As an enormous fan of the Noir style in film, I wanted to pay homage to the Neo-Noir style of filmmaking that captivates so many of my favourite movies. However, I didn’t want to go into this project without fully understanding just what makes a Neo-Noir, so I’ve scoured the Internet to find out everything I possibly can about the genre. I’ll compile it here as my point of reference for my tribute video.
EDIT- Originally, I intended for this to be my remix but decided against it as I thought I could make something that better fit the task. This is an idea that I want to pursue in the future though.
The term, ‘Noir’ was coined to represent a distinct type of American cinema and quite literally just means ‘dark’, this style of filmmaking was influenced by German expressionism and used to reflect the disillusionment of war-time America. Noir films are characterised by their femme fatale characters, low lighting, and an air of mystery surrounding them.
This style of film hit its peak in the 1940s and early 1950s with classics like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard and The Big Sleep dominating the genre. But a second coming of the genre came about particularly in the 70s, melding the noir style with a higher level of cinematic tools and technology, Neo-Noir bust onto the scene and became a particular force to be reckoned with after the release of Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown.
Neo-Noir means the “New Black” and as it’s name suggests, it acts as Noir 2.0, paying homage to the films that brought it to life but giving it a makeover with new ideologies, visual elements and an updated agenda. The elements of Neo-Noir are similar to the films of the 40s and 50s but go the extra level as the technology allows them to do.
There’s a certain unmistakeable Neo-Noir style that transcends description in word form, it’s a style of visual art that can’t just be pigeon holed into specific films that encompass all of it’s aspects. Whereas movies like Blue Velvet, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Drive are completely Neo-Noir in their style, cinematography and direction, there’s no questioning that films such as Pulp Fiction and Silence of the Lambs have distinctly noir qualities about them.
Despite this, to a degree it is possible to list the characteristics of Neo-Noir films, starting with the chiaroscuro lighting that creates harsh contrasts on the screen, since the widespread use of colour film, it is no longer essential to employ these techniques but they completely transform the film for the better. Long tracking shots, deep focus, night shoots in urban settings, overt sexuality and off kilter angling are also staples of the genre.
Perhaps the my most favourite aspect of the Neo-Noir is actually an adapted from Film Noir and that is the Femme Fatale, this version 2.0 of the character features women that are no longer just duplicitous and unreliable but now also can be more sympathetic or even the protagonist in the film. What draws me to these characters are their power over men, mysterious nature and erotic sexuality. Sharon Stone’s is the nails the character of the erotic femme fatale is Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct, however Uma Thurman adapts the role as Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, showing that femme fatales aren’t as black and white as often thought.
Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet is the gold standard Femme Fatale for me as her character is portrayed with such an air of mystery around her, heightened by the sexuality in her character, hitting it’s peak through her costume design. The textures and colours she wears throughout the film are irresistibly seductive whether that be a silk wraparound, lace dresses or fittingly, blue velvet. She is a deep and complex walking contraction of a character and whilst she is very clearly fictional and odd, I can’t help but feel like there’s something very real about her character portrayal. She’s vulnerable but played so beautifully that she holds all power in the viewers hearts.
Most importantly, Neo-Noirs provide an update in social issues and bring to light themes such as identity crises, subjectivity, technology, social ramifications, and memory issues to the forefront of film making. This is quite often done through unreliable and often morally questionable protagonists. Watching a great Neo-Noir is never a passive experience, especially not for someone who appreciates the off kilter, perhaps non-linear and darker side of filmmaking. I love the style of these movies and have a deep appreciation for the level of creativity that goes into making them.
Below is a list of pages that I directly took influence from for this piece of writing, as well as a Youtube video with a collection of videos I watched on the subject.