Dave Lebow

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Yes, they breed artists in Oklahoma too, where painter Dave Lebow was born, though his arts education occurred on the coasts, first in painting at Boston University and then earning his MFA in Experimental Animation at Cal Arts. For most of the first decade of the 2000’s, Lebow worked in animation, but returned to painting full time in 2009. Various sites refer to his style as ‘retro contemporary’, which doesn’t make sense at first, but in a way, is precisely what it is. On one hand, the work pays homage to the fantasy and adventure pulps of the 1930’s, but is reimagined through a contemporary 21stcentury vision. Similarly, his technique is fully traditional, often doing monotone greyscale grisaille underpaintings with oil glazes over those. A visit to the artist’s blog (link below) not only showcases more work, but preparatory sketches, model photos and much more. A lot of the work is epic fantasy oriented (with a wry contemporary twist, mind you), but I’ve collected several here that focus on more noir-ish settings and situations.

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http://davespaintingblog.blogspot.com

Nora Prentiss

Nora Prentiss - Hnd Colored

Not sure if I’ll be home in time for TCM’s 11:00 PM CST Noir Alley with host, noir maestro Eddie Muller. Tonight it’s Vincent Sherman’s 1947 Warner Brothers film Nora Prentiss, shot by James Howe Wong with a Franz Waxman score, starring one of Hollywood’s hardest working actresses, Ann Sheridan. I’ve never seen the film and would like to, particularly with Muller’s always insightful opening and closing remarks.

You like your film noirs with syndicate bosses, mobsters, dirty cops and gun fights? Who doesn’t? But there’s an equally essential subset of classic film noir and crime melodrama focused on smaller stories that are equally dark and fatalistic, Nora Prentiss among them, considered by some as one of the best “women’s noir”.

Nora Prentiss - MontageKent Smith plays Dr. Richard Talbot, bored with his humdrum life and marriage, who begins an affair with seductive nightclub singer Nora Prentiss, played by Ann Sheridan. He fakes his own death in order to run away with her, relocating from the west coast to New York, where she goes back to work in the clubs. But it can’t go well, and Dr. Talbot grows increasingly paranoid once he leans that his faked death is now a murder investigation. Soon he’s bitter, jealous, combative and drinking too much, finally crashing his car. Disfigured from the accident, unable to identify himself, he’s actually accused of his own murder.

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Though the film sounds like it’s Talbot’s story more than Ann Sheridan’s, it’s really not, at least based on what I’ve read. And Ann Sheridan rarely disappoints, especially when she gets a meaty role where she can play street smart with an undercurrent of vulnerability (though I suspect her husband-stealing songbird might not be particularly vulnerable). Well, in or out, that’s what DVR’s are for. I’m catching this movie one way or another.

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L.A. Noire

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I’m not a gamer, never have been. But I can appreciate the artwork done for many games, particularly those few that aren’t robots and rocket ships, barbarians and goblins or commando  teams. Surely one of the best must be Team Bondi/Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire, launched in 2011. Notable for being the first game to utilize Depth Analysis’ 32 camera MotionScan technology, L.A. Noire was also the first game to be at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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As I understand it, the story follows LAPD detectives ad uniform cops in post-WWII Los Angeles and shares not only visual cues taken from classic postwar film noir cinema, but storylines, character interactions and some sense of noir’s moral ambiguity, some of the cases actually adapted form life period crimes. All sounds good (though not enough to lure me into gaming), but it’s the art that intrigues me most.

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Anna Parfenova’s Sin City

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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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Looks Can Kill. So Can Guilty Pleasures.

Femme Fatales

Everyone has some guilty pleasures, so don’t you dare fib and tell me (or yourself) that you don’t. Twinkies? Vaping? Ridiculous reality shows on TLC? Funky flavored martinis with silly names that are almost too embarrassing to order? Come clean, now. You have something.

For the record, I don’t care for Twinkies, vaping, martinis or any shows on TLC. But I’ll admit to one recent guilty pleasure: Femme Fatales, the 2011-12 Cinemax series, 25 half hour episodes worthy of a lot of guilt and maybe a bit of pleasure, albeit the kind which requires your brain to be turned off for 30 minutes at a time.

Femme Fatales TV Series

Never saw it when it aired. I’m not sure I even heard of it at the time. But I did pick up both complete season sets in a used bookseller’s DVD section recently.

The name’s a bit of a misnomer. You’d like to expect something more retro-noir-ish, and what a terrific series that could’ve been. But, no such luck. Femme Fatales is rooted a bit – though only a bit – in the legacy of the 1980’s-90’s era of ‘erotic thrillers’, those ubiquitous direct-to-video (and I do mean VHS tapes) quickie crime/adultery/serial killer films chock full of extended sex scenes, electro-pop club music soundtracks and wall-to-wall nighttime L.A. exterior shoots (or Toronto, often as not, I suppose), all of which kept a generation of actors and filmmakers fed for 10 years-plus, then faded as quick as Blockbuster Video stores. Or perhaps Femme Fatales actually owes more to the early pre-streaming cable television era when late night on every premium channel was ‘sex-time’, if not in feature films then in original series, like Showtime’s Red Shoe Diaries (1992 – 1997). Flimsy plots? Sure. Unknown actors? For the most part, yes. But the production values weren’t horrible, as good as anything we’re likely to see on the CW or some Netflix/Amazon/elsewhere shows. And in Femme Fatales you get…well, ‘femmes fatales’.

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Okay, only ‘sort of’. There are bad girlz aplenty. I’m not suggesting the series includes anything up to the caliber of Linda Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory in John Dahl’s memorable The Last Seduction, of course. The scripts may deal with romance, crime, adultery, seduction or revenge, all dressed up in a dark, neo-noirish look with a sexy veneer and neatly structured to zero in on centerpiece soft-core sex scenes. Each episode is set up by narrator Tanit Phoenix playing someone called “Lilith”, and the South African actress and pinup model makes cameo appearances as well. Needless to say, the series did not win any Emmy awards.

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I think Femme Fatales is on Netflix. I’m sure I’ve spotted some episodes on YouTube, though I couldn’t say if those are snips, blurry full episodes or fraudulent links to who knows where. (Shouldn’t be surprising that the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ would often use ‘femme fatale’ as a search term.) But complete season DVD sets are available new or good as new for under ten bucks, which fits in nicely with guilty pleasures, which are all the more pleasurable when they’re inexpensive. Are the shows kind of silly? You betcha. But everyone likes to turn off their brain for an occasional half hour, myself included. After all, that’s precisely what guilty pleasures are supposed to be.

 

 

3D Film Noir

Film Noir 3D Style

As a former fine arts major, I can understand traditional media: Prime and stretch a canvas, what mediums to use for what effects in oils, etc. (not that I have much use for any of it since school). Of course, fine arts majors are known to go hungry and end up homeless, so some time was was also wisely spent after graduation in community college night classes to fine tune woefully inadequate software skills…Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and all that jazz. The result: I’m well fed and comfortably housed, and blessed to be doing quite well day-job wise.

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But I never, ever could get my tech-challenged head around the intricacies of 3-D graphics, whether basic CAD for engineering or specialty software for product design, and most definitely not 3D graphics for figures, gaming and CGI film effects. I’m always awe-struck by the work, even the simplest projects. I think I stumbled across these from a link at a DieselPunk site, of all places, but got a real kick out of a how-to manual for 3D graphic designers and artists for Film Noir 3D Style: Back To Black & White. And then within that same gallery, the Film Noir Femme Fatale #D art by ‘Dumor3D’. These were posted back in 2014 at the Daz3D Gallery.

 

Gina Higgins’ American Noir

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“American Noir”, the ongoing series of stunning large format paintings by California artist Gina Higgins, is aptly named. That they’re noir is apparent. But the way they evoke a time, place and ‘feeling’ of a sensual and dark slice of America may be their real power and beauty.

Can you tell I’ve become hooked?

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Gina Higgins may have been born in New Orleans, but she grew up in Los Angeles off Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills. That Los Angeles-Hollywood vibe seems to permeate her work – from film culture to Sunset Boulevard to retro L.A. nightlife. Still a teenager, she took a break from her college education to study and draw abroad in France and Italy (basically like winning the lottery for an art student) then returned to complete her degree, graduating from the University of Southern California Roski School Of Fine Art.

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Early Higgins illustrations became sought after work for clients like Liz Claiborne, Etienne Aigner, MGM, CBS and others, and then in 2009 Higgins began her signature series of large format paintings (acrylics on canvas, if I’ve read the notes right on various sites) that became “American Noir’. Clearly a masterful figurative painter, Higgins doesn’t seem to be content with straightforward representational realism. Her figures and faces are personalized, stylized and manipulated with a skilled hand till they’re kind of one – almost organically – with her semi-surreal settings and backgrounds. I’ve never seen a Gina Higgins painting in the flesh, but something tells me it would make me want to cry.

See next post…

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