What is Film Noir?

Do you know what is film noir?

Film Noir refers to the style of filmmaking characterized by cynical heroes. The term most often applied to crime dramas. In French, it symbolizes as ‘dark film.’ Full illumination effects, low key light, chiaroscuro lighting, high contrast, dutch angle, frequent flashbacks, use of shadow are the characteristics of this type of film. The plot involved an underlying existentialist philosophy. However, the genre mostly used in post-World War II in American crime dramas.

Film divided into two parts:

  1. World cinema
  2. Hollywood films.

Film noir period also familiar as the ‘classic period’ of Hollywood film which is the movement of 1940 to 1950.

Background of Film Noir

In the United States, the Great Depression of the 1930s left millions of Americans suffering for many years. At that time, due to the fall in cotton and sugar prices, cultivation stopped in the southern states. The crop fell into the field and began to rot because no one wanted to pay for the harvest. Field laborers or sharecroppers evicted from the land, often by force. The whole economic system collapsed. Millions of working people became unemployed in the Great Depression. The Great Depression lasted until 1940.

Then America’s role in World War II created new demand, industrial growth, and new job opportunities. But signs of the Great Depression still stayed in America. The depopulation of many rural areas in the southern states has not returned to normal. The story of human suffering and homelessness has left a lasting mark on the culture of the country, embodied in literature and music. It has links with Film Noir too.

Disaster occurs due to recession. People don’t have jobs. No money! No Job! For survival people started involving crime. Terrorism increased in society. Society became unstable. Murder, kidnapping, rape, women-related crimes happened more and more. These are the issues that uphold after-recession films. This is the origin of the Film Noir.

Great Depression Appeared in Literature

The Great Depression also appeared in the literature. It became the subject of much literature. Because writers represent an era where there was economic and psychological stress. Probably the most notable and famous novel on this topic is ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ published in 1939 written by John Steinbeck. The book won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize.

So the Grapes of Wrath depicts a family of squatters who bound to flee their homes due to drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agricultural industry. Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is another important novel of the Great Depression. These novels also affect the film. The makers took this issue even more seriously then.

The development of literature also affects cinema. Because the filmmakers do not stay calm. They try to convey message through their films. This movement is a movement to talk about the developed society by highlighting the black society of that time. Letting people know that black chapters and crime are never good. It appeared on the movie screen at that time.

The Golden Age of Film Noir

The early 1940s to the late ’50s was considered as the golden age of film noir that was a benchmark for American filmmaking, as well as a strong cultural outpost for post-war American values. This movement is inspired by the German and Italian movements. Moreover, the French new wave movement is inspired by the film noir movement. Early examples of noir style films include dark, stylized detective films.

These films reflect the frustrations of dark times. The Great Depression of the 1930s, and then World War II, gradually filled the American mindset with despair and frustration. Issues such as political corruption and organized crime were the main focused theme of noir films. The noir directors were trained to emphasize acting and narrative as much as in cinematic style to convey thoughts and emotions.

Some Remarkable Noir Films & Directors

Several examples of film noir, such as:

  • Cornered (1945), Directed by Edward Dmytryk
  • The Blue Dahlia (1946), Directed by George Marshall
  • Ride the Pink Horse (1947), Directed by Robert Montgomery
  • Dead Reckoning (1947), Directed by John Cromwell
  • Double Indemnity (1944), Directed by Billy Wilder
  • Laura (1944), Directed by Otto Preminger
  • The Big Sleep (1946), Directed by Howard Hawks
  • Out of the Past (1947), Directed by Jacques Tourneur
  • The Reckless Moment (1949), Directed by Max Ophuls
  • In a Lonely Place (1950), Directed by Nicholas Ray.

Final Thoughts

It is said that the themes of noir attracted European directors too. As there is a touch of insanity in every scene of Noir films. The free use of flashbacks and stark lighting takes on the headlines of the era and the frequent killer plots exacerbate the frustration. Despite the recognition of the general elements of Film Noir, most scholars and critics continue to apply their own definitions to form noir style.