Noir meets reality


Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter (Ben James)

Hey all. This is a quick analysis on the transition of the Tales of The Black Freighter comic that features in the Watchmen graphic novel to the big screen version and how they fit it in with the main feature.



[ A segment from the film’s animated counterpart, Tales of The Black Freighter.]


 When looking at the transition from the comic within the comic to the animated piece, it seems to be an easier transition than it would be for the rest of the book with having animated it. Despite that I’m not quite sure what to make of the animation, as I quite liked the animation style of it but it didn’t bring that discomfort I felt when reading the comic version, which to me felt intentional.

I think the clever thing about having made The Tales of the Black Freighter is that when they made the director’s cut of the film, they managed to fit the segments of the animated film into the main film itself to match the graphic novel. I think that this was a rather interesting move and it was actually an interesting take on filmmaking. This is something that we wanted to do as a team in Johnny Noir, though instead of an animated piece we used comics to illustrate the event of Charles death.


Some Homage (Ben James)


The idea for the start of my original script came from the film Sunset Blvd. In the film a character is left dead in a swimming pool with a narration running over the top of it. The film then goes back from that point to tell the tale of what lead up to the death. I wanted to pay homage to the great Noir films out there but not completely rip them off, so I replaced the swimming pool death with a dockside. I thought it fit well considering me living in Bristol, a dockside city. Kind of a coincidence, huh? But y’know, not really. Oh well.

[ Opening of Sunset Blvd, the inspiration to the opening scene of Johnny Noir.]

Johnny Noir, The Concept/Idea (Ben James)

Hello all. I’ve told this tale quite a few times now, but I thought I’d share with everyone about how I came up with the concept of Johnny Noir and how it got made into a script.

The script idea for Johnny Noir was something that I dreamt of one night. Well, I’d say half of the idea was present in the dream. In the dream I witnessed a few events in a Noir-like fantasy. In one instance, a couple of characters were under a bridge that crossed a dockside. It was somewhat and romantic until everything went to hell. The woman of the couple quickly turned on the man, revealing a gun. After a struggle the woman manages to shoot the man and this was the point where I woke up from the dream. The other event that occurred within the dream was a bank heist pulled off by a group of men. They pulled out outside of a bank guns blazing and robbed the place before driving off again.

It was about 4am when I awoke from the dream and I immediately grabbed a notepad to write down what would be the very first basic plot outline of Johnny Noir which at the time I referred to as Noir Fantasy. This dream came to me at some point during the scriptwriting module in where we had to team up with another person in order to create a script that would later go on to possibly being made into a short film. I teamed up with Phil Hampson and we got started on writing this Noir fantasy.


Comic/ Graphic Novel Research Part 6 (Philip Hampson)

This next style is from a comic called Back to basics by Dylan Teague. I feel it combines the styles of The Blue Lily Lawless. With its thick edges and dark bold tone to it gives the distinctive noir look. The detail in the characters is particularly interesting as it shows the emotion of each character. (Figure 1)

Style 6

(Figure 1 Back to basics by Dylan Teague)

This image is from the from the front cover of the book that most of the above images are from Comic art now by Dez Skinn. Unfortunately the artist isn’t credited but I feel it is a perfect example of noir Comic styles. With the bold shadows and Femme Fetal style female character the image has so much character it would make a perfect Graphic novel. (Figure 2)

Front cover

(Figure 2 Comic art now by Dez Skinn (Illustrator unknown)

Figure 1 and 2 from Comic art now  By Dez Skinn

Sin City – Frank Miller (Laurie Dix)


Sin City is a comic I had previously overlooked, although perhaps foolishly.

Created by Frank Miller in 1991, Sin City was a series of 6 stories (spread across several comics), which all mimicked and exaggerated the ‘Noir’ style. Most of the illustrations appear as white on black, often highly textured and detailed, which is something I find intriguing.

Not only is the visual style an enhanced representation of how Frank Miller perceives ‘Noir’, the six stories overlap, having certain crossover points.

Unwittingly, I think that what we have ended up creating with Johnny Noir, is a not-so-stylish Sin City; The story crossovers, the style, the fact that in 2005 it was made as a film which sparked off more interest in the comics, so there were now comics and a film existing alongside one another… We’ve basically ripped it off without meaning to. Although our story is incredibly different, I am now looking at Frank Miller’s products and thinking ‘There is no way we will not be directly compared to this’. All I can hope is that the comparisons are good.

I like Frank Miller’s layouts, often using up entire spreads with one image which contains several fluid panels, so there are no spaces between the panels, but several images on one page.

I especially like the graphic style, using white on black rather than black on white, the heavy use of texture and the contrast. I think this is a direction I would definitely like to go with the comics, inviting more comparisons, but with the understanding that we all draw inspiration from somewhere.

Notes on: Road to Perdition (Laurie Dix)

Road To Perdition is, again, not a movie I would count as a noir, but it sits somewhere between classic ‘Gangster’ film and noir, due a combination of elements.

Whereas I would consider some of the more famous films to be considered true ‘Gangster’ films (Goodfelllas, Casino, The Godfather, etc.) I would not say that the ‘Gangster’ film is a genre in and of itself. It is a subject matter, a storyline, a plot point or a background rather than the basis for a genre. In the same respect, ‘Noir’ is not a genre. It is an atmosphere, or a style, the feel the film gives. Thus, in this respect, many films could be one and/or the other without being considered to belong to either one genre.

Road to Perdition is one of these films that does not quite fit in on either the ‘Noir’ nor the ‘Gangster’ venn diagram. It does, however, have a lot of the key elements which are associated with noir, and for these purposes, I am counting it as ‘Neo-Noir’, albeit one of the more ‘gentle’ examples (I say gentle, but I guess I mean ‘Not ultra-violent or packed full of swearing and drugs abuse’, like so many other gangster films.)

Mike Sullivan works for John Rooney, some sort of crime lord associated with bootlegging alcohol. After his son, Michael Sullivan Jr. witnesses a murder carried out by his father and Connor Rooney (son of John Rooney), things become more complicated and both Michael Sullivan and Michael Sullivan Jr. are chased across America, with a trail of bodies catching up to them as the Rooneys and other gangsters try to bump them off.

Now, as I mentioned before, this does not really fall into what I would call the camp of ‘Gangster Movies’, but there is the Gangster element there. In the same vein, it is not a noir, but it has some of the tropes.

Tropes of Noir

  • The Protagonist
    The ‘Maverick’. Whereas he stands mostly for justice and doing the right thing as far as he is concerned, his morals can be questionable and often he has to fight his own personal demons throughout the film.
    Whereas Michael Sullivan is working as a gangster, and he has killed in the past and is still willing to, he acts mostly honestly. Even when he robs banks, it is in order to injure the gangsters, not the banks or the civilians, and he even allows the tellers to keep a little bit of the money in order to make the trauma worth their while. The protagonist fits to a lot of classic ‘Noir’ stereotypes in terms of his motivation and moral ambiguity.
  • The Antagonist – (The Police Chief/ The Mob Boss/ The Husband)
    One of the less common tropes, but a trope nonetheless, it the use of the antagonist. Usually it falls into one of three categories, and in this instance, takes the form of the mob boss. The protagonist and the Mob Boss will usually be wary of one another, knowing that either would kill the other for the right price, but they can be useful to each other as well. There is almost always a double cross, and in this film, there are a few. Double crosses and power plays, people trying to sell each other out to the highest bidder and trying to rid themselves of a potential trouble by killing them, these all belong, though not exclusively, to noir.
  • A Body
    In Road To Perdition, whereas the body count isn’t especially high, there are bodies, and they are important. What kicks off the whole story is a funeral being held by the Boss for one of the underlings, and through this it sets off a chain reaction which causes more bodies to follow. In almost every Noir, there is a body at some point.
  • The Situation
    This is an unconventional one, but one I believe still suits. Normally, the protagonist would be a loner, often an alcoholic, he would have no one to turn to which is why he acts in the way that he does, not considering other people and being able to act with ambivalence when it comes to other characters. In this film, Michael Sullivan does have people, until they’re killed and he is left with his eldest son. Although not really being left on his own, he and his son are stranded with only each other, and once his wife and youngest son are dead, the situation changes dramatically, acting as a catalyst for the ‘Noir’ situation.
  • The World
    Noir films tend to be based in the 1920’s and 1940’s, even spanning as far as the early 50’s although rarely. Road to Perdition is set in 1931, which is just about in the middle of when Noir began to be popular, so the world is right. Prohibition is still in effect, and so bootlegging is still a viable way for people to make money, and America is in the throes of the depression and recovering from the Wall Street crash a couple of years previous. The timing could hardly be more perfect in terms of when to set a film which could be linked to Noir. It seems almost impossible to set a film in this time period without including some of the tropes of noir.
  • The Context
    See above for a lot of the context given, in terms of the depression post WWI. But also it is worth noting that the amount of immigrants to America rose massively during this time, although there had already been a surge of Irish and Italian immigrants in the mid 1800’s and the late 1800’s to early 1900’s respectively, so it does not seem that unfeasible that our story should follow a family of Irish Americans who work for an organised crime ring run by Irish Americans and who have ties to the Italian American organised crime circuits. Considering the timing of it all, it seems to make quite a lot of sense.

And so, even though Road to Perdition is not a true noir, it does not have the look nor the script of a ‘Traditional’ or ‘Classic’ noir, it does have a lot of the same characteristics, and simply being set in the 1930’s seems to basically cement its place in the world of noir. Although it is always difficult to put a film to a certain genre, I think it is not unfair to class this film amongst the Neo-Noir, perhaps among films such as The Untouchables; not really gangster films, but that should be considered alongside them all the same.

It is important to see what has become of this genre, and how it has changed over the years and evolved along with cinema.

It is also worth watching this film simply for the cinematography, which is by Conrad L. Hall, who worked closely with Sam Mendes on many of his films, and who was a sterling Director of Photography, which is what a lot of the ‘Noir Style’ comes down to.

Dior Noir

Dior Noir – Critical Analysis

During my research I stumbled across one of Dior’s campaign. They have done a series of short films and one was Dior Noir. I found it very useful to understand the Noir genre as the conventions are very clear. It was also a similar length to what we were aiming for with our film.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 19.38.04



Firstly it opens with the credits at the start with dramatic music. We have an extreme lose up shot of a female’s eye behind hinting at the role of the femme fatale. This opening has already encapsulated four conventions of the film noir genre. As a member of the audience you instantly know what to expect.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 19.40.47

We are then introduced to the male lead role with a zoom. The next couple of shots continue to zoom in to key points of the shot.

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We are then introduced to someone tied up. The shot uses low lighting and a lot of shadows which are also key conventions of the genre.

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There is then a low angle shot which is frequently used in noir films to make audiences feel uncomfortable. The shot suggests that something isn’t right.

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This shot also had low key lighting and shadows. The main two characters are in the centre of the frame and stand out as they are better lit.

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This shot is more about costume. The character is wearing a trench coat and hat which almost always appears in a noir film.

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Another close up shot of the femme fatale’s eyes.

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A voyeuristic shot of the femme fatale’s feet.

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The use of cross fades starts to appear more and more to create a sense of chaos in the films. However in other noir films it is used more as a transition. In this shot she is also running however the background behind her isn’t moving.

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I really like the way this shot is framed. The contrast with the clouds makes the character really stand out and the iron frame of the building obscures the shots slightly so it makes it stand out.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 19.44.32

Finally the film ends with a blonde femme fatale. At first glance it looks like a completely different woman but it actually is Lady Dior.

This short is very good for establishing the conventions of the genre however the storytelling is pretty poor and lacks substance. But most adverts in fashion are all about the pretty pictures and less about the meaning.