Your deal…

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I learned the hard way back in high school that poker and I would never get along. Suckered into card games during college, and I still didn’t wise up.

The picture’s called “6016760”. Now I don’t know what UK photo-artist Patryk Madej (AKA ‘Sorenquist’) means by that cryptic title. It could be something secret and personal or it could just an image file number. But I do know that I’d think twice before getting into a card game with model Sonia Aneila.

Running In Heels

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Science fiction never was my thing, but while I’ll usually pass on aliens, rocket ships and robots, I’m easily sucked in by a nice, dark dystopian noir.

Producer/director Andrew Niccol’s 2011 In Time may not have spent much time in theaters, and might not get ranked with Blade Runner or even Dark City, but it’s a reasonably good film, and the two leads do a good and earnest job throughout. Justin Timberlake’s naturally a likeable sort, but manages some real intensity here once the tensions rise. Amanda Seyfried may not be the first actress that comes to mind for what turns into a pretty tough gun-toting role, but she pulls it off with style. And what style. Long blonde tresses may be Seyfried’s trademark, but she gives a short reddish bob some badass panache.

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In Time’s 22nd century is a familiar looking yet unpleasant world in which people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, when a one-year countdown (digitally displayed on their forearm) commences till they ‘time out’ and immediately expire. But time can be bought and sold, setting up the ultimate have’s and have-not’s, with laborers slaving away at menial jobs in dreary blue collar cities while the well-heeled buy, steal or wager for (and horde) time credits to live in luxury and for as long as they want. When Timberlake’s character is robbed/tricked out of nearly all his time, he abducts Seyfried as a hostage to get his life back. No surprise, they fall for each other, she goes rogue, and the pair ultimately rob the wealthy’s time banks, literally stealing from the rich to give to the poor. A top-notch cast includes Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde and Johnny Galecki in various good, bad and a-little-of-both roles. There’s some nifty gunplay and a lot of well-shot/edited chases and running around. In fact, I hope Amanda Seyfried got a bonus for all of the running in heels. Location candids show the actress in killer shoes. I always thought the moment a director hollered “Cut”, it was time for Uggs or bunny slippers.

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Oscars all around for In Time? Well, no, I’m not going that far. And it’s not Blade Runner. But it is darn good, it is stylish-looking with a noir-ish flair even if much of it is brightly lit, and Amanda Seyfried ought to get signed for more roles where she can wave a gun around. She does it well.

In Time 2011

 

No Hoods Left In The Hood?

Noir Gentrification

Background research on settings? Search engines can only yield so much, and eventually you just have hop on a bus or get in the car, ready to pound the pavement if you really want to get the look and feel of a place for whatever it is you’re writing about. Obviously that’s a problem if you live in Newark and your project’s set in Novgorod. But if it’s just another neighborhood in your home town, you’re good to go. For some (me, for example), the trick is accessing a time machine in order to capture not just a place, but a place-in-time.

Adam Abramowitz, the Boston writer of A Town Called Malice and Bosstown, had a terrific piece in the March 19th CrimeReads (link below), “Noir In The Era Of Gentrification: What Happens To Spenser & Scudder When Their Cities Are Gone?” He opens by recalling childhood trips to neighborhoods that were ripe with danger and which later became settings for his writing. But in the ensuing years, those blocks once lined with strip joints, gin joints and sundry other joints populated by lethal predators were gentrified building-by-building into rehabbed lofts and pricey rebuilds, the strip joint now a Starbucks, the gin joint a trendy bistro, and the only predators still lurking about are snooty sales clerks in fancy boutiques.

“Big city noir is under siege,” he writes. “As a noir reader, I become as attached to a city as to the main character working those pitiless streets…(Gentrification) threatens to render our stories sentimental and nostalgic until we all sound like a lamenting grandparent: Back in the bad old days.” Abramowitz refers mostly to New York and Boston, but acknowledges the same for James Lee Burke’s New Orleans and even Chandler’s and MacDonald’s Los Angeles.

Here beside the coast of the ‘inland sea” (the Great Lakes), it’s no different. Endless blocks south and west of Chicago’s Loop seemed destined for permanent skid row status after WWII. Now the South Loop has exploded with residential hi-rises, and west of downtown where independent food service distributors stretched for a mile beneath the Lake Street El and the Fulton Market strip, McDonald’s erected its new headquarters, just over from Google’s Chicago HQ, and suburban corporations are elbowing each other aside, determined to find suitably sized industrial lofts to gut or tear down so they can erect faux-rehabs. The SRO’s and their hoboes, homeless, hookers, pimps, muggers and wino’s have been pushed a couple miles south and west once again, and if the migration continues, eventually they’re going to cross the border into Indiana or be halted at the Mississippi.

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My own work is set in a very particular time and place, and while that place has changed considerably, it definitely hasn’t been gentrified. 1959 landmarks like the sprawling Miami Bowl 24/7 100-lane bowling complex or the once-luxurious Brighton Theater are long gone, along with countless Mom & Pop storefront bakeries, bars, hardware stores, dress shops, jewelers and deli’s (and all of the loan sharks, card games and B-girls that worked their back rooms). Some are no-brand phone stores and vaping shops now, others just vacant. The discreet Mowimy Popolsku signs in their doors have been replaced by a different language, perhaps, but I’m sure there’s no shortage of punks, thugs and crooks around. They’re just busy spray-painting their colors on garage walls before they get down to business these days. Now the word is that retiring Yuppies and monied Millenials from landlocked Chinatown are buying up two flats as investment properties. Not exactly gentrification, but enough change to make it hard to recognize anything from the old B&W photos sourced online.

Still, there’s no substitution for actually walking the main streets, side streets and even the alleys (which were only paved with cinders from the nearby ComEd plant back in the era I’m writing in). The sights, sounds and smells are all a little different from what my characters experienced in 1959, I suppose. But as Adam Abramowitz writes in his CrimeReads essay, “Don’t cry, noir lovers. Change is cyclical and as long as the slums of the heart keep burning, there’s always going to be material to mine.”

https://crimereads.com/noir-in-the-era-of-gentrification/

HIT 1955 – 1957

Hot 1955 #1

HIT, from BOOM Comics, written by Bryce Carlson with art (and some of the series covers) by the great Vanesa R. Del Rey.

There are two HIT series: 1955 and a follow-up, 1957. Both are dark, noir-ish hard-boiled crime fiction at its very, very best. The set-up’s reminiscent of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, and films like Mulholland Falls or Gangster Squad, dealing with LAPD Detective Harvey Slater, who’s an undercover member of the secret Hit Squad, lawless thugs with badges on a top-brass-endorsed mission to purge Los Angeles of organized crime. But Detective Slater’s due for real trouble when the woman from his past returns to L.A., none other than Bonnie Brae, who just happens to be his Captain’s daughter. Brae’s pure trouble in a dress, and one of the finest femme fatales to appear in comics in years.

Hit 1955

Like many comic trade paperbacks, the HIT books include extras, like a Duane Swierczynski introduction and cover alternates from Erik Gist, Trevor Hairsine, Terry Dodson and Ryna Soo. But best of all, both of these have bonus short stories, which were a real treat. I loved both series, loved Carlson’s storytelling and Del Rey’s art, but most of all, I loved Bonnie Brae, and I bet you will too.

Hit 1957

A Matter Of Perspective

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So maybe you can think of better ways to spend $250. That’s the cost of an annual subscription to Publishers Weekly magazine (well, shave off a buck – it’s actually $249). Maybe I could too, but I still consider it an investment and I’m certain that I squander way more than $250 every year on a lot of foolish things.

Some writers consider Publishers Weekly mandatory reading while others see it as far removed from their interests or experience, particularly when sitting all alone in front of their keyboard. As for me, I’m closer to the ‘mandatory reading’ side, and actually feel a little adrift when I’ve let my subscription lapse (I’m not lapsed these days). Is it because I want to daydream about big deals and mega-star author status? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Reading Publishers Weekly grounds me.

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Six and even seven figure book deals and film/subsidiary rights along with business news about corporate mergers, paper prices and distribution networks provide me with perspective on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Skimming those articles reminds me that I write simply because I want to (or have to, depending on the mood), not because of any naïve expectations that it’ll pay off with meaningful contributions to my income, or invitations to pontificate about whatever in high-profile interviews and genre-con panels. Once you realize that agents, editors, publishers and booksellers alike may be much more worried about Ingram buying portions of Baker & Taylor, or do the math in your head about just how much dough Michelle Obama’s book really brought in at retail — well then, it’s a lot easier to deal with any normal writerly frustrations and indignities.

There are purely pragmatic reasons to subscribe to Publishers Weekly. The extensive weekly reviews are tagged with the agent/agency for each, which is helpful to note when you’re querying projects. Even self and hybrid author/publishers are no longer ignored, the magazine acknowledging an evolving marketplace with a monthly multi-page “BookLife” feature dedicated to that segment of the industry.

This week’s issue includes articles on Spanish audiobook production, social media’s effects on poets and poetry, and a feature on new books by and about TV, music and sports celebrities…not one of which interested me in the least. But that’s not the point. When my fingers start pounding the keyboard tonight, I’ll know why I’m doing it, and I’ll be at peace with the teeny-tiny part I play in a vast marketplace and the shared endeavors of countless people like me. And I’m cool with that.

Anna Parfenova’s Sin City

Sin City Anna Parfenova 1

I posted one example of an Anna Parfenova photo back in mid-December 2018. The talented St. Petersburg, Russia photographer, who also goes by ‘Annie Parfi’, showcases the usual commercial work for fashion, portrait and editorial, all of it colorful, crisp and slick. But her own personal creative work is dominated by elaborately staged and lushly styled romantic fantasy images, with ethereal beauties in sumptuous gowns in opulent salons. Truly, it’s quite lovely.

If that’s your thing, that is.

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But there must be a bit of darkness lurking somewhere in Ms. Parfenova’s creative soul, or a flair for the noir-ish in her camera’s eye. See the juxtaposition for yourself in her galleries at DeviantArt, 500px or even Tumblr (well, her traditional photographer’s formal nude figure studies have understandably vanished there, under the new Tumblr content restrictions) or go her own site, annaparfenova.com. There, the lovely princesses, brides and fantasy femmes are suddenly interrupted by a suite of images titled “Sin City” that pull you into a retro-styled private eye’s office, both retro and contemporary at the same time, cluttered, smoky and ominous looking. A crime is about to be committed, or a steamy love affair is about to commence…or both, more likely.

More of Anna Parfenova’s work follows in the next post…

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The Noir Forties

The Noir Forties

Biographer and historian Richard Lingeman has a long list of impressive books on American history to his credit, and this one’s particularly intriguing, zeroing in on the five years between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War. The Noir Forties is a perfect title. Lingeman explains, “I devote a large chunk of the book to what I’ve dubbed ‘noir culture’, after the body of crime films known as film noir which flourished between 1945 and 1950. I believe films noir are a key for unlocking the psychology (and) the national mood during those years”

Once the VJ Day euphoria wore off and the ticker tape was swept out of Times Square – and main streets all across the U.S. – there was much to reckon with. Over 400,000 Americans killed in combat and countless millions dead worldwide. The Holocaust and the atom bomb. Anxious hopes for postwar prosperity dashed by abrupt economic upheavals, housing shortages, a divorce boom, the “Iron Curtain” and rise of totalitarian Communism, the formation of the U.S. security state and more.

Part memoir, part conventional history, Lingeman’s book recounts key political, military, social and cultural events side-by-side with evocative personal stories and anecdotes from this five-year period. The ‘how’ and ‘why’ driving the emergence of noir culture becomes apparent, not only the many classic films noir from this era, but we could include the explosion of grim, violent and sexy crime novels populating the new paperback original market, an evolution in pulp magazines and comics, the emergence of abstract expressionism in the new global fine art capital, New York City. All of this occurred amidst racial strife, the Iron Curtain slamming down over Eastern Europe, the Red Scare and then a return of U.S. troops in combat in what many understandably feared would swiftly become World War Three.

I’ll leave it scholars to quibble about their definitions of ‘film noir’ and its timeline, including many proto-noirs from earlier in the 1940’s, or quite different films from the late 1950’s and even the early 60’s that might more justifiably be considered a bridge to what we later called ‘neo-noir’. All that’s fodder for university film studies classes and master’s theses, and my school days are behind me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy an incredibly well-written and readable book like Richard Lingeman’s The Noir Forties, and if you like what you see here at ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’, it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy this book.

Emerald Noir

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Luscious noir-ish paintings — in vibrant green, no less, rather than customary blues, blacks and greys —  by Sina Pakzad Kasra from 2018. Both appear to be reworks of — or homages to — scenes form Hitchcock’s Vertigo, right?  Whatever the inspiration, they’re great.

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