Environments in film noir

Historically, noir usually takes place in a specific setting.  It is often set in the mid-1900s, even when it is made in other times.  And it almost always takes place within a city, mostly famously in L.A.  All three of the movies, Double Indemnity, The Big Lebowski, and Blade Runner, take place within cities, though in very different times.  Double Indemnity is certainly the most traditional film noir, both in plot and design.  Its use of spacing is very inclusive; many shots were positioned to show every character in a room, as well as any set pieces and atmospheric objects to maximize the feel that the scene conveyed.  In different scenes, the camera and environment shift depending on the mood.  If the scene had many people in a room, the camera would be pulled back enough to show everyone.  The objects in the room would be placed tightly together to accommodate each characters’ actions in-frame.  In scenes that only had one or two people, the camera would respond their motions.  When they were across the room from each other, the camera would use long shots to show them both.  As they would come closer to each other, the camera would respond, cutting to a closer shot to them and leaving much of the environment out of frame.  Despite this, the atmosphere was never completely ignored; often an intimate shot would still contain some object to remind you of the dark mood of the film, such as blinds on a window in a dark room.

Blade Runner takes different approach to its use of space from traditional noir like Double Indemnity.  Attention is drawn to spacing as a factor in the film’s world that the characters are starkly aware of.  The film also takes place in Los Angeles, but in the future, where aspects of the city are exaggerated.  The city is all sky scrapers in the future, with the streets completely packed with people and low grade shops.  All traffic flies above the towers, where oversized advertisements can be seen for miles.  However, inside the wealthy areas of the high rises are great, spacious rooms and offices for corporate bigwigs.  Space is a commodity in Blade Runner‘s world.  Despite the science fiction implications for this thematic difference, this aspect of the film still serves the purpose of creating that unfriendly, dark, gritty feel that lies in noir.  Even though the time and environment is wildly different between Double Indemnity and Blade Runner, both these settings provide the same feel for the characters.  Even as Deckard is questioning people in his search for replicants, the sets we see him in can easily be seen as ones in a traditional film noir, such as restaurants and locker rooms.  The key elements, such as the city, investigation, and set design, are timeless, and this can be seen most evidently in Blade Runner.

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