muteforce.wordpress.com

Film Noir: A Tussle in the Darkness

Film NoirThe two films Double Indemnity by Billy Wilder and Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock belong to the genre called film noir. My understanding of Film Noir genre is preceded by Western films and Neo-realism. So one clear fact for me is that unlike the first two genres it is quite difficult to aptly define film noir. I am saying this because noir films are basically thriller, romance, crime or suspense drama which are anyway a common theme for any genre or period of films. However it is the many characteristic features like haze-filled screen, use of shadows, female fatale and others that I will discuss in following passages which distinguish film noir from other crime-suspense flicks.
One of the first noticeable attribute of these films is how the characters are framed. In both Double Indemnity and Vertigo, all viewers  get to know about male protagonist is through their profession and present state of affairs in their life. Walter Neff (Fred Macmurray)is a successful insurance agent, astute and sharp talker besides he is also good friends with his senior Barton Keyes (Edward  Robinson). Similarly in Vertigo,  John (James Stewart) is a detective looking to change profession, suffers from acrophobia and has a female friend named Midge. Unlike neo-realism, these films nowhere tell the background or personal, family and everyday  life of its characters.
Also the female protagonists in these films are terribly attractive. On one hand, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck)is the bold and beautiful, modern day woman while on other Madeliene (Kim Novak)brings up the avatar of delicate diva belonging to upper class of the society. Both effortlessly set fire at the hearts of viewers outside the screen and that of the men on the screen. In general most characters in noir films are somehow unsatisfied, either by their job, business, lifestyle, marriage or some abstract inner temptation. They are well grounded in materialistic notions of life, having lust for sex, money and consumer desires. In this way it won’t be wrong to say that noir actually captures an angle of American society at large. 
The plot in these films construct another parallel for this genre. The men are smitten by women’s beauty. Women plan out devious crime. Men, obsessed with love (or perhaps lust)  lose their focus and become a part of the crime. Women can feel successful at initially but later the hero realize the truth and the film ends on an unhappy note. This is a general scheme of events but as I already mentioned above it is not possible to tie noir into a specific sequence or format.
Yet going by this schema some interesting perspectives come forth. A pale critic may simply despise  both women in these  films for bargaining their bodies in lieu of their objectives. But did they really did that? In Double Indemnity,  it was Walter who deliberately made rounds around Phyllis. It was him who had an emptiness, a desire to execute a momentous insurance fraud which flies even over the head of Keyes.  He planned. He murdered. Even then if Phyllis is deemed to be of bad character it would only show the skewed mind set by which the society sees woman. For me, all Phyllis did was to garner the weakness of Walter. She was clever in her moves and smart in thinking. Obviously she had a bad motive, but not a bad character.
Romance is the most engaging part of a noir film. I am saying that because every viewer can have a different perspective on it and they all can be right. For example, the relation between  John and Medliene  in Vertigo surely starts off with physical attraction. John falls for her beauty. But does it matures as the film goes on? He apparently gets to know more about Madeliene’s emotional state, and her past. He follows her to all places she visits (which also has a distinct car-chase sequence- steady movement and no thrashing other cars and lamp-posts like in many Hollywood chases). Does all this blooms any real love into him? And more interestingly when and how Madeliene  (or who is later revealed to be Judy) develops love for him. The viewer jostles with such questions all the way  till the end until which surprises keep coming, story keeps unfolding.
Moments before the death of both Phyllis and Madeliene, they do indicate that they actually had got attached to Walter and John respectively. But to concretely ascertain how deep that attachment was perhaps a bit more time was required. Unfortunately they both die leaving us in the lurk and no time.  All then left is to introspect what type of women were they. Rather we must remove the narrow feminine lens and ask what type of person were they.  One may say they represent this generation whose ethics and values are eroded by high-seated ambitions. Another viewpoint may see them as modern day rebel who reject boundations like marriage and regular jobs. A third might pity on them for being a victim of cut-throat race for survival in this harsh world.
For a fan of realist and pragmatic cinema like me film noir doesn’t bring much to the table. However if this genre is still beloved by so many it should be because it pictures smoky rooms with smokier intents, shady humans with shadier humanity, wet streets with wetter consequences and  dark shadows with darker hearts.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s