BOOKS:Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn – surf noir at its best – Small town hick comes to Huntington Beach, CA ("surf city"), looking for his missing sister and gets the proverbial more-than-he-bargained-for. This ain't Frankie and Annette's beach party or Brian Wilson's (and the Beachboys) Surfin' USA...
Down There (Shoot the Piano Player) by David Goodis – from the “poet of losers,” his best book in my opinion, though I know others would disagree. Like many of Goodis' protagonists, Eddie cannot escape his past. Or his present.
Raymond Chandler – just about any of the novels; you might try a later one like "The Long Goodbye." Another trip through Chandler's mean streets. Marlowe's a little older. A little wiser, maybe. I don't think this book was very well received when it first came out. I think it's been reassessed in later years – I like it. Hate the movie based on it, though it does have some good points. Most especially the High Tower Apartments, where I once looked for an apartment. Trippy place.
The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham – not really noir, but if I had to pick a favorite book this would be it. Like with everything, some love it, some hate it. A great story of a man's quest for inner peace and the meaning of life. Sounds silly these days, what with such things as “Eat, Pray, Barf” and the like. How do we – how should we – lead our lives?
Ask the Dust by John Fante – For the longest time John Fante had been mostly forgotten, remembered only by a few who thought of him as our own. It's like having a favorite band that few people know, then one day they hit it big. You feel like you've lost something. About a decade or so ago he was rediscovered and the rest, as they say, is history. I know some people hate this book, where little happens. But to me it speaks volumes of a struggling writer's life in a Los Angeles that is no more, or maybe it is and we just don't quite see it anymore.
MOVIES:Double Indemnity – The ultimate example of film noir. It's got it all the elements a noir should have: shadows, rain, greed, downfall by one's own Achilles' heel. A great femme fatale in Barbara Stanwyck. And, of course it's in glorious black and white. What more could you ask for on a cold, rainy winter night?
Ghost World – One of the few movies that, sooner or later, I try to steer almost everyone I know toward. Starring Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi and a pre-superstar Scarlett Johansson. Not a horror story, which some people seem to infer because of the title. But a story of people, young and middle aged, lost and trying to make their way in a "foreign" world – the world you see right outside your window. Touching. Poignant. And definitely worth a watch, though maybe wait till after Christmas...unless you want to join the ranks of those in Winter Blues and Depression Club.
Kiss Me Deadly – The search for the Great Whatsit by Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Hammer makes Chandler's Marlowe, Hammett's Spade and most modern PIs look like Pee Wee Herman by comparison. And the movie Hammer doesn't touch the prose Hammer in that regard. Spillane didn't name him Hammer for nothing. A great noir movie. And it always amazes me on the Dish online program guide that this movie only gets a two star (out of four) rating when crap like those true classics that will surely stand the test of time "Orphan" and "The Crazies" get more. One of the best examples of where the movie definitely improves on the book.
In a Lonely Place – Some people classify this movie as noir; I'm not sure it fully meets the criteria. Nonetheless, it's my second favorite movie of any after "Casablanca". One is romantic idealism (with some cynicism tossed in for good effect); the other is pure cynicism. You decide which is which. "In a Lonely Place" is another movie that, in my opinion, greatly improves on the book, though I know this is sacrilege to some Dorothy Hughes fans. But, without giving too much away, the movie is more ambiguous and with a much more ironic ending, while the book is more a more straight forward story of a killer. From Bogart's character in the film: "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."
Sherman's March – Well, it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy this – I guess I'm the kind. Ross McElwee set out to make a documentary about Sherman's march through Georgia during the Civil War. It turns out to be almost nothing about that, but instead is a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through the modern South with a man looking for, well, I guess himself – as well as a girlfriend. And Burt Reynolds.... And so much more.
MUSIC:Leonard Cohen – A lot of his songs are much the musical equivalent of David Goodis novels. Try especially the "I'm Your Man" or "The Future" albums for a nice look at the dark side of things.
Noisettes "Wild Young Hearts" album – Well, a bit of a departure here. Definitely not noirish in any way. Newish group, but they remind me of the "girl groups" of the early Sixties updated to today. Try especially the songs "Wild Young Hearts" and "Never Forget You." Bouncy fun.
Ruby Friedman Orchestra – relatively new also, and unfortunately some of my favorite songs by them/her are not easily available, though you can hear them on the web – like "Burning Skies" and "Hang Around". Still there are things to download at iTunes or Amazon. If you like alt sounds check her out.
The Dark Shadows (Brigitte Handley's alt rock group, not the TV show) – I particularly like the songs "Invisible" and "Lament of a Lost Soul". The latter might have worked good in "Ghost World," if the song had been around then. And the former is damned hard to find – but a good find. It's out on a CD...but you have to order it from Australia. Might hear it on Rodney on the Roq though.
Smithereens Christmas – Pat DiNizio, lead singer-songwriter wrote a beautiful song called "In a Lonely Place" based on the movie and including the above Bogart lines from it.......so the 80s (though they're still around) punk group qualifies as noir. But this is them doing their versions of Christmas songs. Hey, they did it before Dylan. -- But if you want their best album get "Especially for You."
On a side note, I have a story about Pat DiNizio, the lead singer/main songwriter of the Smithereens.
I love old movies. And, as stated above, one of my favorites is "In a Lonely Place" with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. On the Smithereens' album "Especially for You," from the mid-1980s, they had a song called "In a Lonely Place," and even copped some lyrics from some of the movie's dialogue. And I always liked the song as well as the movie.
So, I was looking to buy a vintage poster from that movie. To make a long story short, I did. And who did I end up buying one from but Pat DiNizio. So when I look at that poster or hear that song I always think: I wonder if DiNizio was looking at the very same poster and being inspired by it when he wrote the lyrics to that song? Great poster. Great song. Great album...if you like that punky-new wavy thing from the 80s.
Merry Noir Christmas
Punk New Year!