In film, such a great deal of time and effort is placed on analysis that is it easy to forget about the art in these pieces of work. Such serious academic scrutiny of film can make stepping back and looking at the artistic side a refreshing experience. For some, refreshing is a word that also comes to mind when they hear the word noir. Perhaps one of the most influential and pervasive styles in filmmaking, noir has become a permanent color palate in the artists’ box of paints and chalks.
Starting in the early 1930’s, the Noir style pulled inspiration from German Expressionism and expanded into an overarching appearance that has worked its way into modern filmmaking in both subtle and not so subtle ways. Being such a saturating topic, there are a great number of films that can be discussed that are classic Film Noir or have been influenced by its conventions. Famous films from “The Dark Knight” to “Blade Runner” can all be seen from a Noir perspective with influences throughout. Noir styling has reached as far as animation and comics. With such highly recognizable visual queues and deep tendrils in film, this topic has had plenty of discussion in the past but as of late, it has not been on the forefront of either popular or academic film studies. As much as an artistic style as a technical one, Noir deserves to be viewed and admired as much as studied.
As viewers of this exhibit, it is hoped that they receive an appreciation for the style’s striking appearance, narrative-delivering prowess, and far reaching influence. By showing the viewers a history of Noir and it’s conventions along with some modern works that adopt some of these conventions, the ideas of Noir can be continued and spread for future generations to enjoy.
It is important to look at Film Noir’s role in the history of cinema because of its influence on the growth of the film medium. Many films adapted techniques and motifs pioneered by Film Noir, and it is important to understand the era in which these techniques originated. For example, the idea of the femme fatale was brought to the forefront of film through the filmmakers of Film Noir. Film Noir was also among the first to reject following the formula of the Hollywood romance, and by that rejected the status quo of the traditional family. The portrayal of the characters in Film Noir reflected the changes in society as a whole in the post-World War II and early-Cold War Eras.
Film Noir as a genre is still debated by film scholars to this day. But in the debates over the years following the era, many ideas about Film Noir have been discussed in great detail. Scholars can agree on different conventions that tie the films together, and much has been discussed about the role of the female in their plots. The discussion on Film Noir has led to a wide variety of scholarly writings about numerous aspects of the era, presenting the exhibit with a large scope of opportunity for sources of information about every area a viewer could conceive.
The viewers of this exhibit will be able to take away a large amount of knowledge of Film Noir along with many great film examples of the concepts the exhibit presents. Viewers will see the history of Film Noir, and different films and eras that influenced its beginnings. They will discover important directors and producers that gave Film Noir its distinct feel and tone. They will learn about different conventions of Film Noir, such as the aforementioned femme fatale, and the MacGuffin plot device. Viewers will also see examples of more contemporary films and eras influenced by the films of Film Noir. But what viewers will gain the most is insight into the reflections of the early-Cold War society that Film Noir creates.
Since we intend to present an exhibit on Film Noir, there is a lot of ground to cover and possibly hundreds of films to analyze. We wish to look at works firmly established as part of the Noir canon, but we also wish to include important influences of the genre, foreign films that may be designated Film Noir, and later works heavily influenced by the genre’s style and conventions. Regarding influences, Fritz Lang’s “M” (1931) is an important precursor to Film Noir, while seminal works of Geman Expressionism, including Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (1922), also deserve consideration. Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” (1941) will not be overlooked, as it had an obvious influence on the Noir style, despite not being an actual film noir.
Works we analyze that are well established in the canon are the following: John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), Otto Preminger’s “Laura” (1944), Fritz Lang’s “Scarlet Street” (1945), Jacques Tourneur’s “Out of the Past” (1947), Orson Welles’s “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947), Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949), Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), and Orson Welles’s “Touch of Evil” (1958). Akira Kurosawa’s “Stray Dog” (1949) and Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï” (1967) are two foreign films notable for their adaptation and interpretation of Noir conventions.
The list of films influenced by Film Noir is extensive. Here is an abbreviated directory of such films cutting across several decades and genres: “Chinatown” (Polanski), “The Long Goodbye” (Altman), “Taxi Driver” (Scorsese), “Blade Runner” (Scott), “Blood Simple” (Coen Brothers), “Fargo” (Coen Brothers), “Bound” (Wachowski brothers), “Memento” (Nolan), “The Dark Knight” (Nolan), “Reservoir Dogs” (Tarantino), “Pulp Fiction” (Tarantino), “Basic Instinct” (Verhoeven), “Blue Velvet” (Lynch), “Mulholland Drive” (Lynch), “Road to Perdition” (Mendes), “A History of Violence” (Cronenberg), “Eastern Promises” (Cronenberg), and “Brick” (Rian Johnson). Any one of these films might crop up in our analysis.
The Film Noir exhibit will showcase several important subtopics including the styles and films that served as influences, common conventions found in Film Noir, the significant directors and individuals associated with Film Noir, a comparison between Hollywood and European styles, as well as a look into the films and styles that Film Noir would influence and leave a lasting impact on.
John will be writing about influences of Film Noir such as the German Expressionism art movement of the early 20th century whose films were characterized by dark themes and deeper meaning that focused on the human experience. Noir influence can be clearly seen in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis. The films of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, which often focused on the poor and working class and was shot on location with amateur actors, also influenced Film Noir. John will also be elaborating on the styles and films that Film Noir has influenced decades later, from films such The Manchurian Candidate and Chinatown to Fight Club and Pulp Fiction, and directors such as Roman Polanski, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and David Cronenberg.
Cody will be discussing common conventions of Film Noir. Plots were generally about poor economic and moral conditions filled with crime and criminal investigations and used horizontal lines and strong shadowing to amplify the dark mood. Film Noir commonly featured a morally ambiguous hero, flashbacks that disrupted the narrative, narration, and pioneered the femme fatal in which female temptation serves as the downfall of the film’s hero.
Jesse will present information on directors and other significant individuals who contributed to the genre, including Fritz Lang,, Billy Wilder, and Orson Welles.
Alex will be writing about the comparison between Hollywood and European Film Noir styles and directors, which featured Carol Reed, Luchino Visconti, Jules Dassid, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Akira Kurosawa, among others.
David Cody Allen