Some people say film noir is a genre unto itself, others argue it’s a sub-genre of the crime film, others say it’s really only a mood, but the one thing most people agree on is it’s pretty dang cool.
Noir (pronounced nah-war) is the French word for black. Most of you probably know this, but I don’t like to leave anybody in the darkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âno pun intended. (Feel free to skip the next four or five paragraphs if you already know a lot about film noir.) You see back in France in 1946 film critics were watching a lot of American films and began to notice many of them were dark, not only in terms of content and theme, but also style. The French critics started referring to these films as "film noir," or black cinema. The term really didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t catch on in America until the 70s.
How do you know if you’re watching a film noir movie? Well, first of all, it must be in black and white. No exceptions. Visually, noir films use stark contrasts between light and dark: silhouettes and patterns of light. You could say itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the cinematic equivalent of chiaroscuro. An ominous shadow on an alley wall or a neon light blinking through blinds are examples of film noir visuals you might see.
In terms of story most film noir plots involve crimes with a lot of double-crossing and back-stabbing. If we’re lucky someone convinces someone else to kill somebody. Typically, nearly all the characters are despicable, immoral people; even the heroes are at least semi-corrupt. The male lead is usually "hard-boiled," sometimes a detective, or cop, or a criminal, but he’s always cynical, world-weary, obsessive and/or alienated from the rest of humanity. (You could argue that much of film-noir is an expression of the disappointment in humanity that resulted after World War II). The female lead is often called a "femme fatale," more French for fatal woman. She typically proves to be the man’s undoing, or at least tries to undo him. There’s not a lot of trust between men and women in the world of film noir, however, things are always very sexually charged.
If youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re interested in film noir IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d recommend the following films to get started: DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE BIG SLEEP, THE MALTESE FALCON, THE BIG HEAT, and LAURA. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m sure Kulturblog readers could recommend other great titles as well. Some of the more obscure movies are a lot more fascinating, but these films, particularly the first three are well-known because they were popular novels before they became films. Great writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Cornell Woolrich pioneered noir themes before they were translated to the big screen. Many of these writers wrote in first person and that perhaps explains why another common characteristic of noir films is voice-over, the cinematic equivalent of first person. For example, SUNSET BOULEVARD, which IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d also recommend, starts with William Holden face down, dead, floating in a pool. He commences to tell the story of how he ended up that way.
I apologize if none of this is new information for anybody, but never fear, I am about to get to The Point. (ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s only a movie review; I hope no oneÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s disappointed). Although the classic film noir period ended with the advent of color in the 60s, there have been a lot of re-inventions of film noir over the years. These films are often called neo-noir. Some of the best are CHINATOWN, BODY HEAT, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, and a personal favorite of mine, THE LAST SEDUCTION. In addition, film noir has often been combined with other genres with interesting results. For example, sci-fi plus film noir equals BLADE RUNNER or DARK CITY, both remarkable films in my opinion.
The latest neo-noir film to be released by Hollywood is the appropriately titled SIN CITY. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s an adaptation of acclaimed graphic novels (for the uninitiated that means comic books written for grown ups) written and illustrated by Frank Miller, possibly the biggest talent working in comic books today.
Miller took the visual black and white style of film noir and employed it in the comic book form. His use of inky black shapes and lines, along with the negative white space of the page not only recaptured the film noir look, but was visually stunning in its own right. Plus, Miller really pushed the envelope in creating a darkly disturbing, even grotesque city, populated by vile charactersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âsome of whom seek redemption, some of whom could care less.
Director Robert Rodriguez teamed-up with Miller to bring his work to the silver screen. What makes SIN CITY fascinating from a technical stand-point is that itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the first film to make extensive use of digital technology to create a film noir look, rather than that old-fashioned thing, lighting. The results are astounding. Rodriguez and Miller are slavishly devoted to their source material and they successfully recreate the graphic novel for the screen.
SIN CITY is almost entirely in black and white with an occasional splash of color here and thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âa girlÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s eyes, or dress, or hair, a blood stain, a fast car, etc. It is a great look, particularly, the white shapes: band aids on a characterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s face, a tie, glasses, a puddle of blood and so on. In my opinion, SIN CITY gets an A+ for updating the film noir look and style to the digital age of filmmaking.
However, SIN CITY is too devoted to the original material for its own good. Essentially SIN CITY is an anthology piece with three only very loosely connected stories; with a little care they could have been interwoven in a more compelling fashion. Not all the stories are equal and it is uneven. The first is the best. The one in the middle is weak. The third, better than average. Another issue is dialogue. Comic book dialogue is obviously not written to be spoken out loud and since much of the dialogue was lifted straight out of the comics some of it is cheesy on a George Lucasian level. Plus, they over do it on the voice-over, which works in comics, and as I said earlier is a trademark in film noir, but is also inherently undramatic. As any amateur writer could tell you, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œshow donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t tell.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â They should have cut back.
All these flaws are forgivable, but what keeps me from embracing this picture most is that in all but the first story it lacks what makes film noir work on an emotional level. In film noir you take it as a given that everyone is a bad person in a bad place, but what makes the stories work is the hope, however slim, of escape, or redemption, or of faith in humanity restored that the characters, and vicariously the audience, hold on to.
In all of SIN CITY, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s only Marv (Mickey Rourke in a comeback performance) thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s trying to grasp and hold onto that one brief moment of purity that he can take into the after life. So when Marv hunts down the murderers of a woman who took pity on him and slept with him (MarvÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s homely), it creates emotional involvement in spite of the fact heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s a brutal, murdering, monster. When he learns the womanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s true motives werenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t as kind-hearted as he thought it makes it all the more poignant that he keeps fighting to hold onto that one good memory.
It pains me because if the last two stories could have worked as well as the first, weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d all have another great neo-noir film to see. However, a great look and 1 out of 3 good stories doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t cut it.
Finally, if you do choose to go see SIN CITY, donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t hold me responsible. Be warned. ThereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s nudity, dismemberment, decapitation, and cannibalismÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âand thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s just in the first story.
If youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve made it this far, thank you, for reading. LetÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s hear what everyone thinks about film noir and SIN CITY if any of youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve seen it.