Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s American cinema came to life, and by that I mean, “real” life scenarios and dilemmas with “real” people whom we come across on a daily basis became the subject of many of the films made in this period. The name coined for this particular type of film was known as film noir, stylish Hollywood crime-dramas and thrillers that tend to have a tragic, often fatal resolution. It is considered less of a genre of film but a style, which emphasizes how individuals were, affected after The Great Depression and how their sexual motivations, greed and cynical attitudes lead them to committing, more often than not, the crime of all crimes. Murder.
Quintessential film noir directors include Fritz Lang (The Big Heat), Robert Siodmak (The Killers), Orson Welles (Touch of Evil) and many others typified distinct film noir style. Low-key lighting created from the contrasting light and dark and the use of shadows of blinds or bannister rods cast upon the actor or even the whole set are notable clichés of film noir. The use of these cinematic features can be ambiguous, as it could highlight the conflicting emotions of the character focused on, and show how the character cannot see clearly and is desperately confused. Disorientation is also conveyed through the use of skewed and Dutch angle shots.
Murder is the motif in almost all film noir films, inspired by the seven deadly sins, and carried out by the protagonists that should be antagonists, heroes who are flawed and, often, deranged. As Martin Scorsese says in his Personal Journey Through American Movies, “film noir revealed the dark underbelly of American urban life and its denizens were that of private eyes, rogue cops, white collar criminals and femme fatale.” The urban settings of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago are the locations for film noir, cities that represent labyrinths and thrive off greed and lust. Bars, nightclubs and gambling dens are all common settings for scenes as well as more complex places such as train yards and power plants.
Neo-noir films are films made after the classic noir period of the 40’s and 50’s, which take influence from the structure, plot and visual style of the film noir classics. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) pay homage to film noir with their unconventional structures and convoluted storylines. Due to its clichés, film noir has provoked many parodies, in many different forms, for example a comic mock on film noir is Carl Reiner’s Fatal Instinct (1993) which parodies both Billy Wilder’s classic noir film Double Indemnity and neo-noir film Basic Instinct. A much darker example of a noir parody is Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), which deconstructs the basis for a noir film and takes it to extremity, it then concludes with every possible anticipated ending, meaning it is nor triumphant or tragic.
The overall tone of film noir is a hopelessly pessimistic view; the central figures are destined for downfall. In a sense the morals of film noir is that of most triumphant films, the virtuous are rewarded where as the vice are severely punished, except for the audience it feels like a tragedy as the “protagonist “ is the villain.