Updated: May 16, 2019
Film noir is a French term that literally translates to ‘black cinema’. It’s used to describe a collection of Hollywood films made in the 40s and 50s, characterised by their German expressionist influence converging with the post war disillusionment of American society. Gone were the days of glitz and glamour – replaced with a need for a harsher view of reality through a cinematic lens. As a result, the movement favoured grittier topics like fatalism, corruption, and psychological conflict as well as a - literally - darker cinematographic approach. Many German and Eastern European filmmakers, such as Fritz Lang, fled to America to escape the Nazis, bringing their expressionist lighting techniques with them. Shadows play a prominent role in the composition of a film noir frame. Scenes are dark and appear as though they are lit for night. The contrast between the shadows and highlights is stark, emphasised by the presence of oblique, vertical lines cast by shadows from venetian blinds.
It is a film style from which one has a plethora of inspirations, both aesthetically and narratively, to draw from. My main source of inspiration for my short was Anthony Mann’s 1947 film T-Men. I found the opening shot of the interrogation scene to be very striking as it introduces the threat of the character Moxie very well. You immediately feel intimidated by the thug’s presence, which is how I wanted to convey the Inspector in my film. It’s for this reason that I chose to shoot my opening shot of the doorway in a similar fashion – shot from the hip with a slight low angle. The only difference being that the Inspector is silhouetted out in my short to emphasise his menacing presence.
Stylised title sequences have been a core part my work since my very first film, and Still Life was to be no exception. I am a firm believer in the power opening and closing credits can have in continuing the themes of a film. I watched dozens film noir opening and closing credit sequences to determine the most common styles of typography and visuals from that era. I was particularly drawn to the typography in Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond The Door with its serif font and harsh drop shadow. As for the visuals, I drew inspiration once again from T-Men, whose title card features the United States Department of the Treasury symbol. I adapted these two ideas to my film, with the Metropolitan Police symbol to represent the Inspector, and the harsh drop shadow on the font to represent the dark side of the otherwise charismatic Suspect.
I was inspired by the text transitions and music choice in the title credits of Robert Siodmak’s 1949 film Criss Cross. The text dissolved from card to card but briefly overlapped. This, along with the gate weave from being run through a telecine machine, gave his title sequence the distinctive film stock appearance, which I wanted replicate in my film. This is because even though my film is meant to be a timeless piece, I wanted to make it visually appropriate by replicating how modern-day audiences view films shot on film stock. To do this I chose a 4:3 aspect ratio, recreated the jitter of gate weave in After Effects along with the 35mm film grain and the text transitions and applied this to my film. As for music, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt had a similar orchestral thunder to the score in Criss Cross which is why I chose it to accompany the credits.
In regards to direction, I was heavily inspired by Dan Gilroy’s direction of Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in Velvet Buzzsaw. The dialogue in Velvet Buzzsaw is unnatural – most people don’t speak with the intonation and tempo that Gyllenhaal and Russo have in the film. Despite this, Gilroy directed them in such a way that it feels natural to them, and to speak in any other manner would be out of place. The dialogue in my script was not meant to be realistic - they discuss the Suspect's crimes as though they are analysing a third party artist's art. I based the dialogue off of transcripts of the Ted Bundy confession tapes, where he confessed because the interrogators got him to talk about his crimes in the third person. Despite the unrealistic dialogue, I wanted the characters to feel situated in their specific inflections. In an interview Gilroy said he achieved this by leaving “a lot of blank space for all the actors to come in and create and own the character themselves.” and this is the approach I took to my directing and helping the actors settle into their characters. Adam Dando, who played the Inspector, said of the direction "The direction was intricate and allowed the actors some creative flexibility which was greatly appreciated."
To me, one of the most important things about film is its ability to transcend language and reach people from all backgrounds and life experiences. Cinema, when done properly, is an experience shared communally. Unless you're Deaf, hard of hearing, have auditory processing problems, or the film isn't in your native language. In which case, the lack of open captioned or subtitled content means accessing films in the cinema can be an isolating and degrading experience as you are forced to use CaptiView devices, that often malfunction, if you want to know what's happening in the film. Deaf actor Nyle Dimarco says of the devices "It takes a toll on my deaf identity. It feels like I'm being robbed of my dignity. And it's very destructive to my own identity. I'm always terrified of those experiences, and it makes me not want to go back."
The use of open captions on films had declined in recent years following backlash from the hearing community who complain that captions are distracting and ruin their cinema experience. I believe that if a film is ruined by making it accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing people, then it was never a good film in the first place. It infuriates me that such a simple addition to a film that is needed to make the cinema experience accessible to an entire demographic is ignored in favour of catering to the preferences of another.
I frequent the cinema with a deaf friend, and I have seen first hand how minor adjustments to volume and the presence of open captions can greatly improve the cinema experience for him. The accessibility of my films is a core part of my identity as a director. There are no excuses as to why I cannot accommodate the needs of Deaf and hard of hearing people in my films, and it is the lack of films and filmmakers who don't that have inspired me to accompany my film with open captions that cannot be removed. Captions are a part of the experience when it comes to my films and that will not change.