Tuesday, March 4, 2014


By Tom Connelly

Cynical, morally ambiguous, conveying a feeling of helplessness, of alienation; these are some of the attributes of the film-noir genre; or perhaps more accurately, the file-noir style. Classic film-noir movies have a certain visual style, combining low-key lighting, chiaroscuro and skewed compositions. This style, used by directors as diverse as Billy Wilder and Orson Welles, creates a certain tension as the stark shadows obscure and accent the moral dimensions of the characters. 

As befits a cinematic style based on light, shadow, and ambiguity it is hard to pin down exactly what defines the film-noir style. Some critics define the style based not on visual style, but on character. Some stock noir characters include the femme fatale, the private detective, the washed up boxer. Often struggling just to keep poverty at bay in the alienating modern city, these archetypal outsiders have only their wits, their looks, or a hidden stiletto to protect them. 

Noirhouse, a new film-noir comedy series cheekily subverts and at the same time pays homage to the classic film-noir world of Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck. This short series - only three episodes - captures with an obvious affection the style of film-noir. The alienating, expressionistic lighting, and skewed camera angles form a strong reference point for the series. Due to the time constraints of this web series there is little time for detailed exposition, the story moves along, but as Noirhouse is a comedy these broad strokes are acceptable. 

The main question would have to be: does Noirhouse work as comedy? I will leave that for the reader or viewer to decide. The series, however, is a success as a parody of film-noir. All the actors are strong and convincing. Melanie Irons portrays Nadia, the femme fatale. She won the Best Female Performance at the recent Australian Webstream Awards. Nathan Spencer plays the Detective. He is, along with Shaun Wilson and Fiona McConaghy, part of the production team. Mick Davies, plays the Russian; Sarah Wadsley plays Alice and Matt Burton is the hapless salesman. 

Actors are the obvious face of any production, but actors are often only as good as the story and production allows them to be. In this regard Noirhouse shines, the award winning script by Tim Logan is handled with a light touch, the dialogue is sharp, and the story hustles the viewer along. The camera work and the lighting are a loving embrace of noir sensibilities. The production team Sky Machine won the Australian Webstream Award for Best Visual Effects. Liz Goulding wonderfully captured the feel of the noir style and deservedly won awards for her makeup, hair and costume design. 

With Screen Australia funding six more episodes, I urge everyone to point their browser to http://noirhouse.com and see this series; before it becomes a thing. 

As Tasmania was ground zero for the NBN, it is good to see people able to grasp the opportunities that the networked future offers. 

Thomas Connelly is a regular contributor to WriteResponse. More of his writing can be viewed at http://bogong-moth.blogspot.com/