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Voice Over in Film Noir

Michael Sum

Michael Sum

7 November 2023

Voice Over in Film Noir - Voquent

Voiceover is a staple of the Film Noir genre, evoking atmosphere through speech like nothing else.

Picture this: a dim, rain-soaked alleyway on a film or television screen. A private detective, donning a sharp suit and fedora hat, emerges and assesses the grim scene before him. Evidence of a crime lingers, perhaps a lifeless body.

The detective’s voice accompanies the scene, an internal monologue. It’s deadpan. The detective is unphased by the dire circumstances; just another day at the office. This is Film Noir.

Film noir encompasses various defining features: crime-laden storylines, themes of existentialism and despair, and moody cinematography characterised by dark lighting against an urban backdrop. Nothing is more signature to Film Noir than voiceover, a valuable tool for conveying its broader themes and methods.

Below, we explore five examples, both vintage and contemporary, where film noir voiceover narration was employed creatively with significant impact.

 

Classic Film Noir Narration in Sunset Boulevard

“Sunset Boulevard,” a classic film noir released in 1950 and directed by Billy Wilder, exemplifies the film noir narrative style. The film follows Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter who stumbles into the deteriorating life of a faded silent film star, Norma Desmond.

The narrative is driven by Gillis’s voiceover, recounting the events leading to his unfortunate demise. The voiceover, delivered in a deadpan, noir-esque manner, captures the moral ambiguity and bleakness of the characters’ lives in the decaying glamour of Hollywood.

As the story unfolds, Gillis’s voiceover takes on a tragic tone, reflecting the disillusionment and desperation that pervade the film noir genre.

The contrast between the glamorous facade of Hollywood and the harsh reality depicted through Gillis’s narration serves as a powerful narrative device, drawing the audience deeper into the film’s dark, introspective world.

 

Contemporary Film Noir Narration in Marvel’s Jessica Jones

“Jessica Jones,” a modern reinterpretation of film noir, infuses the genre with a fresh, contemporary perspective. Jessica Jones, a former superhero turned private investigator, narrates her story in a style reminiscent of traditional film noir voiceovers.

However, the show modernises this approach, incorporating elements of feminism, trauma, and empowerment into the narrative.

Jessica’s voiceover reflects her internal struggles and determination as she grapples with her past trauma and confronts the darkness of her present.

The narration becomes a vehicle for exploring complex themes, making the character more relatable and multidimensional to contemporary audiences. By utilising film noir voiceover in this way, the show successfully bridges the gap between classic cinematic styles and contemporary storytelling.

 

Subverting Expectations in Double Indemnity

“Double Indemnity,” a classic film noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder, subverts expectations by presenting a morally ambiguous protagonist, Walter Neff.

Neff’s voiceover serves as a confessional, revealing his involvement in a murder plot. What sets this film apart is how Neff, a seemingly ordinary insurance salesman, rationalises his actions through introspective narration, humanising a character engaged in reprehensible deeds.

Fred MacMurray’s portrayal of Neff showcases the potential for complexity within film noir characters. By subverting the audience’s expectations and allowing them to empathise with a flawed protagonist, the film challenges traditional perceptions of good and evil, a hallmark of the film noir genre.

 

Unlikely Film Noir Narration in Veronica Mars

“Veronica Mars” defies traditional film noir stereotypes by featuring a female lead, Veronica, whose voiceover narrative deviates from the typical low-register, masculine delivery.

Kristen Bell’s voiceover, imbued with a feminine, higher register, provides a unique perspective on the film noir style. Veronica’s narration is laced with wit, intelligence, and resilience, showcasing that film noir storytelling can be adapted to fit diverse characters and narratives.

By choosing a female protagonist and a distinctive narrative voice, “Veronica Mars” challenges gender norms within the film noir genre.

It offers a fresh take on the classic detective story, demonstrating that noir-inspired storytelling is not confined to a specific gender or voice type.

 

Use of Regional Accent in Sexy Beast

“Sexy Beast” is a 2000 British gangster thriller that incorporates a distinctive regional accent, exemplifying the versatility of film noir voiceover.

Ray Winstone’s hoarse cockney accent immediately immerses the audience in the character’s working-class background and the gritty world of London’s criminal underworld. This unconventional choice not only adds authenticity to the character but also enriches the narrative by emphasising the character’s origins and experiences.

By utilising a regional accent, “Sexy Beast” underscores the importance of authentic characterisation and the role that accents can play in enhancing a character’s identity and enriching the film noir narrative.

 

Conclusion

The film noir genre, with its timeless allure and compelling storytelling techniques, continues to captivate audiences across generations. The showcased examples demonstrate how film noir voiceover narration can adapt and evolve to suit modern narratives and diverse characters.

By embracing the genre’s core principles while subverting expectations, filmmakers can craft narratives that resonate with contemporary audiences while paying homage to the legacy of film noir.

At Voquent, our extensive database of voice actors offers a wealth of options to choose the perfect voice for your film noir narration project, allowing you to bring your noir-inspired story to life in a truly compelling manner (Fedora hat not included).

 

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Michael Sum

By Michael Sum

Marketing Specialist and resident Content Monkey at Voquent. Michael has a lifelong passion for gaming media and bases his personality on whatever game he's currently playing.

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