Film noir presentation opens a deliciously dark history

World War II was a bad time for movies in France. The Nazi occupation, aside from being wholly unpleasant, left the country devoid of American cinema for four years. When at last the Nazis had been righteously defeated and American movies began finding their way to French shores once more, French critics noticed an emerging trend in American movies. These movies were highly expressionistic and dealt with the dark side of human nature like obsession and betrayal in a time of musicals and “Leave It To Beaver.” They dubbed this new trend film noir. On Feb. 28, University of Alaska Kenai Peninsula adjunct professor Bob Amundson gave a lecture on Film Noir at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

Amundson became enthusiastic about film noir in the early ‘90s. He was originally led to the genre by the expressionistic German literature that inspired it. Often noir films are set in a foggy, rain-soaked metropolis, and the frantic humanity packed into a city is a running theme. He found noir a welcome alternative to the blood-soaked action-filled films of the day. Due to a restrictive production code in place in the ‘40s, noir directors were forced to find creative ways to portray the sex and violence that characterized their plotlines. Amundson was immediately attracted to this approach, finding that things were often creepier when left to the imagination. Indeed, many noir directors thought that working around the production code led them to make better films.

While the film noir trend officially ended several decades ago, many modern movies are made with that genre in mind. “L.A. Confidential,” “Blade Runner,” “Dark City” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There” are all examples of contemporary films heavily inspired by film noir.

Amundson teaches a humanities class in film noir in Soldotna. Recently, one of his students was so inspired that he created his own homage to the genre, a short film entitled “Shelter,” which Amundson showed as part of his lecture. Amundson also showed clips from many classic noir films as well as the expressionistic German horror films that pioneered some of noir’s stylistic elements. After the lecture, Amundson showed “Criss Cross,” a classic noir film.

Amundson has had a positive reaction to his exploration of the genre. He has been noticing that his Soldotna class draws a younger and younger audience recently. “I would say that there are a lot of classic overlooked films that are very entertaining and hold up as well or better than a lot of what is made today,” Amundson said. He recommended anyone interested in exploring the genre should start with “Double Indemnity.” He said it’s the best of the genre. Amundson hopes to lecture at UAA in the future, but in the meantime, he hopes that people will explore this genre for themselves.