Film Noir – Understanding the word

With the release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For this week, the word ‘Noir’ is being thrown around rather freely. If, like several others, you find yourself confused as to what the word means, then fret not, we are here to help you understand!

First and foremost, it is important to get the pronunciation of Noir right, and no, it does not rhyme with ‘Choir’. The word Noir literally means black in French and is pronounced as "nu-aar". More often than not, you will hear it being said out loud by film students and other film experts. But it’s simple, really. Check it out:

In essence, Noir is a visual style more than a genre, and first came into existence over seven decades ago. During the ’30s, French crime films told the stories as they were, with dark undertones and a gritty plot. This idea was then applied by American filmmakers during the post-World War II era through melodramatic black-and-white crime movies. Since then, Noir-style films have constantly evolved to include elements other than crime and have even gone as far as to add science-fiction to the mix. Think Guns, Bombshells, Drugs, Sex, Dark Secrets and Silhouettes – all of this in black-and-white (mostly black), and you have the perfect recipe for a Film Noir. These elements, however, are not set in stone, and every filmmaker tries to bring in something new to the expression.

Some of the most-famous examples of Noir-style films are from the early ’40s and ’50s such as High Sierra (1941), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Strangers on a Train (1951), Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Touch of Evil (1958). All of these films featured dark, convoluted characters, and created a long-standing niche for stylish camera-work and complex plots. The main point they tried to make was – the world isn’t a happy, colorful place. Everyone harbors a murky, dirty secret.

With the arrival of technicolor, however, the Noir style in films was considered lost, but the artistic style was revived as ‘Neo-Noir’ by some of the greats like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and later, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. From Vertigo to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, from Pulp Fiction to The Dark Knight, and from Taxi Driver to Sin City, the epic style of film-making lives on through visionary directors.

Here’s a list of the top 10 Film Noirs to give you a clearer idea:

So now that you know what Noir means, the next time someone tries to test your knowledge on film styles, you can show off with pride.

Also, you’re welcome.

P.S – A special thank you to PronunciationBook for the visual pronunciation guide and WatchMojo.com for the comprehensive list on Film Noirs.

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