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 Dark Side In Color Or B&W.

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Largely self-taught photographer and filmmaker Quentin Shih works out of both New York and Bejing, and clearly has a flair for the dark side, the images sometimes evoking the look and feel of classic film noir, and sometimes indulging in sumptuous (but still deliciously dark) saturated hues for neo-noir homages.

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Sasha’s Anna.

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Some dismiss Luc Bresson films as mindless action movies with a glossy veneer of sexy artsy-ness. To which I’d respond with, “What’s so awful about mindless action movies with a glossy veneer of sexy artsy-ness?”

La Femme Nikita, The Transporter, Lucy, The Professional…not a terrible resume, IMHO. I’ll blame myself for not knowing enough about the cloud of abuse allegations leveled against writer-producer-director Bresson to take a position, much less purge his films from my watch list. And that list includes his well-known projects and some that slipped in and out of theaters pretty quickly.

Sasha Luss stars as 'Anna' in ANNA.

Case in point: Anna, the stylish 2019 action thriller starring Sasha Luss as KGB assassin Anna Poliatova. Real-life fashion model Luss originally aimed to be a professional ballet dancer till she was sidelined by an injury in her tweens, soon turning to modeling (which she still does pretty well at) and then acting, Anna being her second film project. Here she plays a young Russian woman who escapes years of domestic abuse by making a deal with the devil: Undergo grueling KGB training, give them five years, and after that she can go free. Working undercover as a Paris fashion model (a real stretch for Luss), Anna’s particularly good at what she does (kill people) until her cover’s blown. Reluctantly agreeing to become a double agent for the CIA, Anna now faces a dizzying series of double-crosses and betrayals before she finally breaks free…or at least, achieves some sort of fragile truce.

Sasha Luss stars as 'Anna' in ANNA.

Some regard Anna as a derivative and inferior version of Bresson’s own La Femme Nikita (one hell of a film, as was its U.S. adaptation, Point Of No Return). I won’t argue, but I also don’t care. Anna is easy on the eyes, packed full of Luc Bresson’s trademarked action sequences, and even deploys credible costars like Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy and Luke Evans.

Mindless action with a glossy veneer of sexy artsy-ness? Well, yeah..it pretty much is.

And that’s a problem?

Sasha Luss stars as 'Anna' in ANNA.Anna (Sasha Luss, left) and Maud (Lera Above, right) in ANNA.Anna 6

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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(Neon) Neo-Noir Still Lifes

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If you prop a still life photo with a vintage UK edition of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly, you’ll get my attention.

Photographer Maurizio di Lorio shoots commercial assignments for diverse clients including GQ, Vogue, WWD and Elle among others, and has mounted fine art photography exhibitions from Los Angeles to Venice, Italy. Most of his images are incredibly crisp macro close-ups, all of them oozing intensely saturated hues, di Lorio’s figurative work sometimes isolating facial closeups, or more famously (or notoriously) deploying models sporting black or neon-hued opaque legwear, often in surreal or provocative situations.

But it’s di Lorio’s still-life and tabletop shots that caught my eye. Propped with crime genre trinkets like smoldering cigarettes, handguns and cocktails, they’re like glimpses of decidedly non-black & white neo-noir film sets.

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Those Weirdly Empty Streets…

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A little darker out, and it could look like a scene from a dystopian Neo-Noir out there. Well, a snowy dystopia, since that’s what it’s doing at the moment.

The day job’s workplace is obsolete (but recently welcomed) private offices with few outside visitors and mostly network/intercom communication. We’d joked all week that we felt safer and more quarantined at work than at home. Nonetheless, on Thursday we finally voted to transition to work-at-home, and just in time. On Friday afternoon, the Governor issued a stay-at-home order through April 9th, which was to take effect at 5:00 PM Saturday. I spent most of that day setting things up in the writing lair, testing VPN’s, offsite access and group communications in order to be as close to normal come Monday morning.

Though hardly working in anything that could be considered an essential industry, I volunteered to venture out on work assignments Monday. There’ll be no face-to-face contact with anyone, and I figure it’d be nice to still have a job once this is all over (which I’m certain won’t be April 9th). Clients will leave packaged prototypes outside their offices, which I can pick up, then drop off at coworkers’ doors to be worked on. I don’t imagine I’ll have to wrestle with any traffic jams Monday AM, or risk the State Police pulling me over, and plan to hunker down back in the writing lair – make that the home office, now – once I’m done.

Firing up the jalopy on Saturday to run some pre-sheltering errands, I had the run of the roads. The streets were already eerily empty, but that may only be because everyone was jammed into the grocery store parking lots. Don’t hoard? Sure, that admonishment will be heeded in the land of 24-7 sports, Breitbart News and brain-draining reality TV. I hoped to grab a gallon of skim milk, but had to hit four stores to find any milk, eventually doing my best to social-distance in line behind people dragging two and even three over-stuffed grocery carts, as if they were stocking up fallout shelters.

Snicker at me if you like, but I’m one of those dopes who can get teary-eyed at a Memorial Day commemoration or when I hear the national anthem done well. I really do love this country, pre-pandemic tribal insanity and all. But sometimes it’s hard to feel warm-n-fuzzy towards your fellow citizens while watching them wrestle over frozen pizzas.

Stay well, one and all!

Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe Noir Detective

Images: Barry Yanowitz and Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe

Trouble Is My Business.

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Some hard-core film noir enthusiasts could break the bank collecting movie memorabilia. Some, like writer-director-actor Thomas Konkle and cohorts, decide to make their own film noir instead. The result, Trouble Is My Business, is both tribute and pastiche, deadly serious but with a nod and a wink to fellow noir aficionados.

The early to mid-1940’s roots of film noir may start with bigger budgeted crime melodramas starring Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner. But the classic postwar film noir era surely counts many more projects with a little less prestige, made for a lot less money and not always through the major studios. Not every 40’s/50’s noir was directed by the likes of Billy Wilder or Fritz Lang. Paraphrasing some genre luminaries, those involved didn’t realize they were making ‘film noir’, only cranking out low-budget crime flicks on tight schedules. The dark, shadowy look we cherish today was sometimes no more than a convenient way to mask underpropped sets and over-familiar backlot locations.

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Consider Thomas Konkle’s Trouble Is My Business an earnest love letter to those noir cult faves, the film’s look betraying its tighter-than-tight budget, but happy to overlook it in classic B-movie style. Cowritten by Konkle with Brittney Powell, directed by Konkle, and produced by Konkle along with Michael Smith, Trouble Is My Business drops us right in the middle of the very time and place the film pays tribute to: Los Angeles in 1947. There, down on his luck private eye Roland Drake (played by director co-writer Konkle himself) sees a chance for redemption – which, in classic noir style, will inevitably lead him into something more sinister – with the fetching Montemar sisters: First with lovely Katherine, who winds up dead after she and Drake wind up in bed…and then with femme fatale Jennifer Montemar. Both roles are played by Brittney Powell, relying on a wig and her performance as a disguise.

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Noir tropes and clichés abound, from crafty dialog to the SoCal location shots and a memorably nasty thug with a badge. Brimming with noir-stereotype scenes and set-ups, Trouble Is My Business also indulges viewers with a glimpse of what went really on behind closed doors in those 40’s/50’s era films which were still made under the swiftly disintegrating production code. But to the film’s credit, Konkle and Powell get the screen sizzling a bit without going for the cheap shots.

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I don’t know what you get with downloads or online viewing. The Trouble Is My Business‘ deluxe’ DVD set comes with both color and black and white versions. Assuming it was shot in color and converted to B&W, like so many television series’ retro-noir novelty episodes, it’s interesting to see both and then to compare the B&W version to postwar noir classics…the well-funded and poverty row titles as well. I’m no cinematographer, and can’t even shoot a decent still-photo to save my life with a phone or camera. But to my inexpert eye, the oldies exhibit richer, deeper darks and more striking haloed lighting effects than contemporary equipment can manage. But then, maybe it’s precisely that dark magic achieved 60-70 years ago that drove enthusiasts like Thomas Konkle, Brittney Powell, the actors and crew to create an earnest homage like Trouble Is My Business.

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https://troubleismybusinessfilmnoir.tumblr.com

Femmes Fatales, Globally.

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Photographer Nikola Borissov hails from Bulgaria but spends more time in Bangkok, Shanghai, Thailand or his home base in Milan, Italy (while wintering in Cape Town South Africa, apparently). Not sure if he cultivated a flair for the darkly decadent in Sofia’s studios, the shores of the Black Sea, the Indian or Pacific Oceans, but Borissov does seem to have a keen eye for framing femmes fatales as seen in these images and those in a prior post, No Honor Among Thieves.

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No Honor Among Thieves.

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It should be so simple: Here are the gems. Now, where’s my money? Greed gets you nowhere except dead on a lonely rooftop in nowheresville, like this foolhardy fence, who obviously didn’t know just who he was tangling with…

By Bulgarian photographer Nikola Borissov.

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