You can set your dieselpunk story in Gotham or Metropolis, Librium or Antarctica. You can build the most incredible structures and fill the streets and hangars with every kind of weird machines. The sky is the limit! But you need something more: the atmosphere. No matter how optimistic you are, the genre simply cannot do without a bit of darkness. Stylish darkness. So, what about Noir?
We won’t bore you with academic definitions. Just two quotes from a highly readable TV Tropes article:
The Anti-Hero is the most common protagonist of the Noir — a man alienated from society, suffering an existential crisis. Frequently portrayed as a disillusioned, cynical police officer or private-eye and played by a fast-talking actor, the Anti-Hero is no fool and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He faces morally ambiguous decisions and battles with a world that seems like it is out to get him and/or those closest to him.
The setting is often a large, oppressive city (filmed in dark and dusky conditions to create a moody atmosphere), with Mexico often playing a big role. Familiar haunts include dimly-lit bars, nightclubs filled with questionable clientele (including, the Gayngster) whom the lead may intimidate for information, gambling dens, juke joints and the ubiquitous seedy waterfront warehouse. At night in the big city, you can bet the streets are slick with rain, reflecting streetlights like a Hopper painting. Most of the characters (including the lead) are cynical, misanthropical and hopeless all the way through the film, and never find true redemption.
Desolation. Suspense. Dark air electrified with danger and sin. Shady spots lost between back alleys. Strong drinks and heavy smoke. Dim lights. Charcoal coats and sharkskin suits. Black gunmetal. False friends. Ladies you never can trust… Don’t get paranoid. And if you do, remember: even paranoids have enemies. They are following your steps. Now!
Speaking of proto-Noir, one cannot but mention a Fritz Lang masterpiece, ‘M’. But there are at least two prewar movies very well worth a mention:
The Invisible Man (1933, above) and Port of Shadows (1938, below)
Hollywood quickly adopted the Old World techniques and set the new standards for Noir, producing a score of all-time classics:
Murder, My Sweet (1944, above and below)
The Film Noir influence was strong enough to expand beyond the silver screen. A lot of George Hurrell photographs are pure Noir. And there are modern photographers who are trying to recreate the atmosphere – take a look at this appropriately named album, for example.
Film Noir is, and will always be a source of inspiration – for film directors and photographers, graphic artists and designers. It is as attractive in 2012 as it was in 1946:
And how can we say goodbye without a single moving picture? After all, it’s Film Noir!
Have a nice weekend!
July 29, 2012 at 12:55 am
The older I get, the less satisfied I am with the bleaker, more nihilistic elements of film noir, especially the inevitable destruction of the protagonist. But I’ll chalk that up to the discontent that began to get traction after WWII. As for the overall artistic aesthetic, though, I agree 100%. The visuals, the tension between light and dark, put the punk in dieselpunk.
August 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm
Brilliant overview. I’m a photographer by passion, and noir is the genre I deal in most often. I had the pleasure of having Stefan recent workover one of my images for Bard Constantine’s The Troubleshooter cover. It’s fantastic. You can see more of my noir photography portfolio here > http://bit.ly/N13qgO < Would love to hear any thoughts or observations. ~ Mark / JerseyStyle Photography
August 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm
Great shots. Thank you Mark!
August 23, 2012 at 10:37 am
To have one of my pictures featured among the still frames from all these absolute, wordly acknowledged masterpieces films… just leaves me speechless!
Thank you SO much.
August 23, 2012 at 11:02 am
September 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm
We are screening THE BIG SLEEP later tonight at our studio, and had the pleasure of seeing one of the greatest and last noirs TOUCH OF EVIL on the big screen at the TIFF Lightbox Theatres here in Toronto just a few weeks ago. Noir is incredible, and no matter how they try to reinvent it for today, nothing really holds a candle to the black and white noirs of yesteryear.
Love this post, and your blog. Thanks so much for following! You will be seeing more of us soon….