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Hey all,

 

I just wanted to post something I've been thinking of in terms of genre to explain film noir and how it's being influenced by some of the independent reading I've been doing, especially the essay 'Film Noir on the Edge of Doom' by Marc Vernet (1993) which most of this post borrows from.  By now, most of us have come across the idea that film noir is a diffuse topic, and that no one really knows whether it is a style, a genre, a mode, a sequence or all of those things.  Part of establishing a sense of what noir is is understanding its precursors, which we understand to be German Expressionism, hard-boiled detective fiction and Realism (especially of the French poetic flavor).  However, when I look at early cinema, there is already a huge influence of German Expressionism--even more of an influence than it is in film noir.  I don't know about anybody else, but in terms of style many film noirs don't really employ many of the motifs of German Expressionism other than the occasional dream sequence, a distant shot of someone framed by urban decor, the occasional shadow on a wall, a mirror image every once in a while, etc.  See the amazing 'Two Seconds' (1932) with frequent noir player and brilliant actor Edward G. Robinson:

 

Fritz Lang's 'M' anyone?  THAT is German Expressionism.  AND it's hard-boiled.  But this is 1932 we're talking here.  To me, this points to how the idea of a time period (1941-1958) of noir as a sequence is pretty arbitrary.  

Another aspect of noir is night shooting.  It was cheaper to darken natural day light to shoot night scenes because in actual night shooting you need to light everything you want to show up on camera.  Films noirs are noted for their rich, natural scenes of night because they would actually shoot at night.  However, this wasn't anything new either.    Many films employed night shooting in the 30's.  This is from 'the Big Gamble' (1931):

 

Most of the reading I have been doing has made me search for which element in film noir locates the sequence in the 40's and excludes the 30's.  Part of what we think as the German influence doesn't really hold up.  Sure, there is German Expressionism as an influence in film noir, but it cannot be a distingushing feature of it since it was already a part of hollywood filmmaking at least 15 years before in pulpy, hardboiled yarns (and in gothic cinema, too. Think of Tod Browning).   This influence pre-dated the influence of the German emigres.  We should also not that mostly all of the cinematographers for the majority of the essential works we consider noirs had been working in American cinema since the 1910's.  

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I would say the influence of German Expressionism in Film History in general is vastly overstated, and itself is too loosely applied to a number of widely different films.  A handful of films directly influenced by expressionist painting and theater were made in the early 1920s, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and From Morning to Midnight.  I'm not quite sure why every silent german horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and crime film has to be lumped under the same label, especially when many of the directors were skeptical about the movement themselves and sometimes explicitly drew influences from other art movements.

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I think German Expressionism in films brought the 'novelty' of creating a mood with external elements, set design, camera and such. So its influence applies to a vast list of movies.

In the case of noir I don't find a direct line with it, but when noir movies tried to convey a mood it does with ligthing, camera angles, cinematography in general, so I wouldn't call it a red herring. I think it's not that of an direct influence. There are some recurring stylistic touches, but I find noir films more subdued, and I think are mainly about that setting of a particular mood -whether by the design of the movie or from the story and characters.

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Hey all,

 

I just wanted to post something I've been thinking of in terms of genre to explain film noir and how it's being influenced by some of the independent reading I've been doing, especially the essay 'Film Noir on the Edge of Doom' by Marc Vernet (1993) which most of this post borrows from.  By now, most of us have come across the idea that film noir is a diffuse topic, and that no one really knows whether it is a style, a genre, a mode, a sequence or all of those things.  Part of establishing a sense of what noir is is understanding its precursors, which we understand to be German Expressionism, hard-boiled detective fiction and Realism (especially of the French poetic flavor).  However, when I look at early cinema, there is already a huge influence of German Expressionism--even more of an influence than it is in film noir.  I don't know about anybody else, but in terms of style many film noirs don't really employ many of the motifs of German Expressionism other than the occasional dream sequence, a distant shot of someone framed by urban decor, the occasional shadow on a wall, a mirror image every once in a while, etc.  See the amazing 'Two Seconds' (1932) with frequent noir player and brilliant actor Edward G. Robinson:

 

Fritz Lang's 'M' anyone?  THAT is German Expressionism.  AND it's hard-boiled.  But this is 1932 we're talking here.  To me, this points to how the idea of a time period (1941-1958) of noir as a sequence is pretty arbitrary.  

Another aspect of noir is night shooting.  It was cheaper to darken natural day light to shoot night scenes because in actual night shooting you need to light everything you want to show up on camera.  Films noirs are noted for their rich, natural scenes of night because they would actually shoot at night.  However, this wasn't anything new either.    Many films employed night shooting in the 30's.  This is from 'the Big Gamble' (1931):

 

Most of the reading I have been doing has made me search for which element in film noir locates the sequence in the 40's and excludes the 30's.  Part of what we think as the German influence doesn't really hold up.  Sure, there is German Expressionism as an influence in film noir, but it cannot be a distingushing feature of it since it was already a part of hollywood filmmaking at least 15 years before in pulpy, hardboiled yarns (and in gothic cinema, too. Think of Tod Browning).   This influence pre-dated the influence of the German emigres.  We should also not that mostly all of the cinematographers for the majority of the essential works we consider noirs had been working in American cinema since the 1910's.  

Thank you so much for the opportunity to watch Edward G displaying his considerable powers.  As you say, the German Expressionist key lighting, bare set and anti-realism is very evident in this sequence and it was released in 1931.  I think this proves that what the French meant by noir was not just style but many other factors.  So I have come to the conclusion that noir is Genre/Style/Movement and any movie has to satisfy all these elements to be called a film noir.

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