We have all seemed film noir, it's 'The Maltese Falcon,' 'The Postman Always Rings Twice,' 'Double Indemnity,' and, 'Out of the Past,' among other films from the mid-1940s to mid 1950's. But what exactly is film noir, and can there be an 'exactly' to anything related to art? There is debate as to whether film noir is a genre, circumscribed by its content and time period, or is it a style of storytelling that can ascribed, by among other criteria, its visual attributes, and this style transcends periods of time and genres?. Can there be a film noir Western? Some say yes. All of this brings to mind the quote attributed to Judge Stevens when asked what is pornography," I know it when I see it"
Such is the case with film-noir. The films portray a co-mingling of lost innocence, doomed romanticism, hard-edged cynicism, desperate desire, and shadowy sexuality. It can be recognized by the usage of shadows in its cinematography, and dimly lit streets, the stories are what happens on the other side of the tracks. Films of this style appeared prior to WW2(Fritz Lang's influential 'M' from 1931 is a great example of this style)but it was post-war that introduce the influx of films that are thought of as film-noir.
A film noir has a “noir sensibility” There is a redemptive focus, not a cut and dry 'crime must pay' motif, but an attempt for redemption whether achieved or not, and the arbiter is not judge, or jury, but the protagonist himself. This is evident in, 'Out of the Past.' .
Film noir films express cynicism, bitterness, double, and even triple crossings. They are a response to the chaos and the dissolution of all things sane. There is the existential angst that drives, usually, the male protagonist, some films have narrative, there is often, but not always the 'femme fatale,' but there is always cynicism. There is always this feeling that when things can't get worse they will, and maybe things are fine now, but just give it time.
But don't pity those who fail or succumb to the inevitability of rejection, or failure in a world where status quo is a victory and being no worse off then when started is a reason to celebrate.
Ann Douglas in her piece in the March 2007 issue of Vanity Fair takes us further: “Noir is premised on the audience’s need to see failure risked, courted, and sometimes won; the American dream becomes a nightmare, one strangely more seductive and euphoric than the optimism it repudiates… Noir provided losing with a mystique.”
post script: there are some modern films that have elements of film-noir and could easly be tweaked into a 1940's style of noir. .
I submit for your approval: 'Chinatown,' directed by John Huston who directed 'The Maltese Falcon,' 'Malice' starring Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin.
But, the most modern film-noir is, 'Blade Runner.' This is a film that will leave a lasting legacy. The blue on black format is not the easiest to read, but it is interesting.