The 1940s saw the evolution of a new genre and style of movie making. It was generally characterized by the gloomy greys, black and white. They were set in murky, dimly lit streets and indoors with a seemingly single source of light. The editing was not very crisp and the appearance and the general atmosphere was of gloom, pessimism, anxiety and paranoia as the strains of war restricted the budgets of films back then. Films had to be shot in abandoned warehouses and sets of B- grade films. This genre is now famously known as “Film Noir”.
Film Noir can be traced to having its origins in the German Expressionism of the early 1920s and 1930s. The films were known for their high contrast imagery and stark camera angles. Another source of these films is said to be the hard boiled , pulp detective novels being released and so understandably the earliest film noir movies were crime and detective thrillers. These films often had a very distinct set of characters. The protagonists were officers of law, detectives or just plain Joes. They were often portrayed as being morally ambiguous and having their own “code”, their own understanding of right and wrong.They were hints of a mysterious past they wanted to avoid. They were generally shown to be brooding, anxious, obsessive and the end for them was generally not good. The female counterpart were the “femme fatales”; they were deceitful, manipulative, very beautiful and generally very unreliable. They had shades of grey to their characters and were not always all good. This were they would often directly or indirectly lead protagonists to commit crimes of passion, be it lying , stealing or something bigger even. Not only that these movies were also accused of undertones of sexuality with the actresses often portraying and attempting to get involved with the actors.
The films of this era , on another level, symbolized the psyche, the thinking and the socio-economic scenario of the era. The war had ended and there was heavy casualty on both sides. The economy was in the dumps and the general atmosphere was that of a disillusion as countries stared at a bleak and a dark future. As seen in the movies, a sense of insecurity and injustice seemed to prevail as there was a loss of innocence and these movies were a sought of mirror for the society back then. Not only it was sought of a “yang” to the “ying” of the happy comedy and musicals that were also being produced back then.
Film Noir is a great way to study the period and a great way to turn back the clock and get a glimpse into the mindset and creativity of the writers and creators back then. A silent movement which changed the landscape of film making.