Film Noir: Somewhere in the Night
Film noir, meaning black film, is a term applied by a group of French critics, describing the style or genre of cinematographic film in Hollywood, that is characterized by dark aesthetics. These characteristics include violence, crime, sex, drugs, and other dark traits. These films originated from pulp fiction, hard boiled fiction, and exploitative stories. In Hollywood during the 1940’s, the majority of the film directors associated with film noir, were born and raised in America. Many film historians and critics did not agree on whether film noir is a genre, a cycle or series, or a way of storytelling.
Since film noir has darker characteristics, is filmed with low-lighting, and encourages tension, one can argue that the genre relates to depression. Professionals agreed that film noir is not a genre, but are genre films. Film noir has often been referred to as a cycle or style of filmmaking because of the use of repeated narrative structure and elements. Directors use iconography, fixed character types, and predictable narrative patterns, to produce these genre films. The style of film noir has different aspects that involve dark traits and images, aesthetic movement, and a nature characterized by distortion, and thoughts and experiences that seem out of touch with reality. Film noir has also been viewed as a mode, meaning the way the story is told using an historical era and an affective phenomenon.
Film noir usually have a certain set of themes and character types. For example, the themes usually focus on existential issues, which characterize the little effect individual action has, the feelings and emotions caused from living in an industrialized and mass society, and the lack of restraint of the use of authority involving social justice. The heroes in noir films are typically detectives, antisocial loners, gainfully employed, or amnesiac, meaning the character experiences a partial or total loss of memory. The french perspective of noir stylistics are slightly different than the classical Hollywood stylistics. The french focused on aesthetic elements, highly subjective and voiceover narration, and hallucinatory sequences.
Film noir seemed unconventional because it found its way around the prohibited subjects in noir and the production code. In the 1930’s, a variety of subjects were forbidden, such as nudity, homosexuality, interracial sexual activity, incest, rape, abortion, excessive violence, profanity, use of drugs, and more. Even though scenes that portrayed these aspects were showed offscreen, film noir movies got a different type of attention because they were able to explore these subjects in some way. Some historical events that contributed to film noir were the outbreak of the war in Europe, World War II, the Great Depression, etc.
The rejection of women in the film industry played a major role in male succession. Film noir introduces women as representing psychological terror and taking over male roles. The typical noir films included wives who kill their husbands, husbands who kill their wives, children who kill their parents, and lovers who wanted to kill each other. In film noir, female sexuality and psychology was a threat to men, which was also used to portray the threat women had to traditional family values. The specific themes, character types, perspectives, and portrayal of women, all characterize film noir.