This is a BBC documentary that was aired in 2009. I find it very nice, and I loved the tons of footage you can find in here. I was also very interested in learning about the genre and the way it came about, as well as the way it evolved and finally went out of fashion… though not for long.
In this documentary, more than the story of the genre in a chronological way, film noir is presented though its salient characteristics. Let me write them out for you.
- Choose a dame with a past and a hero with no future
- Use no fiction but pulp fiction
- See America through a stranger’s eye
- Make it any colour as long as it’s black
- It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it
What intrigues me the most is point 3 – See America through a stranger’s eyes. In the documentary is said that some of noir’s most recognizable characteristics, its darkness, its pessimistic feeling, its sense of loneliness and also its expressionist way of presentation were brought to America by immigrants – especially Germans and Jews – fleeing from occupied Europe, and in America turned into a very specific, very recognizable form of expression. These immigrants brought with them their fear for what was happening in Europe (the totalitarian regimes, then the war, the persecutions, the total destruction of entire cities) and as they worked in Hollywood as technicians, as actors, as screenplays, as directors, they poured their anxieties and insecurities into their art.
The influence of Germans seems particularly apparent for me in many sequences. Germany had a very prosperous artistic season during the golden days of the Weimar Republic. The stylized entertainment form of Expressionism and the streamlined forms of the Bauhaus really seem to come forth from many passages in this documentary.
Maybe this is because I am European, but seems to me as if Dieselpunk still retains this fascination with Europe. Many dieselpunk stories I read were set in Europe, many were actually set during WWII or shortly after and they sure expressed a similar sense of anxiety and uncertainty in front of the unknown that seems to be common to the classic film noir.
In truth, even the dieselpunk stories that are set in America and more closely adhere to the classic characteristics of noir seem to follow in the footsteps of expression and the same anxieties that Europeans fleeing form occupied Europe brought with them.
Is this just my impression?