Black neon

Neon-noir cinema is a contemporary rendering of the film noir . A subset of the neo-black genre, both take their name from the black films: the highly stylized Hollywood crime dramas of the 1940’s and 50’s. The term black filmwhen translated to English reads ‘dark film’, alluding to the genre’s dark or sinister sensibilities. This shaded undertone is highly characteristic of black films, also marked by their dramatic use of shadow and shadow play, hard-boiled and often complex plot lines, reverse stereotypes, the presence of crime and violence, off-center and tilted camera angles, cityscape gold shots, and dreamlike aesthetic, to name but a few.


Neon-black, like the neo-black, adopts many of the same sensibilities as the blacks they hark back to. What distinguishes neon-black from the larger bracket of neo-black, is primarily its recollection of the genre’s highly stylized use of light. Neon-black films are characterized by their hyper visual nature; use of vibrant colors, dynamic (man made) lighting, and highly designed cinematic style to underpin the most seedy elements of black movies, especially heightening their dream-like aesthetic.


The term black film was originally coined by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, though was not popularized in the cinematic vocabulary or used in film criticism until much later . Due to the term’s retroactive clarification needed ]up-take, contemporary movies of the neo, and more specifically, neon-black genre, are endowed with a heightened self-awareness of their borrowings from the era of black film. The presence of crime and violence, hyper-stylized aesthetics, moral ambiguity, and complex narratives continue to permeate the contemporary genre, but with updated themes, and use of technology and media that were absent from the black films of the 40’s and 50’s. These characteristics permeate the films of the contemporary genre with their thematic content, aesthetic and sensibility as harking back to the black film period.

Neon-noir film borrows from and reflects many of the characteristics of the film noir: a presence of crime, violence, complex characters and plot lines, mystery, ambiguity and moral ambivalence, all come into play in the neon-black genre. But more so than the superficial traits of the genre, black neon emphasizes the socio-criticism of black film, recalling the specific socio-cultural dimensions of the interwar years when blacks first became prominent; a time of global existential crisis, depression and the mass movement of rural people towards the cities. Long shots or montages of cityscapes, often portrayed as dark and menacing were suggestive of what Dueck referred to as a ‘societal perspective bleak’, [1] providing a critique on global capitalism and consumerism. Other tactics aussi made use of Heavily stylized lighting technical Such the chiaroscuro juxtaposition of light and dark, with neon signs and brightly buildings providing good bed a sense of alienation and entrapment .

Accentuating the already present of artificial light neon lighting in the black films of the 40’s and 50’s, neon-black films imbue this aesthetic style with electrifying color and manipulated light to accentuate their socio-cultural criticism as backdrop to thematic references to contemporary and pop culture. In doing so, films of the neon-noir genre orbit the themes of urban decay, consumerist decadence and capitalism, existentialism , sexuality and issues of race and violence in the contemporary cultural landscape, not only of America, but the globalised world at large.

Neon-blacks seek to bring the contemporary black, somewhat diluted under the umbrella of neo-black, back to the exploration of culture: class, race, gender, patriarchy, capitalism are key thematic references and departures for neon-noir; an existential confrontation of society in a hyper and golbalised world. Illustrating society as decadent and consumerist , and identity as confused and anxious, neon-black repositioning the contemporary black in urban decay , often setting their scenes in the underground city-haunts; brothels, nightclubs, casinos, strip bars, pawnshops, laundromats, etc.

Neon blacks were popularized in the 70’s and 80’s by movies like Taxi Driver (1976), Blade Runner (1982), and David Lynch films such as Blue Velvet (1986) and later, Lost Highway (1997). In the more current cinematic landscape, movies like Harmony Korine ‘s highly provocative Spring Breakers , and Danny Boyle ‘s Trance (2013)-have-been Recognized for Their Especially neon-infused rendering of the black race; While Trance was celebrated for ‘shak (ing) the ingredients (of the black) like colored sand in a jar’, Spring Breakers notoriously produced aslew of criticism [2] referring to its ‘fever-dream’ aesthetic and ‘neon-caked explosion of excess’ (Kohn). [3]Another neon-black endowed with the ‘fever-dream’ aesthetic is the Persian Connection , expressly linked to the Lynchian aesthetics as a neon-drenched contemporary black. [4]

Neon-black can be seen as a response to the neo-black term. While the contemporary term neo-black functions to bring the black into the contemporary landscape, it has been often criticized for its dilution of the black genre, Arnett commenting on its ‘amorphous’ reach: ‘any film featuring a detective or crime qualifying’, and Cawelti recognizing its ‘generic exhaustion’. [5] The neon-black, more specifically, seeks to revive the black sensibilities in a more targeted manner of reference, focusing particularly its socio-cultural commentary and hyper-stylized aesthetic.

See also

  • Neo-noir
  • Dark movie
  • Tech Noir


  1. Jump up^ Dueck, Cheryl. (November 2016) ‘Secret Police in Style: The Aesthetics of Remembering Socialism’. A Journal of Germanic Studies, Volume 52: 4
  2. Jump up^ Rosen, Christopher. ‘Spring Breakers’ Is A ‘Fever Dream’; Now, The Most Common Description Of Harmony Korine’s New Movie[1]’
  3. Jump up^ Kohn, Eric.’From ‘Trance’ to ‘Spring Breakers,’ Is This the Golden Age of Black Movie? ‘. March 23, 2016.Indiewire Online
  4. Jump up^
  5. Jump up^ Arnett, Robert (October 2006) Black Eighties: The Dissenting Voice in Reagan’s America ‘. Journal of Popular Film and Television : 123