Neo Noir Filmmaking


Film noir. The very words lure us back to a time of hard-boiled gumshoes, seedy, neon-lit apartments, shadows deep and dark, wrinkled linen suits, fedoras pulled low over the eyes. Sex, suggested, yet still undeniably sensual and seductive.

Film noir refers to a genre of film that is typically a stylish Hollywood crime drama and conveys distinct feelings of hopelessness and cynical mindset, with an emphasis on sexual motivations.

Think hardboiled detective crime fiction insofar as basic story line and attitude are concerned. Also included within this category are gangster films, gothic romances, and pictures focused on social problems. The protagonists of these films are often anti-heroes, or are not even aware that they might be heroes.

To quote the great Frank Miller: “The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.”

Stellar examples of this classification of motion pictures are: Stranger on The Third Floor (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Gilda (1946), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Killers (1946), and Out of the Past (1947).

Look at the dates: noir genre was a response to the horrors and disillusionments of World War II.

Visually, this type of film is very stark black and white that can claim ancestry in German expressionist cinematography.

The phrase “film noir” is French for “black film” and was coined in 1946 by italian-born but french by adoption film critic Nino Frank.

In fact, prior to the 1970s, many of the classic movies that we now refer to as “film noir” were labeled merely as melodramas. There is still to this day a debate among scholars as to whether or not film noir is a real and legitimate movie genre.

The true classic film noir period was from the early 1940s to the late 1950s, but the cinematic style has never truly gone away. Film noir is still alive and well!

There are still avid fans of these classic movies, as well as modern interpretations of this classic motion picture technique. The technical term for this modernization would be “neo-noir”, literally translated into “new black” from the Greek and French mash up phrase. And neo-noir is all about mash ups, as proven by Blade Runner, Sin City and even Watchmen.

Neo Noir and re-imagined Noir

Neo-noir hails back to the traditional film noir’s prominent elements such as the narrative voice over, the pronounced use of rain, the featuring of femme fatales, and a lack of happy endings, but with modernized themes and updated content.

For prime examples, check out Taxi Driver (1976), Blade Runner (1982), Blue Velvet (1986), Basic Instinct (1992), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Se7en (1995), Fargo (1996), L.A. Confidential (1997), Lost Highway (1997), and Sin City (2005).

There have also been a few television series that were written and directed in the style of neo-noir. These include such gems as The Fugitive (1963-1967), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), Twin Peaks (1990-1991), and Veronica Mars (2004-2007).

In addition to the modernization that neo-noir brings to the table, there are blended genre movies that incorporate elements of noir, such as The Big Lebowski (1998) and Fight Club (1999) that utilize dark comedy and satire along with the noir aesthetic, making them uniquely hybrid cult classics.

Both film noir and neo-noir have a relevant place in our collective cultural conscious, regardless of the debate on the validity of the official classification.

Film noir is a real thing, and it is a thing of beauty. It is a style that has been done in one thousand different ways, modernized, parodied, modified, and even idolized.

Nuit D’Art is a resource for filmmakers willing to explore the world of Neo Noir, especially when it comes to contamination and re-imagination. Think Rorschach: that’s Nuit D’Art.