Lost in the Shadows, a film noir commentary by Diego Rooks

Diego Rooks, Noir Nation film critic

A film noir scene: Cold sweat on the forehead and almost a close up of a panic-stricken gaze. Then the darkness of a smoky hallway. The Woman turns the corner… the Man with the tilted hat is rendered in silhouette as he takes a pensive drag. Did you read that? A pensive drag. This man is actually thinking. Many thanks to the German Expressionists who infused their contemplative and mute intentions into their canvas. Yes, canvas (back then of chemicals, now of bytes and the sort) and the French with their categorization, which was later shredded by Hollywood, since from 1920 to 1930 a lot of these German directors would be leaving the motherland because of pre-war anxiety. Many left for America and adapted their more subconscious language of mixed theatre, performance, and photography and then from 1930 to 1940 into something more palatable and easier to digest for the masses, melodrama. So then all those different categories that would comprise the Film Noir of that period were packaged into a commercial film product and mass produced. Was this good or bad? How to know? But when you enjoy Noir there is a slowness of time that slowly quickens, like a violin concerto, as the Hero—or antihero—makes difficult choices. He thinks… and she feels. The sense of seduction and rapture embodied in the Heroine, damsel in distress, who may turn out to be the real thinker, and the killer, to the Hero’s dismay.

A frame from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo

Noir. Waiting for a new remake, never lost, just undergoing some metamorphosis as modern times melt in the alchemy of old. Like Hitchcock’s Vertigo we can commence a fresh view of  Film Noir as the technologies of film begin transitioning from old to new media. We see it in video games like L.A. Noir, a mystery in a crime-riddled city wherein players have the opportunity to “snoop” around since it’s a role playing game.  But it’s hard to get that deadpan seriousness of Bogart in the Falcon Maltese in a video game, at least not without boring the audience, which may be more excited by booms and crashes than by the movement of the cogs within… your soul… and your brain trying to make sense of evil.

Recently, at the 2012 Academy Awards, The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, won many awards, including the one for Best Picture. In it, a silent film, we find many elements of Noir, even the tilted camera shot. It also won the Best Actor award even though the drunk scene of actor Jean Dujardin was not very believable at all. Let’s just say it was the quirky side of Noir sweeping through the awards. The acting in The Artist was filled with exaggeration and poses (typical of the acting of that age, 1925 to 1930) but there was lots of chemistry between both performers and a strong emotional projection from actor Bérenice Bejo.

The Artist

The film industry has become a game of remakes, treatments and budgets. For the audience the film does not roll anymore… it’s a moving image, fast paced at times and with startling visual effects at others. Things must change, it is the nature of things so the way Noir Film was viewed before is not so now, times change and so do people, but when we find ourselves working with the projection of  the subconscious onto film like the recess of a paranoid mind or a state of apprehension, confusion or desire we end up having to go back to techniques, styles and expressions—film treatments if you will—that have been explored in so many different ways by the very blurry genre of Noir Film.