Film Noir...in Color?

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by poetman, Sep 13, 2017.

  1. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    I recall a Marx Brothers film where Groucho make a comment about Technicolor being so expensive.

    To me, Film Noir means a plot in which the good and the bad are not so cut and dried, so to speak. But some black and white films do not have a dark feel at all, and that's intentional, even though parts may be indoor locations. Outdoor locations are never quite the sunny places they would be in color (or real life) and probably work less well than indoor locations but that's just my impression. Some films in color still manage to have a Film Noir feel, just don't ask me to name one.

    I actually like some of the brilliantly lit indoor scenes of color films and it seems like a lot of movies from the 1950s and 1960s had scenes like that. Not all of them, of course, but they didn't have dark rooms and nighttime scenes.

    The movie that I think had the best light and darkness contrasts was (or is) The Third Man, which had some unusual low-angle shots with some tricks to make things reflect light.
     
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  2. MisterCairo

    MisterCairo I'll Lock Up

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    I do not think film noir should be taken too literally. I get it that at the time of its heyday, most films of the genre were in black and white, but as noted that was a by product of the times - most films were made that way for one reason or the other.

    I understand how black and while movies (just as with photographs) can be interpreted or viewed as having an atmosphere, a feeling, that differs from colour, but I think the genre (story, character development) is more important than the look.
     
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  3. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    The old b-movie westerns and other action movies like Jungle Jim and Tarzan were all in glorious black and white but I wouldn't call any of them film noir. It could be said they had a certain atmosphere without exactly being atmospheric. The settings were always predictable, mostly all being made in the same few places, and the plots weren't all that varied, either. You knew who the good guys were as well as who the bad guys were as soon as they appeared on the screen, even if the good guys took 45 minutes to figure it out. To be honest, as an adult who saw them as a child, you are only interested in them for the characters these days or maybe the music, since some were singing cowboys.

    Any idea if there have been any recent movies in black and white?
     
  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Another thing worth considering is that those who were making "film noir" films in the 1940s, generally speaking, had no idea they were making "film noir" films. That term was current among French intellectuals in the late forties, but it really didn't become prominent in the US until the French school of film criticism became prominent here late 1950s, after the "noir cycle" had ended. When they were actually being made, most of the noirs were tossed into the same general pot with "crime dramas," "mysteries," and "melodramas." It's doubtful that anybody working at Monogram or PRC or Eagle-Lion was meditating over the theoretical musings of French film critics in 1947.
     
  5. MisterCairo

    MisterCairo I'll Lock Up

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  6. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    Wow, that's a long list. I notice that one is entitled "The Color Wheel."

    I can't claim that B&W is better or worse than color. They are just different, no matter what kind of movie it was. I think "The Longest Day" was in B&W (1962).

    And speaking of black and white, I was watching a Swiss TV show called "Viva Volksmusik" the other day and as guests in the audience, there were a couple of men who had a folk-pop band of four men back in the early 60's. They showed a short clip of them performing a number. Their dress was dark suits, narrow ties, trim haircuts, the works, against a plain backdrop. On the show they managed to get four similar looking young men playing the same instruments and had them do the same number live there on stage and for the TV broadcast, after they started playing, they switch from color to black and white. It was very remarkable the way they arranged all that.

    Just imagine a group of young men who looked and dressed like the early Beetles performing "I wanna hold your hand." In black and white.
     
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  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    We've screened quite a number of the recent films on that list, and I can't remember anyone complaining about them being B&W. They might complain about some of them being incomprehensible, but not about them being B&W.
     
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  8. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    I understand there are complaints about old films being colorized.

    You might be surprised to learn that some filming is still done on actual film, even though it may be digitalized later. Couldn't tell you why.
     
  9. poetman

    poetman A-List Customer

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    I agree with you whole-heartedly, but something within me fundamentally protests to the notion that something as superficial as the amount of color in a film can have such a determining influence on the overall qualities of the film. I wonder if we retroactively attribute the qualities you mention to the black and white color, but if the films were made in color we might use the same language to discuss the colors? And, yet again, black and white contrast creates and amplifies Noir tropes of isolation, threat, danger, etc---in ways I can't imagine color accomplishing. Perhaps it's one of those rare moments in art when the limitations of the medium create genius of the field.
     
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  10. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Leaving the "definition" of noir to college students writing term papers and film critics, books, I agree that several (most?) Hitchcock movies are noir. Interestingly, one the most noir, "Strangers on a Train," is in B&W. But, then, "Rear Window" and "Dial M for Murder" are very "noiry" and in color. And "To Catch a Thief" is a wonderful movie, but one of his least noir films.

    I love the idea of "The Great Gatsby" as a noir movie. Maybe that's what it needs to give it life on the screen. I enjoy the Redford version, but in a fan-of-the-book way, not in a it's-a-great-movie way and agree completely with you on the Luhrmann version.

    The book, IMHO, doesn't translate well to film or the Reford version would have worked - too much takes place "inside" the character's heads -but tweaked ('cause that's all it would take) to present it from a noir angle, could be powerful.

    All the noir elements are there - cheating spouses, tawdry affairs, gambling, bounders, false identities, the powerful pulling strings to protect itself, murder, bootlegging and an ennui with the moral rot of society. Seen as noir, Gatsby appears almost perfect for filming / as a tragic love story, it's boringly lugubrious on film.

    Now I want someone to do a noir version of it.
     
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  11. poetman

    poetman A-List Customer

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    This is always the case with intellectual approaches to art. I think you're point about the literary/genre origins of Noir are worth exploring. What qualities in detective/pulp fiction make these stories Noir quality for you all? Or, more generally, what are Noir characteristics you look for in literature. (Jay Gatsby is no Noir protagonist. Fitzgerald, and his prose, were too bourgeois too qualify as Noir. Of course the novel contains Noir elements, but there's too much high society in the story to qualify as Noir.)
     
  12. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    This makes sense as many things are only categorized (dissected, classified and put into a "genre") long after their creative peak. While, at the time, consciously the producers and directors weren't making a "noir" movie, they did absorb the style of other similar movies and, being movie makers, recognized the defining elements in those that they wanted to capture in their movies. So, in a way, they were making "noir" movies based on a set of criteria, but only in a loose way based on similar elements and prevailing details and characteristic of similar movies.
     
  13. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    I share your concern and noted in another post that there are color noir movies (all but contradicting my initial and enthusiastic first post), as well as the idea that the limitation (color film being expensive) drove the creative process. But I have no problem with B&W being a defining feature of many noir films nor is it wrong to say it was quintessential to the genre even if some color movies are noir (rules truly are made to be broken as good artists can stretch the boundaries of excepted standards). Noir was birthed in B&W, but was such a powerful art form that it transcended its aborning boundaries.

    I don't know - Gatsby was bourgeois in his aspirations (as many noir characters are or claim to be), but he is basically a street fighter / bootlegger with too much flash (pink suit, new shirts every year - so "we don't do that in our class of people") and too much boldness (marches in and tries to steal another man's wife with little camouflage) to ever really be bourgeois.

    Also, many noir movies entwine with high society as the goal for many noir bounders is to rise up from the street and into society - it's almost a stock character to have a noir girlfriend or wife - who is trying to "get into society -" push her husband or boyfriend to kill or lie or steal to advance that goal. To your point - and it's a good good one as Gatsby doesn't perfectly fit the noir template - the director would have to emphasize certain elements of his characters and deemphasize others. But it is a noir-ish story - heck, the all but closing scene of Gatsby (Gatsby face down, dead in the pool) echoes the opening scene of the very noir "Sunset Boulevard."
     
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  14. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    I think a movie should be judged on its own merits without comparison to either the book or to other versions. Naturally, that isn't so easy to do and it takes effort. Even so, it won't make it any better than it is.

    I still think of a Film Noir movie as one in which all the characters aren't squeaky clean and pure. The "good guy" might be a private eye and so is never quite on the side of law and order. He may not even be on the side of his client. I don't think color detracts at all from such a film but usually everything is a little shabby. After all, private eyes are never rich. The two Tony Rome movies fit my definition and they weren't low-budget black and white b-movies. Anything by Mickey Spillane comes out as a film noir. A lot of TV shows, especially the earlier private eye shows (usually in B&W) are film noir, I think. Peter Gunn comes to mind. Another movie that makes me think of film noir is Jackie Brown, although it doesn't really have any dark scenes that I recall. It does have some satisfyingly confusing elements and you have to pay attention to some of the scenes, they way you did with Sam Spade. It's a little offbeat in other ways, too.
     
  15. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    I understand what you're saying (I think) but I think the same things have been done in color films. They weren't film noir films, to be sure, but with the setting they created a certain mood, intentionally, of course, but didn't do it with black and white shades of darkness.

    Sometimes it can even be done with music or the lack of music. The spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood were very striking in the way they created a feeling of emptiness, loneliness and desperation, although I wouldn't say they were moody and they certainly weren't dark. I can't think of the right word to describe that particular element they had, though. Maybe it was the elegant and simple staging of some of the dramatic scenes, usually enhanced by the music. Usually there were just a few characters in the scene and very little action but they were nevertheless arresting. There was an element of that in the old movie Blow-up, in the part where he returns to his ransacked studio and spends time trying to figure out what is going on. The movie is a little weird (but not so much for the late 1960s) and the viewer also spend a lot of time trying to figure things out, too. Not sure the movie has a good guy.
     
  16. T Jones

    T Jones I'll Lock Up

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    I just couldn't imagine Noir classics like "Murder My Sweet" or "Out of The Past" or "The Third Man" being colorized. The black and white and the dimly lit filming of those movies just added to the mood and mystery.
     
  17. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

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    The reason I think Gatsby could make a good noir is that is contains all the appropriate elements.

    To use a cliché, Gatsby explores the 'dark underbelly' of the American dream. It is also a detective story - who is Gatsby? Almost every character is tainted, the narrative takes a forensically cynical look at wealth and privilege and it all goes horribly wrong at the end. Institutions like marriage, law and order, even the World Series are shown to be a sham. And all most people want to do is get bombed on illegal drugs (booze). To turn it into a noir film you wouldn't need to change anything. Just emphasize certain elements.

    I don't think Gatsby is too bourgeois to qualify as a noir protagonist. He's a bootlegger and criminal who is the product of gangsters and there's a great lie and a emotional black hole at the center of his unfulfilled and meaningless life. I've read the novel many times and I am always struck by the sadness and tawdriness of the world FSF created. Myrtle and Tom's affair and that grubby lonesome garage feels like something right out of one of James M Cain's roman noirs.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
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  18. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch One Too Many

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    Interestingly, the "Cyberpunk" SF novelists of the '80s were heavily influenced by film noir. William Gibson's "New Rose Hotel" was a perfect example. It's told in a frame. Open frame: Schmuck loser protagonist checks into cheap hotel, waiting for the killers to arrive. Flashback: Schmuck loser protagonist and his schmuck loser sidekick plan the Big Score. Enter the Femme Fatale. Big Score is pulled off, but Femme Fatale makes off with the swag. Schmuck Loser sidekick is killed. Closing frame: Schmuck loser protagonist in cheap hotel room, hearing the killers
    approaching.

    This is, of course, the plot of the 1946 noir "The Killers" adapted from the Hemingway story. It sounds like ripoff but Gibson pulls it off brilliantly.

    And few films are more brilliantly noir than "Blade Runner."
     
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  19. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

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    Much as I love Blade Runner, for me it's very self-conscious about its own style and the film noir elements are pastiche. Wonderful and engaging though it is.

    At some point in the 1980's everything; film, TV and music videos (yes, and novels), kept recycling noir elements in the hope that it would make things seem more profound. Throw in a femme fatale, moody lighting and neon signs reflected on a darkened, wet footpath and there you go - artistic epiphany.

    It all culminated in Tim Burton's Batman, a noir, pseudo-cyperpunk, superhero film - ideas stolen from Alan Moore's Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, which almost to this day haunts us through the derivative Nolan Batman films.

    One of the best of those 80's noir pastiche films for me was Trouble in Mind by Alan Rudolph.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
  20. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    The first Batman movie came out in the 1940s, live action. Some of the animated Batman films, in color, are still full of long dark shadows and very moody and dramatic scenes. There was also a live action production of The Phantom that was similar but it doesn't seem to have made much of an impact. I saw it but don't remember enough of it to further comment. I liked it, though. One of the things about all those movies, including the animated version of Batman is that they were all set in the 1940s or early 1950s. The later Superman movies were not, curiously enough.
     

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