Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Poem for Winter Thinking

By the Stream

Paul Laurence Dunbar
By the stream I dream in calm delight, and watch as in a glass,
How the clouds like crowds of snowy-hued and white-robed maidens             pass,
And the water into ripples breaks and sparkles as it spreads,
Like a host of armored knights with silver helmets on their heads.
And I deem the stream an emblem fit of human life may go,
For I find a mind may sparkle much and yet but shallows show,
And a soul may glow with myriad lights and wondrous mysteries,
When it only lies a dormant thing and mirrors what it sees.

Although this winter the streams and rivers I've been seeing have had many more armored knights than white robed maidens. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Repost: Noir City Seattle 2011

I'm so behind on my Daily Doses, I thought I'd repost some observations from Noir City a while ago: The two films were "They Won't Believe Me" and "Don't Bother to Knock."  The latter should be more widely available-it's amazing.

It's a drag we didn't have Noir City this past year because there was some venue kerfluffle with SIFF, and they couldn't get the Cinerama up to speed in time.  But next February at the Cinerama should be amazing!  (One of the times I went there, Adam Arkin was two seats down from us and none of my friends knew who he was.  I let them have it!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

#NoirSummer : Daily Dose of Darkness 3

What an opener!  The camera slides along the scene--men asleep in hammocks or lazing around, when blam! In a single shot the view moves to the "big house" where a single gun shot rings out and out the front door stumbles a man. Everyone is startled, including the animals. Out follows Bette Davis, and she keeps shooting, over and over again, until she has emptied the gun into the poor sod.  Not only does she shoot him, boy does she ever make sure the job is done!

Then the full moon is briefly obscured by clouds, and when it reappears, it bathes Bette Davis in light, not unlike a police spotlight mounted on prison walls.  She's caught, and she's culpable.

But the scene goes on for her to send her man to say "there's been an accident."  (It reminded me of that old joke, "Your honor, he fell on his knife!"  "Twenty-seven times?!") She's cool and collected, thinking 4 chess moves ahead.  No histrionics or swooning here, there's one person in charge and it's easy to see who that is.

This scene gives the same feeling of tension and "what's going on" that the opening scene of M does-there's the facade of normality but something has gone horribly awry.  We can only hope as curious viewers that the story will flashback to fill us in on what brought the characters to this point.  Playing fast and loose with the timeline is a classic component of noir, and this opener gives us the hint of that.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

#NoirSummer : Daily Dose of Darkness 2

A film takes us on a journey, often from point A to B to C, but not always. This opening scene drops us into the action in progress-no orienting of location or to character.  The engineers are mostly wordless, performing their difficult, dirty work by habit and by gesture. No immaculate sound set and perfectly coiffed hair here-this is where the word "gritty" gets applied to noir.  The men are sooty, the fire smokes. Just as the train's progress seems inexorable, so too does the sound design. The racket is deafening-the men couldn't have a conversation if they wanted to. And the shriek of the train whistle!

This film does not whisk us away to some fantasy where every barista is adorable with a giant NYC apartment, but rather sets us firmly in the real world of hard work. (See also Italian neorealism *name drop*)
The camera attached to the side of the train gives the viewer the feeling of clinging on like a bug.  We get no comfy seat inside, but rather we ride in the "danger zone" where we can sense the speed of the train and the danger of being plunged into darkness.  I was sorry to be watching the clip on my computer rather than in a dark theater for the shot in the tunnel!
And then, finally, after having our nerves rattled by the sound, the speed, and the darkness, the train slows and pulls into the station.  We finally have a signpost-Le Havre.  But where is everybody?  The silence is deafening.

#NoirSummer : Daily Dose of Darkness 1

Who's watching the kids? 
Dread is the word.  Lang juxtaposes domestic tranquility against danger in such a way that the viewer can sense that something is definitely off-kilter.   The children in the ring play happily, but sing a dreadful song.  Little Elsie's mother smiles because it's time for her to come home from school, but Elsie nearly gets squashed by a car. The opening elevated shot demonstrates that Mother can see the children, but so can anyone else.  The cintog highlights how vulnerable they are out in the open.   The most concise image is that of the ball bouncing up against the warning sign on the post--in our minds a child's toy should never occupy the same space as murder, but here it does. The shadow falling across the sign plays with our notions of what we have seen on the screen, because we see M, but not his face.  Our minds don't rest well with that ambiguity.
The sound design keeps us off-kilter, too, with the long silences and proto-jump scares of the car horn and the cuckoo clock. The writing underlines the seriousness of the problem.  Mother is clearly quite rattled, otherwise why make such a big deal of a ring-a-round-the-rosy type game?  She's frightened, and she takes it out on the kids.
These notions of the off-kilter feeling and domestic tranquility merely as a sheer overlay diffusing the evil underneath are threads that run through noir as a style.  Noir is LA Confidential digging below the glitz of Hollywood for find that "Everything is suspect...everyone is for sale...and nothing is what it seems." (official tagline) It's that final phrase that captures so much of the essence of noir.