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Film Noir Style
My little film (now called "Pandora's Children") is making progress (see 9.5.06), even though it feels haphazard and bumpy. My goal is to blow the audience away, no matter how long it takes me to get it done.
My latest agony is over style. How can I develop characters and scenes without having a clear visual style? Originally it was all Powerpoint and marker-on-whiteboard — a mock business setting look. Then I got into fanciful fake letters and old postcards when Maddie was going to be communicating her story from her mysterious exile. None of it fits now. Angst.
If my language and theme are hard-boiled, then my style should be film noir. Think classic 1940s... "Citizen Kane" (1941). And those hardboiled tales: "Double Indemnity" (1944) or "Sunset Boulevard" (1950)." Think earlier to nightmarish German expressionist silent films — "Nosferatu" (1922) and "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari" (1919). You see black and white, mysterious shadows, but what else? My research gives me the following list:
... Dramatic shadows, stark contrast, little color. Corners of rooms are dark and the interiors of cars provide a gloomy, claustrophobic setting.
... Strong diagonals, including low or odd camera angles
... Characters and objects are often backlit: long shadows, obscured features
... Shadows of venetian blinds (prison bars, window frames, banister rods, etc.) dramatically cast on the character's face (see photo at the top from "Double Indemnity.")
The visual style echoes German expressionism, painting shafts of light that temporarily illuminate small chunks of an ominous and overbearing universe that limits a person's chances to slim and none. For as Paul Schrader said in his influential "Notes on Film Noir" essay, "No character can speak authoritatively from a space which is continually being cut into ribbons of light." (Source)
More about film noir:
Although many of its visual codes are familiar, the overall concept of film noir is notoriously difficult to pin down... What these films do have in common, however, is a fascination with psychological instability, sexual obsession, and alienation. Unlike the "Hollywood Gothic" of films such as Dracula (1931) or The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), what appears as monstrous in film noir derives not from the half-human horrors of the vampire or Frankenstein's monster, but from the all too human characteristics of jealousy, greed, lust, and ruthless self-interest. [Source]
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