WHAT it is…

Film Noir – French for “Black Film” – is an American film genre that rose to prominence during the 1940s and the 1950s. Now more an assortment of stylistic markers and narrative shortcuts than a thriving film genre, Film Noir comes as a historically unhinged genre, unlike the Western. A number of minor studios, collectively known as the Poverty Row, were quick to embrace Noir, given the kind of modest investment it demands.

WHO its pioneers were...

Film Noir has its roots in a host of historical and artistic circumstances such as the bitter experience of World War 2, the popularity of both popular hardboiled detective novels and French Existential philosophy and the mass immigration of European talent such as Otto Preminger, Robert Siodmak and Fritz Lang, into America. Other filmmakers who made significant contributions to the genre are Jacques Tourneur, Orson Welles and Billy

Wilder.

HOW it is characterised…

Themes

Movies belonging to Film Noir often have a strong streak of nihilism, misogyny, fatalism and cynicism in them. These films are morally ambiguous, with characters never being purely good or evil. In their own way, Noir films express their strong distrust towards the Great American Dream that had defined pre-war cinema and question the supposed upward mobility that comes with playing by the rules. These films are strongly individualistic and are generally driven by the guiding perspective of the protagonist.

Style

The aesthetics of Noir movies draws as much from Expressionism and Poetic Realism as it does from popular horror films of the previous decade. High contrast monochrome photography, harsh chiaroscuro lighting, frequent use of disorienting Dutch and Wide angles, employment of voiceovers, cross faces and flashbacks and use of geographic markers such as seedy bars and dark alleys of Los Angeles and familiar literary tropes such as the femme fatale and the private eye are some of the stylistic staples of the genres.

WHY it is important...

Noir films deeply influenced French filmmaking of the 1960s and were special favourites of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers. These films, via French New Wave, have had an impact on not only the New Hollywood movies of the 70s but also the New American Independent Cinema of the 90s.

WHERE to find it...

Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945), made on a shoestring, presents a crime narrative refracted through the subjectivity of the narrator-protagonist. Throughout, we are never sure whether what we are seeing has really happened or if it is his way of justifying and exonerating himself.