Film Noir Reader, Vol. 1 Ed. Alain Silver & James Ursini – Paul Schraeder’ Notes on Film Noir (1972)

February 28th, 2010

The film noir is considered one of the finest film styles, but sadly it has been severely overlooked in American cinema. These mostly small budget films were made between the 1940s and early 1950s. Unlike the categorized film genres that were classified by traditional sets and conflicts, film noir was a style known for its crafty use of tone and mood. Nevertheless, the most distinctive feature of film noirs was its dark depictions of American life.

Film noirs were released around the end of World War II and were influenced by gangster films of the thirties, French ‘poetic realism’ by artists such as Carne and Duvivier, melodramas by Sternberg and German Expressionist films. Film noir not only managed to capture the essence and atmosphere of these films, but they were able to smoothly merge them together. These films were cynical, dark, and hopeless in nature. The people within these films were sardonic, disillusioned and corrupt of heart. The themes were fatalistic, harsh and most of all more realistic then the films before it.

However, the most important aspect of the film noir was the people behind the camera. German and eastern European expatriates were great technicians behind the scenes of the film noir. These filmmakers were capable of using simulated and expressionistic lighting on convincingly genuine-looking sets with chiaroscuro. The hardboiled Hollywood writers that had backgrounds in pulp fiction or journalism also helped developed the style. The characters these writers created were tough, narcissistic, amoral, sometimes romantic, but mostly they were unredeemable. Some of the notable writers and technicians of film noir were Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, John Brahm, John Alton, Ernest Hemingway, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler.

Film noir can be distinguished by its three overlapping phases. Its first phase takes place during the wartime period of 1941-1946. The protagonists of these films were private eyes and lone wolfs. This point in film noir consisted mostly of a lot of talk and little action. The post-war second phase of film noir 1945-1949 focused on street crime, corrupted politicians and the routines of cops. This phase was less romantic and featured more realistic urban looks. The final phase of film noir, 1949-1953 had characters that were psychotic or suicidal. They were more neurotic and instable than before. The hero of the earlier film noir phases became more like the villain and vice versa. More importantly, this phase got to the spirit of film noir: society’s displeasure with the loss of integrity, honor, heroics and lack of psychic stability among Americans.

                                                                                                                                                                                               Naeisha Rose

Naeisha Rose

February 9th, 2010

Andre Bazin, What Is Cinema? Vol. II

–  Trans. : Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971)

An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism (Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation)

I was compelled by Bazin’s article. Last semester, I took a course called, Italian Cinema and Fashion. That was why I related to some of the subjects he brought to light – such as Italian neorealism, Rossellini, the effects of the Second World War on Italian Cinema, the use of unprofessional actors in these films, the typecasting of actors, and the reaction of the American audience to these works. Still, I could imagine it would be hard for anyone to connect completely to this article, like myself because, unless you have seen all of these films or know all of these directors/actors from the different countries he mentioned, it was challenging to make a mental and visual association of the topics he discussed.

Although I took that course, it was the only course I took on the subject. Rossellini was the only director whose work I was familiar with from the article, and of the cited Italian films Paisawas the only one I saw and was able to correlate with some of the topics Bazin focused on. Yes, I studied Italian Cinema, but I learned about films and directors from this country from a broad spectrum of genres, eras, influences, and themes. Due to technical difficulties in that class, I did not see Cabiria. However, I did see Nosferatu (not an Italian film – German), in a different class so I could identify with that one.

The Second World War had a great impact on Italian Cinema. The films of this era and the postwar era were slightly darker in tone, but often kept their humor. Justifiably, these films did deal with the war and how it changed the lives of Italians, but moreover, they dealt with who these people were before, during and after the war. These films did not tell sob stories, they dealt with the inner dilemmas these people had to contest with at home, with each other, and their country which was at ruins. More importantly, filmmakers like Rossellini conveyed powerful emotions in these films naturally by using the film style of neorealism and unprofessional actors. These two elements created an authenticity and sentiment of realism that was never seen before in film. The characters in these films had an unwavering level of humanity that people could bond with.

Due to the war, Italian films were not distributed to the United States. Still, the reaction to neorealism was phenomenal. In my opinion, American filmmakers realized they had to step their game up artistically in this medium. The glitzy Hollywood films that came out during this era looked like fluff compared to the neorealist films that were being produced in Italy. This era of Italian Cinema dealt with real issues plaguing families, problems in relationships and the inner turmoil of the soul.

On the topic of typecasting, I felt that I truly understood Bazin. Sometimes, it is the public’s as well as the studio system’s fault if an actor gets typecast. When people envision or relate to the actor as only one type of character he or she does not get to show their range. For instance, I know some might disagree with me over this actor, but there are a few incredible movies that he starred in that were genuinely poignant (one darker than usual for him), however he is often given roles as an outlandish comedic character. The actor is Jim Carrey. The films are The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In these last two films, I felt he should have really got an Oscar nomination or award for them. The last two films, where Carrey showed restraint as an actor, which he often does not or was not allowed to in other roles, showed his depth as an actor. I think it’s a shame he does not get to do that often.

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