2010
    You tricked me into learning things before going to bed! :x

    ARGH!!!

    Bogey on
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  • FedoraFedora Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    This is my thread. It was made for me.

    Fedora on
  • Indie WinterIndie Winter die Krähe Rudi Hurzlmeier (German, b. 1952)Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Discworld-noir-PSX.jpg

    had so much fun with this game

    only video game my father actually expressed an active interest in, too, so that's something

    Indie Winter on
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  • IvarIvar Oslo, NorwayRegistered User regular
    edited July 2010
    What about Brick? Is that neo-noir or what

    Ivar on
  • CrashmoCrashmo Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    PI thread

    oh wait

    (i like this thread)

    Crashmo on
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  • GatsbyGatsby Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I remember learning one of my favourite things about film noir in an english course last year.

    It's not just the characters and plot that push it forward, but also the environment. The city, or in some cases such as Westerns the town, has its own personality that develops as time goes on. You begin to grow claustrophobic of the surroundings as they, and whatever antagonists, close in on the anti-hero.

    That and the fact that the protagonist in film noir is the quintessential middle-man. The absolute grey area. He is the only one able to traverse both the high elite, their posh mansions and inner-corruption but also the dank and seedy underbelly, the sewers and the back alleyways. Without this trait we would never be able to find ourselves willing to believe the progression that takes place in the plot.

    And I think that's also another great aspect of film noir, almost without fail at least with myself, I'm drawn in and my suspension of disbelief is near insurmountable. Of course the private eye found the last piece of the puzzle, of course the anti-hero succeeds despite the odds (inversely, of course he was backstabbed by the one he loved and sacrificed everything for) and of course the framework of the plot may not be tight and there will be loose ends but only in film noir do I overlook these shortcomings and accept them happily. They aren't faults. Just parts of the story we don't know.

    Basically, excellent thread PI.

    Gatsby on
  • YaYaYaYa Decent. Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    goddammit I need to work on my screenplay

    thanks for giving me stuff to watch though PI

    also Brick's amazing everyone should watch it

    YaYa on
  • scarlet blvd.scarlet blvd. Bebop Cola Goooood!Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I see double indemnity up there and all I think of is

    Shut up, baby.

    scarlet blvd. on
  • Indie WinterIndie Winter die Krähe Rudi Hurzlmeier (German, b. 1952)Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    what does Road to Perdition count as

    there's some film noir elements there, surely

    Indie Winter on
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  • BucketmanBucketman Call me SkraggRegistered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Holy shit, I was actually going to make this thread! I have some very noirish thoughts on my way home from work today.

    PI and I, on the same wavelength

    Bucketman on
  • DeaderinredDeaderinred Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    You were doing so well with the OP and then you went and forgot to mention Memento in the neo-noir bit, shame on you.

    Deaderinred on
  • Penguin IncarnatePenguin Incarnate King of Kafiristan Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    You were doing so well with the OP and then you went and forgot to mention Memento in the neo-noir bit, shame on you.
    grapefruit-james_cagney-mae_clark.jpg

    Penguin Incarnate on
  • Brovid HasselsmofBrovid Hasselsmof [Growling historic on the fury road] Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Ivar wrote: »
    What about Brick? Is that neo-noir or what

    I was going to ask this. I don't know anything about nee-wah but I've seen this and been told that's kind of it's thing. It was excellent.

    Also PI, you used a pic of Clive Owen from Children of Men, does that mean you think that is a noir film? Again, one I've seen but wouldn't have known if it counted.

    Brovid Hasselsmof on
  • LalaboxLalabox Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Just putting it out there but The Third Man is a pretty bloody brilliant film noir film.

    Lalabox on
  • YaYaYaYa Decent. Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    hey Lalabox

    Melbourne's farther than Sydney and I'm not the only one who lives here

    your location is false, sir

    YaYa on
  • GoatmonGoatmon Companion of Kess Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Since we've got a Noir thread, I guess it's a good enough place to mention having just watched Franklyn on Netflix.

    Fantastic movie.

    Goatmon on
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  • interrobanginterrobang kawaii as  hellRegistered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I very much enjoy Night and the City but that's about as far as my classic noir knowledge goes

    I should correct this

    interrobang on
  • BalefuegoBalefuego Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    PI I am swooning

    look at what you made me do

    Balefuego on
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
  • FishmanFishman Put your goddamned hand in the goddamned Box of Pain. Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Needs more Marilyn Monroe.

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    Fishman on
    X-Com LP Thread I, II, III, IV, V
    That's unbelievably cool. Your new name is cool guy. Let's have sex.
  • FishmanFishman Put your goddamned hand in the goddamned Box of Pain. Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Needs more Lauren Bacall.

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    EDIT: double indemnity! (actually it's still the big sleep, but fuck it, I wanted a pun because this I'm posting more Bacall).

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    Fishman on
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    That's unbelievably cool. Your new name is cool guy. Let's have sex.
  • LalaboxLalabox Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    YaYa wrote: »
    hey Lalabox

    Melbourne's farther than Sydney and I'm not the only one who lives here

    your location is false, sir

    good sir, I will refer you to this thread, wherein it is established that Easter Islands in fact the farthest place. Sydney, instead, is the furthest place of any importance. Melbourne's a nice place to visit and contains many nice microbreweries, though.

    Lalabox on
  • FishmanFishman Put your goddamned hand in the goddamned Box of Pain. Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I wanted to post another Femme Fatale, But could decide between Kim Novak, Linda Fiorentina and Nora Zehetner.

    So...

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    Fishman on
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    That's unbelievably cool. Your new name is cool guy. Let's have sex.
  • PlainclothesmanPlainclothesman Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Man. Every time I think of film noir I think of this video. This thread has reminded me I've really got to get around to watching some of the classics.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOgBa2Oij1A

    Plainclothesman on
  • Seattle ThreadSeattle Thread Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I enjoyed Brick, especially for its devotion to noir tropes, but I could not get past the idea that the characters were all in high school yet acted like hard-boiled adults.

    I realize that was the point, but it was still ridiculous.

    Seattle Thread on
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  • zimfanzimfan Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    8 year old me began watching Noir with his grandfather

    Now, it's my favorite genre/style of film

    Love it to death

    zimfan on
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  • FAQFAQ Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    that's a fine OP

    FAQ on
  • FAQFAQ Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    oh hey look at that, getting casablanca tomorrow, never seen it in full

    FAQ on
  • CorporateLogoCorporateLogo The toilet knows how I feelRegistered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Film N'Wah

    CorporateLogo on
    Do not have a cow, mortal.

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  • Cilla BlackCilla Black Priscilla!!! Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    Nononono

    don't want to know anything more about Chinatown's director, lest it ruin that movie's excellence

    Cilla Black on
  • ElvenshaeElvenshae Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I am so glad you listed The Man Who Wasn't There.

    I watched that for a film class once. It's a surprisingly brilliant film. Plus, Tony Shalhoub in a non-comedic role, ya know?

    Elvenshae on
  • GatsbyGatsby Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    I always saw Trainspotting as some form of neo-noir. The city of Edinburgh becoming one of the characters as you see the progression of events, how it shifts in culture and status while the characters roam throughout in a dark setting. Sure there's no mystery or exact plot point the group follows, aside from the deal they pull off at the end, but seeing how the city literally begins to close in on them, really done well through the effects of heroin withdrawal, I just feel like it belongs in that category.

    Gatsby on
  • AgentofOrangeAgentofOrange Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    ugh I hate china town

    but on a more serious note, I love Melville's movies

    AgentofOrange on
  • KarnackKarnack Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    oh boy do I get a swell outta this junk

    I'm reading a selective collection of dashiell hammett's short stories right now called "Nightmare Town", which I am ever so depressed is coming to an end.

    it made me realize I like the continental op much more than I like sam spade as a protagonist, but I still like all the stories he is featured in too.

    I just did a marathon of some earlier coen brothers movies: miller's crossing (which may be my favorite of theirs, besides the hudsucker proxy, and no country for old men, and o brother. wait, goddamnit.) blood simple, and barton fink. I don't know if you could consider barton fink noir. In fact, I guess not really at all, but it has some common ground.

    edit: the coen brothers upcoming adaption of The Yiddish Policeman's Union is going to give me an ulcer from the excitement

    Karnack on
  • Sweeney TomSweeney Tom Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    holy shit that op is good

    this thread was made for me

    i'm like a film noir encyclopedia

    Sweeney Tom on
  • Skull ManSkull Man RIP KUSU Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    darkcity.jpg

    brick.jpg

    Skull Man on
  • AgentofOrangeAgentofOrange Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    fuck, Brick is awesome

    AgentofOrange on
  • Sweeney TomSweeney Tom Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    goddamn that poster's amazing

    Sweeney Tom on
  • GatsbyGatsby Registered User regular
    edited July 2010
    In terms of prose, one piece of hardboiled fiction I love is the short story Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman (dude is my favourite author, if you couldn't already tell by all my posts about him).

    Really I just love the concept, the invesitagation over the first murder in all the Universe, before Cain and Able even, through the eyes of Raguel the angel involved in the "case". It just nails the feel of the entire genre and the case itself is fairly intriguing along with the black humour between the various angels involved in the creation of Earth and humanity.

    Gatsby on
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