Film Noir: An investigation into the dark film
Film Noir (literally, 'black film'), despite being harder to define than it might appear at first, is one of the most profoundly important genres / styles / aesthetics in cinema. It is probably best known in its American incarnation (especially in the 'golden age' of the 1940s and 1950s) and that's where we'll be focusing. Trying to explain Film Noir is hard, since it's kind of a mix of European cynicism and post-war American angst. The clash between crude pulp fiction narratives and complex storytelling and characterization, derived from emerging psychology, research in criminal behaviour as well as wider influences in modern art and literature.
Aesthetically, it depends heavily on chiaroscuro lighting (Chiaroscuro is an Italian term which means light and dark and basically refers to the high contrast light/dark style used in Renaissance painting and later in cinema. Cecil B De Mille is credited with first applying the terminology in 1915 while filming The Warrens of Virginia.), unusual camera angles and wide-angle lenses. Much of this is derived from German Expressionism.
The most obvious reason for that is that many of the German Expressionist directors and cinematographers fled Germany as the Nazis were on the rise and settled in America. Probably the most famous of these was Fritz Lang, director of Metropolis. Josef Goebbels, the Minster of Propaganda for the Nazi Party, was so impressed by Metropolis that he asked Lang to make films for the Nazis. Lang fled to America instead and had a long career applying his expressionist style to American stories - and thus film noir was created.
For more info on the creation of film noir, go here:
For all the film noir tropes go here:
Plots, originally, were often taken from the hardboiled detective stories of writers like James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler. The standard noir plot is, in broad terms, best summed up as centring around a protagonist who, usually by pure chance, is placed in a complex and dangerous situation completely beyond their control where they are pitted against an adversary whose identity and motives are not immediately obvious. The system and the law is usually either apathetic to their plight or is even outright working against them, meaning that they will have to take up the fight and make sense of it all by themselves or die trying.
Stock characters - the hard-drinking gumshoe detective, the treacherous femme fatale, the cops and criminals who are often hard to tell apart - are borrowed from those same books and given life by many of the most famous actors of the era.
The location, as is typical of the Crime matrix genre, is urban and tends to focus on seedy office, alleys, clubs and so on. The standard Noir landscape is a large, oppressive city (filmed in dark and dusky conditions to create a moody atmosphere). Familiar haunts include dimly-lit bars, nightclubs filled with questionable clientele (including, the Gayngster) whom the lead may intimidate for information, gambling dens, juke joints and the ubiquitous seedy waterfront warehouse. At night in the big city, you can bet the streets are slick with rain, reflecting streetlights like a Hopper painting.
Narratives often depend on first-person voice-over, flashbacks and (of course) more-or-less Todorovian, 'classic Hollywood' three-act structures. (Todorov's Theory. Todorov in 1969 produced a theory which he believed to be able to be applied to any film. He believed that all films followed the same narrative pattern. They all went through stages called the equilibrium, disequilibrium, acknowledgement, solving and again equilibrium.)
Classic Film Noir Films:
Kiss Me Deadly
Touch of Evil
The Big Sleep
Touch of Evil
The Big Sleep
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari