Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend TV: Life 1.1

Hulu has yet again pushed back their streaming of the third season of SONS OF ANARCHY, so I've decided to highlight an overlooked and underappreciated noir series from 2007-2009, called LIFE. The entire 2-season run is on Hulu, and doesn't expire until September of next year, so we'll be able to go through one episode a week and finish with plenty of time.

LIFE is the story of Charlie Crews, a policeman who was convicted of murder in 1995, and freed in 2007 when the conviction was overturned based on shoddy policework. Charlie's settlement included a large undisclosed sum and renistatement in the LAPD as a detective. Charlie is partnered with Dani Reese, a detective 21 months sober, but still on the department's shit list. Crews's ultimate plan is use the department's resources to find out who framed him and sent to jail, but Dani's getting pressure to witness Crews in a compromising situation and get him kicked off the force. In the meantime, they are pushed together to solve crimes.

The noir thrust of the series is analogous to the film noir protagonist type of a hero forced to act like a criminal. Charlie is described by his ex-partner as a good cop, but one just "looking to get his 20 and his pension." Understandably, prison changes him. Inside, the prisoners treat him like a cop and the guards treat him like a con. Both beat him, leading to multiple trips to the infirmary and over 200 stitches. Not only does he need to learn to survive, but to cope. This leads him to the study of zen philosophy, which he continues to use on the outside.

Once released, Crews is a new kind of cop, walking the line between the perceived light of police procedure and the perceived dark of criminal activity. His first day back on the job, he is already illegally informing suspects of pending searches, which gives them time to remove drugs from their house. But he did this in the interest of family, by not having a father ripped from a household after their son has just been murdered. Crews's moral compass now transcends the difference between police and criminals.

Crews's first case involves a man who is a mirror of himself, a man who went to jail and found the darkness in himself, and a man who found himself abandoned by his wife because of it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend TV: Terriers 1.5

With a dead Lindus at his house and a mysterious soil survey in his possession, Hank and Britt get called in for questioning. The mysterious man in the brown suit shows up and Hank may see a way out of this mess. As long as his sister doesn't screw it up. This episode was directed by Rian Johnson, of BRICK and THE BROTHERS BLOOM, known for post-modern or oulipistic references, who includes a situation very similar to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going Dark

Next week I will be attending and participating in the NoirCon event in Philadelphia, as well as the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference in the same city at the same time. Let me tell you, attending two conferences at the same time is hard. I've got 6 days straight booked with things to do. As such, I've decided to leave the laptop at home (less pressure to actually use it) and I'll let you know all about it when I get back. Hopefully this doesn't mean I won't have content for you. I'll have some WEEKEND TV set up for you, and I hope to have a big announcement stretched over the entire week I'm gone. So stay tuned noir fans, and for a preview of NoirCon, make sure to check out the blog at

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Killers (1964)

From AFI:
"Charlie and Lee, two hired killers, go to an institution for the blind where they shoot Johnny North, a teacher there. Curious to know why they were paid so highly to kill a man who made no resistance and suspecting that North had been involved in a million-dollar robbery some years earlier, the killers piece together his past and begin following his former associates in hopes of finding the money."

Robert Siodmak's 1946 version of THE KILLERS is one of those films, like THE SEARCHERS that keeps getting better each time I watch it. And this film is as much an adaptation of the first film as it is of the Hemingway short story, since most of the narrative of the first film was added by screenwriter Anthony Veiller. What this film does, though, is take the investigation away from the "straight" world, and move it into the criminal milieux. Instead of following an insurance investigator, here we follow the killers themselves, tracking down the reason a man would choose not to run from death. It is an obsessive need to understand the human condition, or at least their little niche. This adds some interesting depth as we have a noir character tracking down and killing a noir character, then trying to decipher the dead man's reasons for his journey to noir. Lee Marvin is great, as always, and Clu Gulager, though over-the-top sometimes, is fun to watch. Even Ronald Reagan is pretty good in his last film before being elected governor.

Judgment: Noir.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.3

Tara joins Gemma to patch up Tig, but ends up causing more trouble. The MC plans a trip to Canada to track down Abel, but first they have to make deals with the Grim Bastards and their Asian connection for intel on the Mayans and the Aryan Brotherhood, which puts Opie in an uncomfortable spot. Add in the best TV cameo of the year, and things are getting really interesting.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend TV: Terriers 1.4

Hank discovers he has a stowaway, and a new job comes from an unlikely source. More details arise about the death of Hank's friend and the hotel he worked at, and a corpse winds up at Hank's house.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bouchercons of the Future!

The San Francisco Bouchercon is done. It's over. Get over it. It's time to look toward the future, which is especially easy for someone like me, who didn't go to Bouchercon 41. Still, it's always have something to work toward, so you should immediately check out the website for Bouchercon 42, which will be held September 2011 in lovely St. Louis, Missouri, at a time when the Cardinals will still be playing.

Reports coming out of B-Con are scarce on business meeting info, but the Women of Mystery blog points to these sites for Bouchercon in upcoming years:

2012 - Cleveland, Ohio

2013 - Albany, New York

2014 - Long Beach, California

Dates are not set this far out. And look, I'd love to go to Long Beach, but since I'm planning on being at St. Louis, and with the next two within a five-hour drive, I may be ready for a break in 2014. Just sayin'.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.2

Jax is in jail after the drive-by, the PD is trying to pick up the pieces and the MC is looking for Abel. They recruit help in the form of Bobby's ex-wife's new husband, who just happens to be a bounty hunter. Meanwhile, Tig gets friendly with Gemma's dad's nurse, with unfortunate consequences.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend TV: Terriers 1.3

I'm really getting into this series. Britt and Hank are not just stuck in their own forms of adolescence, but they're both in their own sort of recovery and struggling with it daily. Hank is the alcoholic, but we find in this episode that Britt has made significant changes as well. They keep moving forward, but their past is always there to haunt them, and every step forward seems to cost them, sometimes with a piece of their soul. Here, Hank still needs his mortgage, and will do just about anything to get it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

David Goodis and Me

If you can't wait for my conversation with Larry Withers at NoirCon on Thursday, November 4, Lou Boxer has posted a preview interview with Larry about his film DAVID GOODIS...TO A PULP. Find that interview here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bouchercon Authors

If you read my post a couple weeks ago about the Top 10 Reasons to Attend Bouchercon, then you know one of the best reasons is meeting the authors. I've been to 3 Bouchercons so far, and I've met people that I really like and some that I call friends. I'm very sad not to be going this year to San Francisco, but I'm very excited about the NoirCon conference in November. If I were going to Bouchercon, these are the authors I'd look forward to re-connecting with. If you're going, look them up. And tell them Jared sent ya.

Megan Abbott - One of the best noir authors working today, she's also a great source for noir conversation, whether it's about film noir, noir authors of the past or today. Luckily, I'll get to see her again and NoirCon. And you may be hearing more about her...

Trey Barker - A hilarious guy that you should hang out with at the bar if you want to meet anybody. And a hell of an author to boot. I'll be doing the non-Memorial shot on my own this year.

Brett Battles - I walked with Brett from the hotel to the Anthony Awards in Indy last year. We had a nice conversation which I'm sure he doesn't remember. But a really great thriller writer and a nice guy.

Judy Clemens -Another friend from Madison, Judy is the author of the Stella Crown series and the Grim Reaper mysteries. Another great author, and super nice on top.

Marcus Sakey - A super author that bases his thrillers on everyman characters you'll find in Chicago. GOOD PEOPLE is probably my favorite, but you can't go wrong with any of them.

Stephen Jay Schwartz - You've heard my story of how I met Stephen, but now that I've interviewed him, I'd love to talk to him face-to-face.

Jacqueline Winspear - I met Jacqueline at the only Malice Domestic I went to. Super nice and a beautiful woman. I really admire her Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

I plan on being in St. Louis in 2011, but that doesn't mean I won't be a little down this weekend. Hope you all have fun!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Justified Season 2 Promo

This, from one of my favorite websites, The Futon Critic, a sneak peek, albeit created completely of Season 1 moments, at Season 2 of FX's Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant. And, yes, I know I owe you a season-ending post. Find the video here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scarlet Street (1945)

I was going through some of the old posts I've never finished and found this one that I had apparently started on 6/23/2009. It only needed a little updating to get it to this point:

Director Fritz Lang re-teams with his WOMAN IN THE WINDOW stars Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett for a very similar story. Robinson is a successful, if lowly, bank clerk. He has settled for a rich woman that he doesn't love who keeps him under her thumb. He gets away from it all by painting in the bathroom, the only room his wife will allow it, until he "rescues" Kitty (Bennett), who winds up believing that he is a famous and rich painter. She leads him along, hoping to get a little money from him, but she really loves her sleazy boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea). It's when Johnny gets involved in the plotting that things really go off the rails. Soon Robinson is embezzling from his job to support Kitty, who only wants more, at Johnny's insistence.

Once again Edgar G. Robinson is lead down the path to criminality by the lovely young Bennett. And with Lang at the helm, it is a very long and twisted path. The film is shot fairly straight until the last 20 minutes, when things really get dark, narratively and stylistically, but Lang is excellent at exploring the slow decay of morality in the service of self, and showing that Robinson is a willing participant.

Forgotten are the choices that Robinson has made in the past. He has stagnated in his job through lack of ambition. And he has settled into a loveless marriage to a woman who has money, because marriage is what's expected of him, and he need not be attentive to a woman who can take care of her own needs. These decisions were made to keep him comfortable through his life, but none of them make him happy. And if these non-decisions had not been made, or made differently, the difference between his reality and the new possibilities may not have been as tempting.

This is one of the noirs that takes a man through his entire journey across the landscape between darkness and light, that shows how the choices he makes undo him, that shows the fate of a man tempted into, and acts through, the darkness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interview with Stephen Jay Schwartz

Friday I reviewed Stephen Jay Schwartz's BEAT as part of his blog tour promoting the new release. He graciously granted me an interview in conjunction, and I'm happy to reproduce it for you here:

Jared Case: Stephen, the last time I saw you was at Bouchercon in Indianapolis, whe
re you were pressing flesh at the new author merry-go-round and the Free Book Bazaar. In retrospect, how was that experience for you, and how has your life changed since then?

Stephen Jay Schwartz: Now THAT was a great experience! For one brief moment I got to know what it’s like for Mick Jagger or Bono when they step on stage, or when they hail a cab, or go to the grocery store. No bras were thrown my way, however. But it’s a start.

I am definitely loving the ride. And while I dig being recognized in book stores, and I love the dialogue I’m having about my writing, I know this kind of stuff is fleeting. I worked in the film business, so I’m very familiar with the concept of “fifteen minutes of fame.” It’s taken years, but I’ve learned to be grounded, that it’s all about the work, about sitting down and writing the next book. Fortunately, I love the process, every part of it.

JC: San Francisco is the setting of your newest novel, BEAT. Bouchercon is being held in San Francisco this year. Are you going and are you doing anything special to mark the occasion?

SJS: The synchronicity is astounding. My book just came out, in perfect time for Bouchercon. So I’m planning a San Francisco launch on October 13 at 7:00 pm – the night before Bouchercon. It’s taking place in a place called the Beat Museum in North Beach, just across the street from City Lights Bookstore. There should be a big crowd of Bouchercon attendees as well as loads of San Francisco locals. I was practically embedded with the SFPD during my research phase, so a lot of the cops who helped bring my characters to life will be attending. The Beat Museum is a monument to the Beat Generation writers, like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. I’m a big fan of their work. In addition to my reading from BEAT, I’m happy to be hosting poet Kim Dower, known in the industry as the publicist Kim-from-L.A., who has just had her first book of poetry published. Her work is outstanding.

JC: When reading your books, I’m reminded of Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels, in that both series deal with policemen that have addictions. But it goes deeper than that. Jack Taylor is an alcoholic, who happens to be a cop in Ireland, where people are known to have a drink. Hayden Glass is a sex addict, who happens to be a cop in LA, where sex is a business. In essence, both deal with the dark side, or negative impact, of what at some level is considered normal behavior. Can you talk a little about that?

SJS: That’s the big question in Hayden’s world. What is healthy sex? It’s the big question in America, too. If sex is compulsive, if it’s damaging to one’s psyche, if it infringes upon the rights of others, if it is abusive to oneself or others…it probably isn’t healthy. Hayden doesn’t know what a normal, healthy sexual relationship looks like. There’s a hole in his life and he’s developed an addiction. An alcoholic fills this hole with booze, a meth addict fills it with drugs, a person with eating disorders fills it with a surplus or denial of food. Each of these addictions causes the brain to release chemicals that provide some sort of comfort. In Hayden’s case, it releases Dopamine that dulls his pain. That comes from just cruising, from entering the “bubble” of addictive behavior. He doesn’t even need to ejaculate to fall into that place. He gets glimpses of what a healthy sexual relationship looks like and, especially in BEAT, we sense that the future holds some hope.

JC: What made you want to write about an addictive personality?

SJS: I’ve struggled with sexual addiction myself and didn’t know what it was until a counselor suggested I go to a Twelve Step meeting. That meeting began the road to healing for me and my family. When I decided to write my first novel I thought about what would’ve happened if I had read a popular novel with a character like Hayden Glass, whose life was in shambles, but who had resources and support through the meetings. I would have seen my life in the pages and I would’ve seen that there was a place to go for help. I would have stopped my addictive behavior years earlier. So, in a sense, I’m hoping Boulevard and Beat find their way into the hands of men and women who are struggling with these issues, people who have yet to identify their problem as the behavior of someone with an addiction.

JC: So these books could be considered a part of your own Twelfth Step, “to carry this message to others”?

SJS: I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I suppose what I'm trying to do with the books comes from that place. Some might not choose to take it that way, however. Some might just see it as a dark, psychological crime novel filled with sex and violence. Hayden indulges in the sexual images we see in the book, and I have to indulge in it for the reader in order to
see the world from Hayden's point of view. You have to look deeper than what's on the surface if you want to catch the message

JC: Despite the fact that Glass is the protagonist in both books, there is a different feel between BOULEVARD and BEAT. There is a definite mystery at the heart of BOULEVARD, and a procedural format, whereas BEAT is much more of and urban adventure. Can you talk about the shift in focus and how it reflects on Glass’s growth as a character?

SJS: I made no conscious effort to write Boulevard as a mystery or a thriller or a genre piece at all. I began with a protagonist whose dilemma held him in a vise. I wanted to explore his devolving psychology, see what lines he would cross, see if he would emerge whole at the end. As I thought about the addiction and what the consequences might be if someone knew his secret, I imagined the worst-case scenario. This emerged as a vice cop with a sex addiction, hiding it from his superiors. Hayden is now a Robbery-Homicide detective, at the top of his game, but the addiction remains. He begins to unravel when a sadistic sexual predator begins killing people around him and he discovers that the killer knows his past. So he has to make a decision – do I tell my captain that I’m the thing that connects these murders, or do I keep my head down and pursue this guy with everything I’ve got? Hayden feels so much shame for his addiction that he chooses to go it alone. And the consequences are severe.

So the piece became a mystery (who’s the killer?) and a thriller (who’s next?) and a work of psychological fiction. When we published it, Forge wasn’t sure if it should go out in the Fiction or Mystery section. We decided on Mystery because the readers in this genre are so supportive. It was the best decision. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Beat is a very different animal. Hayden’s history and dilemma has already been established and now I throw him into a very fast-paced scenario and raise the stakes. It’s more of a traditional thriller. He feels he’s put someone at risk and he’s not going to stop for anything to get that someone back safely. He’s willing to risk his life because he doesn’t think his life is worth nearly as much as the life of the person he’s trying to save. It’s so fast there’s not much room for psychological reflection. At the end, Hayden has to make a critical, character-defining decision. His choice reflects the kind of person he truly is.

JC: The setting is also very important to the feel of your books. BEAT is set in San Francisco, where you make great use of the fog on the bay that represents the mental fog Glass pushes through, and the uphill streets that emphasize his role as the underdog and the physical challenges he faces to achieve his goals, not to mention being hit by a streetcar!

SJS: You nailed it, Jared. I love to treat the setting as a character. In Boulevard, Los Angeles was Hayden’s accomplice and nemesis. In Beat, San Francisco is revealed as a vicious seductress, a femme fatale, perhaps.

JC: In your writing you deal a lot with personal responsibility, especially in one’s personal life, and often reference the twelve steps of recovery where personal responsibility is the goal, but in BEAT it is also a motive to keep Glass moving forward. Is this a theme that you consciously weave into your narratives, or simply a function of the character, that is, an addictive personality in recovery?

SJS: Everything comes from character. Story comes from character. The character and his dilemma define the pace of the story, in that this character will respond to certain stimuli differently than another character. It is how he reacts that produces our story. If Hayden had been able to save Kennedy he might not have had such an unstoppable desire to save Cora. It is his guilt that moves him forward at such a frightening pace, it is his guilt which puts him in situations that neither the SFPD nor the FBI would place themselves. It is this drive the others recognize, this drive that makes Hayden the perfect person to go in to save the girl. Because they need someone who might be sacrificed in the process. And Hayden is willing to be sacrificed.

JC: The titles of your books are very evocative, especially in retrospect. BOULEVARD denotes a geographical location, familiar to most folks primarily through LA connotations of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. But in your book it is also an indication of where Glass’s addiction lives, as there are several boulevards in LA and all seem to have prostitutes, so johns “cruise” the boulevards. BEAT is a familiar term to fans of procedurals as the designated area that a cop patrols, but in your book Glass is a defeated anti-hero: beaten by his inability to protect, beaten physically, exhausted and repeatedly beaten by his addiction. Are the titles yours? And how do they play into how you write the book?

SJS: The titles are mine, and again you nailed their meaning. Boulevard IS the addiction. And you explained Beat perfectly. Additional meanings for Beat: the story takes place in San Francisco, the city of the Beats (there are Beat Generation references throughout), and Hayden, as a sex addict, tends to beat-off. The title was too perfect to dismiss.

JC: As I see it, a noir narrative has to be anchored by a noir protagonist, so that the audience sees the darkness through their eyes. In a classic sense, this means a character that travels the distance between light and darkness as it relates to some crime, but as it has evolved, has come to include the distance between moral and immoral actions and what leads the character to commit those actions. Hayden Glass walks both lines. Can you talk about how much film noir and noir fiction have influence you in the creation of Glass? And whether or not you even think of him as a noir character?

SJS: I suppose I do think of Hayden Glass as a noir character. I hadn’t intended to, only because I had not read much noir before I started writing the series. I was reading Hemmingway, Kerouac, Steinbeck, Updike, Chuck Palahniuk, Charles Bukowski, John Fante. The Beat Generation writers could certainly be identified as noir characters, I suspect. I don’t think you can read William S. Burroughs without seeing a dark character. I like frail characters struggling in life, struggling with addiction, trying to figure things out. Life is big and scary and the real tough guys are usually the real sensitive ones. Hurting, they build a wall around their emotions. Or they drown in alcohol and drug addiction. Disassociate. I know, I lived two lives myself, once upon a time. I try to capture that journey in my writing.

I did read a lot of Jim Thompson as I was writing Boulevard, and that gave me a good model for complex, dark characters in tensely amoral situations.

JC: In BOULEVARD, I noticed a reference to Jim Thompson’s “Pop. 1280.” Can you talk about his significance in your life? And are there any other references that I haven’t yet caught?

SJS: I’m so glad you caught that. Man, you’re a focused reader. I love “Pop. 1280” for many reasons. The thing that really, really impresses me with Thompson’s work, especially “Pop. 1280,” is his sense of social responsibility. While the protagonist in the book is a dark individual, a killer who justifies his actions, he encounters characters who refer to African Americans as if they were only half-men. Thompson’s protagonists always challenge that way of thinking. And most of his work was written before the Civil Rights Movement. The title, “Pop. 1280,” refers to the population of the little town that the protagonist works in as the Sheriff. But a sheriff in a neighboring town says, “1280? What’s the real population, since the niggers only really count as half a man?” (I’m paraphrasing). And Thompson’s protagonist responds, “It’s 1280.” Jim Thompson challenged his times, he was forward-thinking. That’s probably my favorite Thompson book, although he’s written so many great ones – “The Killer Inside Me,” “After Dark My Sweet,” “The Getaway,” “The Grifters.” He also wrote to screenplays for Stanley Kubrick – “The Killing” and one of the best films ever made, “Paths of Glory.”

The other very big literary reference you didn’t catch…what is Tyler’s last name? Where does it come from? What about the Slough of Despond? There’s another literary model for Hayden’s journey…

JC: On a slightly different note, the last 15 years of television have been fertile ground for noir characters, from THE SOPRANOS to THE WIRE, from THE SHIELD to SONS OF ANARCHY and even into shows like LIFE and DEXTER. Are there any shows you currently watch to get your weekly noir fix?

SJS: I so wish I had time to watch television. It’s been books, books, books for about five years now. I read a book a week while I was writing Boulevard. I had to stop everything else.

However, my film/TV agent and manager are shopping Boulevard and Beat as a TV series, something like “Dexter” meets “Californication.” If we get the right showrunner then maybe we’ll be off and running. These things take a long, long time, generally.

On another note, my editor asked me to write a “Hayden” short story for us to give away on Kindle and other eBook venues, a little something to introduce people to his world. So I wrote a cool little ditty called “Crossing the Line,” which takes us back to Hayden’s younger days in the LAPD, just as he starts a stint in Vice. It marks the moment when Hayden first “crosses the line” with a prostitute he is supposed to arrest. It reveals the moment his addiction first pokes through. It should be available any day now.

Thanks for a fantastic, perceptive set of questions, Jared. It’s been a great dialogue.

JC: Thanks for the time, Stephen. I’m disappointed we won’t be able to continue this conversation at Bouchercon in San Francisco, but there’s always St. Louis in 2011. And for those reading, if you enjoyed this conversation and can make it to Philadelphia, don’t forget about NoirCon, November 4 – November 7.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weekend TV: Sons of Anarchy 3.1

It's back! SONS is back on Hulu, streaming 30 days after the episode airs on FX. The third season kicks off a week after the end of Season 2, when Jax's son was kidnapped and Gemma was forced on the run after being framed for a murder by Agent Stahl. Gemma's still on the run, only without Hale, and the MC is looking for Abel under every rock. It's tough to deal with aftermath while at the same time launching new arcs, but showrunner Kurt Sutter does a great job of it here, introducing changes that take the series in new and unexpected directions. Stay till the end, you heard it here first.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Weekend TV: Terriers 1.2

I like this episode even better than the first. It was written by Shawn Ryan, who has shown that he knows how to weave procedural with drama. Hank and Britt are being grilled about the arrest, but Hank still needs cash for the down-payment on his old house. The relationships deepen as we learn a bit more about the partners' pasts and Britt gets a warning from an couple of unlikely places. Already more serialized than I expected it to be, we start getting some pathos with our laugh-out-loud moments, and I'm all for it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Beat, by Stephen Jay Schwartz

Last year, when I was at Bouchercon in Indianapolis I went to an event called (as I recall it) "author-go-round" where fans would sit at tables and authors with first books traveled in packs to the various tables spilling the beans about their babies. To be honest, I was there to support local author Lisa Bork, but I also came away with the name of another author I was impressed with. His name was Stephen Jay Schwartz. I went back to the hotel room that night and saw that he was going to be part of the "Author's Bazaar" happening the last day, so he was my first stop that Sunday morning. I got a free copy of BOULEVARD, got it signed, and took it home. Unfortunately, I don't live at Bouchercon, so other priorities arose in the intervening months, and it wasn't until I got an offer to be a stop on Schwartz's blog tour for his new release BEAT that I went back and read BOULEVARD.

The first book is the story of Hayden Glass, LAPD detective and sex addict. The disease has already ruined his marriage and its underlying presence affects all his other relationships. Complicating matters, and driving the novel forward, is a series of murders that only Glass is willing to see as connected. Glass is constantly struggling with his addiction, succumbing to it and then getting sober again for a length of time. It is this condition that pushes Glass into a neo-noir category, detailing his descent into moral ambiguity. But his classic noir descent is present as well, as the ending of the book details.

BEAT picks up a few months after the end of BOULEVARD, in the wake of the consequences of the first book. (Sorry, I'm unwilling to spoil the end of BOULEVARD for those that have yet to read it, but fear not, BEAT stands alone if you want to read it first, as you will see.) Glass is recovering and still struggling with his addiction, but this time when he slips, he gets hooked on internet porn, specifically the interactive sites that use cameras for real-time communication. He gets obsessed with a particular girl named Cora and tracks her to San Francisco. But as soon as he finds her, they are attacked and Cora is re-kidnapped and taken to a fortress-like sex club where Glass can't get to her. Unlike BOULEVARD, which is definitely centered on a mystery, BEAT becomes more of an addiction-addled urban adventure, where the prize at the end of the journey is Cora's rescue, and every attempt raises the stakes both in terms of danger and personal responsibility.

Schwartz's characters, and especially Glass, live in a very dark world. These books are not for the faint of heart, both in terms of violence and sexuality. But this content is not there without a reason. Glass's entire existence is steeped in his sex addiction, which brings him into contact with a world where sex and violence are intrinsically linked. This is the true darkness of the books, that Glass is trapped within his addiction, that no matter what his actions might be, his impulses are internal and cannot be escaped.

Both BOULEVARD and BEAT move with the zip-line pace and urgency of a thriller, but the narrative is solidly based in character, providing a grounded and meaningful narrative that resonates long after the last page turns.

Stay tuned for an interview with author Stephen Jay Schwartz. And if you want to read more on Schwartz's blog tour, try these sites: Author Exposure, Book Trends Blog, Violet Crush, In Reference to Murder, Murder by 4, Lunch, The Book Trib, and Cheryl's Book Nook, as well as Stephen's own site and the great Murderati blog, which Stephen contributes to.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Angel Face (1953)

From AfI:
"One night, Beverly Hills ambulance driver Frank Jessup and his partner Bill are called to the cliffside estate of Charles and Catherine Tremayne. By the time they arrive, Catherine has already been treated for gas inhalation, which the police believe occurred accidentally, but which the wealthy Catherine suspects was deliberate. As he is leaving the house, Frank notices Catherine's beautiful English stepdaughter Diane playing a melancholy piano piece and assures her that her stepmother will be fine. When Diane becomes hysterical, Frank slaps her face to calm her. Confused, she slaps him back, then apologizes. Later, after getting off work, Frank goes to a nearby diner, unaware that Diane is following him in her sports car. In the diner, Frank tries to call his girl friend, Mary Wilton, a hospital receptionist, but gets no answer. Diane then comes in and strikes up a flirtatious conversation with him. When Mary finally calls him, Frank turns down her dinner invitation, claiming that he is too tired. Frank takes Diane out, and over dinner, she tells him that her father is a well-respected novelist but has not finished a book since her mother's death during the war. Diane then asks Frank, a former race car driver who dreams of owning his own garage, about Mary, and he reveals that Mary has been saving her money to help him. The next day, Diane invites Mary to lunch and, while pretending that she wants to contribute to Frank's garage fund, lets her know that he spent the evening with her..."

Jean Simmons (the titular Angel Face) is the apex of the manipulative femme fatale in this film as Diane. From the first frame she appears, she is playing a role, difficult for an actress to pull off and still reveal the character underneath. Robert Mitchum is the chump that falls for her, or does he? There certainly seems to be an attraction between the two, but I don't think that's the only reason he continues to see her. It seems he's trying to play his own cards right, but doesn't play as well as she does. Ultimately, they're brought into a situation similar to the one Frank and Cora face in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, one that will either bring them closer or pit them against each other. Otto Preminger directs, but gone are the signature three-shots and fluid camera movements of LAURA and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS. Instead, the film focuses on two-shots, pairing characters off and watching their interaction evolve into complex situations: Diane and Frank, Diane and Mary, Mary and Frank, Diane and her father, Diane and her step-mother, Frank and the step-mother. All these conversations become private and thus do not have any verification by a third party. Dimitri Tiomkin's haunting piano-based score runs through the film, ensuring that Diana's presence is felt, no matter who's on screen.

Judgment: noir

Monday, October 4, 2010

NoirCon and Me

Well, I'm new to this sort of self-promotion thing and I don't know what kind of timetable you all keep, but I thought it appropriate one month out to tell you that I will be appearing at NoirCon in Philadelphia this year, which runs November 4-November 7 at the Society Hill Playhouse. I will be talking with filmmaker Larry Withers about his new film DAVID GOODIS...TO A PULP, which opens up the conference on Thursday night at 7:00 pm. The event is open to the public for a $10 donation, and you can mingle with the NoirCon attendees for the night.

Lou Boxer, the event's organizer has re-posted the schedule for the 4 days. I was going to point out some highlights, but they're all highlights, and you should check out the schedule for yourself. George Pelecanos is receiving the Goodis Award and Johnny Temple of Akashic Books is receiving the award for Excellence in Publishing. It promises to be a grand weekend, and I encourage you all to show up. Registration is here.

For an idea of what's in store on Thursday night, here is the trailer for DAVID GOODIS...TO A PULP.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

From AFI:
"After beautiful Vicky Lynn is killed, New York City police question Frankie Christopher, a promoter who sponsored Vicky, "glamorized" her and got her jobs as a model. Especially tough on Frankie is obsessed inspector Ed Cornell, who has never failed to get his man. Jerry MacDonald, a more sympathetic policeman, asks Frankie to tell them how he met Vicky, and Frankie tells his story: One evening, Frankie goes with his friends, fading actor Robin Ray and newspaper columnist Larry Evans, to a lunchroom where Vicky works as a waitress. Impressed with her beauty and ambition, Frankie decides to remake her, take her to all the smart places and put her on top of the world. Soon after, Frankie takes her to the El Chico Club, where Robin and Larry help him to get her invited to the table of the socially influential Mrs. Handel. The first step accomplished, the evening ends with Vicky having been offered two modeling jobs. Vicky then returns home to the modest apartment she shares with her sister Jill, a stenographer. Jill and Vicky argue, for Jill maintains that nothing good can come of taking the easy road to success. After a whirlwind of publicity and offers, Vicky tells Frankie that she has taken a screen test and is going to Hollywood without him. Bitter about her betrayal, Frankie storms out of her apartment and commiserates with Robin and Larry, both of whom have fallen in love with Vicky. As Jill begins relating her side of the story, she informs the policemen that she does not believe that Frankie is guilty of killing her sister. She informs them that before Vicky met Frankie, a mysterious man stalked her, and when Cornell enters the interrogation room, Jill recognizes him as the man who was following Vicky."

Completely unaware, I watched this film, which is an earlier version of VICKI, which I wrote about last week. The problem with watching this film in terms of noir, is that it is virtually the same film. Same names, same motivations, sometimes almost the same shot. Everything that applied last week applies here: the protagonist is the press agent who acts as innocent as he is, and doesn't cross the line to prove it. In fact, the one time he does escape, it's his love interest that attacks the police. If anything, there is even less obsession, as the role of the detective is reduced in this version, in favor of the press agent and the girl. Of course, since it's a Fox film, it uses Alfred Newman's "Theme from Street Scenes" heavily, but it also leans on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for its romantic moments, only 2 years after it was so famously used in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

BUT, this film is heavily stylized, drenched in grand, expressionistic low-key lighting and shadows. Some of the images are really striking and beautiful to look at. The question, then, is whether this formalist lighting, combined with a narrative in the crime milieu add up to film noir. The best argument I've heard thus far is that noir is not either/or genre or style, but both independently. If this were the case, this film would definitely be noir. But I'm not willing yet to compromise on the idea that the darkness of noir is experienced through the eyes of a criminal protagonist, an exploration of how far one needs to travel from dark to light. Thus...

Judgment: not noir.