What is Noir?
JUST WHAT THE HELL IS NOIR ANYWAYS?
Film-Noir was a sub-genre of drama that has moody atmosphere, duplicitous characters, shadowy dramtic shots, and an overall moral ambiguity.
It originated after WWII, durring a time when people no longer trusted the government, their neighbors, themselves, or the world they lived in. Noir is a tough genre to define and there are a miriad of textbook and shorthand definitions, but some prevaling charteristics of noir include:
- No character is all good or all bad.
- There’s a grey tone associated with the morality of the story; instead of good vs. evil it’s complex people with conflicting wants and desires.
- stark black and white, high contrast or moody sets dipped in the shadows, with accompanying moody music.
- No happy endings. At best, the ending is bittersweet.
The most prevealent noir story is the hard-boiled detective, who’s also kind of a jerk, trying to solve a mystery that gets deeper and deeper, but this isn’t the only story. There are tons of others.
My personal definiton of a good noir is a character is presented with two shitty options. One may be higher risk with a higher reward while the other one is tougher but safer, but they are both pretty shitty options. What that character decides shapes him or her and the rest of the narrative. An example: a cop in a dirty precinct is forced to choose with giving into his crooked friends and giving up on his morals, or take his friends down and risk losing his job and his life. What’s a guy to do?
You may be asking, “why not drama? Or why not comedy? Why do you love noir so much?” Well, because noir is complicated. Noir is filled with tough choices made by complex characters struggling against each other. And noir is also experimental. The earliest film noirs were a direct answer to the gangster and classic romance films. What if the gangsters were actually good? What if you didn’t get a happy ending? They also tried a whole slew of film techniques liek big sweeping long takes or shooting the movie with no score at all. it’s a wonderful horrible genre.
WHAT ARE SOME GREAT NOIR EXAMPLES?
Glad you asked! You’ve probably seen a noir movie in your life without even realizing it! Batman: The animated Series is a great example of noir. Any film parodying the detective is a noir paradyign noir. But for more, here’s a list of some of the best, my favorites and ones that defined the noir genre, including new ones:
- M-The noir that was noir before noir was noir, directed by Fritz Lang and starring a very creepy Peter Lorre.
- The Asphalt Jungle-Considered by many to be the first noir.
- Casablanca-A classic and personal favorite. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not noir!
- The Maltese Falcon-Probably the most well known detective story noir, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.
- The Set-Up-One of my personal favorites, starring Robert Ryan as a boxer destined to lose. A great minimalist noir.
- Detour-Another personal fav, about a drifter who’s luck runs out and things just get worse and worse.
- Kiss me Deadly-An incredibly weird and kinda scary noir about a hard-boiled detective trying to find a great whatsit with a killer ending.
- Murder, My Sweet-Another personal fav, it’s a Sam Spade adventure with Dick Powell instead of Bogart. Nevertheless, I think it’s more well-put together and less confusing than Falcon.
- The Big Heat-Director Fritz Lang pulls out all the stops on this suspenseful and action filled noir. Explosions! Gun fights! fake prosthetics!
- On Dangerous Ground-Not one of the best, but this is a great example of a noir without the regular noir trappings. Also stars Robert Ryan and has a great soundtrack.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers-You didn’t think this was noir, did you? Guess, what? It’s a classic sci-fi paranoia noir!
- Chinatown-this neo-noir classic directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson is a bit long but has style, twists and turns, and one of the most iconic noir endings of all time.
- L.A. Confidential-Another classic neo-noir(neo noir is any film noir after the 60’s). It has all the noir trappings with a great story and a killer cast.
- Brick-directed by Rian Johnson and starring a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it’s a noir set in high school, but has as much grip and bite as any adult fare would.
- Assassination of a Highschool President-another noir set in high school, but this is more of a comedy.
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang-A more recent classic. Robert Downy Jr. stars as a thief turned actor turned detective along with Val Kilmer playing detective ‘gay Perry’. Killer style and incredibly funny.
- Looper-A more recent sci-fi noir about TIme travel, staring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed again by Rian Johnson.
- The Dark Knight-Another film you probably didn’t think was noir, right?