Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Origins of Film Noir

The term 'Film Noir' was first coined by French critic Nino Frank in 1946 although it was not widely used until the 1970s before then what we now think of as Film Noir was called melodramas. The question of whether film noir qualifies as a distinct genre is a matter of ongoing debate among scholars.

Film Noir literally means black film and is used to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. However Film Noir in itself is hard to define critics argue as to whether it is a film genre in itself or just a visual style that emphasizes low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions.

Film Noir was deeply influence by German Expressionism, an artistic movement of the 1910s and 1920s that involved theater, photography, painting, sculpture, and architecture, as well as cinema. The opportunities offered by the booming Hollywood film industry and, later, the threat of growing Nazi power led to the emigration of many important film artists working in Germany who had either been directly involved in the Expressionist movement or studied with its practitioners. Directors such as Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Michael Curtiz brought a dramatically shadowed lighting style and a psychologically expressive approach to visual composition, or mise-en-scène, with them to Hollywood, where they would make some of the most famous of classic noirs.

Film noir was also influenced and has its origins in the hardboiled school of American detective and crime fiction in the writtings of authors such as Dashiell Hammett (whose first novel, Red Harvest, was published in 1929) and James M. Cain (whose The Postman Always Rings Twice appeared five years later), and popularized in pulp magazines such as Black Mask. The classic film noirs The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key (1942) were based on novels by Hammett; Cain's novels provided the basis for Double Indemnity (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Slightly Scarlet. Raymond Chandler, who debuted as a novelist with The Big Sleep in 1939, soon became the most famous author of the hardboiled school.

The film now most commonly cited as the first "true" film noir is Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
The classic period of film noir was the 1940s and 1950s with films such as The Maltese Falcon, Shadow of a Doubt, Laura, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Lost Weekend, Detour, The Big Sleep, The Killers, Notorious, Out of the Past, Force of Evil, The Naked City, White Heat, Gun Crazy, D.O.A., In a Lonely Place, The Asphalt Jungle, Sunset Boulevard, The Hitch-Hiker, The Big Heat, Kiss Me Deadly, The Night of the Hunter, Sweet Smell of Success and Touch of Evil.

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