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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Neo-noir and the influence of film noir

In the 1960s and 1970s, Hollywood filmmakers such as Arthur Penn (Mickey One [1964]), John Boorman (Point Blank [1967]), Sam Peckinpah (The Getaway [1972]), and Robert Altman (Thieves Like Us [1973]) created films that drew from (and commented upon) the original film noirs. In Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), based on a novel by Chandler, hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe is presented as a hapless misfit who can't help but lose the moral battle. The most acclaimed of the neo-noirs of this era was Roman Polanski's 1974 film, Chinatown, set in Los Angeles, one of the most familiar of classic noir locales. Director Martin Scorsese's black-and-white masterpiece Raging Bull (1980) tells a story of boxing and corruption that recalls in both theme and visual ambience noir dramas such as Body and Soul (1947) and The Set-Up (1949). From 1981, the popular Body Heat, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, invokes a different set of classic noir elements, this time in a humid, erotically charged Florida setting.
Over the last twenty-plus years, the films of Joel and Ethan Coen have constituted one of the most noteworthy cinematic ouevres influenced by noir, especially Blood Simple (1984) and The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), the comedy The Big Lebowski (1998)—a tribute to author Raymond Chandler and an homage to Altman's version of The Long Goodbye—and the gangster drama Miller's Crossing (1990), loosely based on Dashiell Hammett's novels The Glass Key and Red Harvest. The Man Who Wasn't There features a scene that appears to have been staged to mirror the shot from Out of the Past shown above. The Coens also include film noir elements prominently in both the script and direction of their movie Fargo (1996), considered by some a modern classic in the genre. Another leading neo-noir auteur has been Michael Mann, with the films Thief (1981), Heat (1995), and Collateral (2004), and the 1980s TV series Miami Vice and Crime Story. Like Chinatown, its more complex predecessor, Curtis Hanson's Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential (1997), based on the James Ellroy novel, is an example of a deliberately retro film noir, with a tale of corrupt cops and femme fatales seemingly lifted right from a movie of 1953, the year in which it is set. Films by director Quentin Tarantino such as Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) exemplify a different strain of neo-noir, in which classic themes and tropes are revisited in contemporary settings with an up-to-date visual style and sensibility. Other movies from the era readily identifiable as neo-noir (some retro, some more au courant) include director John Dahl's Red Rock West (1992) and The Last Seduction (1993); three adaptations of novels by pulp master Jim Thompson—After Dark, My Sweet (1990), The Grifters (1990), and the remake of The Getaway (1994); as well as many others, including The Hot Spot (1990), Miami Blues (1990), The Usual Suspects (1995), and A Simple Plan (1998). The films of David Lynch—particularly Blue Velvet (1986), Lost Highway (1996), and Mulholland Drive (2001)—show the influence of film noir filtered through a uniquely individualistic vision.
The cynical and stylish perspective of film noirs strongly influenced the creators of the cyberpunk genre of science fiction in the early 1980s, Blade Runner (1982) being the seminal film in the genre. A decade earlier, Soylent Green (1973) portrayed a dystopian, near-future world via an unmistakably noir detection plot featuring actors Charlton Heston (the lead in Touch of Evil) and Edward G. Robinson (star of over a half-dozen classic film noirs). Later examples of cyberpunk or similarly "sci-fi noir" films include Dark City (1997), Gattaca (1997), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), and Minority Report (2002). The animated Japanese film Ghost in the Shell (1995) and its sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), may also be considered sci-fi noir.
Recently, one of the leading English-language directors in the neo-noir vein has been the British-born Christopher Nolan, with Memento (2000) and the remake of Insomnia (2002). Other recent neo-noir works include the films The Pledge (2001), Training Day (2001), and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) and the video game series Max Payne. The most commercially successful of recent neo-noirs is Sin City (2005), directed by Robert Rodriguez in black and white with the odd bit of color. The film is based on a series of comic books, created by Frank Miller (credited as the movie's codirector), which are in turn heavily influenced by the works of Mickey Spillane and other pulp mystery authors. The TV series Veronica Mars and 2005 film Brick, in which adolescents are forced to take on adult roles when their friends or young loves face peril, have been referred to as "teen noir" or "kid noir." Veronica Mars—titular character of a show described not only as a youth-oriented but also feminist twist on film noir—is a mature, skeptical teenager who works as a P.I. for her father's business and solves felonies in her spare time.

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