Sunshine Noir—A Genre Dedicated to Los Angeles Madness

As the heat rises, so does the tension. This is what you need to write a sunshine noir.

Film noir is about showing the underbelly of the modern world. The genre has a special place at the heart of cinema. Influenced by highly stylized set pieces and chiaroscuro lighting, morally ambiguous anti-heroes must find their own humanity through their rejection of the film’s absurd reality.

Film noir is constantly updating itself to comment on the underbelly of today’s world. As a new generation rises to power, new conflicts and social problems become relevant for these stubborn protagonists. While neo-noir is still prevalent in cinema today, the “new dark film” fails to comment on the absurd realities of our everyday lives. Enter “sunshine noir.”

While noir has its place in Hollywood, the heart of this particular subgenre belongs to Los Angeles and its history with crime, politics, and social and economic status. Movies like They live, Pulp Fiction, Mulholland Driveand LA secret all can be defined as sunshine noir.

Let’s break down what makes film a sunshine noir.

LA secretCredit: Warner Bros.

What is Sunshine Noir?

Unlike the Technicolor neo-noir palette that moves a little further from the shadows of film noir, sun noir brings the tension and paranoia of the night into the sweltering heat and humidity of sunny Los Angeles. Focusing on the sinister and foreboding realism of urban life in California, the sun’s constant rays illuminate the city’s unavoidable history and its impact on modern life.

Sunshine noir is created by a world that is both bright and guilty. While sunshine noir films follow classic story elements from film noir and neo-noir, such as violence, sex, criminal activity, and moral ambiguity, neither real heroes nor bad guys stand out. Instead, there is a persistent antagonistic force that hunts down our protagonists as they try to escape the chaos they have helped create.

As with most film noir genres and subgenres, there is no clear distinction that a film is “noir”, but there are visual elements that help disguise a film as noir. Sunshine noir incorporates a moody midday surrealism that mimics heatstroke delirium.

What defines sunshine noir are these three elements:

  • Los Angeles is the central character
  • A bright light scene that emphasizes the satirical and surreal nature of the setting
  • Confused reality and representation

‘Kane Citizen’Credit: RKO Radio Pictures

Defined by Kane residentsWith fake news, haunted houses, and real-life Los Angeles celebrity influences, the film sun noir creates a hyper-reality that reaches right beyond the veil of reality to understand Angeleno’s deteriorating state of mind. Other examples of sunshine noir include Sunset Boulevard and Puce Momentboth of which feature the protagonist either metaphorically or literally chasing the ghosts of Hollywood’s past.

The City of Angels becomes a character that lives and breathes in this sunshine. Film historian Thom Andersen noted in his 2003 essay, Los Angeles Plays Itselfthat it’s a city where a motel or McDonald’s can be used as a set in a production and become a historic landmark in society because the location was once featured in a beloved movie or TV show. The city is haunted by an imaginary past that people make come true.

Sunset BoulevardScreenwriters Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett used Hollywood gothic neorealism through their screenplay. Their ability to satirize dark noir stories classically influenced sunrise noir films to follow in their footsteps.

By balancing harsh criticism of Los Angeles and its infectious nature with comedy, sunshine noir films limit the fine lines that keep audiences entertained while still showing the underside of Los Angeles and Hollywood.

Like the movies and illusions that surround Hollywood, these sunshine noir stories are dreamlike and fantastical, and the camera works to capture the spectacle of events as they unfold. Mulholland Drive plays with the delusion that Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) finds herself living in as she tries to make a name for herself in Hollywood, eventually finding herself unable to live her escape fantasy as the reality of her life is eating her.

The mix of surrealism and fractured storytelling leaves viewers wondering what’s real and what isn’t, but that’s the illusion of Los Angeles. Everything can come true if you believe in it.

‘They stay’Credit: Universal Image

Sunshine noir is a historical depiction of Los Angeles. The modern crisis doesn’t go away at sunrise. They live focused heavily on the consumer society of the Reagan Era. Characters use glasses to see the world below ours which makes almost no sense. Threat from They live are all around us. It colors our world. We cannot see it unless we cut our ties with society.

Many sunshine noir films are surreal and unconventional, which often makes the mystery that the story revolves around seem pointless—but that’s the point. The mysteries of Los Angeles and life in the city will never be revealed and understood. The reality of Los Angeles is almost fake, but you can touch it, feel it, and surround yourself with towering buildings and people who won’t even notice you. Sunshine noir allows filmmakers who have experienced this strange world to tell their stories through mysteries that comment on the city’s fears. These noir films are about feelings rather than satisfying answers or conclusions.

It’s horrific, weird, and absurd enough to feel real.

Do you have a film that you consider sun noir? Let us know what it is in the comments below!

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