Film Noir / Noir Cultures

“Film noir” is a French term meaning “dark films” and traditionally defined as a particular subset of mysteries, crime-dramas, or suspense-thrillers produced in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. However, this course suggests that to learn the history of film noir, we need to study it at the intersections of different cultural expressions and determining factors. Our investigation will therefore span genres, styles, and time periods in U.S. narrative cinema, considering questions about film noir beyond its status as a mere category. To begin, we will analyze cinematic elements of mise-en-scène—costumes, lighting, sets, and locations—to understand the relationship between the Classical Hollywood style and what came to be called “film noir.” We will then move outside of film to contextualize noir styles in crime fiction, painting, photography, and popular music. This course will also trace the continuities and discontinuities between film noir and “neo-noir,” the noir revival after the classic era that reached its zenith in the 1980s and 1990s. Finally, we will turn to the legacy of film noir in comic aesthetics and animation, television series, and video games to recognize its diverse uses and meanings over time and across visual media.