Over the weekend I watched a great programme on BBC4, The Rules of Film Noir – a spine-tingling hour of clips from Hollywood movies that outlined the ‘unwritten rules’ that were followed during the creation of the dark, pulp fiction-based movie genre from 1940s and 50s. A great inspiration for picture editors, as much as film directors.
While the documentary covered the techniques used to make these films during this era – shadows, up-lighting, surreal dream-sequences, fog, night-time, the bright-lights of the city; and the genre’s origin and inspiration – the darkness cast in Europe by the Nazi occupation during WW2? – I was intrigued by the beautiful, glamorous and charismatic movie stars – Barbara Stanwyck, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and Fred McMurray – the very actors that set the bar for Hollywood glamour. The stills convey all of that almost as well as the films themselves - like the best photos, all the shots are simple and clean.
The films were made in drama inducing black and white and so the stills have the shades and tones that create sinister scenes and atmospheres, with suffocating, dark corners and shady doorways often accentuated by billowing, exhaled cigarette smoke, flashing neon lights of signs out on the street, and reflections on windows evoking fear and terror.
The fast-talking dialogue, clothes, hair and make up, the chemistry between the cold-hearted dames who ‘love manicures more than husbands’ and ‘the private dick who wouldn’t recognise gentility if it criticised the way he drank bourbon from a teacup’, create a fantasy of sheer glamour, style and sophistication.
Of course, Film Noir didn’t come out of Hollywood – this style of film-making originated in Europe in the 1920s giving birth to the controversial ‘dutch tilt’ which also influenced stills photography, see our previous blog:
To read more about The Rules of Film Noir, read The Guardian’s article which highlights the possible ‘culprits’ who sparked the birth of the genre.
Post by Nicola Charalambous (Picture Editor of PA Photocall)