10 essential films of the American neo-noir movement


A refreshing revision of the sensibilities established by the film noir rules of the 1940s and 50s, neo-noir films took a different route from the psychological explorations of the typical crime dramas that preceded them. Instead of engaging in reasoning about the outdated psychological motivations of crime, the neo-noir conducts subversive examinations of the sociological construction of crime itself as well as the imperfect world in which it exists.

Robert Altman, who popularized the neo-noir subgenre with masterpieces like The long goodbye, said: “I never felt like an artist. I didn’t wake up one morning thinking, “Well, I’m an artist, so I’m going to make this industrial film that way. I was ambitious and I loved… At first I was in awe of the actors, then I learned to love the actors, I kind of realized how brave they really are. They’re the ones standing there naked. It is not me. It is really the medium of an actor. We’re talking about writers and directors, but that’s not exactly correct.

He added: “I don’t think what I see in the world is real. I think we see what we want to do with it. I will hear someone say something as I pass down the street or see someone behaving in a certain way. Maybe ten years later it will suddenly appear in one of those movies. But that means you’re just drawing on your material, that’s what you see, what impresses you. The minute I say, “Oh, I’m doing this,” I’m telling a lie because I don’t really know what I’m doing. I usually work emotionally. For now, I will say, “That feels right to me. “

As part of our weekly World Cinema Spotlight, we explore the wonderful world of American neo-noir through films by masters like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese among others.

10 must-see American neo-noir films:

At close range (John Boorman – 1967)

An adaptation of the pulp novel by Donald E. Westlake, At close range is a violent clash between the sensibilities of film noir and the experimental spirit of the French New Wave. It’s a brilliant postmodern assessment of the human condition, floating in the void after being cut off from traditional value systems.

Boorman said: “I have a different relationship with different films. When I see At close range I’m still like, “How the hell did I get away with this?” And Issuance is very convincing. The craftsmanship is good. And as for Zardoz, I do not know what it is. But I think these are all daring films, for better or for worse.

The long goodbye (Robert Altman – 1973)

Based on Raymond Chandler’s famous novel, The long goodbye stars Elliot Gould as a private investigator who decides to take on a lawless world with his outdated code of honor. Despite the fact that the novel is set in 1949-50, Altman chose to move the setting for the film to Los Angeles in the 70s, which ultimately succeeded in turning the film into its own entity.

“Most people think that with The long goodbye, I deserted Raymond Chandler. But Chandler had to be ditched because Chandler passed away in the 1950s. So that’s my take, my presumption, of what Chandler would have pointed out – if he had been there to make a point, ”Altman commented. .

Chinese district (Roman Polanski – 1974)

Starring Jack Nicholson as a hire investigator who finds himself embroiled in a massive corruption scandal, Chinese district is probably one of the greatest works of neo-noir ever made. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and received 10 other nominations in categories such as Best Picture and Best Director.

Producer Robert Evans said, “It’s not like watching Jaws, which is a spectacular picture, and all the special effects and the audience are jumping up and down. When the photo is finished with Chinese district, there is no noise in the theater, people come out [of the theatre] and you [don’t] know what they think.

“You can’t read it. I knew I had had success with the photo when we premiered it in San Francisco, and when the photo was finished, a woman came up to me and pointed at me. [and said], ‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’ Then I knew I had had a blow!

The conversation (Francis Ford Coppola – 1974)

One of Francis Ford Coppola’s best films, The conversation follows the misadventures of a surveillance expert who finds evidence of a potential murder in his tapes. Often seen as a reaction to the Watergate scandal, The conversation won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Coppola recalled: “It started as a premise. I said, “I think I want to make a movie about listening and privacy, and I want to do it about the guy doing it rather than the people who it’s made to.” Then somewhere along the line I got the idea to use repetition, to expose new levels of information not through exposure but through repetition. And not like Rashomon where you present it in different ways each time – whether they are the exact lines but have new meanings in the context.

Taxi driver (Martin Scorsese – 1976)

The 1976 Martin Scorsese magnum opus Taxi driver is the definitive cinematic investigation into existential absurdity and the paradoxes of masculinity. With Robert De Niro as an insomniac cab driver who floats around New York’s rotten carcass in search of subjectivity, Taxi driver amplifies the fundamental isolation that most of us experience.

Screenwriter Paul Schrader revealed: “I walked around at night; I couldn’t sleep because I was so depressed. I would stay in bed until 4 or 5, and then I would say, “Well, I can have a drink now. I would get up, have a drink and take the bottle with me and start wandering the streets in my car at night. After the bars close, I would go to porn. I was doing this all night, until the morning, and I did it for about three or four weeks, a very destructive syndrome, until I was saved from it by an ulcer: I had not eaten , I was just drinking.

He added, “When I got out of the hospital I realized I had to change my life because I was going to die and everything; I decided to leave LA That’s when the metaphor hit me for Taxi driver… The absolute symbol of urban solitude. This is the thing that I had experienced; it was my symbol, my metaphor. The film is about a car as a symbol of urban loneliness, a metal coffin.

Blade runner (Ridley Scott – 1982)

A fascinating adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s flagship sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade runner imagine a futuristic world where humanity is forced to face its crimes as well as the possibility of becoming obsolete due to technological change. Although the film is set in 2019, its warnings for the future that have yet to happen are still as relevant as ever.

While talking about the fictional setting, Scott explained, “We’re in a city that’s in a state of overkill, of grumbling energy, where you can’t remove a building anymore because it costs a lot more than to build one. in its place. . Thus, the whole economic process is slowed down. Once a structure like the Empire State Building is erected, it will probably be there for… you name it. How the hell are they going to take it apart? So it’s a physical feeling you get about this company.

Blue velvet (David Lynch – 1986)

David Lynch’s psychosexual masterpiece delves deep into the very bowels of human depravity. Superficially structured like a typical crime mystery starring a young Kyle MacLachlan, Blue velvet paints a captivating portrait of a suburban nightmare that shakes us deep within ourselves.

“My childhood was elegant houses, tree-lined streets, milkman, building backyard forts, buzzing airplanes, blue skies, palisades, green grass, cherry trees,” he said. Lynch explained.

“Central America as it is supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s that oozing pitch – blacks, yellows and millions of red ants crawling all over the place. I discovered that if you take a closer look at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast.

pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino – 1994)

Quentin Tarantino’s most acclaimed work is also one of the most iconic neo-noir films in the history of American cinema. Extremely subversive in many ways, pulp Fiction overwhelming nihilism is presented to us through intricate narrative structures and is adorned with the overwhelming allure of Tarantino’s cinephilia.

Asked about it, Tarantino explained, “One thing that’s cool is that when you break the linear structure, when I watch the movie with an audience, it just breaks. [the audience’s] alpha state. It’s like, all of a sudden, ‘I have to watch this… I have to be careful.’ You can almost feel everyone moving in their seats. It’s actually fun to watch an audience in a certain way chase a movie.

LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson – 1997)

Based on the eponymous novel by James Ellroy, LA Confidential tells the story of three LAPD detectives who stumble upon something huge while following homicide cases. Hanson’s 1997 film was a critical and commercial success, winning two Oscars out of nine nominations.

“It’s a film that I really like myself. It’s a more personal film for me than the two that followed, which I did for other reasons, more as a director to hire. LA Confidential is actually the most personal I have done, and before that Bad influence“, revealed Hanson.

The great Lebowski (Coen Brothers – 1998)

Certainly the funniest movie on this list, the enigmatic 1998 Coen Brothers neo-noir stars Jeff Bridges as The Dude – a bowling enthusiast who ends up being part of a criminal scheme against all his wishes. Unlike most mystery novels where the investigator has an epistemological compulsion to find out what’s going on, the only thing The Dude wants is to relax.

“Jeff was obvious from the start once we started to think about it, because actually, to tell you the truth, the list isn’t long when you get into that age, that kind of physique,” ​​Joel said. Coen. “And Jeff, because we had worked with him before, was the first person we thought of. We thought, “why look any further? Because he would be really good at that part and we asked him to do it and luckily he said yes.

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