(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The day job’s workplace is obsolete (but recently welcomed) private offices with few outside visitors and mostly network/intercom communication.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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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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Crewe’s Film Noir Series

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Canadian photographer David J. Crewe, currently residing in Chicago, made the leap into photography from business, also serving in officer roles in the ASMP and Professional Photographers of America. Apparently this “Film Noir Series” was cooked up by Crewe and some friends while in San Diego for a charity event, tapping some pals to serve as models (one of whom worked for a suit company and could help with wardrobe), the entire project completed in just 48 hours.

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Bahner’s Hand-Colored Femmes-Noir.

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German photographer and photo-artist Bertram Bahner may be better known in some circles by his “Kim Anderson” brand name, which he used for a long running series of charming hand-colored black & white children’s photos, popular in posters, prints and licensed to greeting cards. Born in 1959, Bahner originally worked in advertising and fashion photography, his sometimes provocative black & white images catching the eye of Verkerke Reproukties, a Dutch art print, poster and greeting card conglomerate. By the mid-1990’s, Bahner had begun photographing his own children, hand coloring the prints (a truly dying art now in a digital photography/Photoshop era) and moved to Switzerland to pursue that work full-time.

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But his distinctive hand-colored work graces some wonderfully neo-noirish images from his earlier advertising, editorial and fashion work, like these shown here. ‘Femmes Fatales’ indeed, and a visual reminder of how brimmed hats are such an integral part of femme-noir iconography.

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3 Days To Kill

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Luc Bresson’s 2014 3 Days To Kill was Kevin Costner’s movie, but sometimes it’s not the film’s lead that sticks with you. And though talented actors like Connie Nielsen and Hailee Steinfeld co-star, it’s Amber Heard’s portrayal of lethal CIA assassin Vivi Delay that really lingered with me.

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Costner plays aging CIA agent Ethan Renner, skilled but no longer at the top of his game, especially when he misses the chance to take out a ruthless international arms trafficker. Diagnosed with a terminal disease, Costner hopes to use his remaining days to reconnect with his wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) who’ve never known the truth about his dangerous double-life, only that their husband and father was never there for them. But Heard’s Vivi Delay presents Costner with a bargain: A potentially life-saving experimental drug in exchange for his help to finally take down the criminal arms trafficking network.

3 Days To Kill 3Fun action-thriller chases, shootouts and explosions ensue, with Costner’s wife and daughter in jeopardy, all leading to a climactic kill-the-bad-guy scene…that chore finally falling to Heard’s Delay. Once the dust settles, it looks like Costner’s reconciled to spending his final days making amends with his wife and daughter. But Heard’s Vivi Delay looks on as he receives the final dose of the life-saving drug.

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Silly stuff? Sure it is. But 3 Days To Kill managed to make money even though it was far from a critical favorite. It’s not a ‘big’ film and employs many bigger-budgeted action films’ setups and tricks, and it may even leave you wondering where Liam Neeson is.

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But as I noted, it’s Amber Heard that stuck with me, even if I’m not exactly sure what made CIA assassin Vivi Delay who she is. Heard’s dedicated trainee, then cool and methodical operative, then decadent femme fatale and, finally, lethal killer (but with a soft spot?) sports various looks and sometimes may not make a lick of sense. But each of her character’s personas were a treat to watch, for me at least, and thus, so was the film, critics be damned.

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