Great Noir poses the question: Why me? Why is this happening to me? And the answer is for no reason, for no reason at all. Noir concerned with error and confusion.
These are notes I took during Cinema History class some years ago. I hadn’t seen them written quite so clearly on the Internet (I probably didn’t look hard enough), so I am doing so. Thanks to both gentlemen for their contributions (any mistakes are mine, not theirs).
Schrader’s Recurring Characteristics of Film Noir
- The majority of scenes are lit for night.
- Oblique and vertical lines are preferred to horizontal.
- The actors and setting are often given equal lighting emphasis. This devalues the characters’ humanity.
- Compositional is preferred to physical action.
- Performance intensity
- Crowded characters
- Much use of reflective surfaces (water, mirrors, windows).
- Goes back to German Expressionism
- Introspection of characters
- Voice-over narration is often used. It is frequently needed by the audience to understand the plot.
- Complex chronological order reinforces a sense of hopelessness and lost time.
Here is the addenda provided by my professor, Robin Matthews:
Matthew’s Recurring Characteristics of Film Noir
- Adds a somber tone
- Creates reflective surfaces
- Neon lights
- Indicate an urban environment
- Give off little light
- Dimly lit nightclubs: provide a place to plan crimes
- Winding roads: relate to dreams, as unsolved
- Characters with physical handicaps, or “grotesques” (E.g., Nicholson’s bandaged nose in Chinatown transforms him into a clown.)
- Sadists (E.g., Night of the Hunter)
- Double- and triple-crosses
- Can’t trust anyone
- Femme fatales
- E.g., Body Heat
- “Cosmic” irrationality
- Good and bad are not that far apart
- Happy endings are rare
- Example 1: French Connection‘s Popeye Doyle endangering innocent lives during a car chase
- Example 2: DOA
- Dream sequences