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Posts Tagged ‘noir

“Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work”*…

 

In 1699, an anonymous lexicographer known only as “B. E., Gent.” published the first comprehensive dictionary of non-standard English. Although shorter word lists and glossaries of slang terminology had been published previously, B.E.’s New Dictionary of the Canting Crew listed over 4000 words and phrases, and is credited with being the first such publication resembling a modern dictionary. As a result, it remained the standard reference work for English slang and jargon for almost another century…

“Addle-plot,” “ebb-water,” and 28 other examples of historic jargon at “30 Excellent Terms From a 17th Century Slang Dictionary.”

* Carl Sandburg

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As we reach for the right phrase, we might send gritty birthday greetings to a man who was a master of the coinage of crime– Samuel Dashiell Hammett; he was born on this date in 1894.  Hammett worked as an agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915-1922, when– disillusioned by the organization’s role in strike-breaking– he left to become a writer, providing copy in an ad agency until his fiction earned enough to support him.  Hammett drew for his fiction on his experiences as a “Pinkerton Man,” and created an extraordinary series of characters– Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), The Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse)– on the way to becoming, as the New York Times called him, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”

In his book The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler, considered by many to be Hammett’s successor, observed,

Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of The Glass Key is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before. 

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Written by LW

May 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”*…

 

From the British Film Institute, an infographic dedicated to the shadowy world of one of classic Hollywood’s most beloved subgenres– see it in its gritty entirety at “What Makes a Film Noir?

* Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

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As we grope for our gats, we might send haunting birthday greetings to Brian Easdale; he was born on this date in 1909.  A composer of both orchestral and operatic music, Easdale is best remembered for his film scores, especially those he composed for the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (including Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and The Elusive Pimpernel).  Perhaps his most powerful film work was on Powell’s controversial Peeping Tom, a film that used a number of film noir conventions to create a horror-thriller so shockingly unexpected that– while the film is now considered a masterpiece– it effectively ended Powell’s career.

Sir Thomas Beecham (left, with baton), and Easdale (center) preparing to record the score of The Red Shoes

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Written by LW

August 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle”*…

 

Long before the lights from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park began illuminating the North Shore every summer, a local corporation gave the city an art show every night on the same grounds.

The Westinghouse Electric Supply Company (a subsidiary of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, or Wesco), based in Pittsburgh, moved into a warehouse facing the Allegheny River in 1948. On its roof, a giant orange and blue sign spelled out the the company’s tag line, “You can be sure … if it’s Westinghouse.”

As modernist design trickled down from the Bauhaus to Madison Avenue, most noticeably in the 1960s, corporate giants like Westinghouse began leaning towards minimalist visual identities. In 1960, Paul Rand gave the company a logo that looked like an electrical socket that also spelled out the letter W.

Six years later, Richard Huppertz, head of Westinghouse’s Corporate Design Center, wanted to emphasize the company’s sleek new identity with text-free signage on top of their North Shore warehouse. Huppertz ran the idea by Rand, who then came up with the country’s first computer-controlled sign…

Read the rest of this illuminating story at “Remembering Pittsburgh’s Most Mesmerizing Sign.”

* Walt Whitman

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As we celebrate bright ideas, we might turn to the noir side and send hard-boiled birthday greetings to Raymond Chandler, novelist (The Big SleepFarewell, My Lovely, et al.) and screenwriter (Double Indemnity, with Billy Wilder, e.g.), whose Philip Marlowe was (with Hammett’s Sam Spade) synonymous with “private detective,” whose style (with Hammett’s) defined a genre, and who was (unlike Hammett) born on this date in 1888.

Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective’s struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.

– Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel” (essay, 1949)

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Written by LW

July 23, 2014 at 1:01 am

Equality for all!…

 

This speculative map imagines a world divided into 665 territories of approximately equal population (10-11 million people each). The logic of the map does not entirely discount existing ethnic or national boundaries, but neither is it beholden to them. The particular political rationale behind these divisions is not addressed – whether these are independent nation-states or provinces of a world government is left to the imagination of the viewer. The map is rather meant to provide a visual representative of the radically unequal distribution of the world’s population. For example, one New York City and Long Island = half of Karachi = one Russian Far East = one of every Pacific Island. What does this make you think about the current distribution of the world’s resources, the movement of populations and the arbitrariness of territorial divisions?

Explore this “geography thought experiment” at World of Equal Districts.

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As we ponder proximity, we might send hard-boiled birthday greetings to James Myers “Jim” Thompson; he was born on this date in 1906.  Arguably the finest of all pulp-crime writers, Thompson began his career as a “traditional” author, publishing his first two novels, Now and on Earth and Heed the Thunder as hardbacks.  After these books failed to find wide audiences, Thompson found his voice in crime fiction, grinding out hellish tales for paperback mills such as Lion Books and Gold Medal.  While he was quite prolific– Thompson once produced 12 books in 2 years– his crime fiction wasn’t paying the bills; so he turned to screenwriting, working with Stanley Kubrick on The Killing and Paths of Glory, to writing for TV series (Mackenzie’s RaidersCain’s Hundred, and Convoy), and to penning novelizations (e.g., Ironside).

But through it all, Thompson wrote thrillers– noir nuggets that included The Killer Inside MeSavage NightA Hell of a Woman, and Pop. 1280.  Thompson was convinced that recognition would come to him only after his death; and while two of his novels (The Killer Inside Me and The Getaway) were made into films during his lifetime, he was, sadly, largely right.  Since his death in 1977, both those films have been remade (The Getaway, twice, if one counts the first half of the Rodriguez/Tarantino mash-up From Dusk ’til Dawn), and several others adapted:  The Grifters (nominated for four Oscars), After Dark, My Sweet, and This World, Then the Fireworks, among others.  More to the point, Thompson’s writing has increasingly been appreciated for the marvel that it is.

The guy was over the top. The guy was absolutely over the top. Big Jim didn’t know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the forgoing: he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it.

– Stephen King

If Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett & Cornell Woolrich could have joined together in some ungodly union & produced a literary offspring, Jim Thompson would be it.

Washington Post

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Written by LW

September 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

For your viewing pleasure…

Your correspondent is amazed at how quickly so many of his friends have exhausted attractive film-going options in this release-packed holiday and Oscar-promotion period.  What’s a hungry viewer to do?  Well, of course, there’s always television and cable; as Jim Emerson notes, many believe that they are eclipsing cinema.

But for those who crave the authentic big screen deal, there’s also the treasure trove of the past.  For example, if one can’t muster the enthusiasm to head out this weekend to see The Guilt Trip or Texas Chainsaw 3D, one might enjoy…

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Stanley Donen’s 1956 spellbinder was written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm, and featured Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dominique Minot, Ned Glass, and Jacques Marin.  Its score, by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, was nominated for an Academy Award…

Witty, smart, and altogether satisfying, it’s here in its entirety:

(Email readers, click here)

And it’s available as a free download at The Internet Archive— as are many, many other worthies.

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As we salt our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that the two greatest creators of hard-boiled private eyes, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, met for the first (and as far as anyone can tell, the only) time– at a dinner hosted by Black Mask, a magazine to which both Nabobs of Noir contributed stories.

Raymond Chandler (with his customary pipe) and Dashiell Hammett

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This extremely rare photo of the first west coast Black Mask get-together on January 11, 1936 captures possibly the only meeting of several of these authors.
Pictured in the back row, from left to right, are Raymond J. Moffatt, Raymond Chandler, Herbert Stinson, Dwight Babcock, Eric Taylor and Dashiell Hammett. In the front row, again from left to right, are Arthur Barnes (?), John K. Butler, W. T. Ballard, Horace McCoy and Norbert Davis.

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Written by LW

January 11, 2013 at 1:01 am

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