Tourneur's Use Of Shadows In Out Of The Past

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I’ve touched on it several times so far, but the use of shadows in *Out of the Past* stands out as a defining cinematic device from Jacques Tourneur. Obviously, shadows are ingrained in the fiber of any film noir. Deep focus, low key lighting, and expressionistic compositions are standard. But Tourneur goes above and beyond with his use of shadows. He creates beautiful compositions, but more importantly, he uses shadows to define and redefine the mood, and to tell the story. Shadows aren’t a decorative ornament, they’re a fundamental aspect to how the story plays on screen. Without them, the film wouldn’t work.
*Out of the Past* starts off bright and sunny. Tourneur doesn’t particularly enhance shadows in Bridgeport; it would feel wrong for
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I won’t rehash that all again, but it’s good to keep in mind when considering Tourneur’s use of light. The first shot of Kathie has her emerge out of bright sunlight and into the darker *La Mar Azul*. Then, we next see her again at the bar with American music, at nighttime. They sit at a table together, in the center, and flirt. The restaurant has its mood lighting activated; shadows are present, but not overpowering, and faces are well lit. It looks (and feels) romantic. Next, the couple move to a game room, where they stand in a little corner, their face in soft shadows, providing a sense of intimacy. Finally, they move to Fish Net Beach and kiss. Again, the shadows are soft (though the picture overall is significantly darker). This scene might not contain the same free-spirit feeling of Jeff’s scenes with Ann, but it’s certainly romantic and a great deal more…show more content…
It’s a really intriguing opening shot, and not the kind of composition you normally see. The camera’s mounted up high on the car — too high to be a passenger. This, plus the fact that the car is perfectly centered, means that the car makes an unusual, arrow-like shape as it drives. It also looks to me as if the camera was outfitted with a wide lens, which ends up distorting the space a little. The car drives straight down the road, almost like a beat on a prowl. As people cross the road ahead, the car pulls off and heads straight for the gas station. It’s an effective, if unconventional opening. It gives a quick tour of the town, indicates that the driver is important (and likely not in a good way), and signals the gas station as a meaningful location. It’s a strong choice.
*Out of the Past* is a superb film noir (not to mention a superb film). Jacques Tourneur makes distinct, visually compelling choices in the interest of serving the story. In doing so, he uses all the tools of cinema at his disposal. Lighting, story structure, terrific casting, great locations, a sweeping score, and a clear idea of the story being told all add up to a highly impressive example of noir. Jeff Markham is man unable to flee his past (the clue’s in the title). The world he inhabits may be morally grey, but this film is
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