Thank You, Mr. Hammett.

dashiell hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett, born this day, May 27thin 1894, passed away in 1961, and what else can someone like me say but a very large thank you to one of the creators of hard-boiled detective fiction and this thing I like to think of as ‘noir culture’.

dashiell hammett books

Stuck At Home? Then Go To Noir City.

Noir City 1It’s not like I didn’t see it coming: Shelter-at-home, non-essential businesses closed temporarily, etc. It’s just that the day job was in its normal busy time of year, well underway prior to the shutdowns and continuing during the transition to work-at-home. I may have been prepared with groceries in the fridge and a full tank of gas (should I just skip the thing about the cigarette carton stash?), but I hadn’t been to the library, hadn’t been in a bookstore and hadn’t even done a quick online order of any books – new or old – in the days leading up to the sudden switch to hermit status. The to-be-read stack on the writing lair’s endtable had whittled down some. It’s not like I don’t have shelves of beloved treasures that could do with a re-read, but still…

So, it was a double delight to see the new Spring 20202 Noir City e-magazine Number 28 appear in my in-box.

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Now I’m not kidding about being busy with the day job. Even routine tasks seem to take twice as long as they do in-office, where simple face-to-face questions and approvals take no more than a moment, but now require email barrages. No complaints, mind you. When the news is filled with startling stats like 1 in 10 Americans filing for Unemployment last week and even 1 in 4 laid-off, furloughed or weathering hours cutbacks, I’m thrilled to be working. But with time at a premium, I haven’t read a single word of this new Noir City issue yet. Still, a quick scroll through the pages (drooling the entire time) assured me this is another terrific issue from Vince Keenan and Steve Kronenberg, and as always, a visual treat from Art Director Michael Kronenberg.

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Craving some dark delights in the midst of endless dismal news? Get thee to the Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more, become a contributor and to get your mitts on the Noir City e-magazine. Just try to visit there and not end up wanting something: Back issues, festival posters, whatever. Hey, if we can’t spend money in stores right now, we can unload a few bucks on something of real value for noir culture enthusiasts…and I know there are more than a few of you reading this.

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/aboutnoircity.html

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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It’s A Hard-Boiled World: Noir Of Many Colors.

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When it comes to publishers, I tend to think of Tor as all about SF/Fantasy/Horror, though of course I ought to know better. Aside from skimming the spines lined up on my own bookshelves, I’ll point to their site/blog at www.tor.com, which I follow via BlogLovin’, and enthusiastically endorse. There’s a lot of interesting reading to be found there, in addition to the usual new release info and promotional content.

Case in point: Award winning short story writer and Southeast Asia scholar T.R. Napper’s recent “Hardboiled World: Four Creative Noir Traditions From Around The Globe” (link below). Napper explains in his opening, “I spent three years of my doctorate defining noir and its direct descendant, cyberpunk, and their representations in film and literature outside the U.S. – in particular Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Viet Nam.” Citing Noir scholar Phillipa Lovatt, Napper points out how this thing called ‘noir’ was trans-national from its inception, rooted in everything from German expressionism to French poetic realism and, of course, American hard-boiled pulp fiction. So, Napper looks at noir archetypes from gunslingers to private eyes and their expressions in global noir culture, in particular in Asian film and literature, ranging from apocalyptic noir to what he calls ‘Sunshine Noir’ and more.

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Yes, ‘noir’ simply means black, but it really means so much more, doesn’t it? And, so much more than simply a group of 1940’s – 1950’s Hollywood crime melodramas with visibly dark looks and unrelentingly bleak narratives. Could Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton and their kin have foreseen what I like to think of as ‘Noir Culture’, or noir-homages like L.A. Confidential, neo-noir like The Last Seduction or dystopian noir like Blade Runner when penning their genre-defining articles 60 and 70 years ago?

Sounds silly to say ‘noir of many colors’, but in a way, it’s true. This thing called noir comprises everything from the post-WWII classic film noir era, along with the countless gritty (sometimes saucy) and hard-boiled detective, mystery and crime novels from that same era’s paperback originals (along with the dwindling number of similar short fiction works from the fast-shrinking pulp fiction marketplace). But the aesthetics and the themes from those stories, books and films have since been reimagined, repurposed and otherwise appropriated in films and novels, but also fine arts, comics/graphic novels, fashion photography and even music, resulting in an ever widening (and increasingly tribal) collection of noir subsets: rural noir, desert noir, femme noir, neo-noir, dystopian noir and on and on. The tropes and themes cross borders, adopted by artists, writers and filmmakers in non-U.S. markets and often in entirely different and inventive ways. Admittedly, some creatives merely extrapolate clichés with little understanding of what the genre – if it is one – is really all about. Black & white images outfitted in double-breasted pinstripes and hats with netted veils, propped with venetian blinds and fat-fendered cars, populated by thugs spouting cartoonish Brooklynese and sultry femmes fatales hiding .22’s in their purses – that’s all enough to evoke vague notions of noir for many. Meanwhile, others adopt the isolation, fatalism, anti-heroism and doomed romance of the genre’s film and fiction roots and reinvent those themes in entirely new ways and for new audiences, often discarding the stereotypical iconography altogether.

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T.R. Napper’s Tor.com article is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the scope of this thing called ‘noir’, but as good a place to start as any other, like looking at noir classics through another culture’s viewpoint, or tracing an artistic line from 1947’s Dead Reckoning to Ellen von Unwerth’s photography, Gina Higgins’ gallery paintings or Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comics. Pop over to Napper’s piece to think a bit about the many ‘colors’ of noir and the far-reaching span of global noir. If nothing else, it might be your first time reading about ‘samurai noir’.

https://www.tor.com/2020/02/19/hardboiled-world-four-creative-noir-traditions-from-around-the-globe/

 

Noir Is Where You Find It.

shaun mcguan taylor swift

“Noir” is where you find it, and it’s not always cloaked in shadowy lighting or filtered through hazy cigarette smoke. The darkness won’t always part to reveal wide-brimmed fedoras shading square jawed private eyes, or purse sized pistols wielded by fetching femme fatales. No, this thing we call “noir” – film noir, neo-noir, domestic noir, rural noir, L.A. Noir, femme noir, whatever noir — is something much more than just all the visual trappings of classic film noir or the pulps, paperback mysteries and crime comics from the same era, or the reimagined pastiches and homages produced since.

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I was reminded of this when I scrolled past a Tumblr post at the always intriguing comics and art blog Dirty River (link below) with its repost from artist Shawn McGuan’s Tumblr blog (link also below), showing off his illustration (the terrific art shown at the top of this post) for a Tidal article, “The Delectable Neo-Noir of Taylor Swift” by Alex Segura (and again, link below). If I’d bothered to check my email that morning, I’d have already seen a link to the Tidal article at my 8.24.19 Crime Reads e-newsletter.

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Alex Segura’s essay begins: “Revenge. Betrayal. Bad blood and knives in the back. Getaway cars, heists gone wrong…these aren’t potential plot threads for a treacherous crime novel. They’re references to songs by Taylor Swift, a beloved pop princess who’s built a name with her catchy, teen-friendly and seemingly All-American odes to lost love and shaking it off. But there’s more to America’s sweetheart…a complex, layered, conflicted character who could easily saunter in front of a film noir’s monochrome and stark stylish camera.”

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A Taylor Swift expert I’m not. Diana Krall, Beethoven, Joan Jett — those I know, which tells you how screwed up my musical tastes are. But you’d have to be a hermit not to have heard Swift’s music or surfed past her award show performances, each treated like an event. Arriving at the day job’s Friday morning’s staff meeting, for instance, a coworker was being teased for not getting enough sleep Thursday night, everyone but me presuming the dedicated Taylor Swift fan stayed up to get and then give a few listens to Swift’s brand-new album Lover, a midnight release.

It takes more than a pop star – particularly one who started out as a teenage country & western sensation – donning saucy thigh-highs for a duet with Madonna, performing in some provocative cinematic style music videos or sidling up to a bar in a slit dress for Vanity Fair (which is where the 2015 photos for this post all came from, BTW) to make her a purveyor of anything we’d label noir or even neo-noir. But as Alex Segura points out in his essay, “The driving force that propels all noir stories can be summed up with one word: desire…the best works of noir also feature ostensibly good people forced or tempted to do bad things – then dealt some harsh consequences they can’t recover from”.

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I love the clichés, stereotypes and tropes of classic noir and get a kick out of their redeployment in contemporary neo-noir. But I know full well that the genre – if it is one – isn’t comprised of props, wardrobes, sets and lighting cues. Probing further than the mere look of noir films, crime pulp magazine illustrations and 1950’s private eye paperback covers is what leads us into the dark netherworld of noir, a grim place filled with larceny, lust, greed, amorality, vapid evil and small hope for redemption or escape. Yum. Let me buy my ticket now, please.

So, Taylor Swift as a noir princess instead of just a princess of pop? Well, when you read Alex Segura’s article, you may just agree. Not because of some provocative photo shoots or music videos, but because of the themes in so many of her songs and the canny word-smithing she employs to convey them.

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Check out Alex Segura’s article. No one’s trying to convert you into a Taylor Swift pop music fan, least of all me. But for dedicated mystery/crime fiction fans and what might be called noir culture enthusiasts, it’s always good to ponder what makes “noir”…well, noir, even when it challenges our notions of what the genre really is.

And while you’re at it, take a look at Dirty River and Shawn McGuan’s blog, though I’ll be posting a few of McGuan’s pieces here shortly, and it isn’t the first time he’s shown up at The Stiletto Gumshoe.

https://dirtyriver.tumblr.com/

https://mcgone.tumblr.com/

http://read.tidal.com/article/neo-noir-of-taylor-swift

Tu Bei’s Noir Series

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Tu Bei is a US concept artist and illustrator, with an array of gorgeous and diverse work to be viewed at Art Of Tu — artoftu.com. Here are just a few examples, above a character design concept, and below, three pieces from Tu Bei’s “Noir Series”.

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Thirteen Days Overdue (And It’s Lace)

Rap Sheet LogoShame on me, but this is thirteen days overdue.

A heartfelt (belated) congratulations to J. Kingston Pierce on the thirteenth anniversary of The Rap Sheet Blog at therapsheet.blogspot.com (link below). The blog began on May 22nd, Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, appropriately enough, and since has showcased over 7,500 posts with over 6.3 million page views.

The Rap Sheet and CrimeReads are my primary mystery/crime fiction genre and noir culture resources, providing timely news and acting as vital jumping off points to learn more about so many different writers, books, films, artists and much more. For that, a great big thank you to The Rap Sheet!

So, I checked to see what a thirteenth anniversary is. You know, paper for the first, silver for the 25th, gold for the 50th and so on. There are some pretty weird ones, and several online wedding anniversary gift charts left a few years blank altogether. But all showed lace for a thirteenth anniversary. Now I’m at work at the moment with no lace handy, and I’m not about to go desk to desk to see who could help. Surely someone’s lacy somewhere today, but it won’t be appearing here. So we’ll have to make do with some vintage Alan Geoffrey Yates – AKA Carter Brown – and three editions of The Black Lace Hangover (which is, after all, a pretty cool title).

https://therapsheet.blogspot.com

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.

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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