Noir Crime Fiction | Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Noir Crime Fiction Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Kefauver held up a copy of a Suspense Crime Stories comic book whose cover depicted a terrified woman in mid-air, having fallen from a window where the silhouetted hands of her assailant could still be seen in push mode. The woman was screaming, staring wide-eyed at us as she looked through us at the oncoming (off-camera) pavement. Terror-struck, screaming or not, she was very attractive, in a skimpy night-gown, that showed off her shapely legs and, of course, her…headlights.

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins is a sexy addition to the Hard Case Crime catalog. Glen Orbik greets us at the door, a pin-up darling tediously composed and falling out (in more ways than one) of a shadowy high-rise; the black palms of her killer splayed in the windows above. She’s only a moment from impact, and so are we. I love Max’s work, and devoured this pulpy meal in a handful of hours. His prose style is always inviting, but some of the tastiest bits within belong to the great Terry Beatty, who lends thematic comic-strip intros to each chapter. At its core, Seduction is a fabulous mixed-media approach to noir crime fiction.

The tale follows Jack Starr, a stake-holder in the comics syndicate in the mid ’50s, as a respected child-psychiatrist named Dr. Werner Frederick leads the witch hunt against the comics industry. Convinced that comic books are causing destructive behaviors in America’s youth, Dr. Frederick releases a book of research sure to destroy the literary medium. However, the good doctor has underestimated the stakes of such a vendetta, and the  desperation of the enemies he’s creating…

Seduction of the Innocent vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

New York City in the mid ’50s. Pre-Mad Men but post-McCarthyism (nearing the tale-end of it anyway). It’s a setting ruled by gents and dames, and bucks under the pressures of mass media. The labor pains of widespread television and easier access to information causing the bad guys to hide in plain sight.

2) The Anti-Hero

Jack Starr is a wise-ass with a private investigators license. He got it primarily for background checking the writers, artists, and other key-players he and his step-mother contract with, but lately its had other uses. Jack is constantly on clean-up, dealing with messes and defusing scandal. Ladies love him, but his charm gets him into as much trouble as not– he’s our suspiciously confident anti-hero.

“She’s a woman. And you’re a charming devil.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Two dames make a play for femme fatale, Dr. Sylvia Winters and Lyla Lamont, but Lyla is much more convincing. The former is a young psychologist, quickly falling for Jack (who is initially pumping her for information). And the latter is a curvaceous comic book artist, noted for her naturalist tendency to pose nude for her own work. Neither of the women put Jack’s life in danger, but they definitely increase the pressure. Max’s flirtacious dialogue is a breezy counterpoint to the hardboiled scenario and had me cracking grins throughout.

4) Misogyny

Pacing the modern trend in noir crime fiction, Max keeps the text relatively free of lady-hating. The only argument you’ll get from me is a repeat (you’ve likely heard it before): all of the women are male defined. They’re curvy, pin-up worthy, vixens who play sexual mind games with our lead man Jack. The female characters, though at various extremes of this, are largely one-dimensional as a result. The one gal who appears to be self-actualized is Maggie Starr (Jack’s stepmother) who has become a manipulative and shrewd business woman. But, she didn’t get there without being a strip-tease artist first…

In that glance, however, I noticed that she was smiling– blood trickling from the corner of her mouth down her cheek, but smiling as two men fought over her in a stairwell. There was something evil about it.

5) Redemption

As you’d expect, the book reads like a redemption narrative for the comic book industry, yet it’s ripe with characters who seem to counter this end. We meet a dozen or so suspects with powerful motives for murder, and each are stained with enough strangeness to dispel all faith in their innocence. I was amused to see the thematic hypocrisy and satyric layers played with in Seduction. For how can we believe that the comic book industry is not harmful to juveniles when the people at the helm of the behemoth are untrustworthy psychos with violent proclivities?

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

6) Eroticism

Lyla Lamont, Chapter 8. Textbook eroticism from a master noir author. The dialogue is near perfect, timing flawless, and the imagery an enticing delight. SPOILER*Jack Starr wakes on her couch, Lyla playing nurse sans uniform.*SPOILER From beginning to end, its a incredibly provocative scene in the spirit of the greats; Hammett, Chandler, and Cain.

7) The Loss of Innocence

Seduction is a study of the loss of innocence as a whole. As children throughout the country become perpetrators of increasingly violent and horrendous crimes, society seeks a scapegoat. Comic books today, television tomorrow, and video games beyond. This thematic mourning of the loss of innocence is the cream filling of the novel.

“I had a twelve-year-old boy here tell me he admired ‘tough guys.’ I asked him, what’s a tough guy? And he replied, ‘A tough guy is a man who slaps a girl.”

8 ) Smoke

Smoke is tenderly observed throughout the book. It occupies the now-banned locales it formerly graced; offices, restaurants, and any other seedy haunt you can remember.

9) Emasculation

I have to return to Chapter 8 (see Eroticism, above): Jack Starr honors the legacy of the white-male loners before him (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer) and retains his masculinity from a female aggressor. Conversely, although pinned beneath the painted thumbnail of his luscious stepmother, for the most part he is a free-thinking independent; content with Maggie’s rule because in business she’s essentially a gent, and there’s no shame in working for a good boss.

The odor that always greeted you upon entering Bardwell’s domain, however, was something unique, if peculiarly so, even in this city of smells good, bad, indifferent. This was the middle one. Part of it was cigars. Another part was perspiration. But the secret ingredient, as the ad boys put it, was monkey shit.

The novel is a fast read, hedged by a bevy of hilarious characters and culminating in a delicious ‘whodunit.’ I loved the pacing, and am grateful that Max has given us another classy peak into our own bizarre history. Get a copy for your shelf. 

Terry Beatty Seduction of the Innocent

A page from Terry Beatty (via herocomplex.latimes.com)

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Noir Quotes | Raymond Chandler

Noir Quotes Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

 “I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”

Raymond Chandler
Farewell My Lovely
1940

Noir Quotes Farewell My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

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Noir Comics | Lil by Mike Young and Marc Crane

Noir Comics Lil Marc Crane Mike Young

Lil Issue 1: Pulling at Strings…

Lil by Mike Young and Marc Crane is a dark plunge in the deep end of a twisted woman’s psyche. Implicitly noir, this atmospheric graphic novel is a relentless plummet into the life of Lil, a 35 year old waitress with an appetite for self-destruction. This indie noir comic project is daring in its unforgiving treatment of protagonist, and its hide-nothing approach to her life. Five issues have been released thus far, and the plot momentum is on a break-neck course towards the inevitable. Simply stated, Lil is a slice of tasty noir from a new creative team. (Best part? You can read it online here.)

“Where I’m from, most people end up a version of what they oughtta be…Damn near everybody’s a story of what they hope they’re not.”

The first issue, “Pulling at Strings,” is a promise; it places all the pieces on the board and leaves us to guess the first move. Lil is dripping in alcohol, angling for a ‘sugar daddy’ to pick up her tab. Matthew smells like cash, and has the right combination of gullibility and naivete that makes him a mark. She drags him to the bathroom, eager to ‘pay up’, where a bizarre duffle-bag is left by a loud stranger. Lil recognizes the opportunity and snags it, but it isn’t until she opens it that she realizes how truly screwed she is.

Lil Issue 1 Noir Comics

what’s in the duffle-bag….

“I have my good days. And my bad days. But the bad days are getting worse.”

Lil vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The art is bleak and pulpy; a skeletal backdrop for the sinister demons in Lil’s mind. Dive bars, flea bag apartments, and cheap diners are real enough to leave the reader greasy. (And there’s a scene in the woods during Issue #2 that’s particularly impressive).

2) The Anti-Hero

Lil is a difficult character to understand. As an anti-hero, she foots the bill: a self-destructive addict in the shadow of looming threat. Yet, as a FEMALE protagonist she left me wanting. I couldn’t stop feeling that she was a regurgitated male desire; a hidden remnant of unexpressed sexual fantasy. Certainly, she’s introduced to us as a drunk, an addict, a manipulator, a thief, and eventually a ‘cutter’– but I felt that her behavior was so extreme that the common ground melted (Particularly in the first issue, when it appears that her entire character revolves around the desire for casual sex). As I continued reading, I could see that her character had the potential for depth, but I was frustrated to see her remain in the shallows.

3) The Femme Fatale

Lil appears to flip her charm on and off at will– I loved this. And despite certain flaws as a character, I felt that she’s developing into something terrible and beautiful. I need more!

Noir Comics Lil Mike Young Marc Crane

classic femme fatale

4) Misogyny

Issue #5 has one of my favorite noir misogyny interactions. Lil is confronted with a waitress’ veritable nightmare; as an employee and as a woman. I won’t spoil it, but it nailed the theme of misogyny in noir.

5) Redemption

We’re told that Lil ran away from an abusive home after her mother died. She hasn’t stopped running since. With a life like Lil’s, redemption isn’t an option– but it’s the only gleaming hope her character has. I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to see her redeemed, but the painful part was realizing that she can’t be.

6) Eroticism

I felt Mike and Marc have missed on the eroticism theme thus far; they’ve approached titillation, but it’s been with a heavy male-centric hand (think Rick Remender’s The Last Days of American Crime). The delicate intricacies of eroticism can only be executed with a female protagonist if they begin to truly develop her as a self-actualized female survivor.

Lil Noir Comics

knock, knock…

7) The Loss of Innocence

One of the strongest aspects of Lil is that no innocence remains. We look for solace anywhere in the dark panels, yet we’re constantly turned back on the harsh realities of her disgusting life. The inciting incident has already occurred, we arrive with the flashing lights.

8 ) Smoke

Oh, the lovely smoke chokes the pages and catches in the backs of our throats.

9) Emasculation

The story is a bit young for this theme to be fully realized– only a handful of male characters have been introduced, and none have remained in the plot through an adjacent issue.

Noir Comics Lil

hot coffee…

Despite small concerns with Lil as a character, I’m elated by Lil as a noir comic. I eagerly await more issues, and strongly recommend it. Get over there and check it out.

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Crime Movies | The Usual Suspects (1995)

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects 1995

(via via yengecvebaykus.tumblr.com)

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Recently, I felt the urge to slip into the neo-noir resurgence of the early/mid 90s (when the film industry was still riding waves made by Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs). Though free of the stylistic direction of Tarantino, The Usual Suspects (1995) delivers a gritty dip in the bizarre mythology of the criminal underworld. In true ‘Parker’ fashion, a group of hardened professionals make random acquaintance one night in a police line-up, and decide to embrace fate and go into business. Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), an ex-cop gone robber, proves the reluctant hold-out in a scheme that cannot proceed without him (like Richard Stark’s Parker), but he eventually surrenders to peer pressure.

As the five goons sharpen their act and embrace initial success, they’re horrified to discover the invisible strands of Keyser Soze (a legendary underboss) playing manipulator. They’re eager to distance themselves from the violent villain but they’re tragically clasped in a network of unseen players they’ve cannot hope to escape.

The Usual Suspects (1995) vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting is the stale savor of a career criminal’s haunts; police holding cells, hospitals, dive bars, city docks, and the jagged high-rises of the criminally organized.

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

2) The Anti-Hero

Each of the five brings their unique skillset to the table, but it’s Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey) who narrates the film. Dean Keaton is the most likely cast anti-hero (as he’s the only member of the crew with a femme fatale counter-point), but I could just as easily cast Verbal in the role– stuck in muck they can’t rinse.

3) The Femme Fatale

Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis) is the only femme fatale in the film– she’s used as leverage by Keyser Soze against Dean, and thus he navigates the 5 men to his desired ends. Her screen-time is pitiful, but her impact undeniable; Dean would never do Soze’s will without the threat of harm towards the woman he loves.

The Usual Suspects Dean Keaton

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

4) Misogyny

No misogyny worth mentioning. (the unwitting ‘damsel in distress’ angle is a central theme yet it’s not portrayed in a demeaning way)

5) Redemption

The entire crew wishes to be free from Soze and go about their lives; thus they’re in a constant state of trying to redeem themselves from his grasp. Additionally, Verbal (as the lone survivor) must talk is way out of lasting trouble with cops.

6) Eroticism

No eroticism worth mentioning.

The Usual Suspects Crime Movies

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

7) Loss of Innocence

Soze’s story, his inception even, is born out of a horrible story that involves the raping of his wife and the killing of his children. Keyser arrives home one night to discover his family is being held hostage by some rival gang members. They’ve done unspeakable harm to his wife and terrified his children. Rather than bend to their demands, Keyser himself shoots his wife and kids, then all but one of the gang members. He left the man alive as a witness that he could not be intimidated. In the film he’s described as  “a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop, and Keyser Söze will get you.”

8 ) Smoke

Beautiful nods to the noir genre are found in the employment of cigarettes in the script. We even get a lovely ‘flick of the cigarette to light the gasoline’ moment. Exquisite.

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects 1995

(via coiasira-arwen.tumblr.com)

9) Emasculation

See Keyser Soze. This man, rather than suffer the emasculation of begging for his wife and kids, killed them himself. Juxtapose his story with that of Dean Keaton (and the other usual suspects), who were ensnared by Soze because they allowed themselves to fear for their familial relations.

“How do you shoot the Devil in the back? What if you miss?”

As a piece of noir, The Usual Suspects meets the meter beautifully in a few aspects but as a whole misses the mark. As a crime movie, it’s superb. It’s a fun film to watch, and is easily spoiled by online reviewers. So if you haven’t seen it, go watch it before you read anything else.

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Noir Art | Joe Webb

Noir Art Joe Webb Antares and Love VI

Antares & Love VI

British collage artist Joe Webb (1976-Present) has been making waves with his bizarre visual juxtapositions and eye for mixed media harmony. I first discovered his work on Tumblr (where he’s quite fashionable), and was struck by his stunning use of vintage photography. The inclusion of femme fatales and glamorous dames of yesteryear I found particularly charming, making him the first mixed media noir artist to be included on noirWhale.com–

I tracked down Joe on Facebook, and asked him if he would be gracious enough to answer a few questions about his art, and his affable and easy manner was refreshing. Thus, for the first time ever, we have a noirWhale.com artist interview: (Thanks Joe!)

1) Why so many vintage/noir images?

“I just love the look and style of that era. And as it was so long ago now, the ideas I explore in my work; of ghosts and missing people, mirror the fact that these people are mostly gone now. I like the fading fuzzy quality of vintage prints too.”

2) Is there underlying significance to the series of famous film noir femmes with leading men cut out?

“I like the idea of the leading man missing, becoming mysterious and revealing alternative realities in the layers underneath. It gives the work an enigmatic feel which draws you in.”

3) Which artists/directors/photographers are you biggest influences?

“Rene Magritte every time!”

Joe’s art is wonderfully eclectic, and boasts a variety and complexity not captured here. For our purposes, I’m focusing specifically on his most ‘noir’ themed efforts, and will refer you to his various online galleries for a full perusal of his work. (Also, you can purchase dazzling prints here.) Pertaining to his artistic process, he obtains his unique medium in second-hand book and thrift stores. He’s said of this routine,  “I like to accidentally stumble across things that can then become a piece of art. There’s an element of serendipity to it.”

Noir Art Joe Webb Mono

Mono

Artist Joe Webb Mono II

Mono II

Art by Joe Webb Kissing Magritte

Kissing Magritte

Joe Webb Art Reunion II

Reunion II

Collage Art Joe Webb Daydream IV

Daydream IV

Joe Webb Collage Absent Minded

Absent Minded

Collage Joe Webb Absent Minded II

Absent Minded II

Noir Art Joe Webb Absent Minded IV

Absent Minded IV

Art Noir Joe Webb Absent Minded V

Absent Minded V

Joe Webb Antares and Love I

Antares & Love I

Artist Joe Webb Antares and Love II

Antares & Love II

Joe Webb Collage Artist Antares and Love III

Antares & Love III

Noir Joe Webb Antares and Love VII

Antares & Love VII

Noir Art Joe Webb Antares and Love VIII

Antares & Love VIII

 Please support Joe! Like his Facebook Page! Buy his Prints!

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Femme Fatales | Bette Davis

The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.

Femme Fatales Bette Davis

Bette Davis. April 5th, 1908 to October 6th, 1989 (via womenoftheperformingarts.tumblr.com)

“I’m the nicest goddamn dame that ever lived.”

Ruth Elizabeth Davis, simply ‘Bette’ to those of us who recognize her, was born on April 5th, 1908. As potentially the greatest American actress of all time, books are filled with her film exploits (she appeared in more than 100) and other professional accomplishments– culminating in her tragic battle with breast cancer which ended her life at age 81.

She was the first actor/actress to ever reach ten Academy Award Nominations, and she won the award for Best Actress twice. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her as the 2nd greatest female star of all time (she was second only to Katharine Hepburn). She was also the first woman ever to receive the Lifetime Achievement award from the same organization.

Stylistically, she’s known for intensity and perfectionism– characterized by a penchant for confrontation. Costars, studio executives, and film directors frequently ‘locked horns’ with the starlet, who was unflinching in sharing her opinions and issuing demands. Her candid approach, curt tone, and signature cigarette became recognizable trademarks, neatly folded into the femme fatale archetype by the hard-boiled authors of the era.

“My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.”

Bette didn’t arrive in Hollywood until 1930, and was greeted by a surprising amount of failure. She was told she didn’t “look like an actress,” and failed her first screen test. Hilariously, she relates in a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett, “I was the most Yankee-est, most modest virgin who ever walked the earth. They laid me on a couch, and I tested fifteen men … They all had to lie on top of me and give me a passionate kiss. Oh, I thought I would die. Just thought I would die.” Her break arrived in the mercy of George Arliss, who gave her the lead in The Man Who Played God (1932) after her disappointing flops in many unsuccessful films. The success of the picture earned her respect, and more importantly a contract with Warner Brothers Studios.

She had to fight the unforgiving press, who teased her first husband Harmon “Ham” Nelson for earning only a tenth of her income (he took home $100.00 per week, she $1000.00). Ham refused to allow her to purchase a house until he could afford it himself. (During this period, Bette had several abortions).

Famously, Bette took Warner Brothers Studios to court in order to free herself of her contract. She felt that they had consigned her to mediocre films and were ultimately halting her career. She lost, but the trial was important to the development of Hollywood as we know it today.

She was cast in several memorable films, Marked Woman (1937) and Jezebel (1938) particularly, and it was during this period that she began to cheat on her husband (with Directors William Wyler and Howard Hughes). They were soon divorced. She collected 4 husbands before her death, though each marriage didn’t last; three ended in divorce and one made Bette a widow. Sadly, as she declined in her late years her reputation as a ‘bitch’ became the popular refrain. ‘Bitch’ or not, she was one helluva talent.

Her feud with Joan Crawford is legendary, and whether the hate was sincere or exaggerated its certainly entertaining. I’ve appended a wonderful anecdote about the inception of their catfight:

A little investigation shows that these two cinematic giants were reduced to duking it out over, what else, a man. Namely, the slightly less legendary, Franchot Tone. Bette starred alongside Franchot in the 1935 film Dangerous, a part for which she won her first Academy Award. Tone played a handsome architect to Bette’s alcoholic actress and she was soon smitten.

Said Bette  “I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately. Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.” It’s a pity this debonair actor inspired decades of tit-for-tat cat fighting.

Joan Crawford, at that time, was MGM’s reigning sex symbol. Newly divorced and on the prowl, she invited Tone over for dinner, only to greet him naked, in her solarium. Whether it was the nudity or the possibility of free tanning sessions, Franchot was hooked and Joan made sure Bette knew about it.

(visit : http://www.queensofvintage.com/bette-davis-vs-joan-crawford/ to read more)

Bette Davis is inseparably attached to the femme fatale archetype, and is possibly the most recognizable film noir starlet of them all. Her success is hardly measurable, the reach of her films universal. There is nothing I can say about her that hasn’t already been said, so I won’t try. Thanks for the memories Bette.

“In this business, until you’re known as a monster you’re not a star.”

Femme Fatale Bette Davis

(via sharontates.tumblr.com)

 Bette Davis Now Voyager 1942

for Now, Voyager 1942 (via bogarted.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Life Magazine

(via completelyunproductive.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Whatever Happened to Baby Jane 1962

in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) (via camberwellfoxes.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Autobiography

Promoting her Autobiography (via christopherniquet.tumblr.com)

Film Noir Bette Davis

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Bette Davis Film Noir

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Bette Davis Femme Fatale

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Bette Davis Actress

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Actress Bette Davis

(via callumswood.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Femme Fatale

(via all-about-bette.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Smoking

(via aminkston.tumblr.com)

Smoking Bette Davis

(via mysilverscreendream.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatale Bette Davis

(via nancysissynelly.tumblr.com)

Old Bette Davis

(via julia-loves-bette-davis.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis and Falcon

with a Falcon (via robertpina99.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Hairstyle

getting her hair done (via pollypocket3674.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Backstage

(via silknightgownwithrosebuds.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatale Bette Davis

(via lesgrandsclassiques.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis

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Ann Dvorak Joan Blondell and Bette Davis Three on a Match 1932

with Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell. Three on a Match (1932) (via miss-flapper.tumblr.com)

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis

with Joan Crawford. (via i-love-old-hollywood.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatales Bette Davis

(via evaunderwater.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Femme Fatales

(via pollypocket3674.tumblr.com)

*ALL biographical details were obtained from:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bette_Davis

*ALL quotes were obtained from:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/bette_davis.html

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Noir Music | “Le temps de l’amour” by Francoise Hardy

Noir Music Francoise Hardy

Francoise Hardy (via maxkaska.tumblr.com)

“Le temps de l’amour” by Françoise Hardy is a haunting tribute to fleeting love and youth; her lilting vocals ricochet pleasantly off the heavy bass lick and paint shadows across the afternoon. Wickedly noir.

Here are the french lyrics:

Le temps de l’amour

C’est le temps de l’amour,
le temps des copains et de l’aventure.
Quand le temps va et vient,
on ne pense a rien malgre ses blessures.
Car le temps de l’amour
c’est long et c’est court,
ca dure toujours, on s’en souvient.

On se dit qu’ a vingt ans on est le roi du monde,
et qu’ éternellement il y aura dans nos yeux
tout le ciel bleu.

C’est le temps de l’amour,
le temps des copains et de l’aventure.
Quand le temps va et vient,
on ne pense a rien malgre ses blessures.
Car le temps de l’amour
ca vous met au coeur
beaucoup de chaleur et de bonheur.

Un beau jour c’est l’amour et le coeur bat plus vite,
car la vie suit son cours
et l’on est tout heureux d’etre amoureux.

C’est le temps de l’amour,
le temps des copains et de l’aventure.
Quand le temps va et vient,
on ne pense a rien malgre ses blessures.
Car le temps de l’amour
c’est long et c’est court,
ca dure toujours, on s’en souvient.

And here are the lyrics translated into English:

The Time of Love

It is the time of love,
the time of friends and adventure.
As the time comes and goes,
one thinks of nothing in spite of one’s wounds.
Because the time of love
it’s long and it’s short,
it lasts forever, one remembers it.

At twenty, we tell ourselves that we rule the world,
and that all the blue sky will be in our eyes forever.

It is the time of love,
the time of friends and adventure.
As the time comes and goes,
We think of nothing in spite of our wounds.
For the time of love
it fills your heart
with so much warmth and happiness.

One fine day it’s love and the heart beats faster,
for life follows its course
and one is totally happy to be in love.

It is the time of love,
the time of friends and adventure.
When the time comes and goes,
one thinks of nothing in spite of one’s wounds.
For the time of love
it’s long and it’s short,
it lasts forever, one remembers it.

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Film Noir | Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Film Noir Ashes and Diamonds 1958

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is a Polish film noir that I viewed over the weekend. Taking place at the end of WWII, the film is a portrait of a broken and bitter people, desperate for hope in a bleak world. Each character seems to have lost their faith, in God and country. The cinematography is striking; It stood apart from many works of the era because of its use of arresting imagery. Every frame emphasized recurring thematic elements before bothering to capture the action– refreshing creativity to behold (especially when mired in our modern age of rehashed technique and lazy film making).

Directed by Andrzej Wajda, and based on the 1948 novel by Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, Ashes and Diamonds follows a Home Army soldier named Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) through a series of life-changing events on May 8th, 1945 (The day Germany officially surrendered). He and his fellow soldier Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) had been assigned to assassinate the communist Commissar Szczuka (Wacław Zastrzeżyński), but things do not go as smoothly as planned. After a failed ambush, and a few false-starts, Maciek meets the girl of his dreams and falls in love– and he’s left in crisis: her or the cause?

Film Noir Ashes and Diamonds

(via jonathanrosenbaum.com)

Ashes and Diamonds lives up to our noir definition with ease:

1) The Seedy Underworld

An unnamed Polish town serves as the setting for the film– yet the most important scenes occur in a small hotel barfront and a bombed out church. Two vastly symbolic backdrops for a people as displaced and discouraged as the Polish.

2) The Anti-Hero

Maciek is old too young. Constantly peering out from behind dark glasses, as a soldier he developed hyper-sensitivity to sunlight when he participated in the Warsaw Uprising (a period of time where he lived in the sewers). He’s battle scarred and lacks self-control, a lack we witness in terror as he pulls a fatal trigger. Yet, he craves a normal life, a life away from the violence– a life of love and peace.

Ashes and Diamonds Maciek

Maciek Losing Control (via keepthisthought.blogspot.com)

3) The Femme Fatale

The hotel’s barmaid, Krystyna (Ewa Krzyżewska), is the femme fatale of Ashes and Diamonds. She’s young and beautiful, but surprisingly bitter; a cold witness of the war’s effect on her. Maciek becomes infatuated with her, and as the hour of his next attempt on the life of  Commissar Szczuka approaches, he begins to glimpse a life that ‘could have been.’ His unquestioned fervor for the cause melts in Krystyna’s embrace, and he’s rattled by the hope she represents. When a character has nothing to lose, his sacrifice is devalued–Maciek becomes a true noir anti-hero when he finally has hope for something he can never obtain.

4) Misogyny

Little snippets, here and there, of misogyny pepper the film, but I never found any scenario that was blatantly offensive. Commissar Szczuka has a son who was raised by his sister-in-law during the war against his wishes (the Commissar’s wife long dead), and he confronts the woman with his displeasure. Ultimately, I applaud the director because she stands her ground, unflinchingly confident in her role in the child’s life. This show of power from a woman (especially opposite a strong male character) was very forward thinking for the time period.

Polish Film Noir Ashes and DIamonds

Maciek and Krystyna (via ohnesans.tumblr.com)

5) Redemption

The redemption theme is especially potent in this film. Each character has a moment where the audience perceives their desire to be redeemed from the horrors of war. Ashes and Diamonds is not about the redemption of any specific character; it is about the redemption of Poland. Warsaw is mentioned as a ‘beautiful memory’ in the script– (in reference to the near total destruction inflicted by the Nazis) –the Polish survivors are filled with longing for a return to their former happiness.

So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames
of burning rags falling about you flaming,
you know not if flames bring freedom or death.
Consuming all that you must cherish
if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest
Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond
The Morning Star of everlasting triumph.
-Cyprian Norwid

6) Eroticism

I absolutely loved the intimate scenes between Maciek and Krystyna. Free of bawdy or irrelevant nudity, the sex scenes were post-coital moments of intense honesty; These erotic moments were simply close-up shots of their faces, inches apart, speaking softly and caressing tenderly. The cinematographer reminds us nudity isn’t the key to compelling eroticism. Bravo.

Ashes and Diamonds Polish Film

(via bookcents.blogspot.com)

7) The Loss of Innocence

A great scene about half-way through the film occurs between Maciek and Andrzej as they share a quiet moment in the hotel bar. A tray of vodka shots has been poured, and they set a glass aflame for each of their fallen comrades. They’ve already lost their innocence, and they’ll never get it back.

8 ) Smoke

Hungarian or American cigarettes? I was surprised to find more alcohol than smoke in the film– I felt like I was watching Mad Men: Poland.

9) Emasculation

I know very little about the psyche of war-torn Poland– but the helplessness that they must have felt, especially as men failed to protect that which they held dear is undoubtedly emasculating. Maciek and his cohorts take back their manhood through acts of valor, each moment ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Ashes and Diamonds Vodka Fire Scene

For Fallen Friends (via omarsfilmblog.blogspot.com)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is lovingly photographed, and would be a prized piece of any collector. As the final moments of the work concluded, I was struck by how bleak, terrible, and excellent this film noir truly is.  You can get it here.

Film Noir Ashes and Diamonds 1958

(via littlplasticthings.tumblr.com)

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Noir Crime Fiction | Horse Two by Anita Dime

Noir Crime Fiction Horse Two by Anita Dime

Horse Two by Anita Dime

Horse Two by Anita Dime is a noir crime fiction short. Currently available only as an e-book, this nine-chapter gallop explodes out of the gates, Anita’s first stab at noir. She’s a gifted writer, fitting in the genre with enough imitation to be recognizable without regurgitation–her voice and style completely her own. I was grateful for her confident prose; it’s unapologetic and real, and never winks at the audience in an amateur sort of way. We’re never reminded that we’re reading noir, and the story is devoid of dross ‘filler’ garbage that clutters so many failed attempts from others.

“The Number Two horse. You bet the Number Two. That’s the one you bet, right?” I stammered. This isn’t happening. My temples were pressing the veins to burst.

“Anita Dime” is actually a sexy pseudonym employed by Julia Huff– an equally talented artist. Horse Two is accompanied by seven original linocuts from Ms. Huff, that lend a concrete visual to an already cinematic tale.

“They’ll kill me to make it even.”

Horse Two is really a story about Carl, a downtrodden gambler, and the worst week of his life at the horse track in the 1930s. Here is the noir definition scorecard:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting for Horse Two is most often the track– the visceral tension of the contest clouding the grandstand, while crowds of hopeful dopes throw money at their problems. The power and beauty of the animals is perverted by the depravity of their spectators, all loveliness destroyed by desperation.

2) The Anti-Hero

Carl is the anti-hero of the noir short– he’s filled with hope, but it only serves to increase his torment as his situation worsens. He seems to desire a life away from the track, a life with Lillian perhaps (his on-again, off-again), but he’s waiting for the ‘big-win.’ He’s plunged into the noir filth when he decides to force luck’s hand.

3) The Femme Fatale

Lillian is a strong-willed femme fatale– she’s left Carl before, and she won’t hesitate to do it again if he can’t get his life together. Carl has hidden much of his life from her due to shame, and it’s his lust for a future with her that drives him to desperate ends. In this way she’s fatal; she’s his deadly incentive.

She put the bag down, reached over, and took a long drag from my cigarette. “That’s the closest you’ll ever come to kissing me again.” She flicked it and walked on.

4) Misogyny

The only misogyny in the tale stems from Carl’s dishonesty with Lillian. He keeps her uninformed, and even when he’s in danger (and he’s endangered her), he still treats her like a child; he believes her incapable of helping him or protecting herself. This ‘damsel-in-distress’ theme is further insulting to Lily because she’s unaware of the danger.

“Whatever. It’s done. You better move, and now. Lose your name. Don’t forget the Missus; I’ve seen that blonde. They’ll take her out too.” He smiled.

Horse Two Linocuts by Julia Huff

Linocuts by Julia Huff

5) Redemption

The redemption theme is heavily employed in Horse Two— We meet Lily in the second brief chapter, and it’s apparent that Carl is almost out of chances. His entire motivation stems from his desire to redeem himself in her eyes.

6) Eroticism

Eroticism never makes an appearance. Their sexuality is implied but never addressed; the audience kept aloof save for quick kisses the morning after.

7) Loss of Innocence

I won’t spoil the sick punchline of Horse Two, but Carl becomes desperate enough to do something for which the reader hates him. In this way, we lose our innocence with him, and perhaps more than we’re comfortable acknowledging.

My life’s love–I’d killed it. I would never again watch a race with joy in my heart.

8 ) Smoke

The obligatory homage to smoke is paid in full– beautifully rendered by Ms. Anita Dime.

9) Emasculation

All nine chapters are descending steps of masculinity and Carl plummets down them. As a failure, Carl can never be with Lily– he is constantly trying to define himself but can never attain his ideal (or hers). Horse Two is the story of his emasculation.

“Just, please, I can’t explain.” I didn’t want to tell her that I was not the man she thought she was seeing– certainly not the one she met.

I was only disappointed in the ending– it was good, but I wanted a more brutal conclusion to Carl’s journey. I felt that the consequences should have been more severe. Perhaps I’m wrong– read it for yourself and shoot me an email. Anita Dime AKA Julia Huff gave us a wonderful piece of noir crime fiction; drop a couple of bucks and download it for your collection.

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2012 In Review

Happy New Year! I’m excited to be back from vacation and posting again this week. 2013 will be another terrific year for noir. Thank you all for your support and encouragement– I’m truly grateful.

WordPress.com prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog. Check it out:

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 170,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 3 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

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