straight down the line

Noir is the New (Old) Black.

My final mission in order to complete DS106 Bootcamp was to learn about noir, which is more commonly known as “film noir”.


“Noir” is the French word for “black” and is very fitting to describe this style of story telling found within many movies of the 40s and 50s. Note that I purposefully used the word “style”  is not a genre of movies like how we think of Westerns or rom-coms, but is rather the intentional usage of certain aspects of lighting, music, literary elements and other crucial film making/storytelling techniques to invoke an ominous tone and mood throughout the work. To quote Meredith Grey, it’s a “dark and twisty” type of storytelling! One that I think I’m gonna struggle implementing myself in future assignments …  I’m more of a rom-com/hopeful-but-not-necessarily-happy-ending kinda gal.

To start understanding film noir, I first read Paul Schrader’s “Notes on Film Noir”, being sure to take copious notes about its origins; the techniques, styles, and themes used in filming process; etcetera. The most important things I gathered from the article and what I would share with other DS106ers who may not have selected that one were the Four Catalytic Conditions of the Forties That Brought About Film Noir and the Three Phases of Film Noir.

The Four Catalytic Conditions of the Forties That Brought About Film Noir

  1. War & Post-War Disillusionment
  2. Post-War Realism
  3. The Influence of German Expressionism
  4. The “Hard-boiled” Tradition of Storytelling
    • The moods of cynicism, narcissism, and defeatism found within the writings of Thirties’ Authors such as Hemingway and O’Hara

The Three Phases of Film Noir

  1. 1941-46: The Wartime Period
  2. 1945-49: Post-War Realism
  3. 1949-53: Period of Despair
    • The theme of hopelessness got more prevalent as the phases progressed.

This article alone enabled  me to grasp a  pretty clear understanding of film noir, and at this point I was ready to dive straight in to this previously unknown type of storytelling! I first watched snippets of the “Shadow Play” episode of Pretty Little Liars. My immediate gut reaction was that I absolutely loved not just the simplicity of the black and white effect and how it colored the show with vibrant intensity, but how glamorously gorgeous the outfits were! I took a moment to just obsess over them, as I think the styles from the 40s to the 60s were just so beautiful. It was a cool throwback to lace into modern day television for sure, and the two snippets I watched gave me more than enough of a first-look at film noir.

I continued with a few Sunday morning cartoons, namely “Racketeer Rabbit” and the episode of “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” [My mom will be so happy that I’ve finally watched “Courageous Cat”; she’s been telling me to for years! I now know where the old bit of my soul comes from, haahah :)]. It was cool to see the elements of the vintage car speeding across the slick city street in the thunder and rain (Bugs Bunny) and the plot thickening in dead of night (Courageous Cat), but there was one thing that confused me. I gathered from “Notes on Film Noir” that, although they had slight influences from the genre of gangster/mobster movies, the film noir style was not the same thing. And in these two cartoons, I got more of a mobster movie feel than a film noir. I guess there are similarities in the accents of that time period, but I was a bit befuddled by what I thought was supposed to be a great disparity between the two.

Anyway, at this point I had pretty much nailed down the visual aspects of film noir, so I decided to strip it down to simply studying the audio aspects by listening to an episode of the “Suspense!” Radio Show. Which is just about the coolest thing I ever took the half-hour to listen to; I could literally picture myself back in the mid-40s, excitedly perched in front of the vintage radio sitting a top my kitchen table :). I listened to the “August Heat” episode, figuring it was the less creepy one on the list (It was still plenty creepy for my faint little fangirl heart). Though I found it a bit boring to sit in front of my computer for thirty minutes with no accompanying visual, just sound, it was beneficial that I did so, as I was able to better understand how a “film noir story” is told by better utilizing my imagination. Complete with the soundtrack of “dun … dun … DUNNNNN”s (which were not that cliche but definitely gave me that kind of feel!) and the sense of foreboding and foreshadowing consistent ’till the end, this example of film noir did just what it should do … it creeped me out to the core.

Learning about this type of storytelling previously unknown to me resulted in a really interesting and fun expansion of my horizons, and I know Digital Storytelling will continue to do just that. It is something I look forward to and I know it will help me continue to write the chapters of the story of my life … Which I’m hoping will end a lot happier than the stories that make up film noir :).

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