70’s Decadence

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From Vs. magazine’s Fall-Winter 2014/15 issue, an intriguing homage to all that’s decadent in fashion photography – bad boy Helmut Newton, badder-girl Ellen Von Unwerth, and a nod to the 1978 erotic crime thriller Eyes Of Laura Mars (more about that guilty pleasure weird-fest of a flick at thestilettogumshoe.com later…count on it).

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The photo suite’s introductory copy explains: “In the cult movie Eyes Of Laura Mars, Faye Dunaway plays a photographer who can see through the eyes of a killer. Here, our cover girl Uma Thurman – a modern-day Dunaway – embodies the thriller’s title role and pays homage to its seductive 70’s styling and provocative imagery (the movie featured stills by Helmut Newton). Who better to capture this iconic marriage of fashion and film than Newton’s seminal successor, Ellen Von Unwerth?”

Well, I’ve seen Von Unwerth get both saucier and nastier than these, and the staged photo shoots, stills and grisly murders in the 1978 film pushed the limits for the time, presaging a host of disturbing visuals soon to populate countless VHS tapes in the ‘erotic thriller’ craze of the early 80’s. But Von Unwerth and Thurman captured some vintage decadence here, to be sure.

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Do Not Disturb

do not disturb by devotchka

The sign on the hotel room doorknob may read ‘Do Not Disturb’, but I’m betting she’s going to ignore that. She could be a ‘stiletto gumshoe’, or could just be a jealous spouse or girlfriend in this nifty photo called (not surprisingly) “Do Not Disturb”, by Devotchka.

The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown - Richie Fahey Cover art

There’s a long list of George Pelecanos’ projects that I adore: Novels, short stories, television scripts.

But my favorite remains The Big Blowdown, his 1999 tale of two Washington DC friends (including Nick Stefanos, the Pelecanos character who’s crossed-over into more than one project) set in a post-WWII world of realistically drawn blue-collar Greek neighborhoods filled with rich renderings of everyday people who live and work alongside the small-time mobsters who really run things. Some have compared Pelecanos’ early novels to James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, and I won’t argue. They share a spare yet darkly poetic writing style and focus on a specific time, place and cast of characters. How he continues to create excellent books while concurrently working as a writer/producer for high-visibility projects like The Wire, The Pacific and The Deuce among others is beyond me. A person can only do so much. Somehow, Pelecanos does still more.

For me, this particular novel has been a kind of tutorial on how a master wordsmith handles an ethnic milieu, something I’m working with (different ethnicity, but still) in my own projects. Obviously, Pelecanos does it better than many, and better than anything I could ever hope for.

The Big Blowdown will get a careful re-read someday. I’ll just need to give it some time so I can forget the specifics and discover it all anew. As an aside, the nifty Richie Fahey cover art on my well-worn trade pb edition shown above doesn’t hurt.

Don’t Talk To Strangers In Cars

Gwen Stefani by Michelangelo Battista

Sound advice: Don’t approach a car idling at the curb and don’t talk to strangers. Especially a stranger leaning out of the driver’s side window who looks as menacing as singer Gwen Stefani does in this retro-styled image from fashion photographer Michelangelo Battista.

More About Gina Higgins’ American Noir…

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(See preceding post)

An admitted fan of what I choose to call ‘noir culture’, I’ve long been enamored with not only the classics of American film noir cinema, but noir-ish themes in everything from crime fiction novels to postwar paperback cover illustrations, neo-noir comics to noir-ish narrative style fashion photography. I suspect that in this, California artist Gina Higgins and I may share some interests (or in her case, influences). But take note: There’s more evidence of Hitchcock and David Lynch at work here than Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

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Yes, the work is inspired by, evokes or perhaps even celebrates the iconography, cultural cues and tropes of traditional Film Noir, but seems more rooted in the look and feel of hepcat Rat-Pack era nightlife with all of its undercurrent of danger and dark sensuality. The over-used and often mis-appropriated symbols of so-called noir culture (or lets call them what they sometimes are: Clichés) are missing here. Her paintings are remarkably free of fat-fendered cars, wide-brimmed fedoras, snub-nose revolvers and revealing glimpses of stocking tops, the go-to memes many artists and photographers reach for when they want to telegraph something vaguely ‘noir’. This is the American Noir of 77 Sunset Strip, Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddel, pre-Camelot nightspots where dark romance might be found, and garish neon lights may only illuminate lusts unleashed, or unfulfilled.

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Check out more of Gina Higgins’ work at americannoirpaintings.com, where you’ll also find Giclee prints of her paintings and a handsome looking artist’s monograph book. I already ordered mine, though I’m guessing it’s a POD book, so I won’t receive it till late this month.

“American Noir”…Gina Higgins work really is precisely that.

G Higgins Artist Book

American Noir Paintings Dot Com

https://americannoirpaintings.com

Gina Higgins’ American Noir

Kiss Me Deadly G Higgins

“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.

Insomnia G Higgins

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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Mister Cool

Ezekiel Easy Rawlins

Mister Cool: I mean, he just is. And never more so than in this film that was a gem to many critics but a flop at the box office for some reason. Denzel Washington strikes a pose as Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins from the 1995 film adaptation of Walter Mosley’s first published novel Devil In A Blue Dress (1990).

The Dame Was Trouble

The Dame Was Trouble

I like to juggle two books at once: A ‘main read’ kept at home for long sessions in the evening and on the weekend, but also another kept in my briefcase or in the car to nibble away at with on-the-go morning coffee stops, waiting for appointments during the workday or even occasional (and indulgent) on-the-way-home coffee stops. And though I don’t really read all that many anthologies and story collections, the fact is they’re ideal for the portable reads, a better alternative, perhaps to all-too-frequently disappointing Kindle ‘commuter’ reads.

An anthology in the car right now is The Dame Was Trouble – A Collection Of The Best Female Crime Writers Of Canada from Coffin Hop Press, edited by Sarah L. Johnson with Halli Liburn and Cat MacDonald. I read about this book at shekillslit.com and looked for it right away. It’s a handsome trade paperback, just shy of 400 pages with stories from sixteen Canadian women writers, including NYT best-selling author Kelly Armstrong, who kicks the anthology off with an absolutely delightful period private eye tale done with a twist, “Indispensible”, which reminded me of Linda L. Richards’ Kitty Panghorne series (see a previous post here about her novel Death Was The Other Woman). Hermine Robinson’s “A Cure For The Common Girl” was a terrific and trashy Calgary-set contemporary ‘ex-urban’ noir. What’s your pleasure? This anthology has lethal ladies from law enforcement as well as the law-breakers, dangerous dames both young and old, straight and not, and in Canadian settings as well as locales that could be…well, anywhere. I’ve only completed four stories so far, looking forward to a fifth in the early-AM coffee-to-go darkness en route to work tomorrow, but the first fourth of the book sure has been a treat. Check it out.

This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us.

this bodys not big enough

Bestselling author Edgar Cantero has written one heck of an unusual novel with This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us. It’s ‘the worst case of sibling rivalry’, as the inside flap teases.

The office door says ‘A. Kimrean & Z. Kimrean, Private Eyes’. But the pair aren’t husband and wife, father and son or mother and daughter. In fact, there’s only one desk inside with one chair behind it, and that’s for the scrawny, androgynous gumshoe who goes by A.Z. – twin brother and sister Adrian and Zooey, genetic chimeras who inhabit the very same body.

A 30+ page opening that plays with the hard-boiled crime novel cliché of a fetching femme fatale type showing up to enlist A.Z.’s assistance is a bit of challenge to adapt to, surely enough to put off fans of a traditionally plotted and written story. But get past that portion, and a rollicking good time awaits. Oh, there’s a ‘mystery’, and there’s crime, enough of both to satisfy any mystery/crime fiction fan, provided they aren’t looking for a straightforward whodunit. Cantero, from Barcelona Spain but residing these days in Brooklyn, toys with narrative conventions, honors and rips apart genre tropes and pokes fun at clichés. The tone is smart-assed and insouciant right from page one – right from the opening lines, in fact — and never really lets up.

And a nod to designer Michael J. Windsor’s for the striking dustjacket design, which lists images sourced from no less than eight photographers, reworked into a truly eye-catching bit of vector art and graphic design. This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us is a bit different, no question, but a lot of fun.

this bodys not big enough back cover

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