“If I knew you were coming I’d have set fire to the place.”

Film Noir

I love Film Noir. As a child, I spent many a summer’s day ensconced in a darkened room watching old movies in the middle of the day – a time when very few watched TV in those days – and the ‘unpopular’ stuff was shown; old black and white films, public information films, or in some instances, a potters wheel! (Yes kids, British TV had a black and white film of a lump of clay, and we watched it!)

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Murder My Sweet

Film Noir is an extension of the Gangster film; Gangster films had been seen less on the screen and returned as this genre; re-categorised by critics. However, most of their appeal came after they were made, not the time they were made. The main influence came from France around pre- WWII. French critics coined the phrase ‘Film Noir’, Black Film; seen as crime, mystery’s, melodramas. Beginning with a small group of films such as : “The Killers”, 1946 and “Double Indemnity”, 1944.
As time progressed more films fell under the heading Film Noir; it is a flexible category.

From the late 1970s onwards saw a Neo Noir revival, with Noirish elements: “Body Heat”, 1981 and “Basic Instinct”, 1992 and the animated “Sin City”, 2005.

But for this essay, I’m focusing only on the older style.
In 1940s America everything was in short supply; film, batteries, even writers, so the film makers looked to pulp fiction for new ideas.
Many of the films were made by European émigrés; escaping from Nazi German oppression. In a time of darkness created by Hitler, film makers, technicians and writers on the run from Europe, brought their style with them. There wouldn’t have been Film Noir without WWII. There was an influx of immigrants to America and they brought ‘German Expressionism’ a style with skewed angles and dark style. The Nazi figures were transformed into gangsters in the films. In the 60s and 70s – people started to see them as Art films, not just popular money makers. “Big Heat”, 1953, by Fritz Lange is now regarded as an Artistic Film Noir.

What makes a Gangster film a Noir film?
There are strong psychological themes present, women of character, complicated plot lines. It is a world mostly devoid of children. Unhappy worlds, dark, urban more so than gangster films, the characters are trapped by their environment. Described by one critic as a “Dark American place with a fancy name”. Noir films were not the property of one studio, it had it’s own rules. Though the films are black and white, the characters are often groping around in a fog, things are not black and white in decision making, European music add to the tension; threat, danger. For an American audience in this period, this was all pretty dark stuff.

Who populates these films?
Everyone is bent, men women, and coppers: the heroine is a predator even when the victim, often a blonde, a femme fatale, desirable, sexy, untrustworthy, and slutty. The hero is her lunch and usually knows it. Women get their power through sexuality. Robert Mitchum in “Out of The Past”, 1947, is a typical Noir hero. The hero often has been to war, has some psychosis, they are hapless. Bogart’s characters often cannot connect, even when they are in love. Men and women in Noir never reach the daylight in their lives. Real men get to show their softer side with these women, without appearing weak. Men were manipulated, women were dodgy and manipulative. Many well known actors and actresses emerged in this period, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, to name a few. Women emerge in their own right post war, reflecting the social changes. Men were damaged by wartime experiences; Post traumatic Stress Disorder; in the film “Blue Dahlia”, 1946, the ‘hero’ is a harmless guy, returned from war, everyone likes him, but he’s a serial killer. There is often a simmering tension between the hero and female, we watch a verbal tennis match going on between them, sometimes they might never even get that first kiss. The best example of this witty, sultry banter can be most often seen between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart (who became a couple off screen too); full of euphemism and innuendo.

What does it look like?
Dark! Mostly urban. Cigarettes, rainy streets, shadows, lipstick, guns. There is little or no sunlight in these films; lighting carves up the scene and the faces with chiaroscuro. Shadows are tall and menacing to enhance the atmosphere. Many cinematographers had been filming in the war effort and brought back with them elements of that, in the mid 1950s they began to make the films more realistic.

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The Blue Dahlia

Why do we like them?
The audience appeal lies in that the films mostly take place in an ordinary environment; previous films such as Westerns took themselves off to deserts and canyons; not places the audience regularly inhabited so had less to relate to. But in Noir, the people have adventures; we see their unhappiness so we feel better; one could reflect that, at least my life isn’t that bad. Male viewers see quiet men, strong men who can take care of themselves, when required, who yet fall for the charms of the femme fatale. Female viewers were suddenly exposed to female characters who could often stand up for themselves; not the helpless little wifey this one. There was a kind of glamour portrayed in the dialogue, the male/female relationships and clothing.

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Little Caesar 1931

What should I watch if I have never seen Film Noir?
Out of the Past 1947/ Sweet Smell of Success 1957/ Double Indemnity 1944/ The Big Sleep 1946/The Maltese Falcon 1941/ Sunset Boulevard 1950/ Murder my Sweet 1944/Gun Crazy 1950/ T-Men 1948/ Touch of Evil 1958/ Stranger on the Third Floor 1940/ Sweet Smell of Success 1957/ Gilda 1946/ Kiss Me deadly 1955.

Famous Lines.
Noir is also famous for its dialogue and snappy lines. Much dialogue, especially in Philip Marlowe films (Raymond Chandler author) is really funny – but ain’t nobody laughing. Here’s a few you might like to use!

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Bogart and Bacall perfect power play.

 

Keep on riding me and they’re going to be picking iron out of your liver.” Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon.

“Okay Marlowe,” I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.” Philip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet.

You know what he’ll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.” Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.

Johnny: “Doesn’t it bother you at all that you’re married?”
Gilda: “What I want to know is, does it bother you?” Johnny and Gilda in Gilda.

“With my brains and your looks, we could go places.” Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

“I wouldn’t give you the skin off a grape.” Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death.

Well, you’re about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.” Debby Marsh in The Big Heat.

All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep

 

And now…. We have Nordic Noir – the name given to the new literature, TV and film we see more and more now with programmes like “The Killing”, from Denmark and Sweden.
You might also like “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, the Film Noir parody starring Steve Martin, which you could class as Comedy Noir, I suppose, if such a thing exists!

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Steve Martin is Rigby Reardon in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

“To say goodbye is to die a little.” ― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
So I will say, adieu until next time.

*Title from The Killers.

*Books: “Public Enemy: Public Heroes” by Jonathan Mumby

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Who Wants To Save The World?

 

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NASA is hiring a Planetary Protection Officer to protect Earth from alien harm!!

Apparently, NASA is currently looking for a Planetary Protection Officer to defend planet Earth from the threat of invading alien life!! True.

This is actually real government job! But before you get all excited, here’s what it’s really about – NASA needs a scientist to help fight alien life —but it is microscopic! The Planetary Protection Officer will be in charge of keeping our space exploration equipment free of contamination; from  earth microbes and also microscopic organisms from outer space that may be attached to returning equipment.

Oh, so a ‘cleaner’ then?

It got me thinking about what use I would be in a world that REALLY needed a Planetary Protection Officer. I have been a fan of science fiction stories for as long as I can remember.

I had comics and annuals of The Fantastic Four when I was a little kid. I grew up on a diet of Star Trek and Doctor Who. I love films like Contact (Jodie Foster) and Netflix series like The Expanse. And I suppose like many of us do, I place myself in the role of one of the characters; not always the MC, main character, when watching – it’s what makes us root for them.

I never wanted to be Captain Kirk, or Lieutenant Spock, strangely, I most aligned myself with Khan Noonien Singh.  Khan was a genetically engineered human from the late 20th century. He only wanted a place of his own – he was a major player in the Eugenics Wars, tried to take over The Enterprise – but was left, stranded on a planet that was toxic, his true love died and Khan blamed Kirk for the rest of his life. I know, I know, not entirely a nice chap, but I couldn’t help feel sorry for him.

“Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish best served cold? Well…it is very cold in space!”

~ Khan to Captain Kirk


Later we had the redoubtable Captain Jean-Luc Picard and then Captain Kathryn Janeway. It took me a while to like Janeway, but when I did, I committed fully – but I never wanted to be her. I don’t think I am Captain material; even in my wildest fantasies. But was he, Khan, born bad or made that way?!

I think most of us fantasise the ‘if I could be…’ scenario when we watch films or read books. Super hero films being the most obvious. How many times have you had or overheard the ‘nerd’ conversation – “So, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

I haven’t got a clue – or didn’t have until I watched Heroes. Remember that one?

It was about ordinary people around the world discovering that they have super powers. Their lives intertwine as they work together to prevent a catastrophic future; who can forget ‘Save the Cheerleader, Save the World’? All the characters had a single superpower – except the evil guy whose ability was stealing everyone else’s – Sylar, played by Zachary Quinto, who late went on to be Spock! There was another character, Peter Petrelli who was a Paramedic, he was able to absorb other people’s abilities after touching them, albeit for a short while. So my chosen power is the ability to absorb powers from others (by Peter or Sylar’s methods! See! It’s Khan all over again!)

Among the Superhero canon, my all-time favourite was Batman. Who actually has no super powers, but was a billionaire highly trained physically and with ‘all the best toys’. Recently, my decades old devotion to the batty one has shifted – I still love him, still want to be him, but there’s a ‘new kid’ on the block for me – Deadpool. He is witty, tough, unpredictable, indestructible! Who wouldn’t want this? Oh, his face is a mess, like scary Halloween night in an abattoir mess, so he has to wear the mask. Would he ever work for NASA? I don’t think so. Would he ever fight to save the world from aliens, sure, if there was something in it for him I suppose. That something is his girlfriend, Deadpool after all, is a romantic; a scary, loopy, kick-ass romantic, but a romantic none the less. I think that’s what would drive him to save mankind.

But what about the ordinary folk, I hear you say, what about those who have no ‘special abilities’ and want to help save planet Earth from those pesky space invaders? I.E: YOU and ME? What sort of people will we need? Thinkers?  Muscle?  Builders? Carers? I know we need them all, but for the sake of my stupid argument, and in keeping with stories; there is only ever 1 hero, who will it be?

Some ideas for ‘ordinary’ people  – (other defenders of Earth are available)

Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games

Sherlock Holmes – Sherlock

Lyra Belacqua – His Dark Materials

Lara Croft – Tomb Raider

James Bond – James Bond

Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Rupert Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Frodo Baggins – The Lord of the Rings

Peter Quill – Guardians of the Galaxy

Rincewind the Wizaard [sic] – Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Evelyn  ‘Evie’ Carnahan – The Mummy

I am surprised to see not one but 2 librarians in there, plus a librarians assistant (Rincewind, he never mastered wizardry and so helps out The Librarian – an orangutan)

 

‘I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am… I am a librarian.’

~Evie Carnahan, The Mummy

 

Forget the words of Bonnie Tyler – “I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night” or Tina Turner – “We don’t need another hero,”

Let the ‘little people’ be the hero’s (Good grief, I sound like something from Team America!)

Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a hero? How about the protector of mankind? If you had to choose a non superhero to be our Planetary Protection Officer  who or what would you be?! And why?

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No pressure!

 

Female is not a Genre

Imagine that you’re an alien. Imagine that you’re so huge, (no, huger).

That you can see all that is going on down on planet Earth. Wouldn’t you begin to wonder, why those creatures that walk upright, are divided into, what appears to be two camps? Look at them,*points, they seem to be the ones in charge, you might think. And those *points, they seem to be as capable as those others, but get less recognition, rewards and status than the first ones. How weird.

What, we wonder, keeps these creatures in this apparently, permanent state of conflict and division, oppression and submission?

Hmmm, Men and Women, what a conundrum; not saying I have the answer folks, if I did have a wand to change things…boy, there’d be some sorry asses I can tell you (FOR I AM A VENGEFUL GOD!)

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Galadriel; Elf, Storm Queen, Helper of Hobbits

 

I have been around a while (hey! Less of the ageist jokes!), and admittedly there have been some changes and redress of balance; female leaders, female presenters on TV and Radio, women doing ‘men’s’ jobs, men doing ‘women’s’ work. (I personally am blessed to be married to a man who truly knows what equality is, he cooks better than I do, so does 99.9% of it, he changed baby nappies as much as I did. He does the same amount of shopping and housework as I do.)

But are we anywhere near parity?

Don’t get me wrong, I know my life is so much better than my mothers, or my grandmothers. And there are inroads into traditionally male dominated careers, but when I see something in the media  that is attempting to say – ‘look here’s a woman who can play football/lift a spanner/throw a ball/play a guitar’ etcetera, etcetera, it usually comes with the ‘hidden’ adjunct, ‘as good as a man’.

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Sana Mir; Captain of Pakistan ‘female’ cricket team
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Casey Stoney (MBE); England women’s football.

 

Why can’t women be that thing without referencing men? There was a horrible period when the creative industries adopted feminised versions of career description, and so we had Actress, Comedienne, and the worst – Authoress!!! Now we say things like, female footballer, The England  female cricket team, female band, lady doctor! Yes! Really, I hear people on buses, even my own parents saying that they had to go to the GP/Hospital and saw a ‘lady doctor’.  Why cannot a writer be a writer, regardless of gender?

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Emma Watson; Actress and Wizardress. Make that Witch!

Anyone who thinks Feminist movement is not required anymore is living in a dream – and it isn’t just males, there are plenty of women out there who think it’s all over. It isn’t. When we can print books, hold music concerts, conduct interviews, book tickets for a match, vote for leaders, and everything else without mentioning that persons gender – then and only then, will we be on our way to an equal world.

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A lady doctor? What were they thinking?

Let us just speak of how good or bad a writer is. Let’s just say how strong the performance was. Let us just commend a well directed movie and not say something along the lines of; “And it is directed by first-time female director —“.  Let us just recognise people, and gender need only be mentioned if it has relevance.

The world population has almost, almost not quite, equal numbers of males and females – but when did you last read or hear about, the male cricket team, the male mountaineer, the male member of parliament, the male writer?! I think it is easy to miss this, and so we compound the problem.

I have included, below, some sites you might like to visit in regards to further information and articles on this point.

Thank you for reading.

George Eliot
George Eliot; Writer. Only got away with it because everyone thought she was a he.

 

  • On census night, the population of the United Kingdom (UK) was estimated to be 63.2 million.
  • There were 31 million men and 32.2 million women in the UK.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/2011censuspopulationestimatesfortheunitedkingdom/2012-12-17

Female Cinema is Not a Genre

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14581200._Female_cinema__It_s_not_a_genre___Jodie_Whittaker_on_her_new_film__Broadchurch_and_equality_at_the_movies/

Two Women Walk Into A Bar

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/helen-keeler/two-women-walk-into-a-comedy-club_b_6514570.html

Men on Earth

https://qz.com/335183/heres-why-men-on-earth-outnumber-women-by-60-million/

Female is Not a Genre

http://www.thegirlsare.com/2015/03/02/roxanne-de-bastion-female-is-not-a-genre/

Women at work Around the World

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2017/mar/08/women-at-work-around-the-world-in-pictures