In Paris the film critic Nino Frank noted the pessimistic, dark and cynical mood of the American crime films that hit cinema screens in the early post-war years. He coined the term 'film noir', which spread through popular culture from the 1970s on and extended far beyond the American film industry.
The Dark Side of Hollywood
1 July — 25 August 2021
This summer Eye goes in search of the roots of noir, the classic American film genre that lasted from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Crises often leave their mark on the films of a period, and that was certainly true 75 years ago. World War II had just ended, everything was in short supply, and the future was uncertain.
Rain-drenched streets, curls of cigarette smoke, and men with a dark past. An inescapable fate and a femme fatale, sly and sexually independent. This summer Eye is presenting an extended programme of classic film noir, featuring masterpieces such as The Third Man and In a Lonely Place starring Humphrey Bogart. With vintage 35mm prints and newly restored works.
Watch the programme trailer:
Traces of noir
Many contemporary filmmakers, from Martin Scorsese and Paul Verhoeven to Christopher Nolan and Lilly and Lana Wachowski, acknowledge the influence of the classic film noir on their work, ensuring that the genre has remained relevant to this day. Film noir, or neo-noir as the modern variant has come to be called, also enjoys popularity in the world of comics, architecture and television (e.g. Scandinavian noir), and it has influenced a wide range of film cultures, from Mexico to China.
The films of the time were also fed by the hard-boiled crime fiction of writers that included Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, which were adapted into such classics as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Women in film noir
The Eye programme also highlights the role of women in film noir, the Hollywood blacklisting and the first black actors in film noir. The femme fatale is a much-discussed subject in film noir studies. She is independent, clever, shrewd, manipulative, sexually independent, and a smoker. How do we now view the characters played by actresses such as Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce) and Gene Tierney (Leave Her to Heaven)? Ida Lupino was one of the few women behind the camera in the 1950s and responsible for the independently produced road movie The Hitch-Hiker.
In the 1950s, black actors such as Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte left their mark on the first film noirs that tackled the subject of racism (No Way Out, Odds Against Tomorrow). Filmmakers had to contend with the blacklisting of supposed communist sympathizers in Hollywood during the same period, forcing directors like Joseph Losey and Jules Dassin to flee to Europe. Screenwriters such as Dalton Trumbo were forced to work under a pseudonym.
Not exclusively American
Film noir was not just an American phenomenon during its heyday. The best-known European film noir was The Third Man (1949). In France, Jules Dassin made the influential heist film Du Rififi chez les hommes (1955). In the 1980s and 90s, filmmakers such as Robert Altman, Alan Pakula and the Coen Brothers rediscovered the genre in neo-noir films like The Long Goodbye, Klute and Miller's Crossing.
Several of these films will be presented in thematic double bills and introduced by film noir aficionados and experts. The programme concludes on 25 August with a 4K restored version of Basic Instinct, the Paul Verhoeven film inspired by Double Indemnity.