Video Essay: Venetian Shadows

A journey through one of the noir's most iconic tropes, illuminating the genre's tales of crime, love, murder, and other shenanigans.
Luís Azevedo

The long list of cinematic tropes contained in the puzzling Under the Silver Lake wouldn’t be complete without the windowsill staple of the noir film that is the Venetian blind. In David Robert Mitchell third feature, the slacker hero (Andrew Garfield) starts to fiddle with these horizontal slates in order to gaze outside of his apartment, but soon after takes his peepshow to the streets to invade his neighbors’ house through the same apparatus. That’s part of the appeal of Venetian blinds; they allow you to pry into someone else’s life with impunity.

Within the noir genre, their appeal is far wider. The usual lighting setups of classic Hollywood consists of key light, back light, and fill light. Noir does away with fill light to create a higher contrast and long black shadows. The power of Venetian blinds lies in the way they cut those shadows in parallel stripes, crisscrossing the ever-present detective’s office, characters’ rooms, but especially painting bevelled prison bars' shadows over our morally dubious heroes.

Venetian Shadows contains a chronological sliver of the history of Venetian blinds in noir. The journey starts with The Maltese Falcon (1941) and ends with Silver Lake, with pit stops in most major noirs and neo-noirs partial to lacerated lighting. Hopefully this video essay illuminates the genre’s tales of crime, love, murder, and other shenanigans.

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