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FILM NOIR CLUB: Features of the Film Noir

Features of the Film Noir

Film noir drew upon an array of film techniques.  Below are some of film noir’s recurring techniques:

  • The majority of scenes are lit at night. Gangsters sit in the offices at midday with shades pulled and the lights off. Ceiling lights are hung low and floor lamps are seldom more than five feet high. 
  • As in German expressionism, oblique and vertical lines are preferred to horizontal. Oblique lines tend to splinter a screen, making it restless and unstable. Light enters the dingy rooms of film noir in such odd shapes—jagged trapezoids, obtuse triangles, vertical slits—that one suspects the windows were cut out with a pen knife. 
  • The actors and setting are often given equal lighting emphasis. An actor is often hidden in the realistic tableau of the city at night, and more obviously his face is often blocked out by shadow as he speaks.  The central character is likely to be standing in the shadow. When the environment is given an equal or greater weight than the actor is, of course, creates a fatalistic, hopeless mood. 

Features of the Film Noir

  • There seems to be an almost Freudian attachment to water. The empty noir streets are almost always glistening with fresh evening rain (*even in Los Angeles) and the rainfall tends to increase in direct proportion to the drama. Docks and piers are second only to alleyways as the most popular rendezvous points.
  • There is a love of romantic narration.  The narration often creates a mood of temps perdu. An irretrievable past, a predetermined fate and an all-enveloping hopelessness. 
  • A complex chronological order is frequently used to reinforce the feelings of hopelessness and lost time. The manipulation of time whether slight or complex, is often used to reinforce a noir principle: the how is always more important than the what.
  • Compositional tension is preferred to physical action. A typical film noir would rather move the scene cinematographically around the actor than have the actor control the scene by physical action.