Film Noir is a fairly self-explanatory name. French for “Dark” or “Black Film”, this style (not genre) of film is pretty much summed up in those two words. These films started being made in a 1940’s, Post WWII paranoia, with the threat of nuclear missiles looming over the heads of all United States citizens, Hollywood included. This paranoia led to disillusioned attitudes and existential feelings, which in turn were reflected in Film Noirs through things such as characters, with the two most prominent types being hardened male protagonists and femme fatales. Also, the “Darkness” of Film Noirs was not just a metaphor for the content of the film, but also a fairly literal description of the visual style was like. Taking influence from German Expressionism, among other things, the visuals of film noirs were often of gritty city streets, dark alleys, or smoky, cramped-looking rooms. To add to the dark appearance, the lighting included heavy use of chiaroscuro, a style that is characterized by a dark environment with single-source, high contrast lighting on the subject. While many film noirs fall into the crime genre, as well as detective, there are some exceptions, such as the drama/black comedy Sunset Boulevard. Despite it’s setting and characters being a bit unconventional for the Film Noir style (the film was a fairly realistic account of what goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood), Sunset Boulevard is definitely a Film Noir, due to it’s use of an archetypal Film Noir hero, a femme fatale, and conventional film noir cinematography and storytelling.
Film noir, by translation alone, means dark film, and by that measurement Sunset Boulevard certainly fits the genre. A gloomy story that follows a jaded and sarcastic protagonist, Joe Gillis from his initial dire circumstances to his untimely death, Sunset Blvd. earns the description “dark” several times over. But there is more to film noir than crushingly depressing plotlines. There are common motifs and icons that are found in most film noirs, such as crime, dark alleys, guns and alcohol. Deeper than this, film noir features certain visual elements, character archetypes, and themes that create a unique style of film. Although some have argued that Sunset Blvd. fails to represent some of these elements, it has become known as one of the most iconic film noirs ever made. Sunset Boulevard (1950), written and directed by Billy Wilder exemplifies the film noir style through its use of visual elements (lighting, shots and angles), memorable characters, themes and overall structure of the film.
This paper has attempted to investigate the ways in which Alfred Hitchcock blended conventions of film noir with those of a small town domestic comedy. It first looked at the opening scenes of the film in which the two conventions were introdruced. It then went on to analyse the film with the aid of Robin Wood's article Ideology, Genre, Auteur. From these two forms we can see that film noir and small town comedy were used as a means of commenting on the contradictions in American values.
Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur, featuring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, presents a quintessential example of the femme fatale character in film noir, one who challenges the idealistic portrayal of the traditional woman; “Noir films create this image of the strong, unrepressed woman, then attempt[s] to contain it by destroying the femme fatale…” Kathie Moffett the femme fatale, is thereby the archetypal image of this sexually driven and independent woman. Underscoring this assertion is the essay Femme Fatale written by John Blaser, featured in the essay collection No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir.
Sunset Boulevard directed by Billy Wilder in 1950 is based on how Norma Desmond, a huge Hollywood star, deals with her fall from fame. The film explores the fantasy world in which Norma is living in and the complex relationship between her and small time writer Joe Gillis, which leads to his death. Sunset Boulevard is seen as lifting the ‘face’ of the Hollywood Studio System to reveal the truth behind the organisation. During the time the film was released in the 1950s and 60s, audiences started to see the demise of Hollywood as cinema going began to decline and the fierce competition of television almost proved too much for the well established system. Throughout this essay I will discuss how Sunset Boulevard represents the Hollywood Studio System, as well as exploring post war literature giving reasons as to why the system began to crumble.
Film has evolved into one of the most popular forms of entertainment mediums in America today. Beginning from a “moving picture” that lasted no more than a few seconds, the industry has sprouted into a goldmine of technologically advanced major motion pictures. While Hollywood was still in an adolescent stage, a certain genre caught the eye of a United States eager for trendy entertainment: the “gangster” film. No film better defined the genre than Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar. The movie was released in 1930 and largely due to the industries technological advancements the silent film had started a slide down the slippery slope to extinction as “talkies” were becoming all the rage. Although gangster films existed previous to the talkie era, there was something about the audible rat-tat-tat of machine guns and the stylized argot of tough guy talk that made an electrifying concoction. In addition, the gangster’s disregard for established society seemed fitting for a population who was beginning to lose its trust in institutions such as banks after being severely shaken by the depression (Giannetti 143). The circumstances were ideal for the rise of the gangster film.
Beginning the mid 1920s, Hollywood’s ostensibly all-powerful film studios controlled the American film industry, creating a period of film history now recognized as “Classical Hollywood”. Distinguished by a practical, workmanlike, “invisible” method of filmmaking- whose purpose was to demand as little attention to the camera as possible, Classical Hollywood cinema supported undeviating storylines (with the occasional flashback being an exception), an observance of a the three act structure, frontality, and visibly identified goals for the “hero” to work toward and well-defined conflict/story resolution, most commonly illustrated with the employment of the “happy ending”. Studios understood precisely what an audience desired, and accommodated their wants and needs, resulting in films that were generally all the same, starring similar (sometimes the same) actors, crafted in a similar manner. It became the principal style throughout the western world against which all other styles were judged. While there have been some deviations and experiments with the format in the past 50 plus ye...
“There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn't good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!” (Sunset Boulevard). The film Sunset Boulevard directed by Billy Wilder focuses on a struggling screen writer who is hired to rewrite a silent film star’s script leading to a dysfunctional and fatal relationship. Sunset Boulevard is heavily influenced by the history of cinema starting from the 1930s to 1950 when the film was released.
Film Noir is a genre of distinct and unique characteristics. Mostly prominent in the 40s and 50s, the genre rarely skewed from the skeletal plot to which all Film Noir pictures follow. The most famous of these films is The Big Sleep (1946) directed by Howard Hawks. This film is the go to when it comes to all the genre’s clichés. This formula for film is so well known and deeply understood that it is often a target for satire. This is what the Coen brothers did with 1998’s The Big Lebowski. This film follows to the T what Film Noir stands for.
Bob Fosse’s dazzling adaptation of the plot is a key element that contributed greatly in making Chicago achieve the success it did. Set in the 1920’s, Chicago is based in the real-life murders trials of two women who were eventually exonerated of their alleged crimes. The film’s main characters are Roxie Hart, a housewife who often fantasizes about becoming a Vaudeville star, and Velma Kelly, a vaudeville queen b who desires far more fame than she already has. They both find themselves in the Cook County Jail on “murderesses row”. Crime and short-lived fame are the central themes of this movie. Murder and lies are sensationalized and glorified. It is no surprise that p...