Friday, September 5, 2008

A warm welcome to "Shooting in the Dark"

Of course, I say a "warm" welcome, but frankly I wish you the opposite. This is a blog about film noir - that means darkened midnight streets, nefarious shadows skulking in the alleyways, main protagonists clutching for wealth and immortality, only to come flailing back to earth, betrayed by the alluring women in whom they placed all their trust. It's about deceit, back-stabbing and blackmail; hard rain on slickened asphalt roads.

I was recently asked by a friend how I might describe the film noir style in one line. My response was so brilliant that I feel compelled to post it now: "It's about women. How they promise you sex, and then screw you over." My delicate turn-of-phrase (of which I'm admittedly proud) highlights one of the core themes of film noir. It's all about mistrust - of men, of women, of our own gut instinct and base passions. Eddie Muller described it thus:

"Film Noir is the flip side of the all-American success story. It's about people who realize that following the program will never get them what they crave. So they cross the line, commit a crime and reap the consequences. Or, they're tales about seemingly innocent people tortured by paranoia and ass-kicked by Fate. Either way, they depict a world that's merciless and unforgiving."
Film noir was born in the early years of 1940s, perhaps with High Sierra (1941), perhaps with The Maltese Falcon (1941) - it doesn't really matter. What matters is that Europe was already in the grip of WWII, and even citizens of the United States could glimpse a darkened shadow gradually descending over their colourful world. The optimism borne from the end of WWI had long ago faded, replaced only by memories of the Great Depression, which had crippled countries worldwide through much of the 1930s.

Film noir is all about the realisation that the human race has outlived its usefulness, is about to explode from within. With this realisation comes the recognition that one will never achieve their hopes and dreams via conventional means, and so law-breaking becomes the only alternative. What these hapless fools don't realise is that, wherever there's a man waiting to do something stupid, there's always a women who'll exploit him for it. Our man's idiocy never goes unrewarded, and either death or imprisonment - usually death - greets his spectacular downfall. In a sense, it was the influence of the Production Code (which forbade happy endings for criminals) that ensured most film noirs utilised a dark, morbid finale, a cruel end for a desperate, pitiable soul.

The good folks at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? have compiled an unranked list of the top 250 American film noir pictures from 1940-1959 (with a couple of exceptions to the rule). To complement my Shooting Lessons quest to see the TSPDT Top 1000 films, I've decided to set up "Shooting in the Dark," in which I plan to post reviews for every noir film I see from the list. I don't expect this blog to be updated quite so regularly as my other one, but, over time, I hope to accumulate quite a good selection of reviews. To date, I've seen a measly 29 films from the list - for the sake of convenience, I'll name it at 28 for now, and my recent review of Dark Passage (1947) will afterwards serve as the blog opener. The 28 films are:

* Asphalt Jungle, The
* Big Sleep, The
* Cape Fear [1961]
* Double Indemnity
* High Sierra
* In a Lonely Place
* Key Largo
* Killer's Kiss
* Killing, The
* Kiss Me Deadly
* Lady from Shanghai, The
* Laura
* Lost Weekend, The
* Maltese Falcon, The
* Murder, My Sweet/Farewell My Lovely
* Night of the Hunter, The
* Notorious
* On Dangerous Ground
* Out of the Past
* Scarlet Street
* Secret Beyond the Door
* Shadow of a Doubt
* Spellbound [1945]
* Strangers on a Train
* Sunset Blvd.
* Third Man, The
* Touch of Evil
* White Heat

As you can see, I've got a long way to go, but isn't that what film noir is all about - the utter futility of effort? In my opening comments, I've tried to give a very brief summary of what noir means to me, and it's a style of which I've become rather fond. However, I've only scratched the surface. Perhaps, as I begin to develop my viewing experience, I'll start writing up a more detailed essay on the nature of film noir.
But, for now, I'll leave you with a quote from my favourite spoof, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982):

"All dames are alike: they reach down your throat and they can grab your heart, pull it out and they throw it on the floor, step on it with their high heels, spit on it, shove it in the oven and cook the shit out of it. Then they slice it into little pieces, slam it on a hunk of toast, and serve it to you and then expect you to say, 'Thanks, honey, it was delicious.'"

No comments: