Notes on a Noir: In a Lonely Place

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.“

Foreword: This post is in conjunction with the Park Circus Film Noir Blgoathon. Park Circus is a UK distribution company dedicated to bringing classic film back to the big screen. In honor of the re-release of the seminal film noir Gilda to select theatres in the UK, today Park Circus is hosting a blogathon in honor of the film and the medium of noir. The Park Circus catalog includes, along with Gilda, the greatest film noirs ever made including Kiss Me Deadly, He Walked by Night, The Big Heat and, my favorite, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place.

The film noirs of director Nicholas Ray roll off the tongue like Raymond Chandler mystery novels: They Live by Night, In a Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground. Just the mere sound of them evoke seedy bars at one-am, hallway shadows in dingy apartment buildings, and dark winding roads of asphalt—the latter of which is precisely how Ray’s In A Lonely Place opens. We see only Humphrey Bogart’s eyes in the rearview mirror as he navigates the late-night Los Angeles traffic.

Bogart is the volatile Dixon Steele: a Hollywood screenwriter with a scathing wit and hot temper who is never far from a fight. (There are two within the first ten minutes of the film.) He sits at his favorite lounge, an industry watering hole, tossing around possible dialogue to waiters (“there’s no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality”) and sparring words with fellow scribes: “One day I’ll surprise you and write something good,” he says with good-natured bitterness.

Dixon’s agent has just tasked him with adapting a silly novel into a good script. Rather than wade through the pages, he asks a hat check girl to come home with him and tell him the story. Sound like a proposition? It isn’t.  Steele is much more interested in his hot new neighbor across the courtyard. The girl leaves, Steele goes to bed and first thing in the morning he is called to the DA’s office for questioning over her murder.

What unfolds is a superbly crafted game of chess between DIxon, the hell-bent DA, Bogart’s best-friend detective and, of course, the dame who loves him, Gloria Grahame. The film is a psychological thriller. Bogart’s Dixon Steele is darkly complex— his vulnerable insecurity manifesting itself with bouts of explosive violence and keeping us guessing, right up to the final seconds of the film, as to whether or not he committed the crime.

But at the core, this film is not a whodunit. It is a love story.

Dixon is a loner. From what we can tell, he has exactly one good friend—and a long list of enemies. The passion of his relationship with Laurel is so all-consuming it suggests that she is the first woman he has ever truly loved— made all the more poignant by the fact that she will probably end up being the only woman he will ever love.

New York Times film critic Terrence Rafferty recently noted about the noir genre that “what makes [these films] so unmistakably American is that the violent outcomes always seem to come as a surprise to them. … They thought they were going to be on easy street. There’s a weird, little noted streak of optimism in film noir, a berserk hopefulness…”

And for Dixon, the source that ‘berserk hopefulness’ is Laurel. But she is a woman with a history of running away from herself, and as Dixon loses control she slowly finds herself questioning him.  And once her trust in him is compromised, there is no turning back.  Wanting to love him but tormented by doubt, Laurel tries to run. Dixon’s dangerous insecurities take hold. He tightens his grip on her, desperate to keep her from running away, and when his hands close around her neck we know that means even if he has to kill her.  The fact that the DA has cleared his name of the crime now means nothing.

The words from his script bare Dixon’s tortured truth: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.“

Bogart’s chemistry with Grahame is white hot, as is Grahame herself—when she whispers “I don’t want anyone but you,” her lips muffle her speech as they press against Bogart’s cheek—it is one of the sexiest lines ever spoken.

Like many of the best noirs, Lonely Place is set in Los Angeles–  a city that is more of a plot device than a mere setting. There is something sinister and dark lurking beneath the bright lights of Tinseltown. A bitter subterranea of thwarted dreams and lonely, lost souls.

Of which Dixon Steele is just another face in the crowd.

Please check out the Park Circus blogathon for a round up of today’s noir posts, and to learn more about Park Circus films’ truly wonderful initiative!

A Life in Photographs: Linda McCartney

Hubby Paul. Cover shot from Taschen's Linda McCartney: A Life in Photographs

Oh Taschen. Yummy, delectable, I-want-to-devour-you-whole Tahhhh-Shen. So beautiful. So sumptuous. SO expensive. And yet, somehow, worth every blessed cent. Your anthologies agonize me with want. I covet your sweetly binded spines and secretly despise those who have your volumes proudly displayed on their hand-crafted cabinetry. I’m a hater, what can I say?

I own one Taschen volume, their recent Los Angeles: Portrait of a City, and countless other titles clutter my wish list. (The Stanley Kubrick Archives, anyone?) But their newest release has been automatically scratched from any such “wish” list and sent straight to the top of “must have” indulgences.

My tongue hit the floor when I came across the latest Taschen catalog advertising Linda McCartney: A Life in Photographs … a decadently illustrated 300+ page volume chronicling ’60s Rock photographress supreme and the  Mother of all Rock moms? I am SO on this one.

Linda McCartney‘s life may very well be overshadowed by the incalculably large shadow of her legendary husband (she married a Beatle for goshsakes– and not just any Beatle, but one half of the greatest songwriting team of the 20th Century. And you can quote me).

But Linda was hardly a mere footnote in rock history.

She was a chronicler of it.

They met and fell in love like a good old fashioned romance novel. Down to earth, no-frills artsy girl happens upon society’s most eligible, rich, handsome bachelor, and the two fall madly in love, throwing convention to the wind. (The same, interestingly enough, is quite true of the couple’s acutely avant garde counterpart, John and Yoko; although to quite a different reaction … something that is another post altogether…)

Linda was never really just “Mrs. Paul McCartney.” Although she was an inextricable part of Paul’s life and work, straight up to her tragic death at age 56 from breast cancer, she was not only a wife and mother, but an artist.

A formidable one, in her own right, which this new Taschen anthology documents both exquisitely and authoritatively.

Sir Paul McCartney and his fashion-guru daughter Stella, along with siblings Mary, James and (half-sister) Heather,  have collaborated to present this highly personal tribute to a striking artistic talent, devoted mother, and truly gracious lady.

The publisher’s description sums it up perfectly:

From her early rock ’n’ roll portraits, through the final years of the Beatles, via touring with Wings to raising four children with Paul, Linda captured her whole world on film. Her shots range from spontaneous family pictures to studio sessions with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, as well as artists Willem de Kooning and Gilbert and George. Always unassuming and fresh, her work displays a warmth and feeling for the precise moment that captures the essence of any subject. Whether photographing her children, celebrities, animals, or a fleeting moment of everyday life, she did so without pretension or artifice.

These photos are only a few from the selection of shots that will thrill any fan of 60s rock culture… or indeed, any true fan of photography itself.

Working Mum

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Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holdling Company

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Jimi Hendrix,1967

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John. 1968. This shot speaks volumes.

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The Rolling Stones-- taken on Linda's fortuitous shoot which secured her future as a rockumentarian goddess.

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Evocative shot of Steppenwolf-- the first band signed under The Beatles' fledgling late '60s' label, Apple Records.

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It's a bird ... it's a plane ... no, it's ... erm ... Paul in hotpants.

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A cluttered desk at the McCartney farm in Scotland-- 1970s.

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The McCartneys, Paul, Stella, James (and Linda behind the lens, of course) at home in Scotland.

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Candid shot of The Beatles from the April, 1967 Sgt. Pepper's press-op. Paul got Linda's number not long after.

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All in all, Taschen’s tribute is endearing, heartfelt, and probably their most sentimental volume to date.

I leave you all with my personal favorite Paul and Linda moment. Paul’s campy but oh-so fun music video featuring Michael Jackson, Say, Say, Say (1983), with Linda very much a part of Paul’s company, pitching in the best she can … bless her darling heart.

We love and miss you, Linda!

Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last and the Triumph of Silent Film

The Orpheum Marquee: Harold Lloyd ... Robert Israel ... and Hugh Hefner. Only in L.A. 😉

Wow. So the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory tend to have the same thing in common: silence. First with the TCM Festival’s triumphant screening of Buster Keaton‘s The Cameraman in April. And now two months later, with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s closing night film of their 25th Annual “Last Remaining Seats” series, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last.

For the uninitiated, the “Last Remaining Seats” series is a fantastic event each summer in which the Los Angeles Conservancy, LA’s foremost historical preservation society, opens the doors of Downtown LA’s movie palaces to the general public with a series of classic film screenings. It is an extraordinary event and its evergreen– indeed, ever growing– popularity is a true testament to the fact that audiences will always love the old-fashioned joy of a night at the movies. Because “Last Remaining Seats” is all about old-fashioned joy. These palaces were built as veritable escape portals for the masses– with their gilded halls and plush velour, where even the grimiest working Joe could, for an hour or so, feel like royalty.

And boy, did we ever feel like that tonight!

The majestic Orpheum interior

Having missed last year’s schedule completely, I was not about to miss this– even a lingering cold did not foil my plans! Tonight’s screening was greeted to an enthusiastic crowd– a large majority of which had never seen a silent feature film before in their life.  I know because renowned silent film composer Robert Israel, providing the night’s accompaniment, asked for applause from any silent film first-timers– the applause was rather verbose.

Keaton’s charming short Cops was the appetizer, followed up by crowd-pleasing pre-show in the spirit of Sid Grauman‘s famous prologues of the ’20s. The Cicada Club is a downtown Los Angeles world unto it’s own: a tangible time glitch where dames in fringe dresses and faux fur with fellas in tailored tuxes and top hats put on the ritz every Sunday night to the vintage croons of Ben Halpern and orchestral swing of Dean Moira. The Cicada set may have its cliques (vintage purists who happen to wear blue jeans, like me, don’t exactly fit)  but oh can they put on a show! The club’s proprietor Maxwell DeMille presided over the high-spirited prologue which included a hot Charleston number and some delightful standards, from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “California Here I Come!”

Film historian John Bengtson‘s recent book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd is the third in a series of books that are, truly, cinematic archaeology: meticulously unearthing the filming locations of the great silent comedians to create a detailed composite of a city on the come. It was fitting that he took the stage with Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, to introduce the film, it’s Los Angeles-centric importance, and the movie-like backstory that surrounded it’s production. (Lloyd married his leading lady just before the picture wrapped.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Safety Last many a time and have always liked it and admired Lloyd’s physical prowess. But I have always preferred Lloyd’s Girl Shy and The Freshman (with their respective Robert Israel scores, of course) and, while I appreciate the film’s significance, it was never a favorite.

Well, scratch that last.

This film was made for the big screen in every possible sense. The audience literally screamed with both laughter and fright, a deliriously thin line, at Lloyd’s aerial antics– the ferociousness of which simply cannot be truly appreciated on the confines of a television screen. Safety Last is, first and foremost, a MOVIE: intended to be projected on a 20 foot screen and was made for those towering dimensions.

My palms were sweating and fingernails were bitten– even though the outcome was as plain on the nose on my face. It was simply … magic.

The audience’s verbal reaction only intensified the experience. Even when paying 20 smackers for the latest 3D extravaganza, it is very very rare to have an audience so intimately, totally, completely immersed with the film. Ever move Harold made, every slip of the foot, even the most blatantly obvious of set pieces, elicited a gut reaction. Ooohs, Aaaah, Nooos and Eeeeks screamed from the balcony and orchestra seats.

We. Were. His.

And I wonder what it all means. In this unappreciative era of instant information and unearned entitlement, when we are so completely jaded and rarely impressed at the movies… how truly meaningful is it that a silent film, 80+ years old, without gimmicky camera trickery or CGI imagery can make our hearts beat right out of it’s cages and our palms sweat like no Michael Bay extravaganza could ever hope to.

The purity of silent film triumphs once again.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

Harold Lloyd's Safety Last and the Triumph of Silent Film

The Orpheum Marquee: Harold Lloyd ... Robert Israel ... and Hugh Hefner. Only in L.A. 😉

Wow. So the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory tend to have the same thing in common: silence. First with the TCM Festival’s triumphant screening of Buster Keaton‘s The Cameraman in April. And now two months later, with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s closing night film of their 25th Annual “Last Remaining Seats” series, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last.

For the uninitiated, the “Last Remaining Seats” series is a fantastic event each summer in which the Los Angeles Conservancy, LA’s foremost historical preservation society, opens the doors of Downtown LA’s movie palaces to the general public with a series of classic film screenings. It is an extraordinary event and its evergreen– indeed, ever growing– popularity is a true testament to the fact that audiences will always love the old-fashioned joy of a night at the movies. Because “Last Remaining Seats” is all about old-fashioned joy. These palaces were built as veritable escape portals for the masses– with their gilded halls and plush velour, where even the grimiest working Joe could, for an hour or so, feel like royalty.

And boy, did we ever feel like that tonight!

The majestic Orpheum interior

Having missed last year’s schedule completely, I was not about to miss this– even a lingering cold did not foil my plans! Tonight’s screening was greeted to an enthusiastic crowd– a large majority of which had never seen a silent feature film before in their life.  I know because renowned silent film composer Robert Israel, providing the night’s accompaniment, asked for applause from any silent film first-timers– the applause was rather verbose.

Keaton’s charming short Cops was the appetizer, followed up by crowd-pleasing pre-show in the spirit of Sid Grauman‘s famous prologues of the ’20s. The Cicada Club is a downtown Los Angeles world unto it’s own: a tangible time glitch where dames in fringe dresses and faux fur with fellas in tailored tuxes and top hats put on the ritz every Sunday night to the vintage croons of Ben Halpern and orchestral swing of Dean Moira. The Cicada set may have its cliques (vintage purists who happen to wear blue jeans, like me, don’t exactly fit)  but oh can they put on a show! The club’s proprietor Maxwell DeMille presided over the high-spirited prologue which included a hot Charleston number and some delightful standards, from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “California Here I Come!”

Film historian John Bengtson‘s recent book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd is the third in a series of books that are, truly, cinematic archaeology: meticulously unearthing the filming locations of the great silent comedians to create a detailed composite of a city on the come. It was fitting that he took the stage with Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, to introduce the film, it’s Los Angeles-centric importance, and the movie-like backstory that surrounded it’s production. (Lloyd married his leading lady just before the picture wrapped.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Safety Last many a time and have always liked it and admired Lloyd’s physical prowess. But I have always preferred Lloyd’s Girl Shy and The Freshman (with their respective Robert Israel scores, of course) and, while I appreciate the film’s significance, it was never a favorite.

Well, scratch that last.

This film was made for the big screen in every possible sense. The audience literally screamed with both laughter and fright, a deliriously thin line, at Lloyd’s aerial antics– the ferociousness of which simply cannot be truly appreciated on the confines of a television screen. Safety Last is, first and foremost, a MOVIE: intended to be projected on a 20 foot screen and was made for those towering dimensions.

My palms were sweating and fingernails were bitten– even though the outcome was as plain on the nose on my face. It was simply … magic.

The audience’s verbal reaction only intensified the experience. Even when paying 20 smackers for the latest 3D extravaganza, it is very very rare to have an audience so intimately, totally, completely immersed with the film. Ever move Harold made, every slip of the foot, even the most blatantly obvious of set pieces, elicited a gut reaction. Ooohs, Aaaah, Nooos and Eeeeks screamed from the balcony and orchestra seats.

We. Were. His.

And I wonder what it all means. In this unappreciative era of instant information and unearned entitlement, when we are so completely jaded and rarely impressed at the movies… how truly meaningful is it that a silent film, 80+ years old, without gimmicky camera trickery or CGI imagery can make our hearts beat right out of it’s cages and our palms sweat like no Michael Bay extravaganza could ever hope to.

The purity of silent film triumphs once again.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

Pendersleigh and Sons… and the Lost Art of Cartography

Vintage Cartography -- Map of California from the 1930s

The art of cartography is about as extinct as the art of the written letter.

What need is there for a hand-drawn community renderings in the age of instant information, when most people have GPS maps on their cellphones? No need at all.

But Los Angeles based writer Eric Brightwell doesn’t care.

Hence this blog post.

Taking his inspiration from the colorful, sometimes whimsical, often not exactly to scale maps that were popular in the early 20th century, Brightwell has created a cartographic journey though Southern California hearkening back to a much simpler, but no less keenly inquisitive, time in our history.

Being a California native, I’m terribly fond of this style of cartography– the mistmatched typography and rather askew geography which was often the result of the rushed booming years of California tourism.

The 1650 Gallery in Echo Park recently hosted a show of Brightwell’s high-spirited homage to the lost art of cartography (under the moniker Pendersleigh and Sons) and the experience was  so delightful that I simply had  to post just one or two of the many highlights here:

Call for Entries: The 2012 Laugh and Live Silent Film Festival

Next year, an entirely new kind of silent film festival is coming to Hollywood. The Laugh and Live Film Festival, presented by Los Angeles-based film historian Sparrow Morgan, will be the first festival of its kind: focusing on reviving, not just interest in silent film, but the very medium of silent film itself.

The Pictorial is, quite frankly, STOKED.

Fairbanks at UCLA

Sparrow Morgan is a Los Angeles-based film historian who has founded the festival in honor of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.– a man who was an early champion of the medium of film itself, as a founding member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and a founding faculty member of the UCLA film school. It is a fitting full-circle tribute, naming a festival dedicated to the revitalization of silent film in honor of a man so vital to the medium itself. Morgan is also responsible for founding of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Fairbanks Memorial: a yearly celebration of silent film and the history of Hollywood, taking place on the Fairbanks Lawn at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, coinciding with the birthday of Douglas Fairbanks Sr, on May 23.

The festival’s first press release was recently released and it is with the highest of excitement that we post it here:

Los Angeles based film historian Sparrow Morgan is proud to
announce The Laugh and Live Festival, the first and only event showcasing contemporary silent films.

Scheduled for May 2012, time, date, and details on speci!c events will be forthcoming.

Founded in honor of Douglas Fairbanks Sr, for whose charming book of advice the festival is named, The Laugh and Live Festival aims to increase the participants’ and audience’s understanding and appreciation of
silent film not only as an historical art form, but challenges them to consider silent film as a viable modern format.

“Interest in silent film has been increasing in recent years, but most of the viewing public still consider it an acquired taste, something one needs a film degree to understand, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Morgan. “Silent film, especially the early one-reel nickelodeon serials, were made with the express purpose of entertaining a wide audience. It was all about the action, the drama, and the excitement, not unlike modern day soap operas. The art came later.”

It is in this spirit that The Laugh and Live Festival will be offering a lecture track devoted to the entertainment and enrichment of the general public, as well as workshops and lectures for aspiring filmmakers hosted by historians and filmmakers alike.

The crown jewel of the Laugh and Live Festival will be its screenings of contemporary short-format silent films by student and non-professional filmmakers.

Walking in LA: Photo Blogging by Foot

The iconic Hollywood & Vine neon sign

Growing up with an amateur photographer for a father, my love for photography has its roots in his makeshift, homemade dark room. Deep red lights and sour solution are as much a part of my childhood memories as oreos and milk.

My father was (and still is) quite gifted and he certainly instilled love of the artform in me– although I certainly do not possess even a fraction of his skill. (OK, let’s be honest, any real skill at all.)

But today, in the era of iPhone Apps– that’s OK. Suddenly everyone is a “photographer.”  Fancy photo filter apps abound (Instagram, Hipstamatic, and ProCamera to name the few)
transforming hastily taken snapshots into a polished product that once, not so long ago, took hours of painstaking skill in the dark room to achieve.

And I’m a total sucker for them. I get to delude myself into thinking I might still have a chance at taking a picture that someone like my father might approve of.

It also makes being a pedestrian in Hollywood a heck of a lot more fun. The best way to get to know any city is a pied, even in a town like Hollywood that has undulated to motorers since the beginning.

So I’ve rounded up a few So-Cal snapshots taken while out and about that you may (or may not) find to be kind fun– but they certainly here are some Hollywood snaps that you may (or may not) find to be kinda fun:

The First National Bank building at Hollywood and Highland

West Hollywood jacaranda trees in bloom

Joe Gillis' writing pad on Ivar at Franklin.

Santa Monica's 1933 Art Deco Jewel, The Georgian Hotel

Hollywood's super cute "Cafe Audrey" -- a clasic movie coffee klatch

A sunny day

Sunny afternoon at the Santa Monica Pier

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Closed record shop sign on Highland Ave-- if anyone knows the name of the former establishment, please let me know!

The Equitable Building at night, Hollywood and Vine