"Chinatown" as Film Noir

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"Chinatown" as Film Noir

Films that are classified as being in the film noir genre all share some basic characteristics. There is generally a voice-over throughout the film in order to guide the audience's perceptions. These movies also involve a crime and a detective who is trying to figure out the truth in the situation. This detective usually encounters a femme fatale who seduces him. However, the most distinctive feature of the film noir genre is the abundance of darkness.

Roman Polanski's 1974 film, "Chinatown", revolutionized the film noir genre. Aside from the absence of voice-over, the film shares all the same characteristics with earlier noirs. That is, of course, except for the fact that "Chinatown" is filmed in color. Because of this, it is more difficult upon the first viewing to immediately classify the movie to this genre. In movies such as "Double Indemnity" even scenes that take place during the daytime are dark, and since it is a black and white film, this is easy to do. However, in a film with color it is much harder to create this dark effect, especially in scenes that are filmed outdoors. Polanski makes references to symbols that remind the audience that although "Chinatown" is in color, it still belongs in the genre. For example, one of the first lines in the movie is, "I just had [the venetian blinds] installed on Wednesday." Venetian blinds are often seen in the genre, and the reference immediately makes the connection between this neo-noir and older films. Also, the first things the audience sees when the film begins are dark, black and white photographs. They take up the entire screen, so for the first minute or so of the film, the audience does not realize that they are, in fact, photographs that detectives are examining. The darkness of the photographs also references the genre. It is as if Polanski is immediately trying to convey to the audience that regardless of the fact that it is a color film, it is still a film noir....
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