RETURNING TO A NOIR WORLD

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Film Noir was a reaction to a nation reeling from war overseas and upheaval at home. When men went off to fight, women stepped into the public sector with newfound independence. Soldiers returning home found their jobs gone, the social order upended and the world they had fought to preserve vanished.   

Studio chiefs turned to the fast-and-cheap pulp mysteries of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain for stories that captured the dark malaise buried beneath the surface of the outwardly victorious and prosperous nation, and Film Noir was born.  

With the current political and social upheaval the country is once again reeling—tales of corruption, greed and selfish behavior once again resonate with the national mood.

Tom Ford’s latest film, Nocturnal Animals takes a page from the world of Film Noir with its immoral characters and senseless violence.

nocturnalNOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Tom Ford’s latest film is a “story inside a story,” with the first part following a woman named Susan (Amy Adams) who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man whom she left 20 years earlier, asking for her opinion.

The second part of the story follows the actual manuscript, called “Nocturnal Animals,” which revolves around a man whose family vacation turns violent and deadly in the plains of Texas.  The callousness and indifference shown by the perpetrators is chillingly reminiscent of film noir, where morals and laws were meant to be broken.

The film also continues to follow the story of Susan, who finds herself recalling her first marriage and confronting her own dark truths.  The mood is stylish and cool with a detached take on cause and effect.

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prowlerTHE PROWLER (1951)

Joseph Losey’s The Prowler out-Hitchcocks the master himself. It’s morbid and dark, cut from the cloth of pulp comics.  

The film is about what happens when obsession takes hold and you slowly begin to morph into the worst version of yourself, desperately grasping for the things in life you proudly believe you deserve.

After being frightened by a peeping Tom at her mansion, the stunning Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) calls the police for help. Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) arrives and becomes infatuated with Susan, and the two engage in a short-lived affair. There’s a life lesson in there about greed, but you might be too caught up in the film’s grimy sheen for it to sink in.

YouTube    Amazon

sweetSWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)

Alexander Mackendrick’s masterpiece of blind items and blind ambition follows NYC gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) who commands fear from politicians and celebrities alike. One of his followers is Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) a hustling publicist who’ll do anything to get in Hunsecker’s good graces, even going as far to set up Hunsecker’s younger sisters boyfriend as a pot-smoking commie.

Witch-hunts and blackmail are the only agenda—this is not a film for those looking for ethics or principles. The film is a ruthless portrait of New York nightlife and an eerily prescient nod to media sensationalism more than a half century before Facebook and Twitter.  No one is left unscathed in this sinister tale of greed and corruption.

iTunes    Amazon    Netflix

wrongmanTHE WRONG MAN (1956)

The master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock combines docudrama with the melodrama of film noir.  Based on a true story, The Wrong Man is a powerful portrait of a man, Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) who is falsely convicted for robberies he never committed.

Naturally, Hitchcock is every bit as interested in the effects of the outrageous miscarriage of justice that befalls Manny Balestrero as he is in the lasting trauma his detention inflicts on him and his family.

The film relies a lot on claustrophobic camerawork—we feel like we’re as confined as Manny—but the film’s greatest impression is left in its wake.

iTunes    Amazon    Vudu

aceACE IN THE HOLE (1951)

Billy Wilder’s film is a vicious and cynical satire of America’s press core.  Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a ladder-climbing journalist who views every opportunity as golden —no matter how grim the circumstance.   A cave collapse in New Mexico traps a man, and all eyes turn toward the tragedy—Chuck becomes the self-anointed mastermind behind what soon becomes a national media sensation – and he’s determined to milk it for all it is worth.

This is an outlaw America, an indifferent postwar America where rules of decency come a very distant third to getting the story and the addiction of sleaze entertainment. It’s an ugly vision that eerily predicted the current state of media culture more than half a century ago.

iTunes    Amazon    Vudu

bigTHE BIG SLEEP (1946)

One of the most celebrated films from this genre, The Big Sleep fully embodies every identifying feature of Raymond Chandler’s writing—dialogue that burns itself into our brains, strong men, femme fatales, violence, a respectable body count, and enough plot twists to give even the most accomplished noirs envy.

You will want to watch it more than once for Howard Hawks’ direction and Chandler’s spikey exchanges, not to mention the chemistry and magnetism of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Production codes at the time of The Big Sleep’s release prohibited it from being as graphic as Chandler’s novel, but maybe thrillers of today can learn a valuable lesson from the restrictions: less can so often mean much, much more.

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TEENAGE TURMOIL

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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The Big “D” Drama of the election has been fun ‘n all.  But to be absolutely honest, we’re sick of it.

 Luckily, Awards Season is upon us – a perfect time to lose ourselves in the more personal dramas that are writer/director Kennth Lonergan’s specialty. 

Lonergan’s last film, Margaret, had a self-absorbed teen at its center.  This time the adult is the center, but the teen still drives the plot. 

 “Teen drama” sounds pretty thin – but as it turns out, that setup has produced some really satisfying films. 

  

  manchester-by-the-sea
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)

Before he first landed at Sundance with You Can Count On Me in 2000, Lonergan was a playwright (This Is Our Youth) and screenwriter on some improbable projects (Analyze This, Rocky and Bullwinkle).

Manchester By The Sea is his third feature.  Casey Affleck, in a breakout role, plays a plumber/handyman who has a chip on his shoulder and a horrible secret weighing him down.  When his brother dies of a heart attack, he is forced to leave Boston and return to his home town as guardian to his teenage nephew.

YouTube

 

 

margaret
MARGARET (2011)

If you like the idea of a movie that you will either despise or want to watch a dozen times, then Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret is for you.

Margaret is a breathing, sprawling maybe-masterpiece of a film, starring Anna Paquin (pre-True Blood) as Lisa Cohen, a magnetically unlikeable New York teen trying to work out her place in the universe.  She’s surrounded by a wonderful cast: Mark Ruffalo as the bus driver she disastrously distracts; Matt Damon as the high school teacher she seduces; Matthew Broderick as her English teacher; and Lonergan’s wife, J. Smith-Cameron as her mother.

We’re always attracted to shades of gray – and these days we can really relate to the way Lonergan described his teenage heroine s in a New Yorker interview:

“…Somebody who’s not up against evil or injustice particularly, but who’s just, you know… The world is too big to have it improved or affected by you—that’s something that most of us find.”

The movie was shot in 2005 but Lonergan and Fox Searchlight edited and battled and litigated for 6 years before a truncated 150-minute version of the film was given a limited release in 2011.  Lonergan’s 180 minute cut was released later that year – it’s the one to watch.

The film’s title comes from a poignant Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “Spring and Fall” .

Lonergan’s cut: Amazon

The Studio cut:iTunes Vudu Google Play

 

 

grandma
GRANDMA (2015)

Grandma has several common threads with the two Lonergan films: a teen trying hard to figure things out, older relatives trying hard to figure things out, and an abortion (Margaret).

But Grandma doesn’t wear its seriousness on its sleeve.  It’s very much a dramedy, and you breeze through it only to realize by the end that it snuck way up on you.

Lily Tomlin is Elle, a lesbian poet of a certain age and middling renown who is grieving over the loss of her life partner.  As she brusquely ends an affair with a young admirer, her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives looking for money – she needs $630 for an abortion.  Elle is broke and she’s cut up all her credit cards — so they set out driving around Los Angeles in search of cash.

Writer/director Paul Weitz is half of the versatile, talented and enormously successful brother team behind American Pie, About A Boy and a million other projects.  This film was reportedly shot for $600,000 and was sold to Sony Classics soon after it closed Sundance in 2015.

Weitz has not always gotten great reviews for his work as director – maybe he was working too big, because his touch here is just about perfect.  Unfortunately, Grandma is not available to rent – you have to buy it.

Google Play YouTube iTunes Amazon

 

 

 

descendants
THE DESCENDANTS (2010)

Virtually every critic in the country loved this movie, and most of our friends thought it was overrated.  So it goes.  We sided with the critics, but that’s the way we are.

We sided with the critics.  To us, it’s a messy, winning slice of life, anchored by a great script (won an Oscar) a wonderfully modest performance from George Clooney, and direction from the always insightful Alexander Payne.

Clooney plays the well-off scion of an old Hawaiian family whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident.  Then his unruly teenage daughter doubles down on the tragedy by revealing that the wife was having an affair.  Dad has to deal simultaneously with pulling the plug and coming to terms with the infidelity of the silent woman in the ICU bed.

And yet everything resolves pretty positively – which you can construe either as a dulling of Payne’s usually sharp sensibility or as a particularly deft act of balancing on the blade of the knife.  Either way, it’s worth watching – Payne gets a lot out of his actors and the film remains funny and surprising to the end.

Director note – like Lonergan, Payne had a huge gap — seven years — between Sideways and The Descendants.  During that time, he was developing a big sci-fi social satire.  It would be a huge departure for him, and it’s supposed to come out next year.

Amazon YouTube Vudu Google Play iTunes

 

 

splendor-in-the-grass

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)

A very different era, a very different film about teenagers struggling against adult influences as they come to terms with life.  Like Margaret, the title is a poetic reference — to Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood“.

Splendor is set in the late 20’s.  The market is booming and flappers are flapping, but Natalie Wood’s Deanie is a “good girl” in love with Warren Beatty’s Bud, the handsome son of a rich family.  Deeply in love, they both follow their parents’ advice not to sleep with each other – a decision that sends each of them careening down surprising and bittersweet paths.

The film has a sterling silver pedigree – Elia Kazan directing a William Inge screenplay.  Essentially the message is – “kids, don’t listen to your parents.  Sleep with your high school sweetheart”.  We haven’t seen it for years, and in memory it seems so overblown, especially compared to the other films on our list, which are more recent and more subtle.

But that just makes us really want to watch it again.  The luminous Natalie Wood has been gone for so long.

And now Warren Beatty is back as director/actor in his long-germinating Howard Hughes film Rules Don’t Apply, which opens on November 23. It was 55 years ago that Splendor made him an instant star.

iTunes YouTube Amazon Google Play Vudu

 

 

juno
JUNO (2007)

Like several other films on this list, Juno won an Oscar for best screenplay – the delightfully fresh voice of Diablo Cody, embodied by the equally assured Ellen Page.

The film successfully walks two fine lines.  One between drama and comedy.  The other between giving the teen heroine  wisdom beyond her years, and letting her just be a teen as she desperately treads water.

Juno is sixteen and pregnant by her friend with benefits Paulie (Micheal Sera), who, having gotten the benefits, would like more.  After backing out of an abortion, she finds the perfect adoptive couple through a Pennysaver ad (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).

Things eventually work out, but only after going – to borrow an Alexander Payne title – seriously sideways.  The film was directed by Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, son of Ivan) who is working on another Diablo Cody project, Tully, that’s due out next year.  Can’t wait.

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