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Late 90s noir aesthetic

Ruby Hexagon

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Listening to the track above (I recommend all of Amon Tobin's early stuff, shit's great) I was reminded of that 'noir'ish aesthetic that was ubiquitous in late 90s/early 00s media. The Matrix remains probably the most popular example of what I mean; crisp, high contrast, unsaturated images and a callback to classic noir aesthetic under a renewed contemporary and oppressive lens, often mixing itself with sci-fi.

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But The Matrix alone wasn't the only piece of media that brought a new wave of sci-fi with noir aesthetics. Other prominent examples were films like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Gattaca, or even Minority Report based on a Philip K. Dick story.

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As a bonus, a lot of emphasis was put into reflecting modern/contemporary architecture as a way to enhance that odd atmosphere these works conveyed, not unlike Godard's Alphaville did decades earlier:

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Sci-fi wasn't the only genre permeated by this aesthetic, as we can observe in the action film Payback starring Mel Gibson:

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The influence doesn't limit itself to movies, as we can expect, video games used it as well, as we can observe in games like Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto III, Fear Effect, Deus Ex and even some later examples like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

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Speaking of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, its soundtrack was made by Amon Tobin himself, creating a perfect synthesis between visuals and audio.

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I can even see some aesthetic influences going for the cover artworks of some electronic albums of the era, like most of Autechre's albums, with that extra alien touch and drabness typical of them:
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Overall, a short-lived aesthetic that nonetheless plagued some of the most popular works in the collective conscience of the era. I see this trend as the beginning of a growing sense of pessimism about tech progress that contrasted sharply with other movements like the optimistic Y2K aesthetic.
 
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Baron Boogie BOOL

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Very nice thread! You've touched upon some AMAZING music and a very interesting aesthetic! I remember doing color corrections using a Matrix like style in some long gone videos of mine. Instead of the aesthetic being influenced by growing pessimism - at least with films - ,which I think you've nailed there, perhaps it could've been a failed attempt to revamp film noir atmospheres?
 
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Ruby Hexagon

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perhaps it could've been a failed attempt to revamp film noir atmospheres?
I'm not sure if that's the case, the way I see it, the themes portrayed by most of the films —dealing with deception, broken dreams, secret societies, conspiracy—, it could very well be that their noir aesthetic greatly helped to convey these feelings beyond the plot. I don't think revitalization of noir aesthetics was the end goal, just rather a heartfelt inspiration. When you analyze the actual themes, the aesthetic matches to a T. But who knows really, not much discussion about this can be found online, other visual movements captured the curiosity of subsequent generations better, perhaps because they feel more novel than a noir re-imagining.

I suspect that some lesser know comics could've influenced these types of works as well, but I cannot comment on it due to lack of knowledge. Perhaps some users can share a light here?
 
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Baron Boogie BOOL

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I'm not sure if that's the case, the way I see it, the themes portrayed by most of the films —dealing with deception, broken dreams, secret societies, conspiracy—, it could very well be that their noir aesthetic greatly helped to convey these feelings beyond the plot. I don't think revitalization of noir aesthetics was the end goal, just rather a heartfelt inspiration. When you analyze the actual themes, the aesthetic matches to a T. But who knows really, not much discussion about this can be found online, other visual movements captured the curiosity of subsequent generations better, perhaps because they feel more novel than a noir re-imagining.

I suspect that some lesser know comics could've influenced these types of works as well, but I cannot comment on it due to lack of knowledge. Perhaps some users can share a light here?
It could be the case too. For some reason, after reading a few works by Philip K Dick and rewatching the original Blade Runner film (SO GOOD), I see his aesthetic matching very very well with these films. It's a long shot but his more famous novels and short stories all have very similar themes, distrust of government, conspiracy, deception, secret societies, lots to do with memories, depression, and much more.
His influence unfortunately cemented after his death, but in my opinion he's one of the greatest and underrated sci-fi authors out there.

Oh plus he loved cats but this one didn't seem to like him.

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I like this aesthetic a lot and I think you've provided great insight into it, I agree that it feels like a means of expressing growing distrust of the government. I imagine it's also got its roots in the early cyberpunk aesthetic of the 80s. I think a great and less common example of this late '90s noir aesthetic is Blade from 1998, it also leads into the fact that this noir revival aesthetic became pretty heavily tied to goth club culture. The movie has this aesthetic, but hits on the more gothic, fetish-inspired, clubby elements of the style when it comes to how the vampires are presented. This style in clothes and media was pretty popular amongst goths in the '90s and that's probably pretty good evidence towards the fact that it's tied to a growing distrust of the government, or at the very least a counterculture often associated with bleaker and more fringe outlooks on life. It's also worth mentioning that goth subcultures and "hacker" subcultures at the time had a lot of interaction and overlap, because these are both subcultures that were very active online. A lot of this aesthetic and ideology feels relevant to both groups.

This aesthetic probably got overtaken by more gothic aesthetics as time went on, you can see remnants of it in cybergoth. In 2004 the game Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines pretty clearly shows an evolution of this aesthetic into something more gothic but still clearly related. Daybreakers from 2009 is a later example that also shows how this aesthetic has evolved into something more gothic. I think if you watch Blade then watch Daybreakers you can see the same aesthetic with the same themes, but changed over the course of a decade. I also think you can see something similar to this aesthetic, but even more sci-fi in series like Firefly from 2002.

Did you know this aesthetic in particular is often used poorly in B-movies and horror movies of the '90s and 2000s? It's pretty funny. Here's some examples.

Cube (1997)
This movie is about people solving a deadly maze they're trapped in. A lot of the rooms are color varied, and the overall aesthetic is kind of a marriage of this gritty, noir thing, with more trippy visuals. This is probably closer to a good movie than the other two, but it still feels like it showcases a watered-down version of this aesthetic while the aesthetic was still like, actively popular.
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Jason X (2001)
This is a Friday the 13th movie stylized as a thriller that takes place in space, after Jason is transported to the future and turned into a cyborg. It sometimes has this more chrome-y Y2K aesthetic but it also has the neo noir thing. It's especially prevalent during the end segment where Jason fights this robot lady.
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Saw 3 (2006)
Saw 3-6 all use this aesthetic, and to a lesser degree so does Saw 1. I think Saw 3 is the most lazy use of this aesthetic while still functionally being reminiscent of it, meanwhile 4, 5, and 6 actually follow a literal detective in what's basically a crime drama. The entire movie has this weird, greenish filter over it.
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kultra

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Ohhh yes I have a soft spot for this aesthetic. It's nice to have a name for it other than "gritty or cyberpunk stories that can look kinda green?" Thank you.

You see it a lot in music videos as well. Inertia Creeps and Risingson by Massive Attack seem reminiscent-- though I'd call them more like 90s-y2k casual noir given it's got the "look" but is mostly contemplative shots without the true grit. Aphex Twin vids from the time also featured that limited pallet.

Squarepusher - Come On My Selector (1997)

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Bjork - Army of Me (1995)
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vaporwavemaster1

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このノワールの感性に影響を与えたのは、当時起こっていたスウィング・リバイバルだったと思います。その結果、以下の曲のような奇妙なスウィングラップハイブリッドが生まれました。この曲は、スプリットパーソナリティについてのジムキャリー映画で紹介されました。今日は信じられないほどばかげていますが、それが出たとき、誰もがそれが最もクールなものだと思いました。はい、これは本物です。


View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uWYqIZNUJc
 
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seals_breakfast

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Someone has probably already mentioned this, but Cowboy bebop...
 
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Shrug

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This track from Timesplitters 2 is very reminiscent of this aesthetic for me.
 
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