Thursday, January 04, 2007

Noir Interview #5: Isaac Rathbone

How did your interest in film noir originally get sparked?

ISAAC RATHBONE: I studied film at Hofstra University and took a course entirely devoted to film noir. Our professor was incredibly passionate about the subject and we watched and studied so many films. After watching Double Indemnity on the first day of class, I’ve been hooked ever since.

So, what is film noir? How do you define it?

ISAAC RATHBONE: Film Noir is a genre, specific to American films of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. For those of you Parisians and French Canadians there is no need to explain the title, but for the rest of the world film noir essentially means “black” or “dark” film, and it is that. The subject matter is very dark. The actual look of the picture uses a lot of shadows and low light. The filmmakers of most noir films were highly influenced by the film and theatre of German Expressionism. This style of art also invokes the darkness of human society, along with the isolationism of the protagonist.

I sometimes like to use this recipe:

Add one cup of German Expressionism, two cups of American Gangster films of the 1930’s, a tablespoon of whiskey, and a pack of Lucky Strikes. Mix all ingredients and have it cook and settle during the horrors and persecutions of Nazi Germany. Serve in low light.

Do you have a favorite film which for you most clearly defines the movement/style/sub-genre?

ISAAC RATHBONE: Most academics would say that Double Indemnity is the quintessential Noir film. I am not an academic.

Detour is my favorite film, which also defines the Noir movement. It has the down-on-his-luck protagonist, the femme fatal, murder, and an “existentialism on steroids” mood.

What do you think, generally speaking, film noir has to offer the theatre artist?

ISAAC RATHBONE: Like any great plays, Film Noir has great language and characters. Actors and directors study Shakespeare for these same elements, but film noir has some of the most down-trodden protagonists, incredible villains, and powerful women, not to mention some of the greatest lines ever written.

Why do you think the past few years have been so noir-saturated in film, television, and theatre?

ISAAC RATHBONE: People like to say [the words] Film Noir. It’s French name makes people feel like they’re scholars. If the French had called Westerns, “Film L’ouest,” I’d be writing about John Wayne right now.

In some respects, the mood also resembles the pessimism and paranoia of living in the post-9/11 world. We feel we are constantly being pursued by an unknown force, whether that comes for terrorism or the wire taping of our own government.

But it also makes for some great entertainment.

I really loved the noir elements in your Fringe NYC offering Breakfast for Dinner. What’s the origin of the piece and how would you like to see it develop further now that it has grown from a one-act to a full-length?

ISAAC RATHBONE: Thank you. Breakfast For Dinner was a reaction to the dangers of the Internet. While covering topics of illusions of personality I wanted to use elements of the noir style in one of the police characters. The hard-boiled detective was generic fa├žade he could hide behind.

There have been many suggestions that I take it another step and make it a screenplay. I think it may go in that direction.

Any other upcoming work to plug?

Nothing in performance at the moment. My upcoming projects include a full-length play regarding a spiritual journey through a trailer park and a project about Walt Disney.

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