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CitizenKing

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About CitizenKing

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  • Birthday 09/16/1961

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  1. Yes, and in Phantom Lady you see an even crazier depiction of jazz and musicians. I think this reflects a common image of musicians, or at least jazz musicians, at the time. In short, they were stoned, disreputable, perhaps dangerous people on the fringes of society. So when a character entered a bar with a jazz band they were taking a walk on the wild side, veering into the dark corners of life. Naturally not all movies, or all of society, took this dim view of musicians. But several treated jazz musicians as people you would want your sister to date.
  2. In my case it was The Maltese Falcon which drew me in as I saw it repeatedly on the late, late show. (I also grew up in a pre-cable world.) I was just a kid, but I knew I wanted to see more complex and mysterious movies like this. Sam Spade was a good guy, but with enough amorality to keep it interesting. Then as I got older I found Out of the Past and got hooked even more on the doomed protagonist with enough flaws to seal his fate. I still have a preference of this second category of noirs, with no shining knight hero, just an imperfect guy in an unforgiving world.
  3. Out of the Past has been described as the smokingest movie of all time. There are times when Mitchum and Douglas smoke at each other to represent the tension between them. In one scene, Kirk offers Mitchum a cigarette and Mitchum responds by showing the one he is already smoking. It is almost a self-aware wink. One of the reasons for all this smoke, aside from the fact that in 1940s society almost everyone was smoking in real life, was the visual possibilities cigarette smoke offered. Light picks up cigarette smoke in an eerie way, and occasionally the presence of a character is shown only by their cigarette smoke. It is an interesting way to show the presence of a mysterious person, identity hidden, but with subtle menace and intrigue. The Coen brothers tipped their hat to the noir omnipresence of cigarette smoke in The Man Who Wasn't There. Not only should you watch this to see how much and when Billy Bob Thornton smokes, but look at the way the Coens used black and white cinematography with modern equipment to show cigarette smoke in ways that would have made John Alton drool. (There is also a terrific shot of glass breaking that is beautifully done in a very dramatic moment.)
  4. I have to disagree with you about bourbon, but I grant that it is an acquired taste. Good bourbon is terrific, though I doubt many of the characters in the movies are drinking good bourbon. In fact, I doubt they would drink bourbon at all. Back then it was probably cheap rye whiskey, or some rotgut that was imitating rye. It goes well with the self-loathing. On a more cheerful note, the characters in The Thin Man (no, not noir, but moving in the right direction) were happily imbibing from beginning to end. Doesn't seem conducive to solving mysteries. That movie was set near the end of prohibition, so they would have been drinking cocktails designed to mask the poor quality of the booze. It was funny then, but we have a harder time laughing at alcoholism today.
  5. I have long thought that Al was an unreliable narrator. I don't believe him. This is a good point to keep in mind with other noirs, just because we see it, does that mean it really happened that way? This is before Rashomon, but the concept had been around for a long time before that. These characters are lying to each other, why wouldn't they lie to us?
  6. I saw a few comments regarding Detour and what appear to be cars and/or trucks with right hand drive. The explanation is that when the movie was shot, the vehicles were going across the frame from left to right. Then, in editing, they realized they wanted the vehicles to go from right to left across the screen. This was conventional when depicting travel to the west. So they simply turned the negative around, rather than spend the money to reshoot.
  7. I am so glad you mentioned the Val Lewton movies as an influence. Even though little of what Lewton employed was entirely original, he showed how to make the dark and shadowy cinematography heap mood on the film while at the same time allowing it to mask the paper thin sets his minuscule budgets demanded. Here was a technique the B movie crime pictures could embrace. It is a little ironic that later prestige pictures probably spent a Lewton sized budget on lighting and sets just to imitate the look Lewton was forced to accept.
  8. Certainly Body Heat is noir, it is essentially a remake of Double Indemnity. There have been some other interesting remakes of classic noirs, some successful some not so. Against All Odds was a remake of Out of the Past, and even had a cameo by Jane Greer. No Way Out (1987) was a remake of no... not No Way Out (1950) nor No Way Out (1973), but of The Big Clock.
  9. Clearly there are international noirs, you mention some of my favorites. I especially like the French, including Rififi, Le Samouri, Bob le Flambeur, Touchez Pas au Grisbi and on and on. Pierre Melville deserves his own page in the book of noir. One might wonder if the French noirs contribute originality to the category, or if they are by definition imitative. Melville obviously chose his professional name in admiration of all things American, much like the protagonist of A Bout de Souffle imitated Bogart. But I think the French added their own mark on noir, and probably influenced some of their American cousins in the process. The French had more freedom from censorship that allowed them to include elements Hollywood could never have used (until much later, that is).
  10. I see noir all around. And I seek it out wherever I can find it. There have been several great noirish movies over the last 20 years or so, and while they weren't all successful at the box office I enjoyed a lot of them. Some were concious in evoking noir, while others were more subtle. Here's a short list of some recent (loosely speaking) noirish movies I liked: A Simple Plan Red Rock West The Man Who Wasn't There Brick In Bruges Before the Devil Knows You're Dead The Limey There are many more, some very well known, so I limit myself here to one's you may not have noticed at the time.
  11. SPOILER ALERT, I ASSUME YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE BY NOW So I like where you guys are going here, and on one level Detour works as the ultimate string of bad luck. There is definitely a Twilight Zone vibe going on. But on another level, I watch Detour with Al as an unreliable narrator. Remember the whole thing is told as a flashback while he sits in the diner. So imagine you are sitting in the diner hearing this story. What is your reaction? For me it is, "yeah, right." The guy just happened to hit his head on a rock when you opened the car door. And the phone cord just happened to be wrapped around her neck when you pulled on it from behind a closed door. I think the whole tale is Al trying to concoct a story for the cops. So he is trying it out on us, and we ain't buying it. And Al knows it, because he can't make himself believe it either.
  12. Powell and Bogart were both great Marlowes, and I think mostly because they showed Marlowe's sense of humor. Of course each did so in their own way. The interesting thing is that they came to Marlowe from opposite directions. Bogart was a tough guy on film (think Duke Manatee) who by the time he made The Big Sleep was probably not expected to have such an easy way with Marlowe's witty side. Powell was a musical comedy star (42nd Street) who was not thought to be able to bring the goods with Marlowe's tough guy side. This translated into two different interpretations of the character that both work for me. I would give the edge to Powell, mostly because I liked his self deprecating smirk. Bogart in The Big Sleep has several self effacing remarks, but you can tell he doesn't mean them. He is just being a smart ace (which works, don't get me wrong). But when Powell puts himself down in Murder, My Sweet, he is genuinely peeved at himself for getting into such a fix. Maybe Bogart just seems a little too confident, while Powell doesn't really know if he is going to pull this off or not. But again, I am nitpicking. Both chracterizations are great and enjoyable.
  13. Not a bad list, so let's start with that. The crazy thing is, very few films noir has every one of these elements. And for every one, I can think of an example that violates or excludes that element. My favorite noir, Out of the Past, has more rural settings than urban. Detour has one of the wimpiest (and whiniest) protagonists I have ever seen, but compensates with the toughest femme fatale I can think of. The Hitch-Hiker (1953) has almost no female characters at all, much less a femme fatale. That is only one problem with defining Film Noir as a category (genre, style, or movement). While you can't easily define film noir, as Potter Stewart once said, "I know it when I see it." While I love those elements, the cinematography, the snappy dialog, the wicked women, and the convoluted plots, for me the defining element is attitude. This may be just as supject to exceptions as any other. But I think of cynicism and fatalism as the most essential attitudes of film noir. The protaganist knows life isn't fair, and while he (or sometimes she) may reach for the brass ring, he knows he won't get it. We occasionally get a happy ending (of sorts) in film noir, all too often the protagonist is doomed by his own flaws, especially his poor choices. Of course, some of my favorite films noir involve poor choices in women. But who can blame these guys? If I were Robert Mitchum I would have fallen for Jane Greer too (in Out of the Past). I would have probably fallen for Rhonda Fleming in the same movie too, and she is probably worse.
  14. There is a lot going on here, and that is perhaps the most important element. There is motion, movement, and physical action. The motion of the train suggests a mobile society, which is one of the changes brought about by the industrial revolution. Mobility is often associated in noirs with rootlessness. Think of all the characters in noir who were wanderers, often bringing evil in part because they had no attachment to the place they found themselves. On a more personel level, this clip shows men engaged in physical action. They are not passive. Men in noirs are often men who take matters into their own hands. These are rough men who are used to actioin. In one way, at least, this clip is similar to yesterday's clip of M in that an important part of the opening is to establish the setting of the story. Much of La Bete Humaine is set on the train, in railyards, and surrounding neighborhoods. I can think of a lot of noirs that use trains as a significant part of their setting. Strangers on a Train, The Narrow Margin, Born to Kill, Double Indemnity, Leave Her to Heaven, No Man of Her Own, Pickup on South Street, Union Station and many more. One more element is the firebox. It doesn't take much imagination to see that fire as a portal to hell.
  15. To my mind while many of the visual elements remind us of noir, this is more likely due to the common ancestors (i.e. German Expressionism). M moves this film language along into a crime genre (we can't call it film noir yet because it doesn't exist yet). In fact, the opening owes more to the horror genre than anything else. Someone mentioned early Hitchcock and there is some commonality there as well, though I wouldn't say Hitch led to Lang or vice versa. At some point they doubtless influenced each other. This opening builds tension and dread, which is not unique to noir. What makes this a proto-noir comes later. What I see that we will see in later noirs is not only the visual cues but the fact that the film establishes the normality of the world in which the story lives. Most noir could happen anywhere, and happen to anyone. That is something I see in M, as opposed to the element of the supernatural that we know from most early horror. Hitchcock did this as well, his everyman characters are one of us. Compare M to Hitch's The Lodger. The antagonist isn't a monster, he is a man who lives near us. A broken, terrible man but a man nonetheless.
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