[Apologies for the lateness of the post. I’ve been fairly preoccupied this month…]
To try and shore up an area where I’ve been almost criminally negligent, I dedicated February to foreign films, ones that were largely chosen at random. Almost all of them were terrific, and admittedly, a little safe. But you have to crawl before you can walk. Most importantly, all of them were tremendous entertainment and most of them carried a considerable impact. Consider my appetite seriously whetted for more.
My original intention last month was to chronicle the films I screened as I went—and as usual, that fell victim to other things. But there was another consideration. The further I went into the month, the more I realized that film noir is less about any single film and more about a series of themes and tropes. That it might be preferable to consider the power behind the form, why it matters now, even if the medium is rooted in a series of outmoded archetypes.
The last film I saw last month, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), frankly, gave me very little choice, such as it is not only a distillation of noir elements but also a comment and ultimately, a deconstruction of them. The film at once reminds us that such elements are eternal while at the same time rendering them as archaic and formulaic as the Betty-and-Veronica duality that sits at the heart of the story. In that regard, it might be regarded as the eulogy for the form, as Lynch seems to be telling us that its basic tenets—the detective story, the femme fatale, the underbelly of Los Angeles, the shadowy menace—are best viewed as totems now rather than actual storytelling devices, that they have been internalized by the audience to such an extent that any idea of playing it straight is futile.
Harry Moseby: Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other.
Harry Moseby cracks wise all through Night Moves. That Gene Hackman grin is always at the ready, defusing tight situations. But Harry is an angry man. You see flashes of it, when he’s pushed too far—or when he feels cuckolded. He used to channel that anger into football. But that’s gone. Now he seems like a man who doesn’t know where to put it or what to do with it. His life isn’t working out and he knows it. People, including those he trusts most, let him down. Beneath his sardonic patter, he’s an optimist. He wants to believe in the better aspects of human nature. He might even be a romantic. Why else would he cling to the quixotic fantasy of being a private eye on his own? “Take a swing at me, Harry,” his wife’s lover tells him. “Like Sam Spade would.”
September is the month when summer fades—and the night begins again to take hold. So what better time to screen some classic—and less than classic—examples of film noir?
Until then I had done things my way, but from then on something stepped in and shunted me off to a different destination than the one I’d picked for myself.—Al Roberts, Detour
If anything defines a noir sensibility, it’s the notion that at some point, you lose control over your fate—if indeed you ever had it. And typically, it’s an outside force—a woman, a bad deal, an unlucky break, a stranger, that sends the protagonist spinning down to his doom.
While “Her” was largely billed as an offbeat romance (God, help us), at its heart it’s the story of a near future nearly as terrifying as the one that features Skynet and TheTerminator, one that seems more than plausible. Indeed, in its version of a future Los Angeles, it’s almost as chilling as Blade Runner’s.