After having defined "film noir" as a black and white medium in a recent post, I'd like to point out that I was referring to the classic period of noir. That generally ran from 1941 to 1958, beginning with "The Maltese Falcon" and ending with "Touch of Evil."
But then came the noir revival, probably best exemplified by "Chinatown" (1974), the Technicolor detective story directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson -- possibly Polanski's greatest effort to date.
So how can a noir be shot in Technicolor, and lack atmospheric shadows and darkness that are the hallmark of the genre?
Polanski, masterfully, I think, gave the film a muted, almost faded look, like a picture postcard that sat too long in a sunny drugstore window.
The effect perfectly expresses the hazy, dusty sunlight typical of a Los Angeles summer day.
Additionally, it may not have been commercially viable to shoot a black and white "Chinatown." Who would have put up the $6 million to make a film that wasn't in color, even in the freewheeling early '70s?
Give due appreciation to cinematographers John A. Alonzo and the uncredited Stanley Cortez, too. They adapted Los Angeles's hazy, smoggy atmosphere to a new generation of in-color noir, and the genre's entire look was reborn because of it.
While the black and white films of the classic noir period suggest a universe that has broken free of its orbit and plunged into eternal darkness, "Chinatown"'s hazy, sun-scorched look implies a world where nothing is clear, even in broad daylight.
In "Chinatown," you see, meanings are always elusive and often misunderstood, and nothing is what it appears to be.