The Modern Day Film Noir: My Understanding

I found this video online of Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential) discussing their thoughts and feeling on the noir genre. Through watching the video, I gained an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the directors and their motives behind certain elements of their films. If I can channel and understand what they feel themselves, then our Neo-Noir trailer will be a lot more effective.Below are some key quotations from the clip.

“I love noir because the stakes are small. There’s just one guy who’s life at stake. It does not affect the whole world. So it doesn’t matter if he dies in the first five minutes or at the end. But this incident means the world to the main character”.

“The fact that the main character cares is what really makes the differences not that if he wins”

“There’s an element of the caper that I like. A guy is forced to do something that is small that usually escalates. You want to start a noir story with a grounding in an everyday life. You start with the detective who discovers something minimal, which escalates to the highest political office in the city.”

These quotes have shown me that the premise of our film does not have to be world changing. It is much more important to focus on the journey of one individual and how this builds up to becoming a grand city-wide problem.

“There’s an element of existential. It doesn’t have to do with the main police. Instead, the detective finds out someone who deserves to be punished but they weren’t. It gradually builds up to this ending with a horrible truth. In the good stories to me, there’s a little bit of redemption. One character is seen as being able to walk, but the other deserves to go down for what they’ve done. The main detective leaves behind him a catastrophic trailing line of crying people due to their unexposed secrets”.

“Chinatown is the perfect example of a flawed character. Here we have a man who drinks and is obviously just about money and getting clients. He has a very broken moral compass. The only thing that makes us likes him is that he is good at what he does. Even at his low point, he has the potential to be something more. He comes to care deeply about something and he becomes a modern day knight in tarnished armour that isn’t as good as it used to be. His days have passed but his must summon what he used to be able to do.”

“The pursuit of the truth in the face of people pointing guns in your face is the need for the character to find redemption.”

“The crime in the film happened years ago and everyone has moved on until the person comes in and uncovers what happened”.

“They are always characters that no matter how far out of the world they have been cast, they are always really good at something”.

These quotes link with the idea that the main protagonist has his own moral code that may not necessarily match that of the audience. Despite the fact that the main protagonist may be flawed, it is important that he has a certain skill that is useful to him throughout the film.

“The key to noir is the devil (temptation) on your shoulder and whether you will follow it”.

“There’s a bizarre quality to the violence in noir, where it has devastating consequences. It really examines what violence means and how it registers in the mind of the character”.

“Noir reflects the struggle of an individual within a dark landscape which represents and reflects his own mind. He faces ultimate sadness which makes you feel you wish you never found out the truth”.

These final quotes demonstrate that noir is living in a darker reality and the main character has to try and live with the issues that they are shouldered with. These inner issues are then projected onto the rest of the film by the director to make the entire world a stream of their consciousness.

Overall from this exercise I learnt how some key directors see the purpose of noir and their opinions on certain traits, such as the main protagonist’s motives. I will now take these ideas that the plot can have a small localised centre or that the world is a reflection of the protagonists thoughts and try to include these in my own trailer.


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