Through a Noir Lens: Adapting Film Noir Visual Style

Columbia Univ. Jun. 2024. 256p. ISBN 9780231215640. pap. $30. FILM
Biesen’s (film history, Rowan Univ.) book is a follow-up (after Film Censorship) to the her earlier studies of World War II noir, noir musicals, and the effects of film censorship on the genre. Ranging from 1944’s Double Indemnity to Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the book explores how noir visual style has changed over the last 80 years. Noir emerged in the ’40s when war rationing forced studios to cut corners, and viewers were more attuned to shadowy black-and-white shots. They were bleak tales of crime, corruption, and crooks, and films were filled with chiaroscuro, silhouettes, smoke-filled rooms, and more. When World War II ended, viewers’ tastes in films changed. Color film became more popular, and flammable nitrate was replaced by more stable acetate-based film, which reduced color contrasts, Pressure from the censor’s office cut back on the harshness of noir scripts. Biesen sees noir not as a rigid film form but as a tendency, a mood, adapting to changes in audience taste and technology.
VERDICT A must for devoted movie lovers but an enjoyable reward for general film buffs as well.
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