According to Paul Schrader, film noir represents a wieldy dark period from 1940s to 1950s (Schrader, Paul, 1972.). The cinemas during this period depicted what was uncommon and what was a series of the continued dark history and moody depiction in the movies. After the Second World War, the movie industry went from the normal happy dramatic audiences to a sad ambience which continued to grow darker. Moments of corruption, gangster movements, as well crime were thriving in the streets.
By understanding the above, one could easily ask themselves what film noir is all about. It is rumored that during the Nazi regime in Germany, many movie directors escaped from the Hitler’s regime, since they were anti-Nazi, and went to Hollywood for a getaway. Most of the film noirs, therefore, fell into their arms, and as expected, they incorporated the visual style of expressionism. Moreover, most of the memorable villains in the films were Europeans, who had fled Germany because of Hitler’s tendencies. Hollywood played host to an influx of German expatriates in the Twenties and Thirties, and these filmmakers and technicians had, for the most part, integrated themselves into the American film establishment. Hollywood never experienced the “Germanizaron” some civic- minded natives feared, and there is a danger of over-emphasizing the German influence in Holly- wood. But when, in the late Forties, Hollywood decided to paint it black, there were no greater masters of chiaroscuro than the Germans. The influence of expressionist lighting has always been just beneath the surface of Hollywood films, and it is not surprising, in film
Film noirs are highly depictive of the German expressionism stylistic device. In particular, we will compare Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent Expressionist Film the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Rudolph Mate’s 1949 film noir D.O.A (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1agMYcNNJPY). We will, therefore, be able to conclude reasonably how expressionism is depicted in them.
Before comparing the two films, we will do an analysis of how expressionism is represented visually so as to get the context of what we are talking about. A film noir has a mysterious ambience and a dangling angle of view with grayscale walls filled with smoke. It’s almost like horror itself has had its way into a room, but that’s not it. It is mysterious in nature and has no clear explanation of what it really is. One of the best examples to bring out the imagery is by putting all the images in black and white. We can, therefore, imagine a woman living in apartments connected side by side, where she tries to gaze at a neighbor’s window but only sees a shadow of a man, obviously in black and white, that increases in intensity and sparks more curiosity from the viewer. In the mind of the viewer we could imagine many questions running in their head. Is it a bad man? Is he a serial killer or just a stalker? Her imagery and perception, therefore, are subject to thoughts.
Most of the characters in the film are women. Most of the directors, when interviewed, describe the movie as a low-cost, low-quality movie, but the aim is to provide good plots, best character choice, and an impactful story line. The choice of women, therefore, is to depict the angelic nature of their outward appearance in such an attractive manner to lure them into the dark alleys of trouble and ‘snake’ behavior of biting and bleeding the man dry. The setting of these adds to the mysterious nature of these films. If outdoors, it is mainly the dark streets of a certain city or a character walking by an asphalt hall, and if indoors, it is a dark room. This enables the directors to bring out the subjective point of view of moods and dark human experiences of madness, betrayal, or even depression. Extreme camera angles always suggest that one is always being watched, and for this reason, there are a lot of shadows and silhouettes.
Robert Wiene’s Silent Expressionist Film
Robert directed Genuine: a tale of the Vampire in the 1920, which is described as a silent horror film. Right from the design, Robert employs the use of painter proficient in expressionist art. The movie starts with a male character, Percy, who paints a portrait of a high priestess, Genuine, and immediately as he finishes it, he becomes withdrawn. It is mysterious how he stops seeing his peers and decides to dwell deeper into the mystery of this creature.
Genuine somehow becomes alive and escapes, and later is purchased into Slavery by Lord Emelo. Percy wakes up and comes to realization that Genuine’s escape had led to her tribe being outrivaled and her getting sold in a slave market. Lord Emelo locks her up in a chamber beneath the house amidst her protests to be set free.
She is portrayed as a love witch who bewitches Florian, Lord Melo’s nephew, to fall in love with her and to slit Melo’s throat, while being deeply under Genuine’s spell. Percy, on the other hand, genuinely falls in love with her, though short lived. Florian is deeply infatuated and determined to have her or no one will.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Robert later directs a movie depicting the world of Caligari which has become a cinema reference narrative ever since. It is both efficient and eerie in the manner in which the story of Francis and Jane is tantalizingly told (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aimAeeDx2p4). The story’s flashback tells of a man named Caligari and his weird carnival mannerisms. It is a perfect description of what happened in Europe in the 20th century, owing to its horror tales and dark imagery, which became the horror reference point to date.
The above movies are quite good examples of what a film noir is. The fundamental reason for film noir’s neglect, however, is the fact that it depended more on choreography than sociology, and American critics have always been slow on the uptake when it comes to visual style. Like its protagonists, film noir is more interested in style than theme, whereas American critics have been traditionally more interested in theme than style. The influx cited above therefore is what is attributed to make the features of the above movies expressionistic.