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Noir is Pretty Dark

The two noir films, Killer’s Kiss and He Walked By Night are two examples of noir films. Noir uses a distinctive lighting style that creates a specific atmosphere. This atmosphere is mostly one of suspicion or suspense, bringing attention to a specific person or event in the film. For example, in Killer’s Kiss this type of lighting is used for a character’s first scene after they turned off all the lights for only the TV to cast some form of illumination.

An example of distinctive lighting in KIller's Kiss

An example of distinctive lighting in KIller’s Kiss

His shadow is clearly visible due to the TV’s light, creating that signature noir lighting the style is known for. In this image, the TV illuminates the only character in the scene, the only thing that matters. This lighting brings attention to him, shows that he’s important, that he is somehow significant at this moment. This specific lighting draws attention to him to the point that one can see what he’s wearing, what he’s holding and what he looks like. In that, one can infer that they need to pay attention to him. The director chose this kind of lighting to introduce this character, to make him be remembered.

Noir 3

The shadowy effect used in He Walked By Night


This similar use of lighting is used in He Walked By Night, the adaptation of the events of real life homicide. The character pictured, is displayed using that same lighting from the previously mentioned movie. However, instead, the director uses the lighting in a way that casts the character’s shadow. This way creates an ominous atmosphere, a foreboding feeling. It immediately draws attention to the character in the scene, making him out to be someone who may not be entirely good. Lighting from only one side gives this character an eerie approach, something that makes another person hesitate to approach, something that says that he is dangerous.


As such, these lighting examples show that noir is indeed a style and not a genre. This use of lighting creates something and directors know that. They use techniques like this to tell the story of a character without any words, without outright saying anything. This technique allows people to draw their own conclusions about a character, about an event. It allows people to interpret things in their own way. Noir tells a story through lighting and expressions, not words. It tells things in a way no other styles does and in that, it is amazing.

I had wondered what element of noir I would write about. Then, while I was watching the movies, I noticed the shadows and the lighting and decided to expand on that. Right from the get go the movies use this lighting which is why these two stills are from the very beginning. Noir began the moment the movie started and I found that very distinctive of the style. The light was precise and used for a specific purpose. That was something I could write about, something I could interpret.

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