This week Mirror80 celebrates the seedy glam world that flourishes in the genre of Neon Noir. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Miami Vice or seen ’80s action films like Body Double and To Live and Die in L.A., you know what we’re talking about. And if you’re following the hype surrounding the recent theatrical release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, then you can understand many Neon Noir enthusiasts’ excitement over the revival of this visually rich genre. Today we delve into the crime-infested streets and designer-infested settings to pinpoint some key elements of Neon Noir.
As shown in the above still from Ridley Scott’s 1987 thriller Someone to Watch Over Me (an elegant take on Neon Noir), shots of cityscapes frequently populate the screen. Sometimes they’re stunning and sophisticated, other times you want to take a dust cloth and wipe away the grit and smog. And then there’s the occasional palm tree in the skyline, especially if the story is set in L.A. or Miami. Regardless of the exact location, more often than not it’s a big city.
Also known as glass brick, glass block refers to those infamous square-shaped blocks that cover window openings in a way that allows light to pass through while providing privacy. Glass block has been around since the early 1900s, and its popularity has fluctuated. The use of glass bricks soared in the ’80s, especially in the Neon Noir genre, where they covered many an office window. Not to mention the windows of ’80s Deco-style homes.
A Synth-Heavy Soundtrack
From Jan Hammer’s instrumental tunes on Miami Vice to the sounds of Tangerine Dream throughout Thief, the synth was king of the Neon Noir soundtrack. Most recently, Kavinsky has brought synthesizer magic to the big screen in this year’s Drive. Audiences were quick to recognize the significance of this sleek tribute to Neon Noir. Let’s delve back into the past with the video for “To Live and Die in L.A.” by Wang Chung, who composed the soundtrack to the 1985 movie of the same title:
Music Video-Length Montages
One interesting component of Neon Noir new release Drive is the music video-like quality of its opening credits. The film offers an incredibly artful version of the music video trend in Neon Noir throughout the ’80s. And nowhere were these video-length montages more pervasive than in the world of Miami Vice. In fact, word has it that Brandon Tartikoff, at that time the head of NBC’s Entertainment Division, originally wrote a 2-word memo envisioning the premise of the show: “MTV cops.” That explains a lot! Here is one of those famous montages, set to the tune of Russ Ballard’s “In the Night.” This priceless clip goes beyond the music to a shoot-out scene, during which a while ruched ’80s sofa is devastated by a stream of bullets, a feat fantasized about by countless antique dealers with a distaste for cheap ’80s furniture:
Often with a backdrop of black, Neon Noir film credits in shades of neon blue, green and pink immediately grab audiences, especially when a script font is used, as shown below in screen shots from the 1986 film 8 millions Ways to Die and the 2011 film Drive.
There’s nothing like the effect of filtered light streaming through half-opened mini-blinds. And Neon Noir films knew how to exploit that. One even went as far as to put a mini-blind visual effect in their trailer. Enjoy this clip from Brian De Palma’s 1984 film Body Double:
’80s Deco Style
The ’80s Deco look was characterized by Art Deco-reminiscent touches such as glass block (see above); streamlined, curved furniture and decor items; potted palms; Art Deco-inspired artwork, often of glamorous women; and a palette of colors like peach, mauve, mint, teal and black. Even this year’s ’80s-referencing Drive featured green-walled apartments with black grid tile.
Cutting Edge Fashion
While the latest fashion wasn’t a priority of every Neon Noir flick, progressive style choices seemed to increase with each year that passed. Brown detective blazers turned to Italian suits that showcased a variety of tropical hues. For the ladies, it was all about the hair. A little strategic lighting did wonders for the tousled strands:
Thanks for joining us on our journey through the back alleys and designer touches of Neon Noir. Tune in for the rest of the week as we continue to spotlight this alluring genre!