by Nick Sheets, dramaturg

This is the first post for BYU’s Young Company’s upcoming production of Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. Teresa Love, the director, decided to split the production into two unique themes: mystery noir and fairyland. I’d like to introduce you to the world of “Noir,” if you will indulge yourselves for a moment.

What is “Noir?”

Glad you asked. Take a look at this fun “Mater: P.I.” video for starters. It exemplifies the “Noir” technique so commonly used in American cinema.

What are some things you noticed? If you talked about the high contrast between black and white, trench coats, mystery, conniving women, underground illegal activity, etc. then you’re on the right track.

But, how did “noir” become popular in America? It all begins with WWI…

After WWI people began to question reality. How could we arrive at this point even though we are “civilized?” Perceivable reality and subjectivity were huge trends in the Avant-garde artistic movements that surged quickly in the beginning of the 20th century.

One of these movements was German Expressionism. It was sort of creepy. Take a look at this picture by Kirchner entitled “Dresden Street:”

Dresden Street, Kuchner

You see the little girl in trolley tracks. You see green faces, claw-like hands, and vibrant colors. For me, this picture is disturbing. It takes a normal scene in Dresden and creates an “icky” feeling.

However, this feeling transitioned into film, beginning in Europe. Here is a clip from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Take a look at this clip:

The scenery, make-up, acting styles, etc. are very “off,” for lack of a better word. When you look at Dr. Caligari’s window, for example, it’s not a rectangle, but rather curved to one side. This transition away from a supposed reality was common, especially as people tried to understand the new reality after WWI.

When American film took the “noir” idea up for consideration they stayed true to many of the techniques used in European cinema. The high-contrast with light and dark is very prominent, for example.

As we go along, I will be sharing more details on the production’s implementation of “Noir” in later posts. I invite you to consider all of these ideas when you come to see the “Noir” version of Cymbeline. In the meanwhile, feel free to comment on any particular “Noir”-style movies you’ve enjoyed or some of the features in these films you find intriguing.

For those interested in more information on this topic, see the following links:

The Rules of Film Noir

PBS American Cinema: Film Noir

The Basics of Lighting for Film Noir

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