Paris, Texas…Revisited.

Paris Tx 2Cult film fave Wim Wenders’ 1984 Paris, Texas wasn’t really a neo-noir film…and yet it is, in its own weird way, isn’t it? Loosely based on co-writer Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles, and starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell, the quirky, unsettling, and bleakly surreal movie says ‘desert noir’ in every shot. Enough so, apparently, to inspire photographer Steven Lippman to swap model Carolyn Murphy for Kinski for his own “Paris, Texas” photo suite, with spot-on recreations of memorable scenes from the film.

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Sunday Night Noir: The Racket (1951)

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Director John Cromwell appeared in and directed the hit Bartlett Cormack Broadway play The Racket in 1927 with newcomer Edward G. Robinson, which later made its way to Los Angeles (skipping Chicago, where the story is set, and where it was banned, supposedly on orders from Al Capone himself). There, Hollywood quickly snapped up Cromwell, and over the next two decades he directed a long list of cinema classics and was in the postwar vanguard of directors helming projects in the emerging film noir genre. 1947’s Dead Reckoning with Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott was among those films (that one a personal fave of mine). Cromwell brought Scott along for his final Hollywood film before he was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee: A 1951 RKO remake of the 1927 stage play, The Racket. The film may have been co-directed by a team including Nicholas Ray, Mel Ferrer and others, and stars noir icons Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Lizabeth Scott.

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Robert Ryan’s mob boss has an entire un-named midwestern city in his pocket. All except a determined and incorruptible police captain played by Robert Mitchum, that is. Undermined at every turn by corrupt cops and crooked politicians, Mitchum convinces sultry nightclub chanteuse Lizabeth Scott to testify against her boss, even though both of them know that cooperating means she’ll be as good as dead. With a rigged election looming, mob boss Robert Ryan will stop at nothing to take down Mitchum, who neatly turns the tables on the violent gangster, the corrupt cops and the crooked politicians.

the racket 3The Racket is dark, violent and an under-appreciated treat, with three film noir titans working together on screen. And who’d miss a chance to watch the Queen of Film Noir, Lizabeth Scott? Did I say watch her? Heck, just listening to that smoky voice of hers is enough of a treat.

Lobby CardsReviews were mixed and I have no idea if The Racket was a financial success. But I couldn’t care less if this one ranks high with the scholarly film studies crowd or not. For me, the films made in the few years right at the end of the 1940’s through the very early 1950’s best capture the iconic film noir look and feel, whether well-funded and with major stars, or made on shoestring budgets. The Racket is brimming with enormous, bulbous looking cars. The fellows all sport those tent-sized overcoats, voluminous suits, stubby ties and wide-brimmed fedoras. The women are at their most sultry, in long-but-snug skirts, chunky heels, seamed hose, and hats-hats-hats on everyone, men and women alike. To say nothing of one chain-smoked cigarette after another…did they even have to bother with fog machines back then?

Indulge me for including some foreign posters for “La Gang”, which I assume was The Racket in France. Sometimes those European theater posters just look better than the tamer Hollywood versions.

La Gang

I may have lost TCM, and especially Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley, but MOVIES!’ “Noir To Die For!” and “Sunday Night Noir” may just keep this particular noir junkie from getting the shakes or going into total withdrawal, all the more essential during our sheltering-in. A word or two about some other noirs both good and bad to be found on MOVIES! will follow in subsequent posts.

I Really Need TCM…Like Now.

Thursday Noir To Die ForIt’s no Turner Classic Movies. Not even Retroplex. And it’s certainly not Eddie Muller expertly hosting TCM’s Noir Alley (I’m kinda tearing up just thinking about that).

But when my cable provider rudely deleted TCM (and Retroplex and a lot of other channels) I had to learn to embrace MOVIES! for the occasional film noir, good old-fashioned B-movie crime melodramas and some random classics (along with a lot of other stuff I couldn’t care less about). Commercials? Yes, but not enough to drive me batty. And I wouldn’t complain if MOVIES! spent a few dollars to increase their “noir” library to more than the dozen or a dozen-and-a-half films they keep rotating…their tag is “Reel Variety”, after all. But “Noir To Die For!” on Thursday evenings and “Sunday Night Noir” (on…well, Sundays, obviously) is better than 24/7 syndicated reruns, bad 80’s action flicks and the wall-to-wall pandemic programming everywhere else.

Serves me right for being entranced with size and choosing the enormous TV instead of the Smart-TV. But it is a heck of a good picture…

Sunday Night Noir

The 2008 Hollywood Portfolio: Hitchcock Classics.

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Here are more images from Annie Leibowitz’ elaborately staged and styled photo suite “The 2008 Hollywood Portfolio: Hitchcock Classics” for Vanity Fair magazine. These aren’t all the images, but most, the entire project including actors like Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Jodie Foster and Kiera Knightley among others.

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Dial M For Murder…Again.

Vanity Fair annie leibovitz 2008

A preceding post showcased Terry Gates’ photos of Ming Xi for Vogue China from 2012 in a suite titled “Hitchcock Beauty”, noting that Hitchcock homages seem to attract fashion creatives. Case in point: Annie Leibowitz for Vanity Fair in 2008, here with actress Charlize Theron recreating the same scene from Dial M For Murder.

Hitchcock Beauty 1

“Hitchcock Beauty”

Hitchcock Beauty 1

Hardly the only time it’s been done, and fashion mag creatives will no doubt do it again…but why not?

Terry Gates shot model Ming Xi for Vogue China in 2012, styled by fashion editor Yi Guo to recall memorable scenes from Alfred Hitchcock films. Okay, a couple scenes elude me, and the black cat is really throwing me (why am I thinking Kim Novak in 1958’s Bell, Book And Candle instead of Hitchcock?).

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The Gun In The Lingerie Drawer.

Edmund OBrien

Still working through my overstuffed folder of unread Crime Reads articles and essays…

Poll some fiction writers and I’ll wager they’ll all agree that sex may be the most challenging thing to write about. Oh, choreographing action and violence is tough, no question. But sex? Many writers’ fingers freeze over the keyboard when their plot demands a sex scene.

We routinely sit through shocking and even grisly TV and movie violence without flinching, even though our boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, parents, siblings or friends are right beside us. But let the clothes come off and the more-than-smooching commence, and suddenly we’re squirming in our seats. Doubly so here in the U.S., where violence as entertainment has long been tolerated and even encouraged, while sex has been sanitized, compartmentalized, crudely packaged in exclusively male-gaze slide-shows and for decades, hidden altogether.

Crime Reads - Sex-Violence

Novelist Amanda Robson’s June, 2018 essay at Crime Reads, “Why Is Sex So Much Harder To Write Than Violence?” (link below) points out that while most people do have sex, most do not experience violence (at least, not the sort that fills mysteries, crime fiction and thrillers). Sex, while personal and intimate, is something most writers, readers and viewers can relate to on a first-hand basis. Violence, less likely so.

Have I experienced violence? Not really. I’ve been in car accidents. I’ve wrestled, been hit and thrown a punch. Who hasn’t, at least as a kid? I’ve cleaned a fish, so I guess I’ve plunged a knife into a living creature. I’ve shot a firearm, but only at targets, and I’ll be fine with never touching a gun again. But I’ve never even seen someone get stabbed or shot, much less been wounded myself. Whatever I write is entirely made up, cherry-picked from and authenticated by our collective TV/Comics/Movies/Novels archive and its vocabulary.

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As for sex? Hmmmm…none of your business. Whether it’s straight/gay/other, vanilla or weirdsville, time to gleefully don the frillies and lay out the sashes and toys, or once-a-week obligatory marital bed dreariness, writers might understandably assume (or fear) that readers will identify the writer with the sex scene. Amanda Robson writes, “Most novelists write from the power of their imagination. However, when a novelist writes about sex, people imagine they are writing from their personal experience.  Or, at least, from their sexual fantasies. Because my debut novel Obsession contained a few raunchy scenes, I have been subjected to a barrage of comments – some funny, some lewd, some insulting – including an increase in men hitting on me at parties.” But she goes on to wonder why, as a crime novelist, no one assumed she had a lethal weapon in her pocket.

I’m as guilty as the next wordsmith. Sure, I’ve revised and rewritten chases, gunplay and fight scenes, struggling to get the action onto the page while still maintaining the proper pace and level of excitement. But sex? Good Lord, I revise and rewrite and prune and tweak till my computer’s ready to melt, and not because the scene’s so sizzling hot, only because I keep changing things. First it seems too pervy, then it sounds too flowery, then too specific, then too vague, then too clinical, and then…well, on and on and on. Compound this with writers’ discomfort when trying to adopt a character’s persona: A woman writing from a man’s POV or vice-versa. Writing gay, lesbian or trans, desperate to make the text ring true, but once done, wondering if readers will start to make assumptions. We shouldn’t care. But we’re uptight, fragile, human and we just do. Yet, I’ve never wasted a second worrying that readers will think I can handle a .45 automatic or know what it feels like when a bullet grazes my shoulder and the blood starts to flow.

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Amanda Robson doesn’t provide solutions for writers so much as analyze the situation. I’ll suggest there are no solutions. We’ll continue to peek at the author’s photo on the rear dustjacket flap and imagine them having the raucous orgies meticulously described in Chapter Six, but won’t for a moment presume they personally pack a pistol, blade or brass knuckles. And writers will continue to agonize over one page of eroticism even while they merrily plow through chapter after chapter of crime scenes, gunshots, explosions and fist-fights.

Mystery/crime fiction writer or reader, follow the link and read for yourself what Amanda Robson had to say about all this.

Photos: Edmond O’Brien, Helen Diaz/ProPhotonut, Ilya Rashap

https://crimereads.com/why-is-sex-so-much-harder-to-write-than-violence/

 

Stuck At Home? Then Go To Noir City.

Noir City 1It’s not like I didn’t see it coming: Shelter-at-home, non-essential businesses closed temporarily, etc. It’s just that the day job was in its normal busy time of year, well underway prior to the shutdowns and continuing during the transition to work-at-home. I may have been prepared with groceries in the fridge and a full tank of gas (should I just skip the thing about the cigarette carton stash?), but I hadn’t been to the library, hadn’t been in a bookstore and hadn’t even done a quick online order of any books – new or old – in the days leading up to the sudden switch to hermit status. The to-be-read stack on the writing lair’s endtable had whittled down some. It’s not like I don’t have shelves of beloved treasures that could do with a re-read, but still…

So, it was a double delight to see the new Spring 20202 Noir City e-magazine Number 28 appear in my in-box.

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Now I’m not kidding about being busy with the day job. Even routine tasks seem to take twice as long as they do in-office, where simple face-to-face questions and approvals take no more than a moment, but now require email barrages. No complaints, mind you. When the news is filled with startling stats like 1 in 10 Americans filing for Unemployment last week and even 1 in 4 laid-off, furloughed or weathering hours cutbacks, I’m thrilled to be working. But with time at a premium, I haven’t read a single word of this new Noir City issue yet. Still, a quick scroll through the pages (drooling the entire time) assured me this is another terrific issue from Vince Keenan and Steve Kronenberg, and as always, a visual treat from Art Director Michael Kronenberg.

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Craving some dark delights in the midst of endless dismal news? Get thee to the Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more, become a contributor and to get your mitts on the Noir City e-magazine. Just try to visit there and not end up wanting something: Back issues, festival posters, whatever. Hey, if we can’t spend money in stores right now, we can unload a few bucks on something of real value for noir culture enthusiasts…and I know there are more than a few of you reading this.

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/aboutnoircity.html

Tips For Aspiring Crime Writers Enthralled By The Classics.

The Big Sleep 1978

Deluged with articles and radio/TV news touting ways to pass the time while sheltering at home? Must-see series to binge watch, reading literary classics you skipped in high school, or perhaps reviving dormant hobbies? Sure, like I have time to start a ship in a bottle. The fact is, moving the day job from the office to the writing lair has mostly meant that everything takes twice as long to accomplish. So far, there’s no time for down time.

But one thing I promised to do is to finally catch up on an entire stash of articles and essays from Crime Reads, a fat folder of sloppy screen-caps and still-working links, some a year and half old. I was too busy to read them properly or at all when first spotted, and I mean to get through these things by the time we un-shelter.

How To Write Like Chandler

Dial back with me to July of 2018 for “How To Write Like Chandler Without Becoming A Cliché” by Owen Hill (link below), one of the editors of the amazing The Annotated Big Sleep, along with Pamela Jackson and Anthony Dean Rizzuto (well, and Raymond Chandler, of course), that jumbo 470+ page 2018 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard classic noir/crime fiction fan must-read. I’ve written about it here before. Maybe will again. But for now, it’s Owen Hill’s remarks about just how easy it is to become so enthralled by the genre’s mid-twentieth century roots that the icons, triggers and tropes can permeate our own work…and not necessarily in a good way.

The Annotated Big Sleep

Hill’s essay is subtitled “Tips For Aspiring Crime Writers Enthralled By The Classics” and he opens by listing just a few of the most obvious and iconic scenes we’d automatically associate with Raymond Chandler’s (sometimes by way of Dashiell Hammett’s) work, and he notes, “Today it’s difficult to imagine a detective novel without at least an homage to these and other Chandleresque tropes. What’s a fledgling writer to do? How to make it all seem fresh?”

Aside from avoiding the most worn out clichés and stereotypes, Hill recommends reading. And reading a lot.

Chandler? Well, sure. How can you not? Hill adds James M. Cain, Ross MacDonald and notes that Chandler himself learned second-hand by reading the pulps, especially Earle Stanley Gardner and Hammett. I’ll add in a diverse bunch of notorious characters from James Ellroy to Sandra Scoppettone, Vicki Hendricks and early Megan Abbott, Loren D. Estleman and Stuart Kaminsky, Sue Grafton and George Pellecanos, Max Allan Collins and Sara Gran, both Kanes (Henry and Frank)…and of course, Mickey Spillane. My list could go on and on. You’ll have your own to add.

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There’s a very fine line between homage and pastiche, and narrow as the distinction may be, it’s made worse by being blurry and ill-defined. What one reader/writer considers reverent, another sees as laughably hokey. I struggle with this all the time, whether working in period settings (much of my own stuff set in the late 1950’s to very early 1960’s) or in ‘the now’. Once the fellows sport suspenders and fedoras, the women wear hats and gloves, the cars have fat fenders or fins and the gumshoes plunk coins in pay phone slots, a writer’s in treacherous territory, where deadly clichés lurk around every corner.

Hill’s solution is the same one recommended by nearly every writing how-to book. Read, read and read some more…though obviously, leaving a little time for your fingers to tap dance across the keyboard. Makes sense. Only by getting a firm handle on the wide diversity of voices, settings, situations and styles a thriving genre comprises, and by seeing first-hand how those who’ve gone before us have synthesized the genre’s iconography into their own fresh perspectives can anyone possibly hope – however humbly – to put their own spin on things. It’s okay to be enthralled or even to go all fanboy/girl over genre classics, so long as we don’t become clichés ourselves.

So, you’ll indulge me if I include some pics of Robert Mitchum from the 1978 The Big Sleep in this post instead of the more revered, and obvious, Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe himself.

https://crimereads.com/how-to-write-like-chandler-without-becoming-a-cliche/

 

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