‘Neon Noir’ bridges cinematic cynicism with technicolor tenebrism

Curated by Inge de Leeuw, Metrograph’s July film series trades the black-and-white crime dramas of the genre’s past for the lurid science-fiction of the near future

Metrograph’s Neon Noir series combines the classic characteristics of film noir—cynical protagonists, sleazy side characters, and cities overrun with corruption—with the technicolor tenebrism of modern-day consumerist society. Think: the supersaturation of an orange soda, or the deadening brightness of a digital billboard. Neon Noir trades in the black-and-white crime dramas of the genre’s past for the lurid science-fiction of the near future.

Curated by Inge de Leeuw, Metrograph’s director of programming, the July series’s titles include Amos Poe’s Alphabet City, Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels, Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, among others. Since her appointment last March, de Leeuw has sought to draw viewers back to in-person theaters, to revitalize what some see as a dying tradition.

Neon Noir is the product of that intention. The series gives audiences a chance to watch archival films on the big screen, free from the distractions of at-home streaming. “[It’s] similar to admiring a painting from a computer screen, versus seeing it in a museum,” de Leeuw says. “It has the impact of how a film was made to be seen, as if you [were] transported back to the time when the film came out.”

In terms of her curatorial choices for Neon Noir, de Leeuw emphasizes both style and significance: “I wanted to bring together a selection of great films that are fun and stylized, but are, again, relevant for the times we live in,” she explains. “Neon noirs are defined by existential trauma and anxiety in often urban landscapes.”

The films speak not just to our current culture, but also to our concerns for the future. Some of the titles in the series—Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, and Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix—are set in technologically-advanced societies that bear an uncanny resemblance to our own.

“I think it is difficult to say which comes first: our anxiety about the future, or our knowledge [of] possible outcomes that are often based on films,” de Leeuw says. “Are we anxious because we are heading towards a Matrix-like world, and would we feel the same if The Matrix [never] existed?”

The director notes that Neon Noir’s sci-fi selections resonate differently today than they did upon release. “I remember when they came out, nobody thought that that future would actually materialize. [If anything], we were excited by many of the great technological developments that they proposed,” she says. “Now, we look at them for guidance and reflect much deeper on their philosophical meaning.”

Neon Noir opens July 1 at Metrograph