Noir Films, Paperbacks and Pop Culture in The U. S.
Film noire is a post World War Two cinematic genre known for the stylish cynical characters and an ominous visual style. Developing during the great depression, these films soaked up its pessimistic artistic tendencies and the romance of the unknown. The criticism regarding their characteristics goes far beyond the technical elements or quality of the screenplays, analyzing films from the ideological perspective. They don't tell of contentment, happiness or promise, but they have an unusually convoluted narrational style and a delightful existentialist philosophy that makes them a favorite American classics.
Most of the critics define several distinct characteristics of the films noir. These are – domination of dark colors in scenes (even the daylight was pictured in dark contrast), misleading and dramatic storyline and lots of smoking. In common scenes, gangsters sit in the rooms with lowered shutters and lights off, and listen to the echoing gunshots. And this visual picture is accompanied by the sound of sad cocktail pianos.
We can see a clear influence of the German expressionism on the visual style – commons stylized locations were usually dark, full of shadows and fatalistic backdoors. In films noir, “Vice, licentiousness, wrongdoing, impulsiveness are all portrayed in a manner and style more realistic than Hollywood had ever attempted before.” (Snyder, “Personality Disorder”).
Speaking of films noir, we cannot avoid noticing the role of cigarettes as a main attribute of their dramatic characters. Almost everyone is smoking. Almost everyone is feeling nervous and attracted to madness for love, lust and money. Noir women are sexual and ready to manipulate their men for money or power by any means necessary. They are often victims of emotional abuse and can easily evoke sympathy. Male characters are portrayed as fatalistic heroes, dressed in elegant suits and ties, going to the all-night dinners.
The primary literary source of this cinematic genre was the noir crime fiction with “atmospheric adventures wherein the protagonist is more often a victim or a criminal” (Case, “Hard-boiled and Noir”). Most knows authors include Cornell Woolrich, Charles Williams, Dashiell Hammett and others.
The controversy around ideological acceptance of films noir is caused by the governmental concern about their influence on the masses. Postwar period in the US was a time of global political tensions, so depressive portrayal of everyday life could cost politics lost hopes for the bright future. The reason was simple: “In the culture of the Cold War the chaos and ambiguity of noir undermined moral absolutes of the struggle with the Soviets.” (qtd. in Spicer and Hanson, “A Companion to Film Noir”). America needed films that tell of happiness. So as time went by, films noir were replaced by more politically acceptable artworks. Limited by the system, several directors managed to keep the tradition alive in Europe.
Similar to the German expressionism and French new wave movement, the time of noir films is a unique period in the history of cinematography. The films criticized the social conditions and hopeless relationships. However, the directors of films noir managed to go beyond the simple sociological generalizations and create a whole new artistic world. Stylish and emotional, films noir will always be the classics of the post-war US cinematography. They are loved by the audience around the globe and will never fail to fascinate with naïve drama of the beating hearts.
Libraries Blog. 12 June 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. http://blogs.library.jhu.edu/wordpress/2013/06/hard-boiled-and-noir-fiction-and-film/
Snyder, Scott. “PERSONALITY DISORDER AND THE FILM NOIR FEMME
FATALE”. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(3) (2001) 155-168. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol8is3/snyder.html
Spicer, Andrew and Helen Hanson. A Companion to Film Noir. New York: Wiley,
2013. GoogleBooks. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=MhxBRzn_wMgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false