There is something unsettling in the air. A man in a fedora is on a mission with a cigarette in hand, yearning to uncover a dark secret, all while trying to resist the charm of a seductive woman. Put it all together, and we can only be certain of two things: this won't end well, and we are in the company of noir.
Officially, the term neo noir refers to films made after the 1950s that incorporate stylistic elements and themes of film noir but are revamped to a degree. The Austin Film Festival hosted a panel with Shane Black and Brian Helgeland on Saturday morning to dissect the complexities of this idea; their films Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and L.A. Confidential (which won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay) are oft-cited examples of the genre.
Moderator Alan Odom asked the audience to yell out names of recent films they would consider neo noir. Mulholland Drive, A History of Violence, and Brick were repeated several times. Both gentlemen wholeheartedly agreed.
Helgeland also deemed the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowksi as a recent noir. While the audience tried to stifle their laughter at the thought, he explained: "It's a dark comedy that has a case of mistaken identity." Fair point.
Black has his own personal checklist, too. "To me, the best noir features people that are broken, who live a life of quite desperation and have a need to carry out their own brand of justice, and of course a moral compass – or lack thereof," Black said.
After spending much time defining what exactly neo noir is, the conclusion at the end of the panel was that is is very much open to interpretation.
Regardless of how you define it, though, Helgeland and Black's spirited discussion on this popular genre proved that, metaphorically as well as literally, neo noir really is the new black.
Keep up with all our AFF coverage at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.
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