INTRODUCTION representation of what Neo-Noir is in the

INTRODUCTION

 

To
answer my question, I will be using two different films from two different
eras. The first film that I will be using to support my question is Touch of
Evil (1958) (Welles, 1958). A film
that has been named to be the last “classic” Film-Noir.  The reason why I have decided to use that film
is due to it being preceding. This means that it will allow me to look at the
similarities and differences side by side throughout many decades of its
genre/movement development. It was also directed by the legendary Orson Welles,
who has a remarkable amount of noir filmography. The second film I will be
using is Drive (2011) (Winding Refn, 2011).
I have chosen this film as it is a modern representation of what Neo-Noir is in
the 21st century. Further, this is thought by many as a modern
masterpiece that has truly redefined the noir genre by bringing back the
incredible sequences, brutal violence and spectacular cinematography.

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LITERATURE
REVIEW

 

To
answer the vital part of my essay, I will be using various sources with
relevant information to the text. I am planning on using books such as What is
film noir?, Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of
American Culture, German Expressionism, 1915-1925: The Second Generation and
Film: A Critical Introduction as well as electronic journals from trusted
websites such as Encyclopedia Britannica. Those sources are extremely important
and relevant to my research as not only they have been used throughout
different decades but also they will allow me to understand what both film-noir
and Neo-noir are, what similarities and differences do they share and by the
end of this work, using those sources, the overall conclusion is going to be
more valid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTERS

 

1.   
EVOLUTION

In
order to understand the conversion between film-nor and neo-noir, I have to
first answer what exactly is an evolution and how has it occurred in the
film-noir. In the Princeton Guide to Evolution there are many ways of describing
what it means to evolve. Although, the most common one which can be applied to
almost anything, is that evolution is “the
successive transformation of a curve by the alteration of conditions which
define it.” (Losos, 2013). To decide whether film noir has evolved into
another genre, we need to understand the there are three distinctive forms of
storytelling in the noir-films from 1940s – 1950s.

The
most distinctive is the Hard-boiled crime fiction (Krutnik, 1991). Hard-boiled
crime fiction is full of violence, passion, vivid but often placed in
disreputable urban backgrounds with the character’s dialogue being fast-paced.
This very specific storytelling was applied to many if not most of the classic
noir films, which for many reasons, were influenced by the world of immediate
post-war. This has reflected the struggles and sentiments of the American
nation into a substantial outburst of creativity. This has led for the crime to
be one of the most controversy topics in classic noir films.

Second
form of storytelling was the German expressionism. German expressionism in
classic noir was a “product of the nerve-wracked
culture of post-war Berlin” (Pells,
2011). There were two different generations, before war and post war. We
can argue that the post-war generation has definitely had more impact on the
creation of noir film as it was driven and influenced by politics as well as
the crime. This has created many themes and plots used in the 1940s-1950s film-noirs.
It was a vital part of the American people’s lives and how they had to deal
with the post-war situations.

The
last form of storytelling was inspired by the Poetic Realism.  Specifically in film-noir, themes that would occur
due to poetic realism were dark, exaggerated often melodramatic character
development with many sexual themes. This is on order to try to portray a “realistic”
depiction of working-class lives with a poetic, or lyrical, panache. As it was
mentioned in the Critical Thinking book (Pramaggiore,
2005), this can be seen throughout “the
careful construction of the mise-en-scene and elaborate camera movement.” but
it can also be argued that the poetic realism supports the German expressionism
as it often inspires the story and its characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. SIMILARITIES IN FILM-NOIR AND NEO-NOIR

In
my study, both Touch of Evil and Drive share a common theme within film-noir
and neo-noir universe which is a crime scene. In “What is Film Noir book” (Park, 2011) argues that the “Crime is everywhere. It plays a prominent
role in all genres, and is almost as common to drama as conflict itself.” Which
is very factual of both of my chosen texts. In Drive, Opening Credits Scene
starts with our protagonist being involved in a car chase scene where he needs
to avoid the police to not get caught. This reflects on the idea that the crime
plays the prominent role in the genre. In the Touch of Evil, the first scene
also involves a crime and it also involves, indirectly our main protagonist as
he is Mexican and the car that he has witnessed to blow up came from the
Mexican border.

Another
genre-relatable similarity that we see is the visual style that both films
share is the obscure world of chiaroscuro lighting (Luhr, 2012). Both films emphasise on the use of chiaroscuro
lighting whether it is done throughout the lighting or use of post-productions
tools. This technique allows to highlight the particular aspects of the scene.
In Drive, the first time we see the use of that technique is at the very
beginning of the film, in the establishing shot highlighting the back of the
actor’s back but keeping his face in the darkness. This technique is often used
to keep our character in the mystery for the audience, to not give out too much
about his traits. In the Touch of Evil, the establishing shot is also using the
technique. It highlights the antagonist’s hands whilst setting up the bomb.
This is for the obvious reasons of hiding the main antagonist from the viewers
so that it builds the mystery around the character, it also connotes that if
the audience can’t see his anything but his hands, and it means the characters
in the film can’t see him either.

Furthermore,
as Janey Place and Lowell Peterson describe the components of film noir from (Park, 2011): “Night scenes. Wide angle photography. Depth of focus. Hallucinatory
dissolves. Dream montages. Strange camera angles.” both films are shoot
mainly during the night in urban cities and streets with sinister, low?key lit
interiors. This emphasises on the danger that is surrounding our main
characters as well as it reflecting quite literally on the dark themes of the
film noir genre.  The camera angles are rather creative with
use of a lot of shallow depth of focus being used so that the important objects
are always in the frame whilst making the background less distracting for the
viewer.

Another
unique and quite frequently used similarity that we see is the guidelines for
the film-noir characters is where the main character is usually a morally ambiguous
man that has been trapped into the plot of the film where he doesn’t really
have the choice whether or not he is in the situation as either he is involved
with it or acts on behalf of his moral code. In the film Drive, the driver
seems to have a moral code of always helping others when they require the aid.
This is the main reason why he became involved with the femme fatale of the
story who was doomed from the very beginning as she explained that the father
of her son is in prison. Even though the main character knew about the situation,
he still decided to part of the femme fatale’s family. In the Touch of Evil,
the main character, the Mexican investigator, Mike Vargas (Ramone Miguel
Vargas) has unintentionally became witnesses at the scene of a distressing
crime scene. As the crime happened right next to the Mexican border, Vargas
says “This could be very bad for us.”
He then proceeds to explain that he meant that it could be very bad for Mexico
but from that very particular line, we can see that the character has involved
himself with the crime on a moral basis as he feels like.

 

3.   
DIFFERENCES
IN FILM-NOIR AND NEO-NOIR

On the other hand, film-noir, allowed
for the birth of neo-noir genre. By understanding what makes a genre, it is
safe to state that there must be a noticeable difference between each and every
text that has been produced under the neo-noir name.

The main plot of Touch of Evil
emphasises on building the relationship between the anti-hero and the audience
more than the protagonist himself. Going by the official definition (Williams, 2011) or going by the Vladimir
Propp’s Narrative Theory, antihero is a “Term
used to denote the *protagonist of a dramatic *action”. Quinlan, who is a
tragic character of the novel is rather one of those that the audience despises
at the very beginning of the film as his past and future is unclear but
ultimately begins to understand the struggle that he’s been through as a
character and it makes the audience feel for him when he finds his personal
demise. On the contrary, Drive’s plot focus’ more on the ultimate hero.
Throughout the film, we can see that because of his very own brilliance, he has
literally and figuratively drove himself to a state of loneliness that began to
feel desire to find companionship.

Another difference that is noticeable
straight away is the soundtrack choice. As social construction evolves with
times, so does the themes of all genres. In the film Touch of Evil, the music
is current for its time and era, using jazz, blues, and classical piano. Those
music genres were popular doing the 1950’s era. Drives takes a different
approach, instead of using music that is fit for its modern times, it’s rather
using Retro-80s synthesized soundtracks. In fact, the music and the 80s style,
alongside the melodramatic pacing disrupted by explicit violence made the film
feel like a somewhat artsy tribute to both decades’ films but even then, it is
still a transformation that can be easily spotted.

Furthermore, when decades change, the stories
somewhat shape in order to fit the social constructions. In Neo-noir, it can be
based on things such as identity crisis which we can see in Drive as our
character seems to have two completely separate lives, one that starts during
night time where he predominantly commits the crime and during the day, where
he is a caring gentleman although with the mysterious aura around his persona.
There is also subjectivity whereas mentioned, in Drive, our character has
specific moral code and is rather influenced by his own feelings. On the other
hand film-noir usually have dealt with underworld gangsters, criminals fighting
each other and against the world for the reputation or redemption. This can be
seen in the Touch of Evil where main characters are seem to be battling their
own demons in order to seek redemption for themselves. Quinlan, who is a highly
regarded Police captain has problems with alcohol. Due to his reputation, he would
from time to time desperately bend the law without question in order to keep
his position and be the “hero”. This unfortunately has lead him to a path where
the redemption was not an option anymore due to him planting evidence. A man,
so desperate to gain glory and success has led to a tragic death because of the
mistakes he could not gain the much needed redemption.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

During my investigation, in which I have provided various
reliable sources that helped me with the research on the subject of the Film Noir
and Neo-Noir, it is safe to state that going by the definition of evolution,
neo-noir updated themes, social construction, techniques and visual elements
are not enough to create a modern name for the Film Noir genre/movement. Film Noir
and Neo-Noir should definitely not be comparable as often as they are at the
moment. This is due to them essentially representing the very same
storytelling, plots, characters and some of the technology such as chiaroscuro
lighting. The use of newer technology surely allows for better techniques to be
used within modern films but that should not be the case of creating a
completely new name for the genre. Just like we do not call modern Thrillers
“Neo-Thrillers”, Horrors “Neo-Horrors” or Westerns “Neo-Westerns”. As mentioned
above, the outweighing similarities should be enough to understand that this is
still the same genre; characters sharing the same treats, femme fatale
occurring in both films, use of very similar scenery, specific camera angles,
the length of the shots, cityscapes at night, use of chiaroscuro lighting and
most importantly, crime.