Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

Vivre 1

No one could confuse French New Wave films with classic film noir or even neo-noir, not even someone like me (pretty much a dunce when it comes to film scholarship). But back when I began outlining what would become my “Stiletto Gumshoe” projects and was trying to get a handle on late 1950’s/early 1960’s history and culture, I gorged on movies, books, TV shows, magazines and more from that period. Publicity photos and film stills of Anna Karina (many of which were spot-on matches for my mental picture of Sharon Gardner/Sasha Garodnowicz…the “Stiletto Gumshoe” character) led me to her movies, including Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 Vivre Sa Vie.

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Denmark-born actress, novelist, pop singer and film director Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer adopted the stage name Anna Karina at Coco Chanel’s suggestion during her short-lived Paris modeling career, and manages to light up the screen, even in films that can sometimes be a bit dense or dreary for all of their artsy-ness. In Vivre Sa Vie’s twelve episodic chapters, Karina plays young Nana Kleinfrankenheim, a pre-Mod 1960’s reincarnation of Louise Brooks in 1928’s Pandora’s Box right down to the adorable bob haircut. Nana’s husband abandoned her and their children, who she in turn has left with in-laws. Now struggling to navigate a man’s world on a meager shop girl’s pay, she harbors vague notions of becoming an actress, but ends up as a prostitute.

Vivre 3When her pimp sells her to a rival, a disagreement leads to a gun battle on the daytime Paris streets, and the film concludes with Nana shot and left for dead. The movie’s a peculiar mix of early 1960’s pop and consumer culture juxtaposed with glimpses of incredibly grim modern urban life, but you can’t help but be entranced by Nana herself, or completely shocked by her violent death at the end. A noir or even a crime film? No, it’s not. But, for me Vivre Va Sie (AKA My Life To Live and It’s My Life) feels right at home here at this ‘noir culture’ site as much as many other formulaic vintage crime melodramas unfairly lumped in with “Film Noir” just by being in black& white.

Anna Karina sadly left us just this past December.

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Her Predicament.

her predicament victor olson 1957

I think (but can’t verify) this 1957 Victor Olson illustration is for a glossy magazine short story called “Her Predicament”. Which leads to all kinds of questions about precisely what her predicament might be: Fiction being what it is, a crime may have been committed. Or, is she just surprised to discover a woman in her bed?

The Fashionable Felon.

milton greene 1

Five months after the release of Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty’s Bonnie And Clyde (soon to win two Academy Awards), Faye Dunaway posed for photographer Milton Greene in “Bonnie: Fashion’s New Darling – Faye Dunaway In A ‘30s Revival”, the cover story and interior fashion editorial in the January 12, 1968 issue of Life magazine.

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These Women.

these women

If you’re overwhelmed by the daily deluge of plagues, protests and politics, I’m not sure that Ivy Pochoda’s These Women (Ecco/HarperCollins 2020) is the book I’d recommend right now. But you should read it. In fact, I can think of no better way to do so than to grab it right after finishing any one of the zillion ‘thrillers’ crowding bookstore shelves with their cast of creepy serial killers abducting/torturing/murdering women in puzzlingly twisted voyeuristic descriptions.

I never got to see where These Women will be shelved at retail, having ordered the book ahead of time for a pickup. I suspect some stores will place it in Fiction & Literature while others will stick it in Mystery/Crime Fiction, where I’m sure the book will squirm in agony, flanked by a whodunit and a police procedural. These Women certainly deals with crime. A serial killer, in fact, and on all too familiar turf: contemporary Los Angeles. But Pochoda’s novel (more or less) ignores the culprit, the crimes and the chase to focus on several women, including former prostitute Feelea who survived the serial killer’s attack back in 1999, and Dorian, the grieving mother of the killer’s last of thirteen victims. There’s Julianna, AKA Jujubee, a strip club worker and hobby photographer, and performance artist Marella along with her aspirational mother Anneke, and finally, L.A. detective Essie Perry who uncovers disturbing details about the decades old unsolved serial killer case, and suspects the murderer may be at work once again. The women’s lives all intersect, Dorian being the cook at a fish shack frequented by streetwalkers, Essie the cop who’s saddled with Dorian’s reports that’s she’s being stalked, and so on.

In lesser hands – or at least, a writer with simpler ambitions – this cast of characters would hover on the sidelines while the reader spends way too much time inside the twisted mind of a creepy killer, periodically witnessing gruesome murders and cheering along while the detective overcomes bureaucratic interference and routine male coworker misogyny to finally take down the killer. But Pochoda’s not interested in telling yet another serial killer tale. She’s writing a book about the women impacted by brutal tragedy and living in violent horror on a daily basis. The killer, the crimes, the hunt…they’re almost incidental.

Stepping out of formulaic genre fiction comfort zones into the literary fiction arena can be daunting. Here, art supersedes narrative, so if a reader accustomed to straightforward plotting and a familiar balance of character vs. storytelling suddenly feels the author is merrily flipping them off, it’s no surprise. Art can be self-indulgent, and writerly cardinal sins that would be ruthlessly purged by agents and editors in more formulaic and genre projects are not only allowed here but encouraged. Now I’m not saying Pochoda’s flipping off book buyers! I’m only noting that hip-hopping between different times and multiple character POV’s while probing sense-of-place minutiae takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort, in the case of Ivy Pochoda’s These Women.

Sometimes They Got It Right.

Startling Detective 1952

Given a choice, I’ll always go for illustration over photography when it comes to vintage pulp fiction and true crime magazines and paperback covers. Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into the whole true crime magazine arena anyway, finding the oldies a little ho-hum and most of the ‘modern era’ stuff really, really creepy. (Though that’s based on browsing only a few issues, to be fair.)

But, I’ll be the first to concede that the genre boasted its share of nifty covers, many of the artists working interchangeably between the mystery/crime fiction titles and true crime mags. The photographers? Well, they were usually a bargain-basement lot shooting on the cheap in low-rent set-ups with models who definitely hadn’t just come off Vogue assignments. Still, there are some good ones, and the March 1952 issue of Startling Detective magazine happens to be one of my favorites.  I may have no interest in reading about the “Murder Trail Of The Roving Rapist”, “Irma’s Night of Horror” or any of the other gruesome stories inside, but Fawcett art director and art editor Al Allard and Phil Cammarata got got it right for that issue.

Anybody Can.

1938

Originally from Drive In Theater Of The Mind (via Browse The Stacks) at Tumblr: Apparently no one had to wait for Kindles, Nooks, 99-cent eBooks or bargain-priced bundles to pen their deathless prose for every possible perversion. The “Famous Jack Woodford” already knew way back in 1938 that anybody can write a sex novel.

Damn, I think I’ve been wasting my time agonizing over these noir-ish hard-boiled crime manuscripts all along…

The Noir Style.

The Noir Style

Alain Silver and James Ursini’s 1999 Harry N. Abrams/Overlook Press The Noir Style is a frequently seen bookstore sale rack and remainders table staple, and that’s where I got mine, the $50.00 (when published 20 years ago) oversize 244-page hardcover still in a shrink-wrap and for only $12.99. Now I can’t vouch for the trade pb edition, but this sumptuous hardcover, designed by Bernard Schleifer, is almost an objet d’art with 170+ duotone photos on matte coated stock, as nicely produced as any coffee table art monograph you’d buy in a museum store.

The book’s title and the glamorous cover photo might mislead you into thinking The Noir Style is about the costuming and wardrobe design of so many memorable film noir femmes fatales and heroines. But no, Silver and Ursini (supported by additional material from Robert Perforio and Linda Brookover) provide a glorious overview of the ‘look’, the ‘style’ and the visual motifs of both classic film noir and more contemporary neo-noir (well, ‘contemporary’ for a book published in the 1990’s). It’s packed with familiar and not-so-familiar images of memorable characters and stars, scenes and set designs, all crisply reproduced and accompanied by a generous amount of text chronicling the roots of film noir, the genre’s evolution, various noir themes (from a visual perspective) and more.

Film Noir Readers

Silver and Ursini have practically made a cottage industry out of film noir books of one sort or another, only a few of which are shown here, and it should be no surprise that I have a few. But they’ve also partnered on books about horror cinema, vampire films and other subjects. I’m usually cautious with film noir non-fiction books, having been burned by a few overly academic (make that downright snooty) ones determined to filter the genre through the author’s personal perspective, Marxist, feminist or other “ist”, which sometimes make sense and often times does not. But if you see The Noir Style at some puzzling low price on a bookstore’s sale table (particularly the hardcover!), snatch it.

Film Noir Books

The “Deluxe” Lady Killer.

Lady Killer Deluxe

I may not be able to get inside any comics shops ‘round here yet, but I haven’t gone comics-free during the past few months. Though I already have Joelle Jones Lady Killer in trade pb editions, I couldn’t resist the new Dark Horse May 2020 Library “Deluxe Edition”, an absolutely gorgeous oversize hardcover that covers the entire series, including Book One: Seattle 1962 written by Jamie S. Rich (Joelle Jones’ collaborator on the wonderful You Have Killed Me), and Book Two: Florida 1963, with both the art and story by the Goddess of Comic Art, Joelle Jones herself. This nearly 300-page edition includes an introduction by Chelsea Cain and over 30 pages of extras.

And yes, I had to read it all over again before I slid it into a place of honor on my bookshelves. Big surprise there.

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Mildred, Updated.

1967 james bama Mildred Pierce

Not Joan Crawford, not even Kate Winslet, but it is supposed to be Mildred Pierce, on a 1967 Bantam paperback edition of James M. Cain’s 1941 classic Mildred Pierce, the cover art by illustration maestro James Bama, who I believe is still with us.

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