Saturday, April 18, 2020

Noir City Notes and Outtakes

I am weeks late in touting the glories of the latest issue of Noir City. But I’ll make it up to you with some bonus material, howzabout that?

You may recall that with this edition I became Editor-in-Chief of the Film Noir Foundation’s magazine. It’s a doozy of a debut issue if I do say so myself, thanks in large part to a stem-to-stern redesign courtesy of my estimable colleague Michael Kronenberg. (My input on his sweeping visual changes basically consisted of me saying, “Damn, that looks great.”)

The content on those gorgeous pages is terrific, too, beginning with Imogen Sara Smith’s two-part cover story on the extraordinary life and films of Jose Giovanni. We also welcome two Twitter luminaries to the magazine: Farran Smith Nehme (aka the Self-Styled Siren) with a look at noir’s favorite cad Zachary Scott; and Nora Fiore—the one and only Nitrate Diva—brought us a stunning look at the overlap of film noir and advertising aimed at women in the 1940s.

There’s also a suite of articles on one of my favorite films of last year, Motherless Brooklyn (including an interview with writer/producer/director/star Edward Norton); Ray Banks on the many big-screen iterations of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley; a fun and inventive 5 Favorites from the gifted poet Chelsey Minnis; and more.

I pitched in by interviewing Bill Duke, whose name appears on many modern noir films as both actor (American Gigolo, The Limey) and director (A Rage in Harlem and Deep Cover, which for me remains one of the best crime films of the 1990s). Hearing the deep laughter of a man who has scared the bejesus out of me for decades was a treat.

I also spoke to author Sam Wasson about his latest book The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. (Plus I review this essential look at the definitive modern noir.) And here’s where we come to the bonus material.

Whenever I interview someone, I strive to act like a professional. Sometimes I can’t pull it off. I began my conversation by gushing over Sam Wasson’s previous book Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art. This history of improvisational comedy is easily one of my favorite books of recent years, a wonderful, daft experiment in capturing the uncapturable that shouldn’t succeed, yet does. So our interview about the greatest contemporary noir film kicked off with some in-depth conversation about improv—

Sam Wasson: I think it’s one of the best things a person can do, because it touches all aspects. It touches psychotherapy, spirituality, community, art, politics, in all the best ways possible. It’s the closest I come to religion.

As well as the surprising overlap between the two subjects—

Sam Wasson: It’s so funny to talk about noir in the context of improv because I really look at improv and noir as good and evil. The good and evil Americas, actually. Noir is like the bad America, and improv is like the American ideal. Talking about inherently American frames of mind, improv is the American frame of mind and the enemy of all of that, the nightmare of all of that, is the noir frame of mind. So as much as I love one, I love the other, because they go together.

No wonder we got along so well.

To receive Noir City, just contribute to the FNF. For a taste of what you’ll be getting, several stories from the previous issue are now available online, including my “Noir or Not?” essay on The Lost Weekend. And speaking of me elsewhere …

One More—Actually, Two More Things

Rosemarie and I, in our guise as Renee Patrick, appeared on the latest episode of the classic movie podcast Old Hollywood Realness. The subject of this special quarantine edition: Rear Window. Join us as we join our friends Philip and Kathleen to discuss Edith Head, Alfred Hitchcock, and what the neighbors are up to.

HILOBROW recently wrapped a series called Ten Days, a modern take on The Decameron for the Covid-19 era. I was honored to kick the series off with a look at drinking – more specifically, not going out to drink – in the time of the virus.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Outtakes: Robert Tasker and Ernest Booth

I’ve been reading CrimeReads since it launched, so I was happy to make my debut there yesterday with a piece that recounts the amazing true story behind Script for Scandal, the third Lillian Frost and Edith Head mystery I co-wrote with Rosemarie under our pen name Renee Patrick. Robert Tasker and Ernest Booth were two ex-cons who became screenwriters during Hollywood’s Golden Age. A fictionalized counterpart drives the plot of Script for Scandal, but we couldn’t concoct anything as remarkable as their own lives. Head over to CrimeReads and see for yourself. In the meantime, here are a few additional photographs I turned up in my research.

1932’s Hell’s Highway, co-written by Tasker, was partially filmed in an actual prison. John Cromwell directed these scenes uncredited. (Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1932)

From the February 24, 1940 San Francisco Examiner, Booth and his wife Valverda at home in Santa Cruz marking the end of Booth’s parole and what should be the start of a successful writing career with no restrictions. It wasn’t to be.

Valverda stands by her husband as he faces a murder charge. (Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1941)

Dr. George Stricker revived by smelling salts after his late wife Florence Stricker’s safe deposit box is opened. Dr. Stricker, along with Booth, was considered a suspect in his wife’s murder. (Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1941)

The most Ellroy-esque shot of them all, with headline to match. Captain Vernon Rasmussen of the LAPD searches, ultimately in vain, for the murder weapon. (Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1941)