I’ve long wanted to set up a blog dedicated to all things cinematic, and have finally been prompted into doing so thanks to Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films. Those bloggers extraordinaire are currently knee-deep in the ‘For the Love of Film Noir’ blogathon, dedicated to raising funds for the Film Noir Foundation in restoring and preserving classic films. Donations can be made here.
Film noir remains an indelible artistic influence on me. For a teenage nascent insomniac, BBC2’s programming of late-night noirs was a blessing. The Postman Always Rings Twice… I think that was the gateway. The other formative noirs from those years – caught once and never again – have fermented into a delicious, chiaroscuro blur of white-hot cigarette smoke in dark rooms, relentlessly rain-slicked streets, gigantic murderous shadows cast over the anonymous doomed. The stark aesthetics linger, even if the specific titles elude me. Even watched through bleary eyes that have to be at school in the morning, the impact is hard to shake, and to this day I’m seeking out new noirs.
Aside from the visuals, it was the women. Contemporary cinema at the time simply didn’t present me with women as fascinating as Gilda, or Bacall and Thelma Vickers, or poor unfulfilled Cora in her sad little roadside diner. And while it may have not clicked that the fascinations they held were essentially being indicted and punished in the movies themselves – that I was perhaps being warned and chastised for finding them so fascinating – the fact remained that, for me, these women were the star attractions. The heroes, even. Even when they were as diabolical as Phyllis Dietrichson, or Veda in Mildred Pierce, a part of me willed them to succeed. Take the suckers for all they’re worth, girls.
They always failed of course, and were punished – either by death, or in the hell of being tamed and having to pretend to sincerely love Glenn Ford after all. But it always struck me as rather a simplistic reading, to cry misogyny on these counts. Certainly, these resolutions made the films as a whole more palatable to conservative audiences. But these women had worked their magic, as far as I was concerned, and their moxie and defiance, their dissatisfaction with their lot, would surely outlive them.
Bacall was the first noir woman I loved. But her sardonic wit had it’s limits, and didn’t amount to much in the way of range or depth. Barbara Stanwyck made for an unimpeachable femme fatale, but she’s always – ultimately – a class act. Hayworth’s presence in noir continues to fascinate, but was always toying with and rubbing up against her star persona; she’s never just Gilda, but always also Hayworth. The woman I’m writing about tomorrow, and whose signature performance tic has inspired the name of this blog, is – for me – the ultimate noir woman; the essence of dangerously unknowable femininity, forever slipping in and out of the dark.