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Movie Critic Article: Film Noir

Film Noir:
European waves on American shores

In 2001 Joel Coen released "The Man Who Wasn't There", his well-received movie which was actually shot in color and then purposely transformed into black and white. Coen was obviously inspired by what was known as the Film Noir, a style (or genre, may be?) that prevailed in the American cinema industry in the forties and was packed with gloomy, mysterious atmospheres and populated by vile, ruthless and/or corrupt characters or otherwise good people crushed by currents of the underworld. Classicly, Film Noir refers to most of the movies produced in the period 1941-1958 and included such memorable movies as 'The Maltese Falcon', 'Citizen kane', 'The lady from Shanghai', 'The Big Heat', 'The Set-up', 'Cape Fear' and 'Scarface'. Among the stars that shone in that period was Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogard, Robert Mitchum, Marlene Deitrich, and Rita Hayworth.

But what means this term, Film Noir?
When the American cinema became available once again in post-world war2 Europe, two French critics (1946) were able to identify the characteritic descriptions of this cinema as  representations of tough, hard-boiled and often violent human beings living in the shades of evil and uncertainty. These all too gloomy settings evoked the prevalence of darkness in reality and in metaphor. Hence they coined the term Film Noir or Dark (rather than black) Film to point to this style or genre in American cinema.
But, not only the term Film Noir that was European! In fact post-war American cinema was pretty much influenced by European techniques of film-making, namely mobilizing the camera and the effective use of shades and lighting to enhance expression. Immigrant artists who conveyed these  techniques included the Austrian cinematographer Karl Frued, the great directors Billy Wilder and Fritz lang and the actors Peter Lorre and Marlene Dietrich.
The late 1950s witnessed the birth of the Neo-Noir movies which differed in the fact that they were made in color. But the fact that the classic Film Noir makers were not aware of the term Film Noir and its implications was another major difference to reckon with. Although there is no consensus as to whether it is a genre or merely a style, a Film Noir movie very much resembles the term itself. It always draws from the contrast of black and white. Always tackles the 'dark' side of its characters and is mostly filmed in dark locations!
From the Neo-Noir cinema stands out Roman Polanski's 'China Town' (1974), Joel Coen's 'Blood Simple' (1984) and 'The Man Who Wasn't There' (2001). Ridely Scott's 'Blade Runner' (1982). Polanski later won the Oscar for his movie 'The Pianist' (1982).

To appreciate the concept of Film Noir and enjoy classic works, I recommend that you follow the links below to obtain your copy of some of the great works. Respectively they are: Citizen Kane (Orson Welles), Chinatown (Polanski), Cape Fear (Gregory Beck), Cape Fear (Di Nero), Blood Simple (Joel Coen) and The Pianist (Polanski).

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