Tag Archives: James Naremore

Tom Shepherd on ‘Noir in Brick’, a video essay


Creator’s Statement:


The process of the video essay began with the film review for Rian Johnson’s film noir, Brick and was then furthered in the consecutive essay. The review attempted to convey the tones and narrative of the feature while bringing attention to various filmic elements such as cinematography and mise-en-scène. The essay builds upon this foundational text and conclusions on the main points of subjectivity and guilt take root. Despite, being devoid of literary sources, a fact rectified in the video essays development, the essay’s focus on the film allowed crucial understanding of Brick’s tactics and meanings. Moreover, the inclusion of close analysis marked the beginning of the structure to be seen within the final video essay itself as well as the identification of key elements such as music which go onto frame later arguments.


The video essay, as a combination of these past two texts with theory and close analysis to the film, attempts to convey the ways in which Johnson uses the genre of noir with the high school setting. Key to this is the way in which he utilises the idea of two worlds; the first being the surface banality of the ‘ordinary’ high school, and the second, highly stylised world of the noir. Assigned to these respective worlds are Brendan’s relationship with Emily, which uses the authentic tone of reality to garner empathy from the viewer, and ideas of immorality and crime. The video essay shows how Johnson uses conventions of the genre and camerawork to express Brendan’s feelings of guilt which allows the viewer to track the submeaning of his quest to “find the one who put her on the spot”, which, in this reading of the film, is Brendan himself.

The structure of the essay frames the points most important to the argument while allowing flow through film. Unlike words which have no corresponding signifiers, the video essay required words to be constructed around the visuals of the film. The introduction simply eases the viewer into the film, clarifying the features main ideas, styles and goals of the director. James Naremore’s summary of the iconography and devices of noir furthers the viewers knowledge as the essay mirrors examples on screen. A quote from ‘A Companion to Film Noir’ presents another side of the discourse on what noir is by noting the entity’s abstract nature that exists more in the discussion that in physical properties. The sequential opening analysis introduces the primary idea of the camera’s alignment to Brendan’s subjectivity while framing the secondary ‘noir world’ as the evil that killed Emily. The essay moves on to the idea of complementary worlds, something that was included to further Naremore’s examples, address reviews and to bring the argument neatly onto the topic of the Pin. Furthermore, an insert of a quote by Raymond Chandler, whose books massively influenced the noir genre, works nicely with Roger Ebert’s review of Brick as it displays how the tone has shifted from the urban city of the 40s, to a high school. The importance of addressing these reviews stems from the essay’s argument that Johnson is attempting to use the noir genre to his own ends, whereas the reviews allude to the notion that it is for that sake of gimmick and parody. The pin’s character, while not entirely to blame for Emily’s murder, comes to symbolise the noir world that certainly did play a part in said crime. As the part of the narrative concerned with the Pin climaxes, the noir style similarly increases, with a focus on the lighting in, and around the pin’s house. The essay uses this part in its narrative to again reinforce the ideas and effects of alignment within the film as well as Johnson’s use of it. Moreover, the character of the Pin takes the viewer to an example of Johnson’s portrayal of the idea that there are two worlds within Brick by showing the camera’s cut from the dark and stylised lighting of the basement to the light, playful setting of the kitchen with its entailing banality. Finishing the segment with a point on its world-oriented dialogue style, the essay begins upon the topic of lines and edges as an expansion on the idea of two worlds. The text, detailing the music used within the current point, is manipulated on the screen to exemplify the lines of which the narrator discusses. Shifting the essay’s focus from Brendan to Emily, the question of where does Emily belong in this system of worlds is brought to the foreground by the narrator. In this portion of the essay, the essay brings a focus to the main reason as to why a noir was set in a high school which was to utilise the familiar setting’s reserve of easily accessible empathy. While referencing, Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon, the principle is displayed through the comparison in plots; rather than a political scheme or a jewelled bird, Brick’s focus is on the relationship between two schoolmates, something most people can relate to, and empathise with. The pronouncement of this empathy is then developed in the essay with the idea of guilt which is brought to the forefront through the analysis of Dode’s murder and the flashback. The quote by Paul Schrader is inserted here to strengthen the concept of Johnson’s manipulation of genre convention to the effect of generating emotion on and off the screen. The perspective of guilt is guided by the essay to its end with a summary of the place of the football pitch as a site that tracks Brendan’s story. The match shots that came before refresh the audience of his feelings of guilt. The final turn from Brendan conveys his acknowledgment of his complicity in Emily’s tragedy.


Rian Johnson, Brick, Bergman Lustig Productions, 2005.

Roman Polanski, Chinatown, Paramount Pictures, 1974.

John Huston, The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers Pictures (1941)


Schrader, Paul. Notes on Film Noir. Film Comment, vol. 8, no. 1, 1972.

Spicer, Andre, and Helen Hanson. A Companion to Film Noir, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2013.

Naremore, James. More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2nd edn, 2008.