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About DCRinAZ

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  1. The little black book is another icon in film that has been eliminated by modern technology: all you need need is your little black cell phone. And not only can you get phone numbers, but add apps for hook-ups with complete strangers! At least with the little black book, a person knew the other person they were going to call! Hmmm...maybe there's a place in neo-noir for the little black cell phone! DCR
  2. Note, there are some spoilers herein. But a spoiler should not ruin a good story, if you really like a good story! If The Third Man (1949) is my favorite all-time film noir, this one runs a close second. Really, it’s almost an equal. I have to take off some points because of some instances of overacting (which I accept in film noir, to a point), and the whoo-hoo kazoo sound when Frank Bigelow was checking into his room at the St. Francis Hotel, a real hotel that is still standing on Union Square in San Francisco. I understood that this was supposed to represent what Frank Bigelow was thinking as he saw all the single dames in The City (the proper nickname for San Francisco) as he was in town to party with the girls away from his fiancée back in Banning, California, which, to put things in context, is a small town just west of Palm Springs. Saying he was from Banning was like saying “I am from the smallest, most insignificant town in my state, the one stuck out in the middle of the desert.” No wonder he wanted to get a way to The City, where it was cool, sophisticated and there were plenty of single women with whom to have fun. Of course, a man seeking such pleasures was transgressing the moral (Production) code of that time, especially when such a man had a loyal and undoubtedly virginal fiancée who was waiting for marriage back home in Banning. This is probably the real reason he had to die, from a film production code standpoint. Characters who transgressed the moral code had to be killed off or punished according to the Production Code. He should have stayed in Banning with his fiancée and married her if he wanted to have sex with a woman. In any case, he was from a miserably hot, small town at the edge of the Mojave Desert, so he had to get away. This helps us understand why he needed to get out of town for a vacation. But back to some relevant comments: I do love this film for all its little flaws because it really does discuss those kind of things about the human condition–as all good films noirs do–that tended to be swept under the rug as being unpleasant, uncomfortable or distasteful, yet are really what life is all about. In a film age such as today that glorifies violence, particularly in its forms of revenge, adultery, betrayal, murder, dishonesty and the like, while trying to pass it off as justified, films noirs stand apart from today’s films because they look at these subjects, but never try to justify them as being the right way of doing things, on the contrary. There is a moral code in film noir, which I will argue comes from the production code, and that from the value system that most Americans held at that time. Crime and other offenses are wrong, they are never justified, but films noirs also showed us circumstances to help us understand why these things take place. The essential shots in D.O.A. that illustrate what I am talking about are those that take place after Frank Bigelow understands that he has been poisoned and will die. In essence, why should we care? People die all the time. The U.S. had just gone through a war in which millions of innocents were murdered. What of it? That’s life. That’s just they way things are. Who is Frank Bigelow and why should anyone care? That is all answered when a little girl’s ball comes bouncing into his hands, after his long panicked run, and the little girl appears. He looks at her with a sorrow–good acting, good that they caught it–in his eyes. Then a young woman comes into frame, waving at her lover. He looks at her again with a sad realization that he will never have a life, his is ended. All that he could be has been done in. And why? We find out later. Because he did his job and notarized a bill of sale. Death is a reality, it’s part of life. But to murder someone is a transgression, an offense that takes what belongs to a person–his or her life–and destroys it. A murder victim does not even have the right to his or her death from old age, after living all he or she could. Someone else decides their life is more important. In any case, in that moment in the film, one understands why murder is a crime and why we should care about it. That murdered man, Frank Bigelow, could be us. Of course, we could look at the existential elements of this film: why do we live, why do we die. What purpose does our life have. This film is an allegory for how we enter the world and have no purpose or meaning because death awaits us, etc., etc., etc. But this is what makes this a good film, like any good story, it is multifaceted and makes you think of many things, and about our own human condition both on a personal level and on a collective level. What has always struck me about this film is how it shows evil: it’s suave, beautiful, selfish, and brutal. It lives only for itself–egotism is the substance of evil. And it destroys innocents. Evil is a threat to people like Frank Bigelow. And if it is a threat to people like him, it is a threat to all who are like him: people who just want to live their lives, enjoy their lives and live it out fully. Evil is a threat to us all. This is a common theme in film noir: decent people who try to be moral in an immoral world. This is an essential quality of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Perhaps a particular film noir does not focus on them, but the character is always there. For instance, in Double Indemnity, the film focuses on MacMurray’s and Stanwyck’s characters, but there is Edward G. Robinson’s character who cares about the right thing and pursues them in his own way. Even Holly Martins is a moral character, as weak as he is as a human being. So what impresses me about this film is how it shows so clearly why murder is evil and what it is to experience it. And through it, all humans should still try to maintain their moral center. We are good people living in a corrupt world. Films noirs try to tell us how to deal with this corruption without losing ourselves in it.
  3. The Third Man (1949) is one of my favorite, all-time films, and my favorite film noir. Every aspect of the film is brilliantly conceived in every way a film should be from the cinematography to the acting. What makes it the best of film noir for me is exactly how disorienting it is and in ways that go beyond the typical film noir techniques of askew angles, low-key lighting, men in fedoras, the femme fatale, and the like. For example, one person on the blog commented that he did not like the music. I think that this is what Carol Reed wanted: to disturb the viewer not just visually, but aurally, which is what the music used in The Third Man does. I doubt most Americans in the late 1940s would have ever have heard a zither or its music. It is an instrument many western Europeans most likely would have known of, but not really been familiar with. It is so eastern European. Something from the fringe of Western Civilization, and not near the American fringe. It would have sounded weird to most Americans and to many western Europeans (though probably as weird to them as to us). The zither music, and the untranslated used of German, both are aural equivalents of visual effects of low-key lighting and canted angles, and darkness typical of film noir. Note how Carol Reed makes no attempt whatsoever to make his monolingual American audience, with its typical (American) English-only attitudes, feel comfortable with much of the language of the film. There are no American or English actors playing eastern Europeans and badly imitating a German accent, just real eastern Europeans speaking English with a real German accent or, even more shockingly, speaking real German with no attempt to make it easy for the American audience to understand what was being said. We just have to trust the translations of suspect individuals and rely on the body language and context to try to understand what is being said. Holly Martins, our pathetic protagonist embodies all this American discomfort with “foreignness”: he is hostile even to his English cousins (he might be anti-British!) and has to rely completely on strangers to understand what is going on. The problem is that when they speak to him in English, a language he understands, some are lying to him, so they might as well be speaking gibberish. English, comfortable old English to Holly Martins and the Euro-American audience is no longer a reliable source of information, just like light in a film noir does not always shine on the truth. This skewing of voices and sounds forces the viewer to rely on the visual medium, the visual language of the film, which itself is dark, foreboding, dangerous with its brilliant (used figuratively here, not literally), use of the camera, which transforms a real, bombed-out city into the best film noir set that could ever be imagined, language, then, adds to the disorientation, the skewing of the information in the story. It also reminds us that a modern motion picture is not principally an aural medium: it's main language for the story is the visual language. But the visual language in film noir is skewed and disorienting. What Carol Reed does in The Third Man is make both the visual language and aural language are perfectly synchronized to disorient the audience. The zither music, strange to American ears, added to the German language and British accents, takes this American development in film style to another, international level. At this point, film noir returns to its European roots and finds a home in a film directed by a European, Carol Reed, that takes place in a European capital, Vienna, with an international cast. And this is only part of what makes this film such a great motion picture. I haven’t even talked about the editing, acting and overall story. There is so much to this film. Just like a great book, you can come back to this film a hundred times and still see something new and keep learning about whatever it has to teach us.
  4. The Third Man (1949) and D.O.A. (1950) (and please, never ever watch the 1988 remake in-title-only of this film. It is like comparing fine Champagne to kool-aid mixed with rubbing alcohol and club soda. Bad club soda.). Of course, then The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946). In about that order.
  5. I was looking at one article (okay, I did not read it all the way throug, as I was looking for other data), but the gist I got from it was that African American films like In The Heat of the Night and Shaft, all in the sixties, were in the noir tradition. Why would they be later than the rest? Because of the discrimination in the Hollywood system, which undoubtedly suppressed the depiction of black protagonists or filmmakers in the 1940s or 1950s unless they were doing the so-called "race films" or making films independently. But things were changing in the 1960s. If this is so, that African American films or films with African American protagonists are in the noir tradition, albeit not during noir's heyday, then we could look at those films as being important not as social statements in that they help integrate American sensibilities towards who the protagonist is, but also as an important bridge between classic film noir and neo-noir. In other words, films like In the Heat of the Night and Shaft keep the noir tradition alive and helped move it to a more modern expression in neo-noir. In any case, if anyone is interested in following up with this, I had referenced this text earlier: “The Genre Don't Know Where It Came From: African American Neo-Noir Since the 1960s.” By William Covey. Journal of Film and Video, 55.2/3 (2003), 59-72.
  6. Good movie. It was in color. But the color works if it is sort of grainy and washed out. It may have been because it was a bad print used by my TV station. But that's the type of color I like for film noir! I always thought two-strip Technicolor would be perfect for a noir movie in color!
  7. Not Kevin Costner! Argh! I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis. I do want to focus on your comments that I am reproducing below, because I agree with you. What you state is worth reading again: I completely agree with you here--but take especial note that we (and the Production Code itself) refer to the dominant culture's morality. Dominant, in this case, refers more in my opinion to social stature and power than to sheer numbers. I guess that this is my sticking point in this argument. I would argue that when a piece of art is centered on the experiences and moral codes of one specific group of people, that group then becomes the art's intended audience. This is not to say that a black teenage girl or an elderly Korean man might not enjoy a film noir, or that they might not even get something personally meaningful out of it. But there are many ways in which the desires of the non-dominant population, their reality, and their way of living (including personal morals) would differ from what is being shown and explored on screen. I hear you when you say that the Production Code provided something of a moral "center" (and that the dominant values reflected by the code were the same values that were recognized by a lot of people). But I think that the moral center was a false one. Just like any idealized image of middle class Americana. Yes, maybe everyone aspired to the house with the picket fence and 2.5. But if you were a lesbian, if you were black and lived in a town where you couldn't legally own property, or if you were any variety of "visible" ethnic or religious minority, good luck. I think that the moral relativism that you describe has always existed. So even though there isn't one pillar of morality (like the Production Code), there are still two things that are true: 1) There is a dominant culture (even if as a whole we are more fragmented) that is reflected in how movies are made and presented. The documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated shed a lot of light on the way that, for example, homosexuality is censored because the "cost" of that content in a movie (even a kiss) drives up the movie's rating which limits the audience. 2) Filmmakers will always be interested in pushing back against what they perceive as "the forbidden"--especially if they regard that "forbidden" thing as being unfairly maligned. I think that you're right in saying that the lack of a singular moral code means that you will not get another "movement" of film, the way that noir as a movement was partly a result of filmmaker's reacting to the same code. But I do think that the very idea of pushing back against "common morality" (especially the kind of morality that is hypocritically preached and not practiced) is something that movies today continue to do. Roger Ebert once said that movies are engines of empathy--their power is in letting us feel what others feel and generating emotions. I think that noir-type plots (the pain of making one mistake--the deadly momentum of out of control love or lust) are grounded in universal themes and will never cease to be explored. The kind of friction that film noir achieved might not be capable of producing in bulk. And maybe in that sense noir won't "save" cinema.
  8. This is why I hate making response on my phone, instead of using a real computer. The keyboards are awful (I miss my BlackBerry!) and the letters are so darn small! And my eyesight is not what it used to be. Here is what I meant to say: Takoma1: there IS NO need to apologize, NOT "there us need to apologize". What the heck does that mean? I think your comments are well taken, intelligent, beautifully expressed. The only concern I had was that you had attributed something to me that I did not say, or mean to say. If it was taken in a certain way, perhaps it had to do with my being inarticulate. Or responding via my darn phone. But you clarified what you meant and, as I said, brought up an excellent topic that is important to discuss. In any case, I enjoy what you have to say! Discussion often involves misunderstanding, misinterpretation and the like. We talk more to clarify, which is what we have done. Thank you for being so open and honest and willing to talk!
  9. Takoma1, there us need to apologize. Besides noir women never say "I'm sorry!" And your style if talking is great, just like a real film noir protagonists or femme fatale! Besides, you started a great line of discussion. All is cool! Let's have a shot of bourbon and keep up the talk!
  10. I am glad you poinnted this out. I suspected that Juano Hernández was Hispano, and you are correct in stating that Puertorriqueños, as well as most other Hispano-Americanos see culture before color, because within one nuclear family, you can get the whole spectrum of colors. That is not to say that there are not racists in Hispanic culture, there are. But it's more of a social class thing and not considered anything to be proud of, on the contrary. But this does show us that while noir tackled some of the social and personal issues of our country, it did not touch on, for the most part, issues of race and ethnicity. Again, this may be because of the Production Code which tacitly, if not overtly, supported the racial/ethnic status quo. So this brings us back to the Production Code and it being an absolute moral pole against which film noir filmmakers were reacting, something that does not exist today. Considering this may help us answer the original question fvor this blog.
  11. Oh yeah: never ever drink vodka, only gin, preferably from a bathtub and only if whiskey/whisky is not available and if you're a girl. But real noir women, the down and out ones, drink whiskey.The only other booze that you can have is champagne, IF you are the femme fatale or la femme de désir sexuel, who usually are broads running in the upper crust. If they have champagne, you drink champagne. But your booze if choice, your go-to is always cheap, blended whiskey/whisky. No fruity, creamy or sweet girly drinks for you! Not even for any real noir woman!
  12. Here's a good drink for film noir fans and characters alike. You'll need the following ingredients: 1 crumpled, brown paper bag 1 bottle of rotgut, cheap, blended Scotch, Bourbon, or rye. If you're slightly high class, choose the scotch. If you're a loser in the dregs, get the rye. Insert the bottle in the bag. Open the bottle. Enjoy! And don't worry about that hangover in the morning.
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