Marianne

Film Noir to Neo-Noir: Transitions and Modern Noir

347 posts in this topic

 

Winter’s Bone (2010, dir. Debra Granik)

 

I would say that Winter’s Bone is a neo-noir: I can give it nine out of sixteen on the list of noir characteristics. That still makes it a neo-noir, but it doesn’t begin to describe the mood of this film—the local music that emphasizes the fear and uncertainty (“local” meaning from southern Missouri), the inscrutable code of honor that the inhabitants have set and then break when it suits them, the almost constant gray overcast of an Ozark winter that seems to bleed into the hardscrabble rock that makes up the landscape. In the middle of Winter’s Bone is a sequence of shots filmed among the trees in the area. It is both majestic and unnerving: The audience can hear the live wood creaking in the wind. No humans are shown in each shot of the sequence, but this is a landscape that is home only to people who know it well. The commentary on the DVD from the director and the cinematographer filled in some details, but it’s not necessary to hear what they have to say about making the film to understand its mood.

 

And yes: that’s the Jennifer Lawrence. I think her portrayal of Ree Dolly is one of the best of her career so far.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) On the DVD, Debra Granik (the director) and Michael McDonough (the cinematographer) talk about filming on location in southern Missouri during the winter months. The scenery “looks cold”: no leaves on the trees, hardscrabble earth. There’s a wonderful scene in the middle of the film that was shot among trees with the wind blowing and the live wood creaking. Both the visuals and the soundtrack add to the building dread of the plot and bitterness of winter.

2. Flashbacks Not applicable (N/A)

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder)

• Murder

• Conspiracy to cover up a crime

• Drugs (manufacturing, selling, taking)

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale N/A

6. The instrument of fate Ree wants to find out what happened to her father because she needs to keep her family’s house and land, and he’s her father. There’s a code of honor that seems to function in the role of fate: Certain outcomes are inevitable if Ree continues to flaunt the code of honor and thus tempt fate.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Ree is afraid of many members of her own extended family. They threaten her, and then make good on their threats.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Ree’s relatives threaten violence and then make good on their threats.

9. Urban and nighttime settings N/A

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Ree is alone with huge responsibilities; she is only seventeen and she is responsible for taking care of her mother (who doesn’t appear to be in her right mind any more) and two younger siblings. People who are related to her will not help her because they have something to hide. But she persists in her search for her father because of her desire to help her family. She cannot imagine doing otherwise.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Various extended family members betray Ree and her immediate family. Their loyalties to her as family members have clear limits.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) People who commit crimes and cover them up eventually put themselves in Ree’s position and offer to help. Ree accepts their help and lies about it to law enforcement. Toward the end of the movie, she admits that she feels a little bit ashamed of her father, even though she risks her safety and her future to find him.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” People in the locality have a complicated code of honor. They help Ree, but all of them, including Ree, lie about the circumstances surrounding her father’s disappearance. Their knowledge of the terrain and the local customs allow them to succeed. (Ree says that she is local “bred and buttered.”)

 

It's rare to have a character in a film- never appear in it. I saw this film when it first opened and your post here is bringing it back to life for me. If I remember correctly, Jessup Dolly (Ree's father)  never appears on screen even though he is important to the plot? I find that clever writing. The way I remember it, the story and director has the viewer anticipating his appearance.

 

It's nice to see that this film was directed by a woman director, Debra Granik. How sad it would be were she the first and only female noir director since Ida Lupino.

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You said, "Okay, I'll play." Well your participation certainly adds to the fun. The more the merrier.

One of the lines here needs editing for content. You may want to update for accuracy purposes only.  

I used the previous one for a template and forgot to delete the old text, thanks

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It's rare to have a character in a film- never appear in it. I saw this film when it first opened and your post here is bringing it back to life for me. If I remember correctly, Jessup Dolly (Ree's father)  never appears on screen even though he is important to the plot? I find that clever writing. The way I remember it, the story and director has the viewer anticipating his appearance.

 

It's nice to see that this film was directed by a woman director, Debra Granik. How sad it would be were she the first and only female noir director since Ida Lupino.

 

Jessup Dolly does make an appearance in Winter's Bone, but the audience never sees his face. I don't want to say any more for fear of giving away the ending. Winter's Bone is a movie worth seeing more than once, I believe.

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The Incident (1967)
Dir. Larry Peerce
 
 
A forgotten gritty NYC ensemble Crime Noir, watch ASAP available right now on Youtube, do a search.
 
Directed by Larry Peerce, written by Nicholas E. Baehr (based on his teleplay Ride with Terror, which had been previously adapted as a 1963 television film). Cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld (Guilty Bystander, C-Men
 
Joe Ferrante (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen) two alienated and obsessed with causing trouble punks, they give a hard time to a pool hall owner for closing early interrupting their game, then briefly harass a passing couple on the street, then finally mugging an old man for his eight dollars and beating him into unconsciousness, they board the last car of a New York City Subway train and psychologically terrorize the passengers who cannot move to another car. 
 
Rest of the cast includes Classic Noir vets Thelma Ritter (Pickup On South Street, Call Northside 777, Rear Window), Jan Sterling (Caged, Mystery Street, Union Station, Ace In The Hole, Appointment With Danger) and Gary Merrill (Where The Sidewalk Ends, A Blueprint For Murder) and also Ed McMahon, Diana Van der Vlis, Donna Mills, Victor Arnold, Jack Gilford, Robert Bannard, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee and Beau Bridges. 
 

 

The Ed McMahon?! Of Tonight Show fame? I have seen him in a couple of movies and he's just fine, but it's hard to get past the announcer gig.

 

And was Beau Bridges a teenager? I guess I'll have to see the move for some non-noir reasons!

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The Ed McMahon?! Of Tonight Show fame? I have seen him in a couple of movies and he's just fine, but it's hard to get past the announcer gig.

 

And was Beau Bridges a teenager? I guess I'll have to see the move for some non-noir reasons!

Yea Ed McMahon of The Tonight Show, plays a father who argues with his wife about taking a taxi home, ops for the cheaper subway to his regret, Beau Bridges plays a young soldier.

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Yea Ed McMahon of The Tonight Show, plays a father who argues with his wife about taking a taxi home, ops for the cheaper subway to his regret, Beau Bridges plays a young soldier.

It's interesting when unexpected people turn up in movies.  I try to watch The Incident whenever it's on, as draining an experience it is, especially the first viewing!  

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Blade Runner (1982)

Dir. Ridley Scott

 

Blade Runner is a science fiction neo-noir concerning six Nexus Replicant clones who escape forced labor aboard a spacecraft. “The Replicants were designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years they might develop their own emotional responses. So they built in a fail-safe device: four year life span.” They seek to meet with their creator at The Tyrell Corp. and ask for life extensions.

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner police officer, called out of retirement and charged with finding and killing the fugitives.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

Cinematography is excellent. Bright colors laid on dark backgrounds, faces partially hidden in shadows throughout the film, and window blinds casting horizontal lines across faces and walls, all contribute to a stunningly visual neo-noir.

 

2. Flashbacks N/A

 

3. Unusual narration Yes.

First person narration delivered in a boring monotone manner.

Although helpful in moving the story along, it never had a noir aura to it. (Unusual)

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) N/A

The fugitives plan a meeting, not a crime. Whatever crimes are committed, are not as a result of planning but rather reactions to spontaneous events.

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes.

Rachael (Sean Young) makes a grand femme fatale entrance- walking towards the camera, dressed in an all black skirt suit, her dark hair pulled back, and wearing red lipstick, enhanced by her light complexion. Except for the hat, her entrance is very similar to Kathie Moffat’s in Out of the Past. Rachael needs protection, but will the person she asks provide it?

 

6. The instrument of fate N/A

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

The Replicants are desperate to extend their life expectancy . They fear early extinction as a result of programmers. Also, a Tyrell employee grows doubtful: “Am I a Replicant or am I human?”

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Killings

Torture

Shootouts

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

Full array here with plenty of wet pavements, dark alleys and pouring rain in mostly nighttime settings. The streets have an urban feel with their noisy crowds moving about and outside diners amid bright neon signs- very neo-noir.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes.

Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is one of the Replicants who escaped. He is in search of answers for himself and his fellow clones, who feel alienated from humans who get to live out their lives without a predetermined lifespan. Deckard says of Roy, “All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?”

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) YES.

Tyrell (Joe Turkel) (Replicant creator) instills false memories in the minds of Replicants in order to satisfy their obsession of needing memories. He explains, “. . .they are emotional inexperienced with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift the past we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions and consequently we can control them better.” Definite brainwashing and manipulation.

 

13. Greed Yes.

Like all corporations, Tyrell looks for maximum profits for their shareholder. They profit by developing clones they can manipulate into cost-saving hard labor.

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Some Replicants are not aware of their short lifespan. They lead, what they believe, a normal life; complete with fictional childhood memories.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

10 of 16

 

A second viewing through those noir lenses I found last summer, helped me better understand this film and appreciate its noir elements. I saw it more clearly.

 

I believe this film is much less about science fiction and more about what it means to be a human being.

 

Director Ridley Scott, cinematography Jordan Cronenweth (Peggy Sue Got Married) and musician Vangelis, have given us a visually stunning and melodious modern neo-noir.

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Just wanted to give a shout out:  Great work folks!   This breakdown of neo-noir is very interesting.   I'm creating a list of the films that I haven't seen that these post now make me want to see.  

 

Keep it up.     Also has anyone seen Shanghai, the John Cusack,  Chow Yun-Fat an Ken Watanabe film?

 

Saw the ad for the film today;  "A thrilling modern-day film noir!"    

 

Just wonder if any noir lovers here feel this film is worth seeing  (but no spoiler please) .

 

 

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Blade Runner (1982)

Dir. Ridley Scott

 

Blade Runner is a science fiction neo-noir concerning six Nexus Replicant clones who escape forced labor aboard a spacecraft. “The Replicants were designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years they might develop their own emotional responses. So they built in a fail-safe device: four year life span.” They seek to meet with their creator at The Tyrell Corp. and ask for life extensions.

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner police officer, called out of retirement and charged with finding and killing the fugitives.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

Cinematography is excellent. Bright colors laid on dark backgrounds, faces partially hidden in shadows throughout the film, and window blinds casting horizontal lines across faces and walls, all contribute to a stunningly visual neo-noir.

 

2. Flashbacks N/A

 

3. Unusual narration Yes.

First person narration delivered in a boring monotone manner.

Although helpful in moving the story along, it never had a noir aura to it. (Unusual)

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) N/A

The fugitives plan a meeting, not a crime. Whatever crimes are committed, are not as a result of planning but rather reactions to spontaneous events.

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes.

Rachael (Sean Young) makes a grand femme fatale entrance- walking towards the camera, dressed in an all black skirt suit, her dark hair pulled back, and wearing red lipstick, enhanced by her light complexion. Except for the hat, her entrance is very similar to Kathie Moffat’s in Out of the Past. Rachael needs protection, but will the person she asks provide it?

 

6. The instrument of fate N/A

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

The Replicants are desperate to extend their life expectancy . They fear early extinction as a result of programmers. Also, a Tyrell employee grows doubtful: “Am I a Replicant or am I human?”

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Killings

Torture

Shootouts

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

Full array here with plenty of wet pavements, dark alleys and pouring rain in mostly nighttime settings. The streets have an urban feel with their noisy crowds moving about and outside diners amid bright neon signs- very neo-noir.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes.

Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is one of the Replicants who escaped. He is in search of answers for himself and his fellow clones, who feel alienated from humans who get to live out their lives without a predetermined lifespan. Deckard says of Roy, “All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?”

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) YES.

Tyrell (Joe Turkel) (Replicant creator) instills false memories in the minds of Replicants in order to satisfy their obsession of needing memories. He explains, “. . .they are emotional inexperienced with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift the past we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions and consequently we can control them better.” Definite brainwashing and manipulation.

 

13. Greed Yes.

Like all corporations, Tyrell looks for maximum profits for their shareholder. They profit by developing clones they can manipulate into cost-saving hard labor.

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Some Replicants are not aware of their short lifespan. They lead, what they believe, a normal life; complete with fictional childhood memories.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

10 of 16

 

A second viewing through those noir lenses I found last summer, helped me better understand this film and appreciate its noir elements. I saw it more clearly.

 

I believe this film is much less about science fiction and more about what it means to be a human being.

 

Director Ridley Scott, cinematography Jordan Cronenweth (Peggy Sue Got Married) and musician Vangelis, have given us a visually stunning and melodious modern neo-noir.

 

 

Totally agree that Blade Runner is Neo Noir, and one of the very best and then some.  In many ways it's more Noir than Neo Noir, and also happens to be one of my all-time favorite films.     

 

Blade Runner has an alternating Noir and Neo Noir palette,  contrasting mute black and white tones and shadow against entirely artificial color...perhaps a reminder that nature has been discarded in the world that unfolds before us, and that everything in this world might be man-made.    

 

The set design embraces this same contrast, a bleak, acid-rain futuristic landscape of the nightmarish union of science and commerce that is the visual and psychological equivalent of a war ravaged Europe as depicted in say The Third Man and the urban ruin of The Asphalt Jungle...an allusion to a Dystopian future so oppressive that only rejects still inhabit it. Everyone else has made a new start on Off World Colony.     

 

The Narration element is debatable, depending upon what version of the film we're talking about.   Fortunately, it's entirely removed from the final Director's Cut Ridley Scott released, and the film works better without it.     

 

Yes, there's Violence, Betrayal and Greed, homme and femme Fatales.  There's also Crime...Replicants commit it by coming to earth, and commit still others in pursuit of the answers to their questions; and one could argue even the insinuation... not of Good and Evil, terms which really have no meaning in Neo Noir...but perhaps of the rightness ...dare we say morality...of creating Replicants who are 'more human than human' as our proxies in the first place.  

 

As you so rightly say, the question of what constitutes being human looms at the core of this film...and the Phillip K. Dick story that inspired it.   There's loneliness, alienation, estrangement, confusion, angst, etc.    That's depicted again and again in virtually every character in the film... none of them are truly at home in the ruined world they inhabit; not Tyrell, Rachel, Deckard, Gaff, J.F. Sebastian, or the Replicants: they're all strangers in a strange and spoiled land.  

 

Lurking in the background as the film unfolds, of course, is the very real possibility...perhaps probability...that Deckard is himself a Replicant...'gifted' with a past --- memories and 'family' photos --- every bit as much as has Rachel and the Replicants he's been assigned to hunt down and 'retire'.    

 

In the end, Deckard rejects the ruined world and chooses life and love over death and duty, and so, in a way, represents a triumph of expertise, or at least a human, all-too-human quest for freedom and a self determination...the exact things Roy Batty & Co, so desperately sought.  

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Totally agree that Blade Runner is Neo Noir, and one of the very best and then some.  In many ways it's more Noir than Neo Noir, and also happens to be one of my all-time favorite films.     

 

Blade Runner has an alternating Noir and Neo Noir palette,  contrasting mute black and white tones and shadow against entirely artificial color...perhaps a reminder that nature has been discarded in the world that unfolds before us, and that everything in this world might be man-made.    

 

The set design embraces this same contrast, a bleak, acid-rain futuristic landscape of the nightmarish union of science and commerce that is the visual and psychological equivalent of a war ravaged Europe as depicted in say The Third Man and the urban ruin of The Asphalt Jungle...an allusion to a Dystopian future so oppressive that only rejects still inhabit it. Everyone else has made a new start on Off World Colony.     

 

The Narration element is debatable, depending upon what version of the film we're talking about.   Fortunately, it's entirely removed from the final Director's Cut Ridley Scott released, and the film works better without it.     

 

Yes, there's Violence, Betrayal and Greed, homme and femme Fatales.  There's also Crime...Replicants commit it by coming to earth, and commit still others in pursuit of the answers to their questions; and one could argue even the insinuation... not of Good and Evil, terms which really have no meaning in Neo Noir...but perhaps of the rightness ...dare we say morality...of creating Replicants who are 'more human than human' as our proxies in the first place.  

 

As you so rightly say, the question of what constitutes being human looms at the core of this film...and the Phillip K. Dick story that inspired it.   There's loneliness, alienation, estrangement, confusion, angst, etc.    That's depicted again and again in virtually every character in the film... none of them are truly at home in the ruined world they inhabit; not Tyrell, Rachel, Deckard, Gaff, J.F. Sebastian, or the Replicants: they're all strangers in a strange and spoiled land.  

 

Lurking in the background as the film unfolds, of course, is the very real possibility...perhaps probability...that Deckard is himself a Replicant...'gifted' with a past --- memories and 'family' photos --- every bit as much as has Rachel and the Replicants he's been assigned to hunt down and 'retire'.    

 

In the end, Deckard rejects the ruined world and chooses life and love over death and duty, and so, in a way, represents a triumph of expertise, or at least a human, all-too-human quest for freedom and a self determination...the exact things Roy Batty & Co, so desperately sought.  

 

VanHazard

 

Your comments here is appreciated. What you have done is taken my 10-of 16 and turned it into a much stronger 13 of 16 solid neo-noir. My n/a never stand for a NO as I’ve argued in past posts. They are more like “I do not see it” thereby giving opportunities to others to make a case for it, like you have done here with my 4, 15, and 16:

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) N/A

The fugitives plan a meeting, not a crime. Whatever crimes are committed, are not as a result of planning but rather reactions to spontaneous events.

There's also Crime...Replicants commit it by coming to earth, and commit still others in pursuit of the answers to their questions;

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

and one could argue even the insinuation... not of Good and Evil, terms which really have no meaning in Neo Noir...but perhaps of the rightness ...dare we say morality...of creating Replicants who are 'more human than human' as our proxies in the first place.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

In the end, Deckard rejects the ruined world and chooses life and love over death and duty, and so, in a way, represents a triumph of expertise, or at least a human, all-too-human quest for freedom and a self determination...the exact things Roy Batty & Co, so desperately sought.

 

Thanks again.

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Mulholland Dr., Part One (2001, dir. David Lynch)

 

Many spoilers here. You may want to read this post after you have seen Mulholland Dr. I’m posting about this film twice because the second post assumes that you have already seen the film.

 

Mulholland Dr. gets 12 out of 16 on our list of film noir/neo-noir characteristics, but it feels like splitting hairs to give the film a number. The whole thing is noir. Even the opening jitterbug sequence is odd: The dancers appear from the cutouts of other dancers. It’s a fun sequence, but right from the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it when I saw the film the first time. The mood of the film means everything, as was true of Winter’s Bone. David Lynch and Debra Granik created a noir mood for their respective films and stayed true to it and the story in each one.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes, but I would say that color plays an important role; whether it’s muted or not is not the point here. For example, the blue key and the blue box: Late in the film, it is implied that the blue box contains a body part, proof that the killer completed his part of the bargain with Betty.

2. Flashbacks Yes

3. Unusual narration Yes, a thousand times! (If it all takes place in Betty’s mind, then I would have to say that her musings are rather organized!)

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes

5. Femme fatale Wouldn’t both Betty and Rita fit this description? Betty for her criminal side? Rita for using her sexuality to get ahead?

6. The instrument of fate Maybe simply in the fact that Betty and Rita met in the first place and neither survive.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Betty is riddled with guilt, confusion, remorse, self-doubt. She takes on a completely new identity to start her story. The whole movie is about angst.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes, but it’s not an ongoing motif. The title sequence of the car on Mulholland Drive takes place at night and helps to set the mood for the rest of the movie.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Not applicable (N/A)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Definitely. Betty is alone, and she has no one to blame but herself.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Amnesia, and what’s particularly delicious about the amnesia in this film is that Betty wishes to suffer from amnesia, and she is the one who introduces Rita as a victim of amnesia.

13. Greed Maybe Betty’s greed for the love of Rita? (Half)

14. Betrayal Does Rita really betray Betty, or does Betty just feel completely rejected by Rita? Rita tells Betty that she wants to break up. The fact that she wants to break up because she’s marrying a man is not relevant. The point is that she doesn’t lie to Betty. (Half)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

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Mulholland Dr., Part One (2001, dir. David Lynch)

 

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) N/A

 

 

 

Spoiler Alert here, too.

 

It's been awhile since I've last seen this movie, so I'll have to put this back on my play list. From what I remember, though, I would answer yes to number 15. There really is no clear good/evil character. The fine line between them is really blurred. Both Rita and Betty embody both good and bad qualities so it's really hard to empathize with either character. The whole film is a dream from start to finish (with dreams within dreams), and I sort of saw it as the final moments of life flashing before Betty's eyes which we witness. The omniscient narration is quite unreliable.

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Spoiler Alert here, too.

 

It's been awhile since I've last seen this movie, so I'll have to put this back on my play list. From what I remember, though, I would answer yes to number 15. There really is no clear good/evil character. The fine line between them is really blurred. Both Rita and Betty embody both good and bad qualities so it's really hard to empathize with either character. The whole film is a dream from start to finish (with dreams within dreams), and I sort of saw it as the final moments of life flashing before Betty's eyes which we witness. The omniscient narration is quite unreliable.

 

***Spoilers***

I've been thinking about this one. I think the movie is told from Betty's/Diane's point of view. I think she's overwhelmed by grief and probably horror at what she's done, and what we see is really a lot of revisionist memory and wishful thinking, until reality intrudes and she cannot take any more. So Betty embodies good and very bad, but everyone else (except maybe the contract killer) is so obscured by Betty's perspective (grief, despair, angst -- all very noir), it's hard to know what they embody. Except as Betty sees it. But you're probably right. We can only go by what the movie presents to us.

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Mulholland Dr., Part One (revised)

 

***Spoilers***

 

Mulholland Dr. gets 13 out of 16 (see below) on our list of film noir/neo-noir characteristics. I abbreviated the other list entries to save space.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Yes, but I would say that color plays an important role; whether it’s muted or not is not the point here. For example, the blue key and the blue box: Late in the film, it is implied that the blue box contains a body part, proof that the killer completed his part of the bargain with Betty.

2. Flashbacks Yes

3. Unusual narration Yes.

4. Crime/planning a crime Yes

5. Femme fatale Wouldn’t both Betty and Rita fit this description? Betty for her criminal side? Rita for using her sexuality to get ahead?

6. The instrument of fate Maybe simply in the fact that Betty and Rita met in the first place and neither survive.

7. Angst Betty is riddled with guilt, confusion, remorse, self-doubt. She takes on a completely new identity to start her story. The whole movie is about angst.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes, but it’s not an ongoing motif. The title sequence of the car on Mulholland Drive takes place at night and helps to set the mood for the rest of the movie.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Betty is alone, and she has no one to blame but herself.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Amnesia.

13. Greed Maybe Betty’s greed for the love of Rita? (Half)

14. Betrayal Does Rita really betray Betty, or does Betty just feel completely rejected by Rita? Rita tells Betty that she wants to break up. The fact that she wants to break up because she’s marrying a man is not relevant. The point is that she doesn’t lie to Betty. (Half)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) After some thought, I’ll have to agree with ThePaintedLady that there is no fine line between good and evil, even though the movie is told from Betty’s perspective, which is drenched in despair, grief, and revulsion at what she’s done. She’s an unreliable narrator, but I can only go by what the movie presents, and it doesn’t present anyone as one-dimensional.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

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Mulholland Dr., Part One (revised)

 

***Spoilers***

 

Mulholland Dr. gets 13 out of 16 (see below) on our list of film noir/neo-noir characteristics. I abbreviated the other list entries to save space.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Yes, but I would say that color plays an important role; whether it’s muted or not is not the point here. For example, the blue key and the blue box: Late in the film, it is implied that the blue box contains a body part, proof that the killer completed his part of the bargain with Betty.

2. Flashbacks Yes

3. Unusual narration Yes.

4. Crime/planning a crime Yes

5. Femme fatale Wouldn’t both Betty and Rita fit this description? Betty for her criminal side? Rita for using her sexuality to get ahead?

6. The instrument of fate Maybe simply in the fact that Betty and Rita met in the first place and neither survive.

7. Angst Betty is riddled with guilt, confusion, remorse, self-doubt. She takes on a completely new identity to start her story. The whole movie is about angst.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes, but it’s not an ongoing motif. The title sequence of the car on Mulholland Drive takes place at night and helps to set the mood for the rest of the movie.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Betty is alone, and she has no one to blame but herself.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Amnesia.

13. Greed Maybe Betty’s greed for the love of Rita? (Half)

14. Betrayal Does Rita really betray Betty, or does Betty just feel completely rejected by Rita? Rita tells Betty that she wants to break up. The fact that she wants to break up because she’s marrying a man is not relevant. The point is that she doesn’t lie to Betty. (Half)

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) After some thought, I’ll have to agree with ThePaintedLady that there is no fine line between good and evil, even though the movie is told from Betty’s perspective, which is drenched in despair, grief, and revulsion at what she’s done. She’s an unreliable narrator, but I can only go by what the movie presents, and it doesn’t present anyone as one-dimensional.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

 

I had seen the film twice before and twice again this week. Trying to figure out when dreams and flashbacks begin and end is a challenge. The film is excellent but the fun really begins afterwards when we attempt to decipher what we have just seen.

I read your list of 16 and I just had to see the film again.

 

Observation: Naomi Watts plays: 1. Betty, a well groomed, bright eyes, nice smile, happy woman. 2. Diane, an angry, full of angst, unkempt, depressed and hallucinating woman. 3. Diane, a better groomed, heart-broken, emotional, sentimental woman. All to perfection.

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BRICK (2005)

dir. Rian Johnson

 

This film wastes no time:

The body of a young girl lays near a tunnel, a stream of water gently flowing beneath her. A blue shapely bracelet draws our attention. Observing quietly, a few feet away, is Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the protagonist in this mystery-noir.

 

In a flashback two days earlier, we see a hand with the same bracelet closing the door to a school locker. Later a note from the same locker directs Brendan to a phone booth. Once there, he answers the phone- it’s his ex-girlfriend Emily, who incoherently tells Brendan how she screwed up and needs his help- something about a bad brick, poor Frisco, tug and “the Pin’s on it now” ?!?! Their phone conversation abruptly ends.

 

Brendan then hears the roar of a car approaching and as he steps away from the booth, sees a black mustang speeding away, and a cigarette butt thrown from the passenger window. He suspects Emily was nearby and must have hung up having heard the roar as well. Brendan later meets up with Emily and comes across a note left for her suggesting a meeting with person unknown at a certain time with a symbol as to the location. That night Brendan figures out where the meeting will take place and rushes there only to find Emily’s body laying face down in water. End of flashback and the beginning of Brendan’s own private investigation into the murder.

 

Except for a brief scene involving a principal, the entire film comprises of high school teenagers.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) Yes.

Concrete and green trees are prominent in this neo-noir. A bright sun often shines behind Brendan’s head. In one scene the sun is front-center between two characters in silhouette talking on the beach. Very scenic. Very bright.

 

2. Flashbacks Yes.

Briefly, albeit audio mostly.

 

3. Unusual narration N/A

 

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Yes.

A murder is carefully carried out

Kidnapping

Numerous assaults ending in unconsciousness

Heroin use and trafficking

 

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale Yes.

Laura (Nora Zehetner) dressed in a red kimono, asks Brendan for a drink this way: “Quit your yapping and fix me one.” She has trouble at first getting the attention of the one she’s after, but at the end she gets her man. (Or does she?)

 

6. The instrument of fate ? Yes

A clue is thrown at us earlier in the flashback, in which Brendan picks up on towards the latter part of the film. Best to leave it there.

 

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Yes.

Brendan perhaps feeling responsible for not having helped sufficiently when Emily asked for his help, now becomes obsessed with wanting to know what or who put Emily “in the spot, who put her in front of the gun.”

 

BRENDAN: Brain, I can't let her go. I was set to, but I can't. I don't think I can.

THE BRAIN: You think you can help her?

BRENDAN: No.

THE BRAIN: You think you can get the straight, maybe break some deserving teeth?

BRENDAN: Yeah. I think I could.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

Murders

Shootings

Brutal fistfights

Assaults

 

9. Urban and nighttime settings Yes.

The setting is a high school, always seen in the daytime with perhaps 2 or 3 nighttime scenes. We are reminded of the urban setting each time the sun shines brightly directly into the camera while a fight or a foot chase carries on atop a large area covered with concrete asphalt.

 

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) N/A

 

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness Yes

Every character seem alienated from each other, there aren’t any pairings. Laura and Brad seem to be an item but there are indications that she’s just using him.

 

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) N/A

 

13. Greed Yes.

Heroin is stolen and cut then returned- a way of skimming and making money.

 

14. Betrayal Yes.

Emily’s death is a result of someone who saw Emily as ‘an insecure little girl trying to get in with the Ivy-bound elite’ and who in order to cover up their involvement in a betrayal themselves, exposed Emily to the betrayal they committed.

 

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Yes.

Brendan briefly ran drugs at his school- (small scale). He’s not squeaky clean. He sets out to find who is responsible for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Many assaults and fights follow. He even witnesses a cold-blood murder but never informs the authorities.

 

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Yes

Brendan is no expert investigator - he is still in high school. But his street-smarts mentality together with he knowing the culture of high school teenagers and the drug-user crowd, makes him a suitable enough expert to solve the mystery.

 

13 of 16-  A neo-noir for sure.

 

Here are two samples of the noir dialect heard in Brick:

 

Brendan: You got a cigarette?

Tug: I don’t smoke.

Brendan: I’ve seen you smoke.

Tug: I don’t smoke cigarettes.

____________________________

 

Laura: I want to help you.

Brendan: Look, I can't trust you. You ought to be smart enough to know that. I didn't

shake the party up to get your attention, and I'm not heeling you to hook you. Your connections could help me, but the bad baggage they bring could make it zero sum game or even hurt me, so I'm better off coming at it clean.

Laura: I wouldn't have to lead you in by the hand-

Brendan: I can't trust you. Brad was a sap, you weren't, you were with him and so you

were playing him, so you're a player. With you behind me, I'd have to tie one eye up watching both your hands, and I can't spare it.

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Wait Until Dark (1967, dir. Terence Young)

 

***Spoilers***

Great movie that really stands up to the test of time. Definitely a neo-noir, with 12 out of 16 on our list. I especially like the fact that Susy Hendrix (a blind woman), with the help of Gloria (the young child who is Susy’s neighbor), works out a plan to beat Harry Roat at his own game. I also like how Mike Talman and Susy come to respect one another, even though Talman has lied to her and tried to get the doll from her.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color Lighting is used to heighten the suspense and tension, and to emphasize Susy’s experience as a blind woman navigating the situation with Harry Roat.

2. Flashbacks Not applicable (N/A)

3. Unusual narration N/A

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder, heroin smuggling

5. Homme fatale Harry Roat might be a bit beyond the scope of an homme fatale, but he does charm/trap Carlino and Talman into going along with his scheme to get the doll stuffed with heroin back.

6. The instrument of fate Lisa just happens to pick Sam Hendrix to give the doll to. That simple act sets everything else into motion.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Susy is terrorized by Harry Roat. She has been blind for only a year and doesn’t know if she can adjust to her new situation.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Harry Roat threatens violence any time he is on the screen. Carlino and Talman call him trouble almost from the moment that they meet him, and he lives up to the designation. Psychological and threatened physical violence against a blind person.

9. Urban and nighttime settings N/A

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Sam Hendrix is a Korean War veteran. Mike Talman wins Susy Hendrix’s confidence by claiming to be a war buddy of her husband, Sam.

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness N/A

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Roat, Carlino, and Talman manipulate Susy into believing that Sam is cheating on her and that she has to give them the doll.

13. Greed Lisa wants to steal some of Roat’s drug business; Roat won’t give up any of his drug business to Lisa (although he seems more like the kind of person who is using the theft of his business as an excuse for violence).

14. Betrayal Lisa tries to betray Roat and starts the fateful chain of events. The older man sewing the heroin into the doll betrays Lisa; Carlino and Talman try to betray Roat; Roat tries to betray Carlino and Talman.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Gloria acts out with Susy, and Susy admits to Sam that she really doesn’t like Gloria, but they come to depend on one another. Gloria helps Susy with her plan to get the better of Harry Roat. Talman and Susy come to respect one another, even though Talman has lied to her and tried to get the doll from her.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” Expertise and good triumph: Susy uses her blindness to her advantage when Roat comes back to her apartment to terrorize her.

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I had to kill some time the other day so I popped into the College Library and was checking out books on Noir. My eye spotted a new title called "What Is Noir?" by William Park 2013, and the author contends that Noir it is a genre and that what separates Classic Noir from Neo Noir is that Classic Noir had the Noir stylistics i.e., chiaroscuro lighting, depth of field, Dutch angles, and mostly Black & White film, while Neo Noir just has the dark stories. But he does acknowledge that Neo Noirs tend to be light filled and desert oriented basically what I'm calling Films Soleil. I'll have to pick up the book when I get the chance.

 

So he's using the "dark story lines" as the connecting bridge. But then what about the dark gangster stories that were produced before, i.e. like Scarface, Little Caesar, or The Public Enemy that had dark ends. This definition/description of Noir by Plark paints it with too broad a brush. What got Noir noticed in the first place was the stylistics combined with the dark story lines, I don't think you can separate them.

 

I still contend that we should weigh the Visual way higher than the rest of the components. So far I identify between 80-90 Neo Noirs that have a definite emphasis on the visual component rather than a token homage to it.

 

If we go with Park's definition we will be including the Batman Films in the list before you know it. It opens the flood gates way too wide and plays into the marketing schemes of producers trying to jump on the Noir band wagon. 

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Plark paints it with too broad a brush. What got Noir noticed in the first place was the stylistics combined with the dark story lines, I don't think you can separate them.

 

I still contend that we should weigh the Visual way higher than the rest of the components. So far I identify between 80-90 Neo Noirs that have a definite emphasis on the visual component rather than a token homage to it.

 

Why not start a separate discussion thread that focuses only on the visual in classic noir and neo-noir?

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Why not start a separate discussion thread that focuses only on the visual in classic noir and neo-noir?

I think the checklist is a valid way of identifying Noir but to give all the components equal value seems too simplistic. You can have a film that has one night sequence that lasts 2 minutes and that would be checked off on the list. While another that has an abundance of visual atmosphere is treated equally.

 

A good example of this is the film The Big Steal (1949) with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer it has a 1-2 minute night sequence at the very end and its often labeled a Noir when it doesn't feel like one at all.

 

I still think the cinematography should be broken down into separate components (I'll use AMC Filmsite examples) and add them to the list, otherwise we'll be casting too wide a net.

 

  •  expressionistic lighting
  •  deep-focus or depth of field camera work
  •  disorienting visual schemes
  •  jarring editing or juxtaposition of elements
  •  ominous shadows,
  •  Dutch skewed camera angles
  •  unbalanced or moody compositions. Settings were often interiors with low-key (or single-source) lighting, venetian-blinded  windows and rooms, and dark, claustrophobic, gloomy appearances. Exteriors were often urban night scenes with deep  shadows, wet asphalt, dark alleyways, rain-slicked or mean streets, flashing neon lights, and low key lighting.

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I think the checklist is a valid way of identifying Noir

 

 

 

 

 

We disagree in our emphases. No worries.

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Not Forgotten (2009, dir. Dror Soref)

 

The title of this film is perfect because it could apply to Jack, Amaya, and Toby Bishop. Not forgetting is the reason behind betrayals, revenge, and almost the entire plot. The phrase “You are not forgotten” usually connotes a positive, happy remembrance, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for the Bishop family.

 

Not Forgotten gets 13 out of 16 on our list of noir/neo-noir characteristics.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) A film brûlant (“burning film”). It takes place in Texas and Mexico, and heat, light, flame, and fire are important to the film.

2. Flashbacks The film opens with what is really a flashback, and every time the film returns to the flashback, more details are filled in.

3. Unusual narration I don’t think the narration, even though it’s nonlinear, is all that unusual, but the ending is ambiguous, so I’ll count this as a characterisitic for Not Forgotten.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder, prostitution, child abduction, and more murder.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale This one is hard to define without giving anything away. I think the film has a femme fatale and an homme fatale.

6. The instrument of fate Jack’s past comes back to haunt him, and this theme is the hallmark of many classic films noir.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Jack definitely suffers anguish when his daughter his kidnapped. Another character is consumed with the idea of revenge, which creates its own separate kind of angst for this film.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Jack uses violence to find out information about his daughter.

9. Urban and nighttime settings There is a stark contrast between Jack’s life in Texas and his trip to Mexico. The Santa Muerte rituals and other religious practices add to the disturbing ambience of the film.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Not applicable (N/A)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness I think alienation and loneliness are themes here.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Manipulation is prominent, but saying who is doing the manipulating gives away important plot details.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Betrayal is also a prominent theme, but again, saying more about it would give away important plot details.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Almost everyone in this film has, almost literally, blood on their hands.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

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Not Forgotten (2009, dir. Dror Soref)

 

The title of this film is perfect because it could apply to Jack, Amaya, and Toby Bishop. Not forgetting is the reason behind betrayals, revenge, and almost the entire plot. The phrase “You are not forgotten” usually connotes a positive, happy remembrance, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for the Bishop family.

 

Not Forgotten gets 13 out of 16 on our list of noir/neo-noir characteristics.

 

1. Chiaroscuro for black and white films, intense or muted color in movies filmed in color (In either black and white or color, the technique is used to enhance the mood and/or the emotional content.) A film brûlant (“burning film”). It takes place in Texas and Mexico, and heat, light, flame, and fire are important to the film.

2. Flashbacks The film opens with what is really a flashback, and every time the film returns to the flashback, more details are filled in.

3. Unusual narration I don’t think the narration, even though it’s nonlinear, is all that unusual, but the ending is ambiguous, so I’ll count this as a characterisitic for Not Forgotten.

4. Crime/planning a crime (usually—but not always—murder) Murder, prostitution, child abduction, and more murder.

5. Femme fatale and/or homme fatale This one is hard to define without giving anything away. I think the film has a femme fatale and an homme fatale.

6. The instrument of fate Jack’s past comes back to haunt him, and this theme is the hallmark of many classic films noir.

7. Angst (for example, guilt, fear, self-doubt, confusion, and so on; in other words, anything that contributes to angst) Jack definitely suffers anguish when his daughter his kidnapped. Another character is consumed with the idea of revenge, which creates its own separate kind of angst for this film.

8. Violence or the threat of violence Jack uses violence to find out information about his daughter.

9. Urban and nighttime settings There is a stark contrast between Jack’s life in Texas and his trip to Mexico. The Santa Muerte rituals and other religious practices add to the disturbing ambience of the film.

10. Allusion to post–World War II (or any postwar) themes (optional) Not applicable (N/A)

11. Philosophical themes (existentialism in particular) involving alienation, loneliness I think alienation and loneliness are themes here.

12. Psychology (hypnosis, brainwashing, manipulation, amnesia) Manipulation is prominent, but saying who is doing the manipulating gives away important plot details.

13. Greed N/A

14. Betrayal Betrayal is also a prominent theme, but again, saying more about it would give away important plot details.

15. No stark contrast between “good” and “evil” (characters, forces, emotion, and so on) Almost everyone in this film has, almost literally, blood on their hands.

16. Expertise triumphs, perhaps rather than “good” N/A

 

Film brûlant, has a great ring to it and with the description in #1 above, paints a very vivid picture. It seems you have found a gem here. I have not seen the film- but hope to soon.   

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BRICK (2005)

dir. Rian Johnson

 

BRENDAN: Brain, I can't let her go. I was set to, but I can't. I don't think I can.

THE BRAIN: You think you can help her?

BRENDAN: No.

THE BRAIN: You think you can get the straight, maybe break some deserving teeth?

BRENDAN: Yeah. I think I could.

 

8. Violence or the threat of violence Yes.

 

13 of 16-  A neo-noir for sure.

 

Here are two samples of the noir dialect heard in Brick:

 

Brendan: You got a cigarette?

Tug: I don’t smoke.

Brendan: I’ve seen you smoke.

Tug: I don’t smoke cigarettes.

____________________________

 

Laura: I want to help you.

Brendan: Look, I can't trust you. You ought to be smart enough to know that. I didn't

shake the party up to get your attention, and I'm not heeling you to hook you. Your connections could help me, but the bad baggage they bring could make it zero sum game or even hurt me, so I'm better off coming at it clean.

Laura: I wouldn't have to lead you in by the hand-

Brendan: I can't trust you. Brad was a sap, you weren't, you were with him and so you

were playing him, so you're a player. With you behind me, I'd have to tie one eye up watching both your hands, and I can't spare it.

 

I'm always intrigued by good writing, including good dark (noir) dialogue. BRICK sounds interesting; it's already on my list of movies to see.

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How about neo-noir from other countries? I think we could make this experiment even more interesting by finding noir films from all over the world. I'm looking into La demoiselle d'honneur (dir. Claude Chabrol) and El aura (dir. Fabián Bielinsky). Any other suggestions?

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