Old movies set into the limelight with #Noirvember this month: here’s our guide to film noir to set you on your way.

They almost always begin the same: A private investigator/plainclothes policeman/aging boxer/hapless grafter/wannabe writer talks in wild metaphors over a dramatic scene; be it a dead body, a grand house, or the beaten tracks. He talks of beginnings, though he is clearly at his end, and the story always starts with the gorgeous but deadly woman he madly fell in love with. Thus starts a tale of mystery, murder, and money.

Yes, whilst there are dark nights, and chilly evenings, it’s time to dabble in a bit of film noir during a little film marathon called Noirvember.

Created by film critic Marya E Gates, Noirvember is a month-long dive into those classic stories of crime and femme fatales. Film noir revolves around movies that encompass cynical attitudes and are framed with long shadowed sequences, existential monologues, and criminal behaviour.

So, you are keen to get involved in Noirvember, are you kid? Do you not know your Stanwycks from your Turners?

Well, here is a small guide to get you started…

Proto-Noir

Though Film Noir didn’t officially begin until the 1940s, there are a few pre-Hays Code and silent films that can be considered early influences – like small roots scrummaging around in the dirt before they can bloom into proper noir films.

The best from this era is Underworld (1927.) Starring George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent, and Clive Brook, Underworld sees a lowly gang member murder his mob boss when he falls in love with the boss’s moll. A brilliant seedy film with some terrific performances, this is a must-see regardless of its noir connection..

Proto-Noir highlights include Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper as criminals on the run in City Streets (1931), dreamy Marlene Dietrich led train thriller Shanghai Express (1932), and big gangster themed movies such as Little Caesar (1931) featuring Edward G Robinson.

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Classic Noir

Experts nowadays conclude that the first ever film noir was 1940 thriller Stranger On The Third Floor. Led by Peter Lorre, it revolves around Michael who witnesses a murder. And though he thinks he knows who the killer is, Michael is about to uncover some deadly evidence.  Directed by Boris Ingster, Stranger On The Third Floor also has the most expert usage of shadows and dream sequences too.

The prime film noir era is roughly from 1945 to 1960. There are so many films that we can highlight, but I’m going to give you the pinnacle (and favourite) films of this period.

Humphrey Bogart delivers an iconic performance in the 1941 remake of The Maltese Falcon whilst Gloria Swanson is ready for her close-up in Billy Wilder’s heated Hollywood thriller Sunset Boulevard (1950). Orson Welles chases reflections of Rita Hayworth and murder in The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and the infamous and iconic Barbra Stanwyck in the incredible Double Indemnity (1944,) again directed by Wilder.

Love and homicide brood in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), starring Lana Turner and he apparently rings again in 1983 remake starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange which is a brilliant example of neo-noir. Talking of which…

Neo-Noir

Neo-noir is often considered a resurgence of the genre, years after the first post-war period. It is signified by Dutch angles, unbalanced framing, and the blurred lines of good and bad. Often reflecting the motifs of the political or social era, the neo-noir period can be considered from the 1960s to date.

So cold war paranoia runs rampant in John Frankenheimer’s psychological thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1970), Jim McBride’s The Big Easy (1987) explores New Orleans’s rampant corruption and mobs, whilst thieves turn on one another as they are gripped by paranoia in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992). Actors and criminal run amok at Christmas in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005,) and Joaquin Phoenix confronts a criminal underbelly in Lynne Ramsay’s exquisite You Were Never Really Here (2017).

Neon Noir

David Lynch's Blue Velvet

David Lynch’s Blue Velvet

Popularised in the 1970s and 1980s, neon noir changed the aesthetics of the genre as well as contemporary themes. The electrified genre stabbed at class, race, gender, and patriarchy, but most notably, it tried to speak on capitalism. Films within this umbrella include Martin Scorsese’s nihilistic Taxi Driver (1976), the Coen brothers’ debut feature Blood Simple (1984), David Lynch’s vicious Blue Velvet (1986), Brian De Palma’s political thriller Blow Out (1981) and though it critically divided people, Harmony Korine’s sleazy Spring Breakers (2013) can also be included here. My personal favourite from this subgenre is Danny Boyle’s Trance (2013).

Tech Noir

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and its subsequent sequel by Denis Villeneuve in 2017 could arguably squeeze into the neon noir genre. However, they are most definitely tech noir films. This is pretty simple to example: the subgenre is a hybrid of science fiction and film noir. Blade Runner and James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) epitomized themes of destruction and dystopia whilst brooding in the shadows as Bogart did many moons ago.

Other examples of this genre include Robert Fleischer’s Soylent Green (1973) Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995) and most recently, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014).

So, there is quite a few to begin your journey. Will you be taking part? Use the hashtag #Noirvember to get talking to other film fans about it all…

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