Comparison between past and present Film Noir

We were assigned the task by our teacher to find two trailers of film noir, one from pre-1960 and one from post-1960, the effect this had was that it enabled us to get a better understanding of the genre and find reoccurring themes that we can eventually implement into our own concepts. The two film trailers I decided to compare were Murder My Sweet,d. Edward Dmytryk, 1944 and Drive d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011.


Given the difference of over 65 years between the production of both films there will be differences between the two given the technological development that has taken place in this time. The main similarities between the two trailers will be the iconography, narrative, themes and representations. In Murder My Sweet the character types are made very clear, the protagonist is the seeker hero, there is a femme fatale who exploits the seeker hero and gets them to his to do a task for her which results in him getting in deeper and deeper trouble. These same character types are not present or represented in the trailer for Drive. Ryan Gosling’s character, the protagonist, is not a seeker hero or a ‘fall guy’, which are both archetypal character types of the film noir genre, instead he is just presented as a normal person who has a dark side. The exploration of the darker side of a character who initial is presented as being a perfectly reasonable and respectable member of society is very typical of Noir films as it is very attractive for audiences. The reason behind this is that everyone has a dark side to them and so to see someone whose darker side is exposed and exploited so publicly creates a sense of suspense and interest that is the reason why Noir films have been so popular for over 65 years. The femme fatale is also not present in the trailer for Drive, in her place is a woman who is a victim and the only similarity between this vulnerable character type and the femme fatale is the sexual relationship between them and the protagonist and their plea for help, but in this scenario the appeal is genuine. As Murder My Sweet was released during a post-war period there was a great deal of censorship, which meant that directors of the time were not allowed to show graphic scenes of violence or even the demonstration of violent props such as guns. It is because of these limitations that films of the period had to suggest that these sort of props and sequences were taking place off-screen. An example of this is when the protagonist chokes another man to death, while the beginning of the killing is shown the shot becomes a low-angle shot of the protagonist mimicking chocking whilst his victim remains off-screen. With Drive the footage used is much rawer and graphic given the lack of limitations placed upon directors currently. In the trailer for Drive there are numerous graphic scenes of violence where all characters involved are coated in blood, there are 10 occasions when gun props are used and unlike the trailer for Murder My Sweet, the chocking scene in the trailer for drive is not suggested but rather clearly shown.


Given the difference in time between the production of the two films it is understandable that there would be few similarities in mise-en-scene given the change of fashion trends and the development of technology that have now become regular props in films as these pieces of portable technology have become part of our daily lives. However, the two similarities of mise-en-scene between the two trailer are to do with the location in which the film is set and the effective use of lighting. One of the staple points of the film Noir genre is that the story takes place in a major city, primarily with events unfolding during the night. The reason behind why this is done is that in the same way the dark sides of characters are explored the dark, cynical underbellies of major cities are showcased to create a sense of suspense and interest, because of this, in both trailers there are establishing shots of a neon lit city. The use of lighting in Noir films is critical, without an effective use of lighting a film cannot be considered to be of the film noir genre. In both trailers lighting is used to cast shadows over and under expose the protagonist, this is done to connote the two sides of the character, an innocent side that is well lit and a darker side that is ambiguous and cynical, always in shadows. The most common type of lighting used in noir films is known as Chiaroscuro lighting, which is an Italian term which means light and dark.


The difference between the two films with regards to editing is absolute given the development of technology, Drive features CGI and colour correction whereas Murder My Sweet feature next to no editing. Both trailers are similar with regards to sound as they both feature a narration from the protagonist with some non-diegetic music towards the end of the trailer.


To conclude, the narrative of film noir has stayed the same over time, being an exploration of the multiple personas, innocent and dark, of a protagonist while they are put in dangerous situations as a result of someone else’s actions. Where the modern film noir differs from those produced in the 1940s is the technology within them and the modernization of themes to ensure that it is relatable to current audiences ergo attracting a larger target audience and enabling for greater profit margins for the production and distribution companies.


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