Difference between Noir and Neo-Noir

Key difference: Film noir is a style of film-making that is used to mainly describe Hollywood crime dramas from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. These crime dramas usually have a low-key black-and-white chiaroscuro style. Neo-noir is a style employed in the period following the film noir. Neo-noir essentially means ‘new-noir’. Neo-noir films are the post-1970 films that were reminiscent of the noir films of the 1940s and 1950s. However, they also incorporated updated themes, content, style, visual elements or media to make the films appear more up-to-date.

Film noir is a style of film-making that is used to mainly describe Hollywood crime dramas from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. These crime dramas usually have a low-key black-and-white chiaroscuro style. Chiaroscuro is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. The term film noir is French for "black film." It was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946.

The techniques employed in the film noir style are reminiscing of German Expressionist cinematography. The screen is visually darker than the average film, with long deep shadows. This was a contrast to the usual light bright documentary-styled camera work often employed in movies. In film noir, camera angles were often very creative and unusual. This was meant to add to the atmosphere and increase the viewer’s sense of unease. The films often employ dark rainy nights which were also aimed at adding to the atmosphere. A common iconic scene in these movies often was the protagonist walking down a dark lonely street on a particularly rainy night contemplating the moral issues facing him.

Film noir films emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. In these films, the protagonist is an anti-hero, usually a private eye, a plainclothes policeman, a hapless grafter, a law-abiding citizen lured into a life of crime, or simply a victim of circumstance. He is usually a man alienated from society, suffering an existential crisis, often lead astray by a femme fatale. He is a serious person facing morally ambiguous decisions. He is constantly fighting with the world around him that seems to be out to get him.

Neo-noir is a style employed in the period following the film noir. Neo-noir essentially means ‘new-noir’. Neo-noir films are the post-1970 films that were reminiscent of the noir films of the 1940s and 1950s. However, they also incorporated updated themes, content, style, visual elements or media to make the films appear more up-to-date.

Neo-noir films often incorporated modern circumstances and technology, which were typically absent or unimportant in the classic film noir. In the noir films, audiences followed the protagonist, building up a relationship with him and understanding how and why he does what he does. However, the neo-noir films employ unconventional camera movements and plot progression that constantly remind the audiences that they are merely watching the film and are not part of the story.

The themes that are often employed in neo-noir films include identity crises, memory issues and subjectivity. An important recurring theme in these films is the problems arising due to technological advances and their ramifications on society.

Neo-noir films have become so malleable and encompassing that film theorists argue that there is no proper definition of neo-noir. According to Robert Arnett, "Neo-noir has become so amorphous as a genre/movement, any film featuring a detective or crime qualifies." The genre of neo-noir has often been overlapped with other genres to produce noir comedies, noir westerns, horror noir, psycho noir, sci-fi noir, stoner noir and superhero noir. The themes of neo-noir have also often been employed in various television series and animated series.

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