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Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (2006)

Video  -  Documentary | History  -  18 July 2006 (USA)
6.9
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Film Noir burrows into the mind; it's disorienting, intriguing and enthralling. Noir brings us into a gritty underworld of lush morbidity, providing intimate peeks at its tough, scheming ... See full summary »

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Film Noir burrows into the mind; it's disorienting, intriguing and enthralling. Noir brings us into a gritty underworld of lush morbidity, providing intimate peeks at its tough, scheming dames, mischievous misfits and flawed men - all caught in the wicked web of a twisted fate. Written by Anonymous

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Probably the best documentary film about 'film noir'
5 September 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

This superb documentary, featuring clips from 28 different film noir movies, is extremely professionally made. It is intelligently put together, brilliantly edited, and lasts 68 minutes. It was directed by the noted film historian Gary Leva, who knows very well what he is doing, having made 58 documentaries, most of them about the cinema. A serious attempt is made, in a series of interviews, to define 'film noir'. Many of the interviewees are fascinating people with whom one would ideally like to chat for many hours. An unexpected one is Kathleen Turner, star of BODY HEAT, the 1981 film noir. And one of the most interesting people is the woman who edited that film. Leva's conclusion seems to be that the most typical film noir, and one of the best of all, is OUT OF THE PAST (1947, see my review), featuring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Leva takes Greer as possibly the best of the femmes fatale. Many, including myself, would agree with him. (Greer is interviewed in this documentary.) Leva points out that film noir did not really begin in the aftermath of World War II as many people imagine, but had deep roots earlier on, and he cites in particular STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, which was released in 1940 and was thus pre-War. Some Raymond Chandler films also appeared well before the end of the War, such as THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and MURDER, MY SWEET (1944). Leva also classifies the remarkable film CAT PEOPLE (1942, see my review) as a film noir, and I would agree. This is despite the fact that most noir films concern doomed men, especially ones led to their doom by femmes fatale, whereas CAT PEOPLE concerns a doomed woman instead. Leva speculates that perhaps the first real film noir may have been Fritz Lang's M (1931). He also stresses the input of émigré German directors in general in Hollywood noir, for they had deep familiarity with German expressionism before they fled to America. And Leva makes the point that because they were only making B pictures, the studios left the film noir directors alone and just let them get on with it, which enabled genuine creativity and cinematic innovation to flow, albeit on slim budgets. He points out that atmospheric expressionist lighting was quicker and cheaper than normal lighting and thus went well with the small budgets. He also gives a lot of attention to CROSSFIRE (1947), and we get a clip of an earlier interview with its director, Ed Dmytryk. According to Leva, film noir as a cinematic movement culminated and essentially ended with TOUCH OF EVIL in 1958, though as we have seen, BODY HEAT and other modern films have continued the tradition intermittently, often with spectacular success. Leva also thinks of Christopher Nolan as a noir director living in our own times, and Nolan is interviewed in the documentary. Certainly, Nolan's first film, FOLLOWING, which came out in 1998, was a sensationally brilliant noir film, as I emphatically pointed out in my review of it for IMDb. Like the old noirs, it was made on a minuscule budget, and I described it as 'a triumph of genius over money'. I have not kept up with Nolan's work entirely, because I don't have any interest in Batman, but I greatly admired INCEPTION (2010, see my review). Naturally, there are many classic noirs of which we do not catch glimpses in this documentary, including some of the most famous, like GILDA (1946, see my review). Maybe there were problems getting the right to use clips with many of them. And you can't do everything in 68 minutes. But this is a whopper of a thoughtful summary. Leva is misnamed, because he does not engage here in Leva-ty, instead it is all pretty profound stuff. This documentary comes on a separate disc of its own in the 6-disc box set FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION Vol. 3 from Warner Brothers.


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