Media Essay on Film Noir

Compare how ‘Heat’ uses the conventions of Film Noir to establish atmosphere with another film of your choice

Film Noir covers a huge range of films, not just focusing on the 1940’s era where this category first began. This style has been used in even modern day films, all the way up to the 1990’s. Including hits such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and other famous films Heat (1995), both challenge the conventions used in film noir, including the lighting effects, the sound/music to create mood, character types such as the anti-hero, the mise en scene and camera angles all combine together to create atmosphere within the film.

 The film ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ both use all the conventions of Film Noir to create an atmosphere while the audience are watching.

Both films begin by producing a dark screen in front of the audience, which creates the atmosphere of mystery while the viewers watch with anticipation. ‘Heat’ produces a black screen that is gradually filled as the credits fade in and fade out of the screen at the start of the film. While ‘Pulp Fiction’ has the same black screen but with narrative white text on which gives a definition of the film title’s meaning:

 Pulp a soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter

2. a magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough unfinished paper.

Whilst ‘Heat’ just goes straight into the film with the credits and the title of the film. This projects the two films differences in style, as one gives a more serious atmosphere with the printed text as the title compared with ‘Pulp Fiction’ where the font of the name is more playful, with a bold red and yellow colour scheme to the font, which stands out dramatically compared with the title of ‘Heat’ with its printed text produces an atmospheric feel that the film is going to be quite serious, with a moderately subtle soft music in the background it creates quite a serious atmospheric feel while the title sequence is being carried out compared to that of ‘Pulp Fiction’ as it has a more relaxed feel to it, with more modern music at the time by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones while half way through the title sequence the song is changed to a different song of the same era through the sense of a radio signal. Both of the films have increasingly different styles when it comes introducing the credits. ‘Heat’ just has the actors names fade in and fade out within the black screen which is quite a standard composition and creates a very serious feel to the film as the text is type-writer printed, while the title sequence music becomes louder when the name of the film is produced creating the atmospheric feel that the film is going to have some serious sense to it. While ‘Pulp Fiction’ has the title of the film appear at the start of the film slowing rolling up the screen the same way the ending credits would appear, before gradually descending  into the background getting increasingly smaller as the names of the actors appear on top of the title as it descents into the blacked out screen. The whole composition seems to have a more playful set out, than ‘Heat’ which has quite a simple title layout.

Throughout the two films of ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ sound and lighting seemed to be a method that was used numerous times throughout the two movies; this technique can dramatically create feeling, emotion and tension within any film noir. ‘Heat’ opens with a darkened area with dimly lit street

lights, which establishes the atmospheric feel to the film to be quite dingy and dull while the steam effect moving across the track of the railway, produces a creepy feel to the area. There is a main source of light which is being projected through the darkness from the train; the dark atmosphere with the faint music creates a mysterious feel to the particular area. The light piercing through the darkness illuminates the surroundings of the tracks creating a shadow effect as the train passes generating a mysterious and dark feel to the vicinity. ‘Pulp Fiction’ has a different effect on lighting at the start of the film, it opens with a café scene with two characters, a man and a woman, the light is being projected through the blinds to the side of them illuminating their faces creating an atmospheric relaxed feel and making the audience believe that they seem trustable while at the same time the lighting creates shadows that are created on the table. The lighting in the whole building seems to be quite welcoming compared to the opening light sequence of ‘Heat’. The light from the blinds reflects off everything in the café illuminating every object and creating a relaxed atmosphere, leading the audience to believe that these two characters are harmless. Compared with that of ‘Heat’ when the male character is introduced out off the train at the station, the light’s from above the building enlightens the area introducing the audience to the whole region setting which due to the busy hustle and bustle of people creates quite a busy atmosphere to the audience that are watching. As the character steps off the train his face is in slight shadow, which gives the impression that he has some sort of dark distinctive feel to his personality which can be reinforced by his facial expression which is quite serious, while the music intensifies when the characters face is seen alerting the audience that this is the main character. Contrasting with ‘Pulp Fiction’ the character within the café have very different facial expression as they are smiling and chatting quite casually producing the jokey tone of robbing stores which to the audience creates the sense that they are just pretending this can be reflected by the bright light which is being projected through the blinds, along with the soft piano music within the background of the café produces quite a laid back feel. The way that they are dressed is quite informal as the man is wearing a Hawaiian shirt while the woman is wearing a plan strappy top both producing the impression of harmless characters giving the scene quite a relaxed atmosphere. While the two characters are sitting at the table the man is seen smoking a cigarette from the start of the film which generates the scene to just look and feel like any other café scene. However, when the gun is produced and placed on the table the whole mood of the scene changes when the camera shows an extreme close up of the gun. As soon as both of the characters within the café stand up and produce the guns the dialectic them changes from being soft and casual to threatening with a violent tone towards people within the café while the camera angle changes from being a medium close up to a low angle shot as they stand high on the table, gradually before the scene cuts to the opening credits.  People while the lighting produces shadows over their faces showing that they are not two innocent people just sitting in a café.

  The lighting within ‘Heat’ remains at the same brightness throughout however, when he travels down the escalator his character is put into darkness once again when he passes below an underpass while the music stays at the same tone from the opening train scene which gives the atmospheric feel to the audience that he may have some hidden traits, while the credits still appear behind him down the escalator. There seems to be a lit up city of some sort in front of him, as the audience watches his character from an over the shoulder shot, which gives the dark and mysterious feel to the scene. The shot follows the character to a low angle shot from the kerb as it slowing rises up his body to reveal the back of the character, the low lighting and dark surroundings creates a suspicious feel to the area while the music changes to darker tones giving the impression that he is not to be trusted. The camera angle changes to a medium close up of the characters face as they walk through a building with lots of people walking around creating a busy atmosphere. While the bright lighting from above reflects off the white walls creating a sanitary and clean atmosphere to be, the character seems to be travelling fast down the corridor through what seems to be a hospital while the scenery travelling fast past him creating the sense of a mission, there are sounds of bleeping machines and hustle and bustle as the character that the camera followed from the station passes through the building.  The over the shoulder shot carries on following him throughout the hospital until the exit doors, the illuminating light from the building creates shadows on the ambulance which produces the atmospheric feel that he has a dark secret to his actions, before he climbs into the vehicle and drives away.

However, the second scene of ‘Pulp Fiction’ is very different it opens with the two characters travelling in a car quite formally dressed with white shirts and black tie with the camera focusing on the medium close up from the left corner of the frame, while the music from the opening credits is heard to be playing in a more subtle muffled sound as it’s being projected from the car radio giving the atmosphere that the audience is involved with the film.  The angle at which the car is driving produces the natural light to be projected through the window creating dark shadows over their faces which can reflect the anti-hero within them even though to the audience they seem to be trustable, the dialectic of the two characters is quite calm and friendly which draws the audience to relate to them giving a friendly atmosphere. The camera produces a low angle shot from the boot of the two characters car giving the feel that the audience are in the boot, giving the atmospheric feel that the audience are inferior to the characters. When both of them reach into the boot of the car dark shadows are produced over their faces creating an untrustworthy approach to them, while the shadows produced on the walls behind them gives the feel that they are in somewhere sheltered away from the public eye. The use of guns that are removed from the boot gives the atmosphere of danger and changes the whole mood of the scene.

This film noir contrasts with ‘Heat’ as its second scene is completely different as the camera introduces the audience to two characters while in the background seems to be heavy machinery giving the atmospheric feel that its set on a building site. The subtle background music that was played in the opening credits carries on throughout the scene, while the lighting within the building puts the blond haired man’s face in darkness which gives the atmospheric feel that he might be a threat towards the stories layout. The tone in music intensifies when the parts of industrial machinery is seen the lighting illuminating the parts which seems to establish the atmospheric feel that the character and the bought parts are going to be of some significance showing the audience that these items have implication towards the storyline. Just like the scene within ‘Pulp Fiction’ both were set in the daytime which seems non-stereotypical of a film noir category, both also seem to show that certain items have reference to the film.  In the next scene within ‘Heat’ there is a  medium close up of a female character who seems to be smoking which gives a sexual icon towards the film, while there is an over the shoulder shot of a character in darkness while the audience can see the woman smoking which gives the darkened out character giving the feel he might have some importance towards the film, just before he leaves he picks up a gun off the side table which can link with his darkened out appearance at the start of the scene establishing the atmospheric feel that he may be some threat towards the storyline. The scene changes to two people

 There is a complete contrast between the two sets of characters, while in ‘Heat’ the characters are casually dressed in trousers and t-shirts while still carrying out the same sort of events portrays them just to be reckless vigilantes. While in ‘Pulp Fiction’ the two main characters do more or less the same events but wear formal suits which represents to the audience that this is their professional occupation with this in mind it completely alters the atmospheric feel between their job occupation. Within the storyline of ‘Heat’ the audience see a man climb into a large vehicle with another character, the lighting entering through the windows puts their faces in shadows creating the same effect of that in ‘Pulp Fiction’ and giving them the anti-hero status, while the sound in the background reflects the characters actions creating the atmosphere of mystery about what this will lead to.

The two characters in ‘Pulp Fiction’ are seen walking, while the lighting becomes quite dim creating shadows over the characters only letting slits of light through the over head canopy creating the atmospheric feel that these two characters may be in somewhere with danger linked to it due to the guns and dimmed lighting. This can contrast with ‘Heat’ as it too has the same lighting effect to show danger and the character types. Within ‘Heat’ the violent heist scene is in the daytime which contrasts the same with ‘Pulp Fiction’ as both films have violence in the day which seems non-stereotypical of a brutal gun scene. As ‘Heat’ moves into the heist scene the audience see’s a group of characters from all different parts of the film some from the beginning and others in scenes just before the actual crime each of them wearing a hockey mask whereas the two characters in ‘Pulp Fiction’ wear nothing to cover up their identity which seems to change the atmosphere that one film has more serious implications than the other.

 The dialectic between these groups of characters within ‘Heat’ is quite violent and commanding as they take certain people as hostages and stealing the good but the two characters within ‘Pulp Fiction’ have quite a casual dialectic as they speak in a jokey manner of past experiences which again contrasts the atmosphere between the two film noir storylines.  Once the characters in ‘Heat’ begin to carry out their mission of following and intercepting cars the music starts to play again but this time with more dramatic drums and violins as the camera follows them, with the music becoming increasingly louder in volume when one of the hostages are shot which dramatically shows the fear within the atmosphere. This is a complete contrast with that of ‘Pulp Fiction’ as when the two characters are on their mission there is no music except the natural background sound of traffic and people within the flat which shows the two differences between atmospheres while ‘Heat’ is serious with more of a violent heist with hostages, gun fights and killings whereas ‘Pulp Fiction’ has more of a mellow relaxed feel with the violence not shown only the sound of guns shots are witnessed, while ‘Heat’ shows the audience the killings of the hostages which establishes the difference in mood that the films wanted to portray. Within the heist scene the characters shadows are elongated due to the angle of the light which creates the sense of suspense as they approach the hostages with guns it produces the mood of fear. The same lighting effect is used in ‘Pulp Fiction’ when they enter what appears to be a lobby of a hotel the light illuminating from the entrance of the door elongates their shadows over the floor as they approach the elevator generating the atmosphere of fear as they approach the flat to the people they are going to see. This effect is used again when they are walking along the corridor towards the desired room, the two characters are constantly placed into shadowed parts of the corridor which emphasises the impression that they might not be as trustable as they were first portrayed out to be. This shadow effect can be contrasted with the hockey masks that the robbers in ‘Heat’ wore the shadowed effect acts in some respect as their mask, which gives both of the films the same sort of atmospheric approach, and shows the audience that they are the anti-heroes within the film.

Both ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ have combined all of these conventions to create atmosphere and to portray the character types towards the audience. Lighting was a key convention used within the films as it shaped the mood of the atmosphere producing the characters feelings. Combined with the music both generated a powerful atmospheric feel that formed the individual differences between the films. While one used the conventions to create an extremely serious violent storyline, the other made violence look acceptable due to the trust that was formed from the audience at the start of the film.


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