Monday, December 04, 2006

Ominous Music

I was watching Scarlet Street (highly recommended, if only for Edward G. Robinson's incredible performance) with Kiran Rikhye (Stolen Chair's resident literary ventriloquist) the other night...femme fatale Joan Bennett gives a melodramatic headturn quick enough to give her whiplash as the ominous music swells in the background. I turned (much more slowly and far less melodramatically) to Kiran and asked, "How did people in the 40's not crack up with this camp?" Kiran sagely responded that there's nothing new about the suspension of disbelief: just like we want to be scared in a horror-flick so badly that we're willing to indulge the silliness of the spine-tingling scores and the cgi-monsters, 40's filmgoers let themselves be sucked into the high stakes worlds of the noirs, even when the killer's identity is telegraphed in the first frame.

Which reminds me of a discussion I was having with John Clancy a few nights ago, about what makes a noir a noir. Or rather, it reminds me of something I failed to say when I was listing the other key components of a quintessential noir...most noirs are mysteries in which actually solving the mystery is about as important as resolving the dramatic tension in a porn movie. So, why do we watch them (noirs, not porns)? Well, we watch horror films knowing full well that our protagonist is likely to emerge safe and sound--it's not about the destination, it's about the journey, and the best film noirs offer a road studded with brilliant visual compositions (see I Wake Up Screaming), snappy dialogue (check out Double Indemnity), twisted romantic unions (Scarlet Steet), censor-dodging allusions to sexuality (Laura and Gilda, anyone?), and transgressive gender performances (Maltese Falcon, Lady in the Lake, or Gilda, depending on your vision of transgression).

Off to bed. I leave you all to contemplate what sort of car you would need to drive on a road studded with transgressive gender performances. Oy. Must stop with metaphors.

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