Showdown: Film Noir vs. Western
Updated on November 11, 2007, 10:24 PM - Written by Tim Buttner
There are two genres of filmmaking that can be considered completely American. These are the western and the film noir. Although many will argue that film noir is not a genre, but instead a style because of the cinematic techniques it uses. There are several distinct differences between cinematic technique used in the western and that of film noir. A good way to compare would be comparing two of the fundamental movies of the genres, Stagecoach and Double Indemnity.
The way in which the filmmakers used lighting for these two movies are distinct to their genres, but at the same time use the same lighting techniques to convey the same meaning. Film noir is usually characterized by its use of low-key lighting, and Double Indemnity doesn't shy away from this convention. One of the reasons film noir was coined such by the French when they first viewed it after the Second World War was because of it being such dark cinema. The low-key lighting of Double Indemnity adds to the atmosphere that Billy Wilder sought after for the movie. By making the atmosphere dark like the subject matter of a deceitful murder and betrayal from the femme fatale, Wilder managed to put the audience into the mindset necessary for the movie without a single line of dialogue or action from a character. In Stagecoach low-key lighting is used during night scenes to add an element of ominous foreboding, most especially in the shots preceding the final gunfight between The Ringo Kid and Luke Plummer & his cohorts.
For the rest of Stagecoach it is all high key lighting, allowing the audience to see everything in light. Most of the movie takes place during the daylight hours when this is expected, in contrast to Double Indemnity, which mainly takes place at night. In the convention of the western lighting isn't as important to establishing a mood as it is in film noir, but it still has its importance. Allowing the audience to view across the vast open space of the west, they gain a feeling of adventure and bewilderment similar to that felt by the people who ventured into the west during the time represented in the movie.
Two genres that emerged out of America, both unique and similar in their cinematic techniques, but both essential to the continuation of the filmmaking tradition.
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