What is Film Noir?
In Mennel’s Chapter on Los Angeles from Cinema and Cities, she describes what the genre of film noir is and the characteristics that are inherent to the genre. Film noir is a highly debated topic in film; many disagree on if it is even a genre. Mennel approaches the topic by giving multiple sides of the argument and describing the different characteristics found in the films. Mennel says film noir typically contains urban alienation, violence, and a femme fatale. In addition she touches on the use of Urban Space and what makes Los Angeles such an ideal city for the genre. Lastly Mennel makes connections between film noir and Weimer cinema.
Mennel discusses the different characteristics inherent to film noir. First she discusses the idea of urban alienation. This is an idea inspired by George Simmel in his work, The Metropolis and Mental life, which outlines the alienation of the individual as a result of urban life. Mennel relates this to the acting style used in film noir in which actors, “Delivered their lines solely by moving their lips.”(49). Mennel points out the lack of the emotion shown by actors, adding to the loss of individuality. In addition Mennel talks about the importance of the femme fatale in film noir. She describes the femme fatale as “A sexualized, double-crossing, dominant female character who is ultimately punished for her transgressions.”(47). The femme fatale helps add to the struggle for the male characters to maintain masculinity and their sense of individuality. Both of these characteristics are key to the film noir genre.
Mennel discusses the use of Los Angeles in the film noir. She says that Los Angeles is central to film noir because of its “Position between modernity and postmodernity.”(52). Many times Los Angeles appears as a dangerous city that has been corrupted by its past or lack there of. Los Angeles acts as a character, and like many of the actual characters in film noir, it fails to maintain a strong identity rooted in the past. The city itself is just as important as the characters in it. Additionally Mennel talks about how it is typical of film noir to start the narrative with a sequence of shots from around Los Angeles. Many times this is a pan of the Los Angeles skyline, followed by a close up or multiple close ups of the characters being active in the city.
Lastly Mennel drew connections between the development of film noir and Weimar Cinema. Mennel talks about the role of expressionism in both and the progression from the Weimar cinema to the Hollywood studio system and film noir. Mennel. The expressionist techniques used in Weimar cinema can still be seen in film noir. However they are not used exactly the same, in film noir it is used to create an alienating effect, while the Weimar cinema used expression mainly to relay the desired message of the director.