Crime. Fog. Trench coats. Dames. Corruption. Placement advertising for cigarettes. Overhead lights and deep shadows. And overall murderyness. These are some of the things usually associated with the style known as Film Noir. First, you should know that "noir" is French for "noir" which also means black. So when placed after the word "film", you know you're dealing with the dark side of society. Film Noir is the flip side of the all-American success story. It's about people who realize that following the program will never get them what they crave. So they cross the line, commit a crime and reap the consequences. Or, they're tales about seemingly innocent people tortured by paranoia and butt-kicked by Fate. Either way, they depict a world that's merciless and unforgiving.
For many movie-lovers, noir is all about style: kanted camera angles, dense shadows, a romantic, doom-laden atmosphere, always in shimmering, high-contrast black and white. In truth, that's what most people think of as NOIR - rain-slick streets, guys in fedoras, dames in slinky gowns slipping into glistening Packards. It's a great look, and we'll never see it again.
These kinds of films became popular after WWII. Folks had seen all the terrible things that people were capable of during the war, and had plenty of doubts as to the meaning of life and the state of humanity. And Hollywood (always looking out for the public good) was more than happy to capitalize on those doubts and fears.
One of the first films noir was John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, starring the inimitable Humphrey Bogart. Here he is:
Pretty cool, huh? Less well known these days, but just as powerful a presence was Robert Mitchum. Take a load of this guy:
That's right, he's got "love" and "hate" tatooed on his knuckles.
Click below to watch some clips:
The Third Man
Out of the Past
Night of the Hunter
Also check out this cool article on Film Noir
For our feature films we watched The Killing by Stanley Kubrick and Le Samourai by Jean-Pierre Melville.