La Confidential and Film Noir

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LA Confidential and Film Noir

One of the most influential film movements in the 1940's was a genre that is known today as film noir. Film noir was a recognizable style of filmmaking, which was created in response to the rising cost of typical Hollywood movies (Buss 67). Film noir movies were often low budget films; they used on location shoots, small casts, and black and white film. The use of black and white film stock not only lowered production costs, but also displayed a out of place disposition that the conventions of film noir played upon. It is these conventions: themes, characters, lighting, sound, and composition, which are seen in the movie LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997). This paper discusses the techniques used in LA Confidential that link the movie with the typical cinematic conventions of the film noir style. Film noir often tackled subjects that dealt with common underlying themes: corruption, deceit, mystery, etc (Sobchack, 271). One of the most well known and acclaimed pioneers in film noir is the movie The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941). This film was based on a private investigator, Sam Spade, hired to investigate a case. The Maltese Falcon is now viewed as the typical film noir style movie because it contains traits and qualities of filmmaking that were adapted by film noir filmmakers. Film noir started during the mid 1940's and has been a popular film style ever since, yielding such contemporary movies like The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995), Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998). These films have proved that film noir is not a method dedicated to past decades, but rather an innovative style of film that influences movies today. LA Confidential, like other contemporary film noirs utilize many stylistic qualities that the earlier film noir movies grasped. Often times film noir movies were based upon corruption, usually in an urban type setting. Location in these movies would often times consist of nighttime scenes in a busy city. Los Angles, the location of LA Confidential, is a typical setting for film noir movies due to its "newer" west coast image and the absence of rural traditions. The city was chosen largely because of its informality. People living in a city do not interact with each other as people of a small town might. Film noir played upon the idea of loneliness and solitude; two traits that are easily found in a big city (Monaco 246). Nighttime scenes were chosen because of the mystery that comes with darkness. Night projects a feeling to the viewer that he or she would not absorb in the daytime, very much the same way horror movies play themselves upon the night. Just like the basis of the big city, film noir acts upon the conventions of mystery and suspense: it is easier for the filmmaker to play with the viewer's emotions if he or she is placed in a setting of uneasiness. The nighttime images in LA Confidential portray that anxiety and allow the mystery of the plot to expand. This use of nighttime and darker images lends the movie to take advantage of the stylistic low-key lighting. The movie begins with the narration of Sid Hudgens, editor for Hush Hush magazine, a sleazy tabloid concerned with getting a news story no matter what the consequences are. Typical of film noir, the story is adapted from a tabloid or pulp fiction novel. Sid Hudgens describes a town of beauty, filled with beaches, people, and economic potential. He tells how anyone can achieve the American dream in Los Angeles and how it truly is the greatest place to live. Sid's voice suddenly turns sour as he reveals the truth about Los Angeles: an image is sold to the gullible; a pleasant image sent throughout the media. Unfortunately, it's all a lie. The story continues with the addition of Edmund Exley to the Los Angeles Police Department. Exley is a skilled detective with all of the book smarts a cop...
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