Skip to main content

Film Noir - A Fleeting Walk Through

Toshiro Mifune in 'Stray Dog'
Bathed in shadows, a vague figure walks through a seedy lane, followed by a gun wielding detective, both possibly trying to track down another victim in an isolated house, somewhere in the outskirts of a bustling city. Sensing the hint of a crime fiction? Well, close enough. The scene, rightly perceived as a crime scene, draws its elements from arguably one of the most complex and creatively challenging styles of film making – Film Noir.

Deeply rooted in German Expressionist Photography, Film Noir, French for ‘Black Film’, essentially incurs low key black and white visual style of the 1940s and 50s. The years immediately following the end of World War II witnessed the emergence of Noir, cinematic and literary. Several concurrent developments like a number of downbeat crime movies in Hollywood, an increase in the publication of crime novels in France, paperback novels in America etc.  led to the widespread fabrication and acceptance of Noir.

Film Noir is often recognizable via a key set of visual and plot elements. Visually, one would notice low-key lighting, chiaroscuro effects, deep focus photography, extreme camera angles and expressionist distortion. From a plot perspective, the most common facets are a subjective point of view, shifting roles or the morally ambiguous nature of the protagonist, possibly an ill-fated relationship with the society and ways in which 'noir' itself functions as a socio-political critique. The plot’s female lead usually appears as a femme fatal (an archetype that more or less emerged from this style) or a chased or tormented victim. The stories are set mostly in urban locales. Voice Over and semi-documentary style also form a part of the narrative.

However, it is possibly the fatalistic attitude of Film Noir that gives it its engaging appeal. Contrast to the American happy endings endorsed by movies like ‘Sound of Music’, Film Noir depicted 'crime culture' based on jagged edged storylines. More often it would be about an average citizen making a mistake that snowballs into much greater problems. In Film Noir lingo it is called the spider web of deceit suggesting a an eruption of hysteria and panic.

The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), and The Big Sleep (1946) are probably some of the early Hollywood offerings in the Noir category of films. Humphrey Bogart, biggest name in Film Noir, derives his distinction for exemplifying the hard boiled detective in movies like The Maltese Faction. His iconographic status in the realm of Film Noir however comes from many non investigative Film Noirs such as High Sierra (1941), Dark Passage (1946) and In a Lonely Place (1950). Bogart's roles in these movies suggest the different forms Noir took as it developed during forties. This also led to the surfacing of the pathos of the aging gangster, a falsely accused/wrongly convicted man or even the violence of a psychopath. The core concept was to make people identify with such characters.

The other key iconic figure of Noir is, of course, the fatal woman, who donned provocative outfits on film posters and pulp covers. In her sensuous and aggressive demeanour she posed as the prime distraction for the male protagonist and even the antagonist, often resisting their assertion and playing with their minds. Rita Hayworth’s portrayal of the self –assured sexually irresistible femme fatale made her a known face in Film Noir.

Outside of Hollywood, Noir has been attempted and successfully integrated into film making by many directors, celebrated Japanese director Akihira Kurosavo being one of them. Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), and High and Low (1963), easily identifiable as Noir have added the oriental flavour to this style of film making.

In the new millennium, Park Chan-wook of South Korea has been the most prominent director outside of the United States to work regularly in a Noir mode with ultra-violent films such as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Thirst (2009.

Christopher Nolan, of Inception (2010) fame, has played with Noir elements in all his Batman movies (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), while his previous works like Memento and Insomnia established him as a connoisseur one of Neo Noir. The graphic novels inspired films like ‘Sin City’ and ‘Kill Kill Faster Faster’ encompass Neo Noir reflexivity. Tech Noir and Teen Noir are other styles that have evolved from  Noir.

Whether it is a genre or not is a topic of constant debate, mostly because of the sundry aspects that are a part of it; scholars and film historians have often said that Noir is more of a style and too diverse to be tagged as a genre.

-by Parmita Borah


  1. wow very informative article. good that you mentioned rita hayworth, she is an icon of noir


Post a Comment

Do not Spam. Stay on topic. Do not post anything defamatory, harmful, abusive, racially objectionable, or otherwise illegal. If you violate these rules, your post will be deleted.

Popular posts from this blog

10 music fests in North East India you don't want to miss

— compiled by Debjani Hazarika Northeast India is known as the land of festivals and culture. From the beginning, people of this part of the world have been indulging in merriment and diversion. Hence, the music, dance and other forms of art are the integral parts of everyday life. Apart from traditional festivals, since the commencement of television and social media, many young enthusiasts came up with the idea of organising different music events and festivals where local and acclaimed musicians can showcase their talents. Some of the festivals are funded by the state governments while the rest organised with the help of private sponsorship. Here is a list of some of the music and cultural fests we thought you would love to attend if you are into music and adventure. Hornbill Festival (Nagaland) Hornbill Festival 2012, Nagaland (photo: Sudeepta Barua) WHAT? Hornbill Festival WHEN? December WHERE? Naga Heritage Village, Kohima, Nagaland The Hornbill Festival is a celebra

16 Rock Bands from North-East India you don't want to miss

North-East India is very rich in music, dance, tradition and culture. All the eight states of North-East India have something to offer for rock music lovers. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is also known as 'Rock Capital of India'. Some of the festivals promoting rock music of the region like Hornbill Festival of Nagaland and Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh are quite famous among music lovers. The region gave birth to many well known and respected Rock bands since the 60's. We have compiled a list of 16 (sixteen) comparatively new bands we love listening to all the time. Of course, there are various other bands apart from these sixteen bands who have made their mark on the Rock music scenario of India. We will post about those bands in our next segment. The Vinyl Records (Arunachal Pradesh) | photo: Facebook The Vinyl Records (Arunachal Pradesh) - Formed in February 2010, The Vinyl Records is an All-girl Rock band. They have performed in well

Healing power of music: Binaural Beats sound for cough relief | music therapy & meditation

A cough is a common reflex action that clears the throat of mucus or foreign irritants. A cough that lasts between 3 and 8 weeks, improving by the end of that period, is a subacute cough. A persistent cough that lasts more than eight weeks is a chronic cough. There are various ways to treat cough and other lungs and throat problems. From allopathy to homeopathy, from ayurvedic treatment to alternate medicines. Today, we are going to discuss about another unique way to treat the general irritation of the throat. Please note, prescribed medications from a doctor needs to be continued while taking this treatment. We are going to talk about sound waves which can give relief to a patient who is undergoing treatment for cough. People who have general cough and cold problem due to change of weather can get rid of cough and irritation in no time. We will be using binaural beats therapy to treat our cough problem. If you are having a sore throat or a regular throat irritation, plea