October 21, 2014

A Peek Through the Venetian Blinds: What is Film Noir?

Double Indemnity
There's more to film noir than venetian blinds, sexy dames, and hard-boiled detectives in fedoras.

Heavily influenced by German Expressionism, the genre's visual style is probably its most recognizable characteristic, namely its use of chiaroscuro lighting. However, that's not the only part of the "black film" that requires our attention. Check out the video essay by Tom Elrod, publisher of The Critical Press, below to learn more about film noir's narrative traits, as well as how it relates to other Hollywood film genres.

In the end, it's not just the look that makes a movie a film noir, it's the story, too -- it's the narrative structure, the themes. Film Noir examines life on the wrong side of the tracks -- the crime, the filth, the women who land more on the side of the Whore than the Mother in the classic dichotomy. Most importantly, it examines what life would be like on the other side of the "everything's gonna be allllllright" coin. For example, if A Christmas Carol were a film noir, Tiny Tim wouldn't end the thing with "Merry Christmas, everyone!" Tiny Tim would be dead -- most likely. (Not sure why a Dickens reference came to mind, but there you go.)

If you want to take a look at some real film noirs -- not just the ones I come up with in my head in the middle of the night, there are a bunch of classics streaming on Netflix right now, including Double Indemnity, Raw Deal, and Scarlet Street. However, you should certainly check out The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, or Mildred Pierce (which is a little bit of a departure from a classic film noir, but that might actually help to pinpoint its characteristics).

Which films/books/resources would you recommend to someone looking to learn more about Film Noir? Let us know down in the comments!     

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7 Comments

Writer of the uber-noir Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader, wrote a seminal essay on this question.
http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1069028.files/Schrader%20on%2...

October 21, 2014 at 11:59AM

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James
Director
95

And take a look at the Coen brother's 2001 production of The Man Who Wasn't There, with it's great cast of actors not as famous then as they are now, James Gandolfini, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand and Billy Bob Thornton.

Nobody broods like Billy Bob!

October 21, 2014 at 3:04PM

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Rob Reiter
Commander Of The Realm
150

2 years ago I set out to make a film noir. I watched Touch of Evil every night for 2 weeks leading up to the shoot. Here is my fim noir
http://vimeo.com/70287922

October 21, 2014 at 3:34PM

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Ricardo Perez-Selsky
Director
74

That way to tell a story is interesting... :D

October 23, 2014 at 5:18AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7641

I am currently writing a noir, and this definitely gave me some insight. Hopefully once done it captures the feel of noir with a little bit of my flavor and style.

October 24, 2014 at 2:59PM

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Franklin Carpio
Filmmaker/Director/Editor
284

Hard to mention film noir without a shout-out to my personal fave, 'Sunset Boulevard'

October 27, 2014 at 1:53PM

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In general a great view on noir, I am working on a thesis, were some of these traits are traits of the tragic, I guess is interchangeable, depending on point of view.

November 10, 2014 at 5:24PM

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