Sunday, July 7, 2013

Is noir a left-wing art form?

This is an excerpt from Barry Graham, from "Noir:  The Marxist Art Form" at this link::
There were rat footprints in the dried lard in the frying pan. Sometimes the rats woke me, but this time I had slept through their visit. They were now a fact of life, like dogs or pigeons.
It was Raeberry Street, Maryhill, Glasgow in 1975. The cleansing department was on strike, and mountains of plastic bags full of garbage were piled in the back courts of the crumbling tenements. The flats didn’t have bathrooms or hot water, just closet-sized toilets.

This was how we lived, but it was not what we read. The most popular books read by children were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels, about a group of upper-class English children who had adventures and solved mysteries. The most popular books among the adults, I think, were Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and Barbara Cartland’s romances. We kids also liked American comics. I remember standing on top of the midden, pretending to be Superman atop a tall building, yelling, “Up, up and away!” but I couldn’t fly out of there.

It was how we lived, but it was not what we watched on TV. Whether it was Upstairs, Downstairs—a soap about the English aristocracy—or Coronation Street, a soap about working class people in the North of England—there were no rats. There was hot water, and bathtubs. There was no mother of five knocking on a neighbor’s door to ask for help because it was payday and instead of coming home from his job at the butcher’s, her husband had disappeared into the pubs, and would not come home until Sunday. In the books we read and the TV we watched, money—or rather the lack of it—was never mentioned. The characters engaged in their dramas, mundane or life-threatening, marrying or divorcing or fucking or murdering one another without ever discussing rent arrears, lack of food, or utilities being cut off.

That year, the film Jaws was released, and broke all-time box-office records. Because of this, the novel it was based on became ubiquitous, in paperback with the image from the film’s poster on the cover. The film, a masterpiece of suspense, was the standard story of a heroic individual—a police chief, played by Roy Scheider—who wants to close his town’s beach because of shark attacks, but is overruled by greedy officials who want tourist dollars.

But the novel is less about man-eating sharks than the fear of poverty. Brody, the police chief, is struggling to get by. His wife, who comes from a wealthy family, is embarrassed about having married beneath her station, and is so resentful and bored that she has an affair. The reason that the town’s elected officials and business people conspire to keep the beaches open is not because they are evil and greedy and don’t care that people might get eaten by the shark; they are desperate, because they depend on the summer tourist season for their livelihood, and are afraid of losing their homes if the beach is closed.

Although the characters in the novel Jaws had a standard of living that seemed fabulous to me, it was the first time in fiction that I encountered the fear that defined the lives of everyone I knew.

Monday, July 1, 2013

DOUBLE, DOUBLE: The Fates, Addiction, Double Endemity, and Martha Grimes

A little rum will get this affair on its feet.

DOUBLE, DOUBLE: A DUAL MEMOIR OF ALCOHOLISM by Martha Grimes, the justly acclaimed author of murder mystery novels and her son, Ken Grimes.  The doubles in the title can be seen as allusions to the dual narrative of the text, to a double shot, to the chant of the Wyrd Sisters in MacBeth, or to the book and film, Double Endemity.  It is cleverly accomplished, as you shall see from the quotes below.
Double, double, toil and trouble.

Over at Peter Rozovsky's blog (link), he hosted a discussion seeking to define "noir," but the definitions there differ.

True noir, it seems to me, is exemplified especially by MacBeth, concerning power addicts and the temptations of the fates.  These too, are noir, for the stories are of walking shadows caught up in the maze of their addictions, poor players who strut and fret for their entire hour upon the stage, lives of desperation, the sound and the fury.

These are noir because they show the addict's journey into the blackness.

Some people feel that noir is Marxist or at least left-wing and some leftists and buddhists say that it reflects actual life in this material vale.  Not just addictions to money and power, but to such things as causes, soap operas, guns, alcohol, tobacco, promiscuous sex, and drugs.

Martha Grimes says this in her chapter entitled "Double Double Indemnity":

"This, mind you, is what's called "alcoholic" or"addictive thinking."  The whole approach to drinking is crazily mazelike.  You turn left, you turn right, you go along, you go back.'

"Now you--standing outside the maze, having heaps of laughter at the idiot in there who can't find his way out--please note:  The idiot in there doesn't know it's a maze; he thinks this is the Capital Beltway or some other annoying, clogged-up, circular multilaner, but for all of that minor annoyance, it's the only way he can travel.  This kind of thinking can also be called 'denial.'  There are exits from the Beltway, clearly marked; there's an exit from the maze unmarked.  Much harder to negotiate.'

"So, you, standing outside at the exit, yell, "It's over here, stupid.'

"But for the addict lost in the addiction, where's here? . . ."

"Another member of our group is leaving.  He's standing before us, giving reasons for his decision to stop coming to the clinic. . .He says he has his drinking under control now.'

Straight down the line, Walter.

That's more or less what I want to say to him.  It's what Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) says to Walter (Fred MacMurray) in that great film noir Double Indemnity.'

In any well-constructed mystery, there is a sense of inevitability. . .The movie begins with a gorgeous romance into which is interjected something chancy and dangerous, thereby making the romance even more glamorous.  Then they do the dangerous thing together, and it's all downhill from there.'

"I've watched Double Indemnity so many times that I think it's leaking out of my pores as slowly as my last drink.  It's such a beautiful piece of chiaroscuro; the lighting should be distilled and drunk neat.  There's the scene at the end where she's sitting in her living room, waiting for him with a gun; his shadow is thrown on the wall as he stands in the doorway with a gun. . .'

Straight down the line, baby.
Straight down the line.

"After that earlier dialogue, you think, Oh, God, now it's come down to this.  And this is where I see our own Walter, announcing he's quiting.'

The way in which Double Indemnity moves along the track to its inescapable end is the way this fellow will end.  He can handle his drinking, he says.  He's got a plan.  Say, drinking only on weekends.  It doesn't matter.  What he's thinking about now is the taste of that first drink. . ."

"He's Walter.  The bottle's Phyllis.  They're a perfect fit.  The bottle is alive with solace and the fulfillment of desire.  But the thirst is unquenchable.  There is no stop on this train ride until you're over the rail and onto the track, like Phyllis's husband."