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

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

  1. richie on March 13, 2010 5:12 pm

    This is true Naisha. Unfortunately, those behind the scenes are still taken for granted. It seems to me that the majority of moviegoers only care about the actors. They don’t realize the amount of work that is done behind the scenes to produce the final cut!! Think of the amazing work of the cinematographers during the film noir era. Set design, makeup, writing, editing, etc. are just as responsible for the success of a film as the actors starring in the film.

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