The Jackdaw Journal
A Publication of M2 Communications

jack-daw [JAK-dah], n. 1. a glossy, black, European bird, corvus monedula, of the crow family, that nests in towers, ruins, etc.; has a proclivity to collect bright objects that attract its attention; can include bits of ice, things round or square, twigs, filaments of light bulbs; specialist on the lookout of what fits the construction of its nest.

jackdaw journal [JAK-dah JERN-al], n. 1. a repository of bright objects — wit, wisdom and whimsey — collected and/or created by Michael McKinney.   2. a web log or blog


Art Archives
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How Film Noir Got Its Look

April 5, 2007

In the Winter 2007 American Art Quarterly, there is an interesting article about how film noir got its look. In the Mind of a Madman by professor Louis Markos, traces the influence back to the silent films of the German Expressionist movement. He suggests that the prototypal Expressionist art work is The Scream by the Norwegian Edvard Munch. Germany's defeat in World War I and the social instability that followed nurtured the movement. "The works of the Expressionists would grow increasingly macabre, morbid and decadent as artists--all heirs of Freudian psychoanalysis--delved deeper into the dark regions of the subconscious.
The Scream
The artistic theories and methods of the Expressionists left an indelible mark on the history of the cinema. The first film to embrace Expressionism and to earn itself immediate, international recognition was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)."
During the occupation of France, the French were forbidden to see American movies. Several years later, when Paris was liberated and the French rushed out to see their beloved American pictures, they noticed a change had occurred. The films were darker than they remembered: darker in their lighting, in their mood and in their themes. They called these strange new works film noir ("black film"), and the name has stuck.
In America, the noir genre can be credited to the fusion of both the "hard-boiled school of fiction that began in the late 1920s--like Dashiell Hammet's The Maltese Falcon and Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep--and social conditions born out of the Great Depression and realized in gangster films of the 1930s--like Howard Hawk's Scarface (1932) and Raoul Walsh's They Drive by Night (1940). They brought to the screen "a rich gallery of anti heroes on both sides of the law."
Tough, cynical and unsentimental, the solitary protagonists of film noir live out their lives in a seedy, urban world devoid of family or any other traditional support system....In keeping with its dual literary/sociological origins, film noir will often allow its nonconformist anti-hero to think he is the master of his own fate and the author of his own code, while presenting him as being trapped in and formed by socio-economic forces outside his control.
The Big Sleep

What distinguishes the noir look from the Expressionistic look is the increased realism that the American directors brought to it. By toning down the macabre, grotesque excesses of the German silents and replacing them with more subtle visual techniques, noir directors suggested that the fear, and instability expressed in The Scream and Caligari could co-exist side-by-side with a dull, featureless urban setting.
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