Daredevil: A Note and a Question

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Neon-noir
Neon-noir

I’ve been loving the first season of Daredevil currently on Netflix. The whole myth of origin, so cumbersome and dull in a feature film of finite length, has more space to breathe and to develop here in ways that entice and excite: we see young Matt Murdock’s relationship with his boxer father; the reasons and pressures Murdock Sr. had for throwing fights, how Matt became blind and had his senses enhanced, how both are gluttons for punishment and able to take extremes of it; later in the season, in episode seven, we get to see how Stick (Scott Glenn), the equally blind sensei, came to train him in martial arts; why he did so is left enticingly murky and is clearly a narrative touchstone for the character to return, one highly anticipated by me.

Uncluttered compositions, even in crowd scenes
Uncluttered, relatively sparse compositions

I loved seeing Scott Glenn in the series. But isn’t Vincent D’Onofrio also a great Kingpin? And he’s the main antagonist, with his own backstory given almost as much importance as Daredevil’s (Charlie Cox) so we get to see a lot of him, though not as much as I’d like. Watching Daredevil and the first episode of Supergirl made me realise that marvellous actors such as Glenn, D’Onofrio, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Rosario Dawson and Calista Flockhart seem to have found a home with room for expression in this type of TV and what a treat, a recurring one, it to see old familiar faces in such great form.

simple lines like in a comic book panel
simple lines like in a comic book panel

However, what to me was a truly unexpected delight, is how much pleasure the look of the series gave me. It definitely feels like TV: the image doesn’t have as much depth or texture as you’d expect in a movie, the frame is relatively bare, it’s not as textured an image. However, I’m finding the neon-noir look of the movie so beautifully designed and filmed that what might initially seem a fault is actually a plus; colours are used brilliantly, in bold big lines, or occupying entire sectors of the frame in large blocks, and usually associated with a character or a theme. The spare lines of the image are used in the same way comic-book frames are, and the outlines themselves are beautifully expressive in their sparseness. The lack of texture draws the eye onto the TV frame clearly onto what’s important and attempts for maximum expressiveness within that limitation.

Blocks of colour, not the neon greenish-hued aquamarine in the background.
Blocks of colour, not the neon greenish-hued aquamarine in the background.

Loren Weeks and Scott Murphy are credited for the Production Design and Toni Barton for the Art Direction of the first series and they deserve to take a bow. It’s truly superb. I was also ready to throw bouquets to Matthew J. Lloyd’s cinematography until I got to episode 12, ‘The Ones We Left Behind’ and noticed how badly filmed Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and his wife were in the hospital sequence. Like they hadn’t been properly lit. Like Matthew J. Lloyd doesn’t know how to film black people. The whole series is a noir; the faces are meant to be encased in shadows; but there is a way of lighting black people to achieve the same effect that doesn’t make their faces almost entirely dissolve into the darkness. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it?

Black actors seem to disappear.
Black actors seem to disappear.

José Arroyo

A splosh of red-on-white in a blue and black background
A splosh of red-on-white in a blue and black background

One thought on “Daredevil: A Note and a Question

    My TV This Week, 21st November « First Impressions said:
    November 22, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    […] Supergirl is the reason I subscribed to Now TV: I was so eager to see it! And I so wanted to like it. It’s perhaps the most overtly feminist series on television ever. It’s got a female superhero with a sister who in spite of not having super-powers also does daring things. They look after each other. Jimmy Olson is now black. It’s got Calista Flockhart doing a Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and in fine form…and yet. I didn’t quite get into Arrow either though I haven’t fully given that a chance yet. Likewise the few episodes of The Flash I have seen doesn’t tempt me to see more. Perhaps I’m now too old for this kind of thing. And ye, as i’ve written here previously,  I happily sat through the whole first series of Daredevil…. […]

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