Posted on Leave a comment

Vintage Noir

As a sideline, I sell reproductions of a range of images. I have available many maps, fashion plates, photography, travel ephemera and much more. This post is about images I have with a noir feel.

Film Noir

Browns Landing - rural noir photogrspha
Brown’s Landing Rice Creek

French film critic Nino Frank originally coined the term noir in 1946. In the 1970s, it was applied retrospectively to Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s. The literal translation is Black Film, but a closer rendering is Dark Film.

Darkness is key to the genre. It may be literal, as in classic 1940s thrillers such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. It may be metaphorical, as in the many films with stories involving femmes fatales and tough, cynical detectives.

Definitions

Monochrome photo of Dallas at night 1942
Dallas 1942

There is no clear agreement on what is or isn’t a noir film. Common elements include low-key lighting, stark light/dark contrasts and dramatic shadow patterning. They often use low, or skewed camera angles. They typically have unusually convoluted story lines. Voice over narration is a particular noir hallmark. The most extreme example is perhaps Sunset Boulevard, where the narrator is dead.

Key Themes

Monochrome photo showing girl alone in bar
Girl alone in bar

Crime, usually murder, is a feature of almost all noir films. Greed or jealousy are frequent motivations. The central character is often flawed or morally compromised. They are typically drawn from a narrow range of archetypes — hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, corrupt policemen or jealous husbands. Amnesia, false suspicions, accusations of betrayal or double-cross are common.

The genre is associated with big city settings, but small towns and rural locations also feature.

In noir films, it is always raining, always nighttime. When it isn’t raining, it is hot. Whatever the setting, corruption is endemic – in modern parlance, ‘institutional corruption’ is rife.

Modern Usage

Pittsburgh street at night
Pittsburgh Street at night

The term has evolved to describe a mood or feeling. The best known usage is perhaps the genre of Scandinavian or Nordic noir. This is crime fiction written in Scandinavia, typically in a realistic style with a dark, morally complex setting. Dark secrets and hidden hatreds hide behind a facade of equality, social justice, and liberalism.

I have chosen the images scattered through this post from those originally tagged ‘noir’ in my old shop. If any are of interest, whether for their own sake or as part of a decorative scheme, please get in touch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.