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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #11: Crossing Over (Opening Scene from Border Incident)

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This did not seem like film noir to me.  Pretty much everything about it annoyed me.  The angles, the music and especially the narration.  The only thing that would keep me watching this is the chance to see a young Ricardo Montalban.

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It seems to me that most of the "realistic" noir movies had something to do with government agencies. Openings such as this is in Border Incident was followed by similar introductions for movies involving the Treasury Dept, the Post Office, the FBI & local Police Dept's. It would be my impression that the documentarystyle used at this time in movie history correlated to the post-war era in which the public readily accepted the "heroism" of dedicated hard working government workers. These were not government workers on the take or turning a blind eye to the law for money or a dame but these were the government workers that saved our country if not the world from forces of evil.

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I haven't seen this one yet(but I will this week), so I can't really speak to it's influence on the style of noir as a whole. In fact, if I had missed the opening credits I would have assumed the film was going to be a melodrama of some sort. But then, of course, the narration gets a bit darker as we start staring at the faces of migrant workers behind chainlink fences, signifying the film might be a bit darker than we'd expect.

I want to have more to say about this one, but I'm in a rush to get out of the house, so unfortunately I won't be around to join in the lively discussion. Have fun everyone.

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Definitely a different opening scene! Can truly feel the documentary opening style, but I think the opening shots and the narration give us a sense of foreboding. It's like someone telling a story, which suddenly turns darker with each new word and mental image (though, in this case, with each image shown upon the screen).

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Richard, et al. First post for me .... Certainly documentary style is clear here. I think the realism of this intro is in keeping with the Pathe newsreels we often see on TCM. The diagonals here are a great visual as though "cutting" through the narration but the voice-over narration is really the "arresting" feature to me. Somehow the omniscient narrator is so authoritative, and when the scene changes, I am ready to know and accept why these braceros are caged like this. The "unfortunate" people behind the fence are like prisoners here, clearly being held away from us, the viewers to the scene, by the cutting diagonals of the fencing. I didn't get the same feeling from the long overhead earlier shots of the fields with rows of plants. Someone mentioned Ricardo Montalban was in this sea of braceros but I couldn't find him in my first viewing. My favorite scene here is the momentary screen-filling roundish bush-like trees occupying the whole square, but just for an instant - thank god for the pause button. That really appealed to me visually, a perfectly orderly counter to the unordered morass of humanity, stuck it seems behind the border in the follwing sequence.

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-- What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?

 

The mood being presented, in my opinion, is one of danger of imminent danger and intrigue. This is most evident in the music score and the urgency in the narrator's voice.

 

-- What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style?

 

Documentary gives the director the opportunity to present everyday stories or situations to the audience. This is more realistic and gives the audience a view into actual situations that they could themselves in.

 

-- In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

The opening scene is important to noir style because the mean, dark streets of urban America no longer has to be the setting for film noir. The use of the landscape with the space, lines, geometric shapes provide the director and/or cinematography with more views and angles to shoot from

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Wk 3 Border Incident

 

-- What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?  At first it is innocuous, like a documentary that would be shown in schools about migrant farm workers.  The aerial shots are in daylight.  No threat is presented.  The music is general, just underscoring, not eliciting any particular mood or suggesting any particular emotion.  When they show the workers behind the fence waiting for approval, it’s still factual, but then it switches to night and we hear of “Illegal” immigrants and the dangers they face. The music also shifts to a much darker tone, ominous. This is where we realize that there is more to this story.  Noir sort of slipped in unnoticed, literally and figuratively, like the illegal immigrants to which the voiceover refers.  The voiceover sounds like a real narrator in one of those PS documentaries, obviously not a recognizable actor’s voice with beautiful, resonant tones.  This keeps you in the real mode.  The voice is not trying to wow you with its resonance and perfect diction; it is just delivering the facts.

 

-- What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style? Film noir is generally about the down-and-dirty, street-level side of life.  Starting it in the reality of a documentary style helps support this realistic true-to-life atmosphere, and helps you to continue to believe it as the story unfolds.

 

-- In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?  It helps “prime” the viewer for a smoother transition into the “willing suspension of disbelief,” necessary for a film viewing experience.  It helps you “buy it” more.  Especially if the story is a little fantastic (as in unbelievable, far-fetched), this grounding in a documentary style helps set up the idea that this could be real and should be believed (for 90 minutes, at least.)  It paves the way for the evolution of more “ripped from the headlines” type stories, or at least to get you to believe they were ripped from the headlines.

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When the music started I felt like Border Incident was going to be a hit 'em hard crime story then when it switched to voice over narration film left me perplexed for a moment. Did I just spend 50 cents on the wrong movie? The realistic documentary style made me wonder what was going on and as the film progressed I began to sense a little despair - migrant workers vying for position to work in the fields. The mood dimmed even farther by the mentioning of the criminal element, profiting from both sides of the border by exploitation of the workers - or that is what the narration was leading me to believe.


I think this story contributed to noir style by adding another dimension to the genre. Bits of styles taken from other films and combining them to creating a still fairly newly labeled type of produced film.


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As I watched this opening scene I couldn't help but think of Roger Rabbit as he said in Who Framed Roger Rabbit: "Another newsreel...I hate the news."  But as it went on to talk about the dangers of the border bandits it started to pull me in and I found myself wanting to see more.  It built anticipation for the story about to unfold, which to me seems to be a common thread in film noir opening scenes.

I hope I can stay awake long enough to watch this one Friday night.

 

 

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The voiceover commentary becomes a great tool of film noir to pull us into the story..  Noir pulls from stark realism as I think of other commentary noir voiceovers such as:  the voiceover/flashback narration in Double Indemnity, as well in Mildred Pierce and Scarlet Street. Voice over is used in documentary type format in several noirs especially those dealing with the FBI, and one that comes to mind dealing with the formation of AA called "Voice in the Mirror" starring Julie London. 


 


Ciro Barbaro wrote some observations I also see: 


-- What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?  At first it is innocuous, like a documentary that would be shown in schools about migrant farm workers.  The aerial shots are in daylight.  No threat is presented.  When they show the workers behind the fence waiting for approval, it’s still factual, but then it switches to night and we hear of “Illegal” immigrants and the dangers they face. This is where we realize that there is more to this story.  Noir sort of slipped in unnoticed, literally and figuratively, like the illegal immigrants to which the voiceover refers.  The voiceover sounds like a real narrator in one of those PS documentaries, obviously not a recognizable actor’s voice with beautiful, resonant tones.  This keeps you in the real mode.  The voice is not trying to wow you with its resonance and perfect diction; it is just delivering the facts.


 


I agree that Noir slips in sort of unnoticed in Border Incident, I might note too that this was an MGM movie. MGM was noted mostly for their musicals.  Border starts out with a much toned down tone compared to the stark German Expressionist style noir of director's like Fritz Lang, or those noirs from Warner Bros.  However even in the day scene shots of Imperial Valley, one gets the feeling of man as a machine.. the need for workers to keep the metropolis going..  Man is reduced to labor, the braceros at the border feel sort of like an endless number..  there is a coldness to the story.  Danger lurks around the corner.  The narration sets this up.  It should also be noted that Andre Previn did the musical score, and though it is not as prominent as in other noirs  it still helps to set up mood.


 


-- What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style? Film noir is generally about the down-and-dirty, street-level side of life.  Starting it in the reality of a documentary style helps support this realistic true-to-life atmosphere, and helps you to continue to believe it as the story unfolds.


 


Documentary style realism indeed brings us down the "street level' realism.  It pulls us into a realization that life is indeed dangerous and hard for the average man.  No one is safe.  As a Californian who sees both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants on a daily basis ..  it pulls us into the story that this kind of danger is happening not far from us.. That our food supply, agriculture economy is dependent on Mex/US relations and immigrant labor. 


 


-- In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?  It helps “prime” the viewer for a smoother transition into the “willing suspension of disbelief,” necessary for a film viewing experience.  It helps you “buy” it more.  Especially if the story is a little fantastic (as in unbelievable, far-fetched), this grounding in a documentary style helps set up the idea that this could be real and should be believed (for 90 minutes, at least.)  It paves the way for the evolution of more “ripped from the headlines” type stories, or at least to get you to believe they were ripped from the headlines.


 


The opening sequence allows us to move into new realms of filming. It allows us to see cinematography during the day.. and adds contrast.. I think too of opening commentary narration in Night of the Hunter.. and other movies...Commentary helps us to buy into the "realism" of the story.  It is no difference then the apocalypse type movies of today that focus on Tsunamis, Earthquakes, germ and nuclear warfare etc.  And many later noirs would indeed use narrative commentary to pulls us in the stories about possible nuclear attack, germ warfare etc.  I think of Panic On the Streets , Night and the City etc. 


 


Also one should notice camera angles in the opening shots of Border Incident...such as use of overhead shot...  Overhead always gives us the feeling of people trapped in a web.  Think of the overhead shots of the kids at play in "M"    Also shooting through bars or mesh gates ... like the braceros at the border through the mesh gate gives the feeling that characters are trapped...in their predictaments .. there is no getting out.  Border Incident also gives us new ethnicity for noir..  That Mexico can be shady, dark and dangerous..  we will see this again in Touch Of Evil....the Orsen Welles masterpiece set at the Mexican border. 

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-- What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?

The opening sequence in Border Incident is a masterful presentation of context and politics that sets the stage for this still relevant film. We know that a serious subject is being portrayed, the fact and fiction are about to mutually serve each other.

-- What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style?

I am a sucker for this marriage of fiction and fact. Call Northside 777, The Naked City...I love this approach to storytelling and regret it has faded as an informative art.

-- In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

 

As mentioned, the voice over documentarian approach simply ups the ante, lets you know that noir and the world are bedfellows.

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I like the diagonal lines that run off the screen - no edges show no limits, no boundaries.  It shows the greatness of our country, and I think it also portrays the American idea of no limit as to what each of us can do or be based on our own efforts.  We see a couple of minutes of aerial views of fields, canals, roadways, crops, trees - all in perfect lines.

 

Then Bam!  We are hit in the face with a chain-link fence, holding back a lot of people.  People who are anxiously awaiting admission into something great.

 

The scene showing the illegals is an interesting juxtaposition.  The first two scenes are full of light - and hope.  This one is darker, softer, muted.  Instead of faces, we see shadowy figures running.  Desperation.

 

I have to admit, I don't have much interest in black and white documentaries, which often use this announcer.  Who is that voice, anyway?  I've heard it so many times.  (Take note, TCM - The Tupperware docu has run its course with me - I'm over it.  ;) )  But this approach is effectively used in other films noir.  The opening shot of the city, the announcer giving the background, police and crime info, etc.  Then it moves into the more personal storyline.  That's when my attention usually kicks in.  This type of opening eases me into the film more gradually.

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The narration and the formality of all the crops in rows make the opening very sterile. Its'a a good set up to contrast a gritty, personal tale.

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-- What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?

 

Serious mood and vast atmosphere is established. The figures in the wide aerial shots look like ants. Realism is established. I believe this clip rings truer to realism than any of the clips we've compared thus far. I also agree these type docs were played commonly in theatres during the war. I believe the style is influenced from propaganda and German filmmaking (expressionist) excelled at propaganda. This clip seems an attempt at subversion. First the hook of realism then layering contorted truths like film noir so frequently played with.

 

-- What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style?

 

The artificiality seems more broken down with documentary realism which draws the audience in more than just an assemblage of angled and harsh shadows. It grabs the attention without jolting the audience like a gunshot effectively does.

 

-- In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

John Alton's cinematography plays a big part. I'd say that doc-style also because it was a unique technique for film noir. The synthesis of those cinematic techniques and qualities made them important contributions. I believe the best examples of film noir as in the case with Border Incident employ the largest range of noir tools.

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Like some of you have already mentioned it did sound like the old newsreels or travelogues we would see at movies or what we can still see on TCM.  The voice very matter of fact, with the very lilting music at the beginning and darker when we see the migrant workers running towards the border.  The narration is setting up our story to the seriousness of this problem.  

 

As far as the style goes, all I can say is lines, lines, lines.  The beautiful shots from overhead of all the diagonal lines, fields or roads all leading to somewhere. The lines of the barbed wire fence with the migrant workers behind it, showing us a more serious moodod and leading us into the final scene of the dark border crossing.

 

Never was motivated to watch this movie before, but will look forward to see it on Friday with a new outlook.

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Richard, et al. First post for me .... Certainly documentary style is clear here. I think the realism of this intro is in keeping with the Pathe newsreels we often see on TCM. The diagonals here are a great visual as though "cutting" through the narration but the voice-over narration is really the "arresting" feature to me. Somehow the omniscient narrator is so authoritative, and when the scene changes, I am ready to know and accept why these braceros are caged like this. The "unfortunate" people behind the fence are like prisoners here, clearly being held away from us, the viewers to the scene, by the cutting diagonals of the fencing. I didn't get the same feeling from the long overhead earlier shots of the fields with rows of plants. Someone mentioned Ricardo Montalban was in this sea of braceros but I couldn't find him in my first viewing. My favorite scene here is the momentary screen-filling roundish bush-like trees occupying the whole square, but just for an instant - thank god for the pause button. That really appealed to me visually, a perfectly orderly counter to the unordered morass of humanity, stuck it seems behind the border in the follwing sequence.

Yes, and since it's presented like a Pathe Newsreel, not only does it seem more real, but more relevant.  I agree about the two conflicting images: the vast expanse of open farmland, with its endless rows of neatly ordered healthy-looking crops, juxtaposed with a group of men herded into a small space, behind a fence, looking not-so-healthy and not so neatly ordered.  The fact that these two images depend upon each other to survive creates a drama all its own.

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at the beginning of the clip we are shown lines - the canal and roads, and of crops and trees.. i feel as if the lines go on forever, beyond my computer screen as if everything is open, free.. but there is an underlying sense of despair, a darkness i feel from the music.. 

we are then shown these faces waiting behind a fence, piled up together.. stuck there, not free.

 

it gives a documentary feel, an important social issue is presented, but in a more realistic sense.  it's right in your face.

how will the rest of the film play out? how will the the braceros be portrayed? what happens after this clip?  

i am curious where this goes.

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As several users have already pointed out, the beginning narration sounds very similar to contemporary newsreels you may have seen in movie theaters or on TCM nowadays. 

 

The various images of lines throughout the Imperial valley is very memorable, with the aerial shots creating a feeling of vastness, wonderment, and alternatively danger, as if anything could happen here.

 

The incorporation of documentary realism in film noir is what I think made the genre even grittier and more ominous, giving a sense that what we are seeing on the screen could happen in real life, even to us the viewer.

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 This is a fantastic little piece. A true combination of music, photography, and directing to provide something entertaining. I had to go back and look at the credits to see who was involved.  John Alton, Andre Previn, and Anthony Mann!!!!!  Alton and Mann were already involved in film noir, and Previn was a young man getting a foothold in the business.


 


We are introduced to some harrowing music with the opening credits. Then the combination of narration and cinematography are used in the opening to include the viewer. Here we have a positive outlook with discussion on the ability of mankind to turn this hostile land into productive farmland that produces money for the area and produce for the nation.  We also notice that as they start talking about where the labor on these farms comes from (Mexico) the camera focuses on darker fields and a panning of the braceros in lesser light. Then we are taken into the mood of the film, and everything gets darker as the criminal element is introduced.


 


I think that documentary realism was used in this particular film in order to creatively represent how the people who populate this film we are about to see might exist in our world. It is a way for the director and cinematographer to use film to create a semblance of reality.


 


What strikes me about Border Incident is it's use of music and camera to create mood. I think this would definitely influence and form the landscape for later films noir. Of all the clips we have seen thus far, many of them use all three to some respect, but I think this is the first to use them as a language to create and shape a near realistic opening. Definitely an aspect that we have come to associate with the genre.


 


 


 


 


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- The very high overview and the tone of the narrators voice is exactly like the short films of the day about travel (and that one sees on Turner Classic Movies) at the very opening.  We see a car but not people or farm houses.  The altitude of the camera drops a little and then farm houses come into view.  As the camera gradually closes in on the ground, the tone of the narrator develops an edge as people begin to appear and the camera focuses on people.  The narrator begins talking about the land and its magnificent bounty, and ends speaking of people and their evil deeds.  The viewer is gradually drawn in
from a God-like view of the good earth to a close up of signs featuring the words “prohibited” and “forbidden”, and thusly the problems and drama of individuals.

- Cities have always had their seedy underbelly.  Documentary realism provides of way of entering a wide array of non-urban settings where we may be surprised to find that conspiracy and evil also lurk.

- This opening demonstrates a very effective third versus first person narrator—a wise omniscient narrator above the fray, as opposed to a protagonist who is or will soon be in a jam.

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To me, the ways in which this clip intersects with what I think of as "film noir" is mostly in anticipation of what might happen later in the movie.

 

I do appreciate that there is a kind of similarity between how this movie opens and how many urban-set noirs begin. We are often given looks at impressive, shining cityscapes before being shown the corruption and despair in the underbelly (or in some of those shining penthouses). Here were are shown panoramic fly-over views of farmland (amber waves of grain, quite literally), and that distance does nothing to show the human lives that are involved in maintaining and working those huge expanses of land. The way that the narrator uses the language (it is an "empire" and it requires an "army") gives you the sense of the power and money at play.

 

I also think that the plight of the Mexican workers (they need the money, some might be desperate enough to cross the border illegally) could easily play into the noir notion of doing "something wrong . . . once". Like, I could imagine a desperate worker hurting a border guard to avoid being arrested or something similar. The shot of the Mexican workers behind the chain-link fence does suggest that they are not the ones in power, and that the corruption and greed likely comes from the top.

 

While I didn't enjoy the narration, I do think that the documentary feel gives you that sense of "real life"--and we all know that real life can be sloppy, unfair, and even cruel. In a more "real", documentary-type movie, we might expect to see more amoral behavior and unhappy endings because that is truer to life. Telling a "true" story might let you get away with more complex characters and "unsatisfying" (from a moral standpoint) endings because it isn't a story that you are creating, it is a story that you are telling.

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This did not seem like film noir to me.  Pretty much everything about it annoyed me.  The angles, the music and especially the narration.  The only thing that would keep me watching this is the chance to see a young Ricardo Montalban.

Didn't you notice him in the group behind the fence? 

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The voiceover narration and mention that this is a true story from the Treasury deparment is the same way that T-Men begins-- one of my favorite noirs, also by Mann and Alton.  The scenery is not dark, but the music is, and you could see the desperation on the faces of the men behind the chain link fence.  It's surprising now to think that most people may not have been aware of this at the time, but they probably weren't and the narration was necessary for that.  This kind of docmentary style, and the subject matter, expands film noir into serious social issues and broadens its importance. 

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Prior to this course, I wouldn't have spotted this as a film noir. I like how much I'm learning!

 

As I watched the opening scene, it reminded me of how a typical film noir pans the city landscape. In this film, the mountains are the skyscrapers and the rows of fields are the residential streets laid out in linear form.

 

As someone else mentioned, the braceros waiting to get in to the US looked like prisoners, and in a way reminded me of the postwar concentration camp liberation films.

 

How ironic is it to compare the fertile fields of those days with the drought CA is currently experiencing?

Yes.  In films noir, the camera generally pans over the cityscape, usually at night, often in the rain.  It gives you an overview of the world of the story.  Since the world of "Border Incident" involves the farms, it is only fitting that the pan at the beginning should give us the overview of that, and as is the case with urban noirs, where the pan often cross dissolves from the expanse of the city to a small apartment, or even just a room, it seems logical for this one to go from the expanse of the farm fields to the confining holding pen where the workers await "approval." Taking us, in both cases, from the world of the story to the actual story.

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Okay, I’ve seen these sort of entries into noirs before and although it is quite well done cinematography-wise, it’s pretty much a snoozer as a noir opener…..I have not seen this movie so I have no further insight on the movie itself.  If I had the opportunity to watch it before, I probably never made it past the opener…LOL….and if I have watched it before it was obviously forgettable for me.

 

I most definitely agree with the assertion that the fly over filming is quite beautiful and it gives us an idea of just how vast the agricultural areas of California are. We have no indication from our narrator or the beautiful scenery we are viewing that there could possibly be anything wrong in such a tranquil setting. It reminds me of a quote from Sherlock Holmes (one of my favorite literary characters) as he spoke to Holmes about a new case they were pursuing….”unimaginable horrors go on behind the walls of countryside estates”.  He was discussing the fact just like our professor did in our posting this morning, that not all crimes go on in the gritty setting of the city…..on the contrary some of the most heinous acts go on in otherwise tranquil settings.  People live, suffer and die without anyone ever having known what happened to them.

 

I actually like the filming and did indeed notice the geometric designing of this filming. However in this setting, that geometric aspect gives me no feeling of entrapment as I discussed in yesterday’s posting because there is no “dark story” being portrayed, it is simply an educational discussion.  Interestingly I would very likely be interested in watching an entire documentary about the subject of agriculture in California in those days as compared to today and for that purpose I would consider this a great and interesting opener!!

 

 I like the idea of realism as a part of noir, it certainly makes the subject matter more credible to the viewer even when behavior gets extreme, but the documentary-style narration truly throws the viewer off the fact that they are getting ready to watch a dark/scary story.  Perhaps it is important to note that I have made several comments over the last week about the manipulative style of the film makers of the noir era and perhaps I should be looking at this type of opening scene as such a manipulative technique…

 

The first indication here that we are going to get into a dark story is when the subject of illegal immigrants comes up and how they are violated in many instances. We are still in documentary mode here, but we are definitely getting into an underworld culture setting and interestingly, the filming/lighting at that point becomes physically much darker….we have left the light of the flight and moved into the realm of real people experiencing real things.  The darkness of the set now indicates that many of these crimes happen at night and conceptually they are dark occurrences, very noir….what kind of story will Border Incident bring us, we can’t tell at this point, but we know it will likely deal with a crime(s) against an illegal immigrant or a group of them.

 

One aspect of noir I would like to acknowledge here….the deviant behavior that ends up getting people deeper into trouble.  Those illegal crossers are likely going to be the ones who get victimized and it started with their behavior outside of the law. Unlawful behavior makes a person vulnerable to so many unsavory characters i.e. blackmailers, the mob, thieves…..I mean seriously who are you going to report the crime to?  If justice is to be gotten in these cases, it has to be done by the victim him/herself, another very noir aspect of this genre.

 

 This is the case in a good number of noir films.  I watched Nightmare Alley last night….what a great movie!-which was an excellent example of this very issue.  The Killers, Out of the Past, how many others deal in this same arena?  There are very few “victims” in noir who are just innocent people who are victimized….and then do something about it since they have the authorities on their side.

 

Once again we have the allure of the noir film yanking us out of our very ordinary lives and taking us on a dark adventure for just a little while.  We are so glad to return to our normal routine lives after that. It is so easy to be dissatisfied with a boring, ordinary life until we get a glimpse of just what can happen in that dark side of the world in which we live. Ironically, the opening scene of this particular film will serve to introduce us into a very normal every day and beautiful setting and yank us into the dark……I’m looking forward to watching this film, although I’ll have to get past the opening scene…..LOL

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