Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

Lost and Found

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Lost and Found (2008/ Dir. Philip Hunt/ Entertainment One and Studio Aka)
Here is the short version of this review: Go buy this, it’s excellent.

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Noir Needs Context

Posted: June 19, 2013 in Article, Movie
Tags: , ,

There is a genre, called Film Noir. It’s awesome stuff. Depending on who you talk to, it’s either a shooting style filled with shadows and somewhat stark camera work, or it’s a story style. As a story style, its hallmarks are usually agreed to be crime, moral ambiguity, social isolation, the attempt to be a good person and a search for some kind of justice. There is also something about women in the form of femme fatales, and the corruption of authority figures, but we’re going to get to that at a later date. Go watch The Dark Corner or The Big Sleep some time, you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe you won’t, because I’ve noticed that a lot of people who make another connected genre haven’t seen the awesome or are unable to replicate it. They clearly see the good man in a hard world and nothing else. See, there is a genre called Neo-Noir, and it kind of sucks. Technically, neo-noir is just later day stuff, made after a completely arbitrary cut off date.

There are problems with Neo-Noir though, and for me they’re pretty big. Problem number one is context. See, most of these movies were made in the post war era of the 40s and 50s. So, they exist in a world where Doris Day was tearing up the charts and blowing up the box office. America was kind of exuberant about having punched Hitler in the face and won World War II single handedly with just good old fashioned Know-How! We were busy having Technicolor romantic comedies, and an economic boom, and white picket fences, and everything was rosey and there would never be hippies, or punk rock, or even a president who wasn’t so white he was practically phosphorescent.

Now of course, a lot of that wasn’t true, and some people knew it. They rejected, or simply weren’t allowed to be part of this new world. That world existed, but they couldn’t have status in it. And you kind of have to understand that Doris Day was doing her thing while these movies were being made. When Humphrey Bogart was playing a detective who leaned alone and unloved in a doorway, he was existing in the same movie world as Doris Day was, he just didn’t get more than a moment in the light. Social Isolation is a big part of the classic film noir, but you need a connected world to be isolated from. There is also a world of art, of beauty, of light haired girls tripping lightly through fields of wildflowers and having nothing worse happen to her than a bit of a grass stain when she and her lover go for a tumble on the ground. These are all things that exist in that world, they just don’t exist for the hero of a film noir.

That’s one of the major problems I have with Neo-Noir, they often lack context. The make the detective the everyman, instead of the outsider. Watching Bladerunner, Momento, Year of The Dragon, Miller’s Crossing, Se7en, or Bound (that list can go on and on) you are never given to understand that this isn’t the entire world. There is no art, no music, no theater, that isn’t slave to the dark, gritty, greasy aesthetic that’s being manufactured. There is quite frankly, no outside for our hero to be looking in from. Everyone lives in Gotham City and it’s horrible all the time, filled with awful people who are mean spirited and/or weak. Even with long form TV shows like Deadwood and Game of Thrones, it’s just horrible people, living in a horrible world, where all sorts of horrible things happen to everyone, all the time because it’s all so horrible and if that pretty girl I mentioned earlier tried to trip through the daisies in one of these shows she’d have been raped and murdered by now.

It’s odd, because the makers of these movies seem to have grasped the emotions behind the isolation, but without the context of the brighter world it makes them just another cog in a terrible world. Failing to understand that Sin City is a funhouse mirror, they seem determined to come as close to reality as they can. The problem is that a seedy underbelly has to be the underbelly, it can’t be everything or your world makes no sense. Most of it comes off as posturing, the image of the tough guy shot through a child’s filter, through lack of understanding why people need to be tough. It’s as if they understand so little of how the world works, that they imagine it must all be corrupt and awful, which is why they’re childish fantasies about monye and power haven’t become true yet. Maybe that’s what they’re going for, to show that the whole world is awful and you have to be an awful person to contend and get along.

If I may posit an objection, that is utter, complete, and total bullshit.

It’s nothing more than a bullshit attempt at the same sort of mass-marketed ultra-conformist non-conformity garbage that they tried to feed us in the Post-Grunge era of the 90s and it was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now. Only now they’ve added a layer of sleaze to let the people who are taken in by this crap to believe they’re somehow clever and seeing past the glitz and understanding the world better because instead of fighting and trying to rise above the mud, they’re slamming themselves in face-first. There is art and light and joy in the world and if you raise your head up from your attempts to sink deeper into the mud than your neighbor (because the good mud is at the bottom), you will notice a whole world of light and beauty and joy.

That’s not to say that there isn’t good Neo-Noir out there. Brick is a masterful example of showing the real world. A segment with one of the few adults in the movie trying to find something for the hero to drink while he eats some cereal is both funny and contextual. Veronica Mars is another good example. The context of the real world is often see on the edges of the show, even though the show itself focuses on the dark side of the world they’ve built for obvious reasons. Both those products contain the social isolation, they contain the mistrust of authority figures, the world having a seedy underbelly, the moral ambiguity, and the good person looking for justice. They also have an understanding that there is more to the world than this little patch of dark and shadow, which is important because otherwise you can’t go on.

Context is always important to me, I will always look for the context of the world a story exists in. If the world contains no good, it is has no possibility for the good guy to win, then it’s no more interesting than a world where you know the good guy will win no matter what. Neither situation works for me. The world where we will always fail is as bad as the one where we always win.

Maybe one or the other story works for you, maybe you get into the constant loss or the constant win. Maybe you like the predictability of it all. I don’t, it doesn’t work for me. When I can predict things before they happen on the screen/page, I tend to get angry. I’m usually already bored, which is why I’m thinking and predicting what’ll happen next. We’ll talk more about that next time.