What is “film noir”?
The term “film noir” was introduced by French film critic Nino Frank in an 1946 essay. In the aftermath of World War II, a number of Hollywood films were shown in Europe that were perceived as a group due to their grim atmosphere and their high-contrasted black-and-white aesthetics.
Film noirs tell complex stories: often situated in a nocturnal city, telling about hardboiled private eyes caught in the middle, about gangsters and dangerously beautiful women.
In the centre of film noir, there is crime and force, existential crises and torn relationships. Even though produced quickly and cheaply as “B-Movies” in the 40s and 50s in Hollywood, they mark a style that is both well known and often copied. It is strong light-shadow-contrasts, experimental camera and expressive image composition, that make film noirs recognizable. Films such as THE MALTESE FALCON (John Huston, USA 1941), SUNSET BLVD. (Billy Wilder, USA 1950) or TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles, USA 1958) are among the most famous. Depending on definition, there are up to 400 films to be counted as film noirs, most of them (with very few exceptions) produced in the US between 1940 and 1958.
How did film noir come into existence?
Film noir has many origins: popular crime fiction from the 20s and 30s (so called “hardboiled fiction”) anticipated the stories and characters. Beginning in the early 30s, a great number of European filmmakers fled National Socialism and emigrated to the US. Those representatives of Weimar Cinema and French poetic realism met American gangster- and horror-filmmakers, the new style evolved: in film noir, different filmic techniques and concepts melt into a hybrid – and thus all the more American – form.
Are there film noirs today?
The classical noir-era ended with Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL in 1958. The style, though, had been absorbed by filmmakers all over the world. From French New Wave to American mainstream cinema: its pictorial and structural characteristics make film noir an important reference figure. So called “Neo-Noirs” use their originals freely and prove the radicalization of filmic means and characteristics.
At the same time, other pictorial approaches to film noir evolve, such as in Animé, in Computer Gaming and Graphic Novels.