A Brief Rant about Film Noir.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today’s topic is not so much a review, as it is a rant. Please allow me to indulge as I strive to vent all my thoughts on the matter.

For those not familiar with classic Film Noir, here’s a quick primer:


That’s a good basic overview of what elements go into creating the unique atmosphere and themes of classic Film Noir. And of course, there is the obvious cross-over into the Hard-Boiled Detective, but for the sake of this rant, let us set that aside as an overlapping but separate subcategory.

I just finished watching a movie that described itself as “neo-Noir”. Now, I’m not sure exactly what it is they’re trying to do with that genre, but one thing I CAN tell you: It Was Not Noir.

I went through a phase in my teenage years where I was deeply captivated by the imagery and emotions which could be evoked with skillfully mastered black-and-white film. I (briefly, off and on) wanted to be a cinematographer almost solely due to classic Film Noir imagery. It was powerful, each frame deliberate, full of symbolism and art. It showed care and skill not seen in modern Hollywood — not often, anyway.

Those filmmakers didn’t have a lot of resources around with which to tell the story. But what they had, they used to great effect. Every shadow and interplay was a reflection of morality and emotion, the inner world of the character playing out around them with parallels and mirroring. The silences and pauses, the beats between words and scenes, were laden with tension and meaning.

In contrast, this “neo-Noir” film held NONE of that. Yes, it had a lot of silent scenes, but they added nothing to the ambiance. They lacked a feeling of deliberate meaning. They were instead like empty space without significant edges to define it. The characters were disconnected, flat, and their moral ambiguity was neither sympathetic nor tense. There was no meaning in the locations, no interplay at work to enrich the story, no journey into a dark night of the soul to give weight and credence to the protagonist’s struggle. Every aspect felt boring and familiar; a story we’ve already seen, with nothing new to add.

This is not unique to the film I just watched. This is problem I’ve been seeing again and again in various subcategories of the supposed “action/thriller” genre, as it’s been trying to reinvent itself in recent years. This “neo-Noir” sub-genre in particular seems to go hand-in-hand with the Hollywood tradition of remaking successful foreign films; I’ve found the trend especially prevalent with stories originating from Sweden, Finland, etc.

The problem then becomes cultural translation. I’m not an expert, just a geek, but I have noticed a lot of meaningful silent imagery in a lot of Scandinavian films. It works there, at least for me, because it’s part of the culture and part of the dialogue between filmmaker and audience. It works in the same way classic Film Noir does, because in both cases the filmmakers know what they’re doing, and are using a silent visual language as part of their storytelling.

Some contemporary American filmmakers can do this, but for the most part it seems a skill that we’ve lost over the years as films became more focused on other aspects. Tastes change, and that’s fine. People experiment, and that’s fine, too. People remake things they admire, and that’s a great way to learn to be more, sometimes.

But sometimes, you need to take a step back and really consider what it is you’re trying to say, and what it is you’re trying to emulate. It is really a lack of dialogue between characters and a lot of scenery shots that you’re after, or is there maybe suppose to be a deeper meaning in those pauses and landscapes? Are you actually telling the story you want to tell, and evoking the atmosphere you want to evoke? Or are you just making a not-so-hot mess of everything?

Let’s return to the subject of the Hard-Boiled Detective again. It, too, has had several remakes and reinventions in modern Hollywood — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Brick both spring to mind right away — as well as on TV — Veronica Mars, anyone? These examples all show a far more successful pilfering of the past for inspiration. And it’s not just because of the snappy dialogue, either, although it certain helps.

These films (and TV show) all have successful use of theme and reoccurring imagery throughout. Watch repeatedly, and you catch more hints and clues to the outcomes, more reflections and parallels to the inner landscapes and moral turmoils. Watch with a friend, and they catch even more that you missed.

This, then, is a key to what creates the genre. And this creates even more possibilities as to films that might actually qualify. Think about Fight Club, and go look at the Film Noir list again up at the top of this post. How many of those boxes does it check off? Heck, even The Boondock Saints had water imagery when the boys receive their divine inspiration to go kill everyone evil! (Yes, that was a slight spoiler; but honestly, it doesn’t ruin the film or anything. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so after you finish reading this post. I promise it will be just as good.)

Obviously, we have some talented filmmakers still capable of creating good Noir films with a modern twist. I completely love that. But I also really wish the ones who aren’t — the ones who don’t understand the language of visual symbolism, who can’t paint with light and shadow, who think silence is the same as a lack of dialogue, who think landscape and set dressing only exists as scenery rather than part of the story, who fail to grasp the importance and role of foreshadowing, who had never even heard of what makes classic Film Noir worth watching — I wish those people would leave the genre alone.

What are you thoughts on the matter? Seen other movies that fit the genre, or ones that sucked? Interested in hearing my opinion on other genres? Leave a message in the comments below! And please, always remember to play nice with the other geeks.



Blood Kiss The Movie; or, why I am backing this Kickstarter, and you should too

“Michael sent me the script. I told him, “it’s a terrific script.” and he said, “I want you to act in it.” I replied “There’s nobody else I would act for.”
–Neil Gaiman

I don’t have money to spare. I don’t even have enough to move out of my parents’ home. I don’t have a steady income. I do have, thanks to my parents, a strong drive to save what money I have and to manage it frugally and wisely.

So I get it. I get why you wouldn’t want to invest money into something else, when you don’t have much yourself. For me to donate money, it must be a cause I passionately believe in.

This is such a cause.


What follows are my reasons for getting passionate about this, in the order they personally appealed to me. If you don’t care about this part, just skip to the end, or  click on the link now to read more about the project and to back the Kickstarter.

First off, there’s Neil Gaiman. Reading his blog and twitter is how I first came to learn of Blood Kiss, thanks to the quote above. This man is an incredibly talented writer, and an amazingly humble and genuine and kind person. I’ve been to two of his readings — one for the Graveyard Book, one for the tenth anniversary of American Gods — and a performance he did with his equally amazing and talented and active wife, Amanda Palmer. Every time was totally magic. I could watch him and listen to him talk all day, and be utterly mesmerized. He is a unique presence and a gift to the SF&F genre in any media format.

Part of my love for Neil Gaiman comes from my childhood worship of my older brother. My brother is nine years older than me, so there wasn’t much common ground for us to bond over. As a child, I was fascinated to the point of obsession with anything he was interested in. This included many things that were above my age level, including horror artwork, vampire anime, and the Sandman graphic novels.

I would often grow to love each thing and know more about it than even my brother originally did. So to with Sandman and it’s creator, Neil Gaiman. Reading those comics, and later his novels, shaped the way I saw the world and shaped my own personal mythos. I’ve become a writer in part thanks to him, to the strangeness and poetry of the worlds he created. I wanted to do that, too.

Secondly, this movie is set in 40’s Noir. This is one of the first things I bonded with my sister over — she is six year older, and we fought like, well, sisters, most of the time. We, like my brother and I, had very little overlap in interests due to our age difference, and like with my brother, this led to me adopting some of hers.

She loved Noir detective stories, had most of Raymond Chandler’s books, watched the movies, listened to Sam Spade radio dramas… and by proxy I watched and listened and loved them too. As I grew older, this became a fascination with the art of Noir storytelling. I wanted for several years to become a cinematography and bring back the black-and-white Noir style, because I was so in awe how they used light and shadows. I still do, some day. And the storytelling style of the hard-boiled detective, reinvented in so many clever ways in some modern TV shows and movies I could name, is a classic for a reason. It still holds up for all the same reasons it was popular then; it’s smart, edgy, suspenseful, funny, and just plain good storytelling.

Third: Vampires. Vampires were another thing my sister has loved and still loves. She was particularly fond of the Anne Rice vampires, but she also had a proper love of Dracula, too. I took a little longer to get into them, I admit, but by now I’m definitely sold. Being my usual obsessive self, I surpassed her by watching and loving the original 1922 German Expressionist silent film of Nosferatu, and getting interested in the evolution and theories of the Vampire mythos throughout history.

When I heard of a movie that would put Vampires into a Noir genre, my reaction was “About bloody time!”. They are a perfect fit together, and I can’t wait to see it! Vamp-Noir needs and deserves to be its own genre, and this movie just might start that trend.

Fourth: Amber Benson. I first learned of her, as most of the world probably did, through watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was so adorable and sweet and perfect. As an introvert myself with social anxieties and a love of both witchery and bisexuals, I could identify with this painfully shy awkward lovely girl who still found the courage and strength to stand up for the things that were important to her, and to do the right thing. I loved seeing Tara blossom on the show, and I cried when her story was over.

When I started to learn more about the actress behind the character, I discovered she was a genuinely interesting, passionate, and creative person in her own right. I knew I wanted to keep an eye on projects she was involved it.

Fifth: Michael Reaves. I admit, I didn’t recognize his name at first. But I quickly realized I did know some of his work (not the cartoons, however. My nerdist childhood skipped most of those. Obviously, I knew his work best from his collaborations with Neil Gaiman.). More importantly, I recognized a passionate and prolific creator with a story to tell…

That alone would be enough to interest me, but he also has Parkinson’s disease. This is man whose story needs to be told now, while he can still tell it.

My parents had a close friend, basically part of the family, who developed PD. By the time I was old enough to remember him, his hands shook all the time, he had difficulty talking, and he was severely depressed which he coped with by drinking too much. He died, because he didn’t have anything left to keep him going.

There’s a picture on our wall: Mum and Dad, my brother and sister, me as a baby, their friend and his son. Mum gets sad every time she sees it; because he was a dear friend who was full of life and kindness until this disease took his body from him, and because if it had happened only a decade later there would have been ways to help.

There are ways to help now, and Blood Kiss is proud to be associated with the American Parkinson’s Disease Association to promote awareness of the disease.

These are all reasons why this project is so personal to me.

And here’s a reason why you should help out by donating TODAY:

As of now, Blood Kiss has reached the first goal, but this just means it’s got bare-bones budget to show there’s interest and to start pre-production. For something this amazing, it deserves more than that; it deserves to be done right.

Help this project reach at least the first stretch goal. To pull a quote from their page:

“100k will cover our basic materials and rentals, plus technical people like location sound or digital compositors. About half will go to production and half to post-production. Things like real sets, digital sets, costumes, cameras and to feed the crew on 16 hour days.”

This are all basics any movie needs. This isn’t much to ask for.

Help them reach it. Help tell Michael Reaves’ story. Help create a world with both 40’s Noir detectives and Vampires. Help push Neil Gaiman into acting in a movie. Whatever your reasons, go to www.PledgeBloodKiss.com right NOW and donate. They have some awesome swag for backers, and only $17 you get a digital download of the movie.

So please, read their Kickstarter page at www.PledgeBloodKiss.com and find YOUR reasons for backing this amazing project.