Film Noir is French for black film and is used as an apt description for the movies that gained popularity in America between the 1940 and 1960. Certain movies made in the 21st century which were inspired by these but are referred to as neo-noir or post-noir as this term is only dedicated to that period. These movies are characterized by shadowy images, dark lighting, shady locations and thrilling plots without a happy ending. However, there is a major dispute between some of the big names of the industry about what exactly it identifies as: genre or style. And that is what we will cover in this article.
Genre is the term used to characterize movies. It is a classification of a specific style, form or content in a musical, artistic or literally composition. However, genres don’t affect the originality of the movie in any way. Genres are primarily defined by four elements— story, plot, character and setting.
What is Style?
Film styles are essentially techniques used by the film industry to bring about specific changes in their work. This covers all the aspects of a movie like the dialogue, cinematography, editing, sound as well as the attitude.
Plenty of renowned writers like Foster Hirsch believe that film noir is a genre. He highlights how the genre has an identical narrative structure of narration, visual features and characters. There are many movies in this category which depict an alienated anti-hero, femme fatale and flashbacks. Double Indemnity and Out of the Past are some examples of this.
James Damico also reviews it identically with a slightly different argument. He says that since film noirs have a template for narration, they’re also a genre. His template describes the protagonist as someone in violent surroundings and goes down due to the intervention of a female character. His opinion differs from Hirsch’s because it doesn’t indicate any unity in the film’s visual features. Some film noirs fit into his definition really well like Postman Rings Always Twice. However, there are some that don’t sit well with this definition like Brute Force, as they don’t have a female character.
There are many critics out there who think that film noir is not a genre as it cannot be classified based on psychological or subject matter. Paul Schrader also claims something similar. However, he doesn’t identify it as a film style. He just declares it not to be a genre as it is classified with subtle mood and tone modifications. It has been identified as a visual style, mood and tone for the movie though. Durgnat identifies it as a style of bleak cynicism which sets the mood for the whole category. Since there are a lot of differing opinions on this matter, as well as movie examples to back these opinions, it is still not clear if it’s a genre or a style.
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