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Notes On: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (Laurie Dix)

‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ is a story by Brett Halliday, adapted for screen and directed by Shane Black.

It is obvious that there are noir influences at work here, and there are several throwbacks to films from the 1940’s. Although rather tongue in cheek, this is a very cleverly written and well thought out film which mirrors some of the classic tropes of noir excellently, whilst maintaining and a modern and humorous twist.

The story follows Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) as he turns from a life of crime and burglary, through the accidental death of his friend, to a life of high society as he inadvertently becomes an actor and embroiled in a murder case which gets way out of hand. With the help of his agent; ‘Gay’ Perry, and his high school sweetheart; Harmony Lane, Harry’s ‘Acting Lessons’ in how to be a detective quickly become uncovering a real murder investigation.

Why does ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ come under my list of ‘Noir Inspired films’? Again, to the list of tropes:

  • Detective stories (hardboiled), again, are at the heart of the the Noir genre, and this films is a murder mystery, which is basically the same thing.
  • There is an internal monologue throughout, explaining though processes and ideas happening in real time and in retrospect, a ‘Philip Marlowe’ trope.
  • The Protagonist is, in fact, a “Misunderstood” criminal, who we see trying to steal toys for his nephew at the top of the film. He is also a ‘detective’ (or at least, working with a detective and so working as a detective) which is one of the more common careers for Noir protagonists.
  • Although there aren’t ‘Gangsters’ as such, there are people in power with powerful friends, people who want Harry dead for various reasons, who are, for all intents and purposes, Hired Guns, which to my mind, often equates to ‘gangsters’ (provided your definition of ‘Gangster’ is not ‘Cosa Nostra’ or the like).
  • There are several suspects, which are all deployed at various times in order to lead us down various routes of suspecting who the culprits may be, and their motives.
  • There is a body, in fact there are a few (the body count rises as the film progresses, but there is a body which acts as a catalyst for this whole affair).

Although the film is very tongue-in-cheek and ridiculous, it is a well told, fun story, and holds many references to film noir. Whereas the film may not be a noir itself, it does reference a lot of the more common tropes of noir, and therefore counts, in my eyes, as a consequence of noir, and so has earned the right to have comparisons drawn.

Why Batman is Noir (Laurie Dix)

Batman comics have undergone many, many different styles and stories, from the original 1940’s comic strips, to the 1970’s ‘Adam West’ TV series, a number of darker graphic novels (Frank Miller’s ‘Year One’, Alan Moore’s ‘The Killing Joke’, etc.) a number of Animated series, computer games and films.

The basic elements always apply: Batman is the superhero guise of orphaned multi-millionaire Bruce Wayne, who supports James Gordon in the Gotham City Police Department and whose enemies include a number of colourful characters including the Joker, the Penguin, Poison Ivy and Catwoman amongst several others.

How ‘Batman’ can be considered ‘Noir’:
(see reference: Raymond Durgnat’s ‘Paint it Black’ for the list of ‘Tropes’ I will be comparing to)

  • Being created in the 1940’s by Bob Kane, this was around the same time that the ‘Noir’ style really became identified. As mentioned in earlier blog posts (Notes on Film Noir and Film Noir Tropes) America was undergoing the depression, and so the mood of the films and stories at the time often reflected this, being downbeat and focusing on ‘Real Characters’, and occasionally needed some hope. This is what Batman represented: hope in a world where there was none.
  • Noir stories are often associated with Detective Fiction or ‘Hardboiled’ fiction, which is precisely what Batman is. Batman is often referred to as ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’, and there is often call for ‘Captions’ in comics, which have a tendency to relay as internal monologue, something Noir is famous for (see Raymond Chandler and his character Philip Marlowe).
  • Noir tends to take place in dark alleyways, places where there is little light but a lot of shadow, which adds to the overall aesthetic. Gotham City is a world where every street is a place with the potential to be a crime scene. Indeed, the Bat Signal only works in a world where the sky is always cloudy, and the world is always dark. Gotham City represents a world where everything is enshrouded in darkness all the time.
  • The protagonist is a maverick, who goes by his own rules. Although he does everything in the spirit of upholding the law, he is not afraid to break the rules in order to maintain justice.
  • The Femme Fatale: This could be a number of people, although most commonly Batman is paired with Selena Kyle (Catwoman) who is a thief. Although not a true femme fatale, the relationship between Batman and Catwoman is a complicated one which could be compared to some of the relationships between the lead Male and Female in several of the Noir films.
  • Gangsters are among some of Gotham City’s villains, mostly the Falcone family and the Maroni family. One of the common themes of Noir stories is the Gangster element.
  • ‘Portraits and Doubles’/The Figure in the Mist; a common theme in Noir, which revolves around dopplegangers and switches. In the Batman universe, there are a few villains whose stories mirror that of Bruce Wayne’s (rich family, orphaned, inherited millions) but that stray where Bruce chose a life of justice and truth, they perhaps followed a different path. The character ‘Hush’ has a story which revolves around him trying to give himself Bruce Wayne’s face in order to make it appear as if Bruce was committing certain crimes, allowing him to walk away free.
  • Sexual Pathology: the relationships between many characters could be drawn against this trope: Joker and Harley Quinn have a variation on The Florence Nightingale effect, wherein Dr. Harleen Quinzel was mesmerised by her patient, The Joker, to the extent that she freed him from Arkham Asylum and became his sidekick. Batman and Catwoman, as mentioned before, have an interesting relationship which could fit here, and it may also be noted that Catwoman’s primary weapon is a whip, which may relate to the idea of the exploration of Sadism in Noir. In terms of homosexuality there have been many theories about the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (Batman and the original Robin). All of these themes link back to Noir.
  • Psychopaths: See every Batman villain, and even Batman himself.

In short, every trope identified with Noir can be read in the Batman series, and although it will change depending one whose version you are reading, there can be a number of comparisons drawn.

Although Marvel did their own series of ‘Noir’ comics, taking characters who already existed and turning their stories into the ‘Noir’ style, I believe Batman to be, at heart, a noir, and whereas it is occasionally masked, all the elements are there, and it has been obvious to several artists, writers and directors that this is at the heart of Batman.

The Random Adventures of Brandon – Edgar Wright & Tommy Lee Edwards (Laurie Dix)

The Random Adventures of Brandon is a project set up by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Spaced) for Microsoft which brings comics into the era of Web 2.0.

The premise is simple:

Brandon is a writer with a coffee addiction and dreams. After struggling with writers’ block, he drinks too much coffee and eventually falls asleep, having insane and unsettling dreams, and upon waking finds that a story has written itself.

Edgar Wright wrote the set up, and is now asking the people of the internet to continue telling the story. With a team of animators and web-techs, he picks and chooses ideas proffered by the internet, and weaves them together to create a story which, in essence, is writing itself.

It’s an incredibly ambitious project, and one I like the idea of a lot. Crowd sourcing can be potentially hazardous, but when you have the potential combined minds of everyone in the world, the stories that could be told could be amazing.

The idea for crowd sourcing stories has been around for ages (I recently re-visited some of my old ‘Directors works’ DVD’s and watched a short documentary about how Spike Jonze was trying to get members of the public to write their own Oasis video) but only now, with the rise of the internet and the capabilities now offered, crowd sourcing ideas is entirely feasible. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the internet, as well as having the potential to tap the minds of some of the most creative people in the world, there is also the risk of having to deal with a barrage of hate and, honestly, some really bad ideas.

I thought that this idea for a comic was something innovative and exciting, and whereas I would never want to experiment with something like this for myself (I don’t like relenting that much control over my stories, at the moment. My stories are my own, and even now I have people offering ideas to me which are dreadful, and I just have to try and respond politely and pretend I’ll take the idea into account), but I thought it was incredibly relevant to us, especially when we were considering adding voiceover to our comics.

Comics for the next generation.

Notes On: De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrêté (Laurie Dix)

De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) is not really a noir, although it is a good film and there can be certain comparisons drawn.

Tom earns his money through nefarious deeds. Since the death of his mother, Tom has never quite gotten to grips with the death, and does not appreciate his father looking for love.
Tom finds respite in playing the piano, something his mother encouraged him to do, and now has a choice between the life of crime or a new life of music.

The plot unlike anything I have ever heard of before, and after the first time I watched it I was sure if I’d missed something important, because I couldn’t believe that’s all there was to it. I first watched it with my brother, and his understanding of it was: “I am a French gangster, but I just really want to play the piano.” which is basically what I understood as well.
There is more to it, involved in the relationships Tom has with various people; his colleagues, his father, his piano teacher, but all this just emphasises his choice between Piano and Piano-wire.

As I mentioned at the top of this blog, this is not really a noir, but there are certain elements which can be compared to noir.

I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that it’s French, and some French directors do Style very well (I was also going to mention ‘Three Colours Blue’, ‘Le Triplette du Belleville’ and ‘Delicatessen’ in terms of stylistic influences when it comes to my own writing and my understanding of ‘Modern noir’) there is the gangster element, but not so much as to be able to call it a Gangster movie, and there are his relationships with women.

The lighting is incredibly important throughout this film, but most important is the music. You would expect a film about a piano-playing-gangster to have a good soundtrack, and it does. One which highlights the moment and emphasises the story; a mix between electro and classical music, the score is of utmost importance in guiding the story and creating tension and emotion.

In noir films, the score follows a theme throughout which is adapted to suit the moment. In more recent films, this happens less and less, focusing instead more on individual tracks throughout, rather than following one theme. In ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’, there are a few themes, but the essence of the theme is still there: the music following a certain expression.

Again, certain noir tropes can be identified:

  • A ‘Maverick, Rule-breaking’ protagonist (who smokes)
  • A female, forbidden love interest
  • Gangsters
  • A body
  • The ‘Situation’ (the protagonist being ‘A loner’)
  • More gangsters

In conclusion, ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’ is not a ‘Noir’, but certain elements are there. I think a lot of this is due to European influences; obvious in European cinema, but these came to be in American cinema due to people fleeing their native countries during WWII, and working in American cinema. If you trace back these influences, there are still flavours of this style in European cinema today; merely a different branch of the same family tree.

Notes on: Brick (Laurie Dix)

Brick is about the closest thing you will get to a modern noir, and one of my favourite films.

It takes what we recognise as tropes of noir, and makes it relevant and modern.

The story follows Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he investigates a cryptic message left for him by his ex-girlfriend Laura.
After following a few clues, it does not take Brendan long to be absorbed into a dark criminal underworld, where he comes face to face with some rather unsavoury characters.

Brick uses the traditional slow cross fades in between locations, and relies heavily on lighting and colour to express mood and atmosphere. The differences between Brick and the traditional Noir are slim, but important. Traditional noir, being made in the 40’s, adhered to the rules set out by cinema at the time. Nowadays, the rules have changed in terms of how to make a film, and so, to prevent the film from seeming to be ‘badly made’ or ‘old hat’, Brick combines some modern elements of filmmaking with some elements of 40’s cinema.

(N.B. There can be some argument that ‘Brick’ does not count as a Noir, but more similar to ‘Hard-Boiled’, but the line is so fine it counts as a noir for all intents and purposes.)

“Traditional Noir Tropes”

  • Slow cross dissolves between locations
  • A ‘Femme Fatale’ character
  • Emphasis on lighting (rather than the cinematographer using light as their main medium, the emphasis is on shadow).
  • A mystery
  • The ‘Antagonist’ being a ‘Mobster’ (who earned his power due to controlling contraband, traditionally this would have been alcohol, in this modern equivalent, it is drugs)
  • Suspects
  • A body
  • The ‘Jazz’ influence
  • An unrealistic and overly stylistic script
    (One of my favourite lines is;
    Brendan is on the verge of being attacked by some stoners. After punching one of them in the face, another begins to approach, he turns to him and says:
    “Throw one at me if you want, hash-head. I still have all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.”)

Modern Elements

  • Young cast
  • Modern editing/Quick edits
  • Drugs influence
  • The American High School back drop
  • Modern cinematography (in terms of angles)
  • A lot of elements have been modernised simply due to the access to more modern equipment. In order to analyse exactly how else is ‘modernises’ aspects of film, one would have to examine how cinema has evolved over the past seventy years, which is a subject too big for this blog post.

Brick is a wonderful film, stylistic and cool, and does the ‘Noir’ genre a lot better than I could ever hope to do. It also has the benefit of being nearly two hours long, over which time you can built an intriguing story. It cannot be done quite as well over ten minutes, and in my opinion, ‘Noir’ stories need time to draw you in. They are a slow process, and one that cannot be accurately represented in a short time.

Comic/ Graphic Novel Research Part 5 (Philip Hampson)

This style was what I had planned for my hypothetical 3rd comic. It has very realistic looking characters and almost looks like a photograph. This comic is Echoes of Dawn by Cliff Richards (Figure 1). This is similar to the style I used for a previous project. It was making a point and click game, but we used real photographs for the visuals. I then took these images and edited them in photo shop. The game is called Caedus Mysterium.( Figure 2)

Style 5

 

(Figure 1 Echoes of Dawn By Cliff Richards)

SONY DSC

 

(Figure 2 Caedus Mysterium. Photography by Fred Iles. Edited by Philip Hampson.

Figure 1 from Comic Art now by Dez Skinn

Film Noir-By Alain silver and James Ursini Research report ( PHilip Hampson)

What most viewers notice when watching a film noir movie are:

 

Chiaroscuro Lighting. Low-Key lighting, in the style of Rembrandt or Caravaggio, Marks most noirs of the classic period. Shade and light play against each other not only in night exteriors but also in dim interiors shielded from daylight by curtains or venetian blinds. Hard, unfiltered side-light and rim light outline and reveal only a portion of a face to create a dramatic tension all its own. “

{Low-Key lighting and bold shadows is a common attribute of noir film. This is regarded as one of the key features of the style/ genre. This is something I feel Dop Naby Diallo and head of Lighting Roz Dean did an amazing job of in the filming of Johnny Noir. Lighting was something Laurie and me had to really take our time on when colour grading the film. We needed to make sure that we kept the bold shadows especially.} (Pg 18 What is Noir?)

 

Odd angles. Noir cinematographers favoured low angles for several reasons. Firstly, this angle made the characters rise from the ground in an almost expressionistic manner, giving them dramatic girth and symbolic overtones. In addition, it also allowed the viewer to see the ceiling of the interior settings, Creating even more of a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia, appropriate emotions for the world of noir. High angles could also produce disequilibrium, peering down a stairwell over a flimsy railing or out of a skyscraper window at a city street far below. “

{Odd angles is something I was keen to get into Johnny Noir. The scene when Madeline is explaining to Johnny what shed been up to (after she shoots him) is a shot that I filmed and planned. I felt it gave all the power to Madeline, while putting the audience in the position of Johnny, powerless and weak. I also wanted to create a sense of claustrophobia as it was so close to the characters, wall and floor, and using a shallow focus. A particular high angle I used was for a shot when Madeline and Johnny are walking down stairs, I decided to focus on the street light in front of them to create a slightly fuzzy look to the shot.} .} (Pg 18 What is Noir?)

 

Moving Camera. For directors like Ophuls and Lang, the camera that slides across a room past an array of foreground clutter or tracks a character through a crowded café had a relentless and fateful quality. When combined with a long take, suspenseful sequences were subtly enhanced.”

{In Johnny Noir we used several moving shots. We even have a shot tracking Johnny through a café. I felt this added to the film by keeping close and personal to the characters, which allowed the audience to feel part of the scene. .} (Pg 19 What is Noir?)

 

The Urban Landscape. Noir films are most often set in the urban landscape, particularly the cities of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The Metropolis with its circles of light under sidewalk lamps, dim alleyways, a press of shadowy pedestrians and wet, grimy streets is the perfect milieu for the nightmarish events of noir. ”

{We chose specific areas during rece that highlighted these traditional features of noir. Street lamps were a particularly important feature. Luckily there are many locations in Bristol that have these traditional street lamps, which created the lighting and tone to each scene nicely. We got the circular glow from the streetlights very prominently.} .} (Pg 19 What is Noir?)

 

Flashback and subjective camera. Whether introduced via a ripple effect or simply a smash cut, the past palpably intrudes in film noir via flashback. The flashback can be filtered through a single character’s point of view (Criss Cross) or ostensibly detached and objective (The killing, 1956): seeing the past gives a reality that no amount telling can match”.

{We used a flashback to tell the story in Johnny Noir. This is also the structure I used in my comic Eddie Jones. In the film we also used quick cuts of reality, until revealing at the end that the noir was all in Johnny’s head. } .} (Pg 19 What is Noir?)

 

 

Film Noir-By Alain silver and James Ursini

Published 2004

Published by Taschen

USA Los Angeles