Art Noir: Female Human Animal (2018) by K A Laity

Female Human Animal (2018)

Dir. Josh Appignanesi

Starring: Chloe Aridjis

Here is another film that dwells at the intersection of art and noir: Female Human Animal isn’t a heist though, nor is it a con. Instead it’s a film that brings together many unexpected strands for a story that doesn’t neatly fit any genre. Nevertheless the noir ambience is pervasive and used to great effect with the surrealist nature of the narrative. There is a great overlap between noir and surrealism historically.

What’s also unusual about the film is that the star plays a version of herself immersed in events that were really happening: Aridjis was co-curating the Leonora Carrington exhibit at the Tate Liverpool and writing her novel Sea Monsters (2019). There was a terrific conference connected with the exhibit, which is how I learned about the film; Catriona McAra has written an insightful chapter on the film and Aridjis’ works for Leonora Carrington: Living Legacies (2020). Carrington ‘haunts’ the film in documentary footage spliced into the main narrative, offering advice or hauling up short her protégée with incisive critique. It’s glorious to see so much of her art all together: El Mundo Mágico de los Mayas looks particularly gorgeous and I had no idea some of the tapestries were so huge. The arresting And Then We Met the Daughter of the Minotaur is a focal point both visually and psychologically. If you’re unfamiliar with the artist, this film will whet your appetite.

Filmed on VHS it has the grainy, gritty feel of 70s crime films. From the start, the Chloe character (to distinguish her from the real person) seems on edge, uncomfortable, almost cornered. Like many people at a turning point in their lives, she cannot enjoy the good things before her and instead longs for escape with a vagueness that invites trouble. Soon a mystery man appears, but it is she who must pursue him as he proves elusive. So much noir hinges on a folie à deux, yet this film manages to both exploit the audience expectations and turn them on their heads. It’s as much a meditation on creativity and the boundaries you need to create as it is a psychological stalking. A fascinating mash up of noir sensibilities in the art world: I recommend it for those who want something beyond the old standards.

See the trailer here. It’s available through Amazon Prime in the US and BFI in the UK. Here’s an interview with Aridjis and Appignanesi. Here’s another review.

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973) by K A Laity

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973)

I read the novel so long ago (back in my L. A. days so looooong ago) I could only remember the basics of the story. There were probably more of them in the original script by the legend Leigh Brackett, but Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking always left room for improvisation and Elliott Gould—unlikely to be most director’s ideal choice to play Phillip Marlowe—works well here.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this film that likewise memory proves unreliable. So much has changed in the mean time, too. I’ve been soaking in noir and neo-noir for so long now it’s altered my view on the genre, mostly to be much more accommodating. I dug out my vintage paperback to read later and sat down on a sunny Saturday afternoon to visit 1973 Los Angeles with Elliot Gould and co and Vilmos Zsigmond’s singular cinematography.

The ginger cat is the one thing everybody remembers. I should write a book about ginger cats in noir. You can’t cheat a cat. Chandler loved cats. The scene feels genuine to any cat lover: having fallen asleep in his clothes, Marlowe is awakened by the moggy landing on his belly. Ouch. He has no choice but to drag himself out at 3am in his 1948 Lincoln convertible to the 24 hour food store. The car is a nice touch, signaling Marlowe a throwback to another time, Chandler’s idea of the P.I. as a kind of knight with a code.

Then there’s the candle dippers next door. The topless women would feel more gratuitous if they didn’t have a totally believable and completely natural hippy languor. Asking Marlowe to pick up boxes of brownie mix and doing elaborate yoga poses on the balcony at night. The iconic High Tower provides an unforgettable location for Marlowe’s home, outdone only by the Malibu Colony. Apparently the Ward’s house was the one Altman was living in at the time.

Nina van Pallandt embodies the concerned wife with just enough difference from the mostly Californian cast to make her thinking seem mysterious but believable. Sterling Hayden is a legend and manages to uphold that without chewing scenery which would be easy to do in the role of the writer who can no longer write, who is drunk and angry with the world, not necessarily in that order. Allegedly inspired by Chandler’s own struggles as his wife was dying. Ward’s death is changed from the novel and pays off much better, especially in how it affects Marlowe, who develops a fondness for the difficult man. The drinking scene with Hayden and Gould was largely improvised and has an authentic feel.

Henry Gibson, best known at the time as a gentle poet on Laugh-In, is super creepy and menacing in a really unsettling way as the dry-out doctor trying to extort money from Wade.

Jim Bouton, better known for baseball and even more so for his tell-all memoir Ball Four about that career, makes his film debut as the pal asking Marlowe for a lift to Mexico with some suspicious injuries including a clawed face.

What feels most 70s about this movie is the cops. Well, not that they’ve changed much in L.A. according to my friends who still live there. That gritty, don’t care about anything attitude and the clothes—those awful seventies clothes that modern films never quite get right—they provide a good target for Marlowe’s dogged resistance. The ink interrogation scene is another improvised scene.

I had to look it up, but yeah, there’s a portrait of Leonard Cohen in the Ward’s house because Altman was a fan. Speaking of fans, I love the gatekeeper at the Colony and his impressions of the stars.

A cool thing: except for ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ that opens and closes the film, all the other music is variations of the theme tune by Johnny Mercer and John Williams—even the dirge played in the scenes in Mexico. It’s a great thematic device that gives the picture aural coherence.

The changed ending is often credited to Altman, but it was part of Brackett’s original script which was shopped around for some years before finally coming together with this unexpected group of talents. It works. The final scene is almost an inverse of The Third Man’s iconic ending, with a harmonica in place of the jaunty zither.

Well worth a revisit if it’s been a while for you, too. If you’ve not seen it, a treat awaits. Bonus: here’s a great interview with Gould by Kim Morgan.

K A LAITY IS HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE.

Out Now! Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained by The Fabulous Artisans

Stereogram Recordings are delighted to announce the release of “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained” a brand new track by The Fabulous Artisans on September 25th. It was mostly recorded prior to lockdown, with finishing touches, mix and mastering completed in July.

Founded in 2007 and named after the iconic Orange Juice track, The Fabulous Artisans is a collaboration between Glasgow based Oscar and BAFTA award winning actor, former stand-up comic and singer Neil Crossan and Edinburgh based songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeremy Thoms (also of The Cathode Ray and Stereogram label boss). “With a sound fed from Bacharach to Barry, Brel to Bowie, Cave to Collins, Magazine to Morricone and Wilson to Walker, this is timeless music for or from any era…

Written, arranged and produced by Jeremy Thoms, “Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained” is only the fourth new track The Fabulous Artisans have released since their warmly received debut album “…From Red to Blue” came out on Swedish indie label Bendi Records in 2008. It continues their lineage of mixing up the classic pop sounds of the past with a modern twist, whilst adding their characteristic big lyrical themes of life and death.

Released September 25, 2020

Lead vocals: Neil Crossan
Written, produced and arranged by Jeremy Thoms.

Supernatural Noir: Miracles for Sale by K A Laity

Supernatural Noir: Miracles for Sale

What a delight! Thanks to Ray Garton and Paul D. Brazill for leading me to Tod Browning’s last film, Miracles for Sale. It’s a fun romp with magicians, psychics, trickery, grifters, and plenty of style. Currently airing on TCM, it’s also available in various versions online in the usual places.

I admit to giving short shrift to Robert Young because I first knew him as Marcus Welby M.D., a show my grandparents liked. What could be less cool than the gently ironic know-it-all elderly doctor? Yet he brings a witty humour to Miracles, which gives it charm. Most of the time the laughs walk a fine line along with the noir ambience and the spookiness. It’s a strange mix. Young’s Mike Morgan is a former stage magician who now makes elaborate tricks for other magicians. The opening war scene is a bit off-putting (including yellow face) but it turns out to be an overly-wrought saw-the-woman-in-half trick that Morgan is staging for a client. His house is a delight of tricks and surprises.

Morgan also devotes his time to exposing spiritual charlatans, admitting that there might be ghosts and whatnot, but he doesn’t want people exploiting the vulnerable with tricks. That kicks off the real plot when a gal in trouble (Florence Rice) runs into his shop to ask for help but can’t tell him the whole story. The plot is the least interesting part of the film and comes from Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat.

The fun is all the characters. Ray mentioned how little this seems like a Browning film. The one aspect that does is the characterisation, especially the brilliant cast of character actors. Frank Craven is a hoot as Morgan’s dad. He often ends up the victim of his son’s elaborate tricks-in-progress but he gets plenty of good lines. Henry Hull is cadaverous fellow magician Duvallo. The bickering La Claire couple (Lee Bowman and Astrid Allwyn) demonstrate that magic is just part of their acting on stage. The always delightful William Demerest plays a grumpy detective (the whole investigative team is a bit wacky).

Frederick Worlock is the mysterious Dr. Caesar Sabatt, accompanied by Gloria ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ Holden as the equally mysterious Madame Rapport. Browning has the camera rest on her singular face and as it lingers a sense of the uncanny arises. Though she only has a few scenes, that otherworldliness serves well when it comes time for the séance.

There’s a locked room mystery that isn’t much of a mystery—after all, by the time the first body shows up we’ve seen all manner of trickery explained. But the staging of the murders within pentagrams, the noir-shadowed streets of the city, and the suggestion that real unexplained mysteries from the beyond may be at work combine to give the film an enjoyable stylishness that’s definitely worth a try.

Good fun!

Supernatural Noir: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) by K A Laity

Supernatural Noir: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Having recently seen (and wrote about) Witch Hunt (1994) I was looking forward to seeing this mash up of supernatural and noir, largely because I figured Fred Ward would play the part of PI Harry Philip Lovecraft a lot better than a rather wooden Dennis Hopper did in the later film. That guess was correct.

Ward immediately gets what the film is meant to be a plays the noir elements with an edge of satire and humour. He channels the classic Bogey Spade but with a sense of irony, knowing this is a crazy mash-up of elements and an exercise in nostalgia. Ward is an underrated actor who always bring a everyman sensibility and a weight of intelligent emotion to every part he plays. He brings life to the part and a reality despite the clichés, over-the-top dramatics and clunky dialogue.

Because the rest of Cast a Deadly Spell is not up to his abilities. That includes a young Julianne Moore who is given next to nothing to do apart from lip syncing to someone else’ song and carrying out every cliché in the femme fatale playbook. You can almost see her composing a strongly worded letter to her agent. Yet at moments she makes us believe in her Connie (heart of) Stone, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast.

David Warner phones it in. Lee Tergesen is quite good with very little help, despite being literally gay-bashed. I thought the role of Lovecraft’s witch partner, Hypolyta Kropotkin, was too small in Witch Hunt, but it’s miniscule in this film. Arnetia Walker gets very little to do except save Lovecraft’s ass.

The Lovecraft storyline intertwines with a Big Sleep-style detective narrative; nonsense with a virginal debutante (Alexandra Powers) that attempts to evoke both the Sternwood sisters at once. Needless to say the Lovecraft garbage is vile. It’s also incredibly boring and clichéd. Virgin sacrifice? Really? Oh hey, Necronomicon. Admittedly less of a cliché in 1991, but secret book of secrets has been a staple of horror films for a very long time.

Worse are the Gremlins. And they are really called that in the credits. Someone recently shared a meme about how cretins believe the moon landing was faked with an image of what SPFX looked like in 1969. The ‘old ones’ in this film really look like cheap knock offs of the Gremlins films (the first in 1984, which gives you an idea of the quality). Rubber monsters age poorly, but they would have looked out of date in 1991. I know, low budgets and all (this is an HBO made for tv movie) but Witch Hunt shows how much more effective you could be with more subtle effects. That movie is looking better now.

A shame because the concept of supernatural noir is such a great one and has been done really well (*cough* by people associated with this site). Fred Ward was so good. If you’re more forgiving of bad FX and hokey plots, you might find it ‘A great way to spend an evening!’ as Entertainment Weekly did. Potato, po-tah-toe.

Supernatural Noir: Witch Hunt (1994) by K A Laity

Supernatural Noir: Witch Hunt (1994)

I am so grateful fabulous film critic Anne Billson retweeted a reference to this into my timeline. She has great taste in films as well as encyclopaedic knowledge (seriously, check out her work). Also it could not be more on-brand for my stuff: a mash-up of witchcraft, horror, hard-boiled and noir: The film takes place in a fictional Los Angeles where magic is real, monsters and mythical beasts stalk the back alleys, zombies are used as cheap labor, and everyone—except hardboiled private investigator H. Philip Lovecraft (Hopper)—uses magic every day. 

It turns out to be the sequel to a film also penned by Joseph DoughertyCast A Deadly Spell, which is more directly Lovecraftian (and which I have also ordered). Witch Hunt, however, is really hard to get hold of unless you want to pay a steep price for VHS (the horror, the horror). But it’s available on the site you probably guess it will be in the mean time: there must be some kind of rights issue.

Just peep at that cast list: Dennis Hopper, Penelope Anne Miller, Debi Mazar, Eric Bogosian, Lypsinka – Julian Sands! And veteran director Paul Schrader at the helm. There’s a lot good here: a satirical take on both the crime classics and on the ‘witch hunt’ against Hollywood in the 50s. So much potential: somehow it never gels. A few laughs land and land squarely: having the fabulous witch Hypolita Laveau Kropotkin (Sheryl Lee Ralph) summon Shakespeare just to get him writing pictures. Priceless final sight of him, face up against the window of limo wheeling him away to be chewed up with all the other screenwriters.

I think the basic problem is Schrader: he’s great at building tension but awful at comedy and even worse at action. Almost everyone plays their part well: almost no one connects to anyone else playing theirs. To have that sort of Hammet fast-talking wit you can’t have so much space between the actors. Miller is great as the actress who fears her career has just walked off with her producer/husband. She has a great balance of brittleness and ambition. Debi Mazar is so great that I expected her part to be bigger. Bogosian as the McCarthy stand-in is a combination of smarm and sleaze. Lypsinka makes a wonderful villain running a ring of high-class magical call girls. There’s a nod to the film noir tradition with a snippet of The Big Combo playing in a drive-in.

Even Sands isn’t chewing scenery too much as ‘Finn Macha’ (hahahaha) but his cod Irish accent often slips into something, I dunno – German? He does good menace as a foil to Hopper’s investigator.

Hopper just isn’t there. I’m looking forward to seeing Fred Ward play the same role. I suspect he will be better. I haven’t looked up any of the reviews of the film at the time. Not sure what was going on with Hopper: after his stellar turn as the über creepy Frank Booth in Blue Velvet this would seem to be a great role, but he never seems involved. There’s certainly no believable chemistry with Miller. Ralph does her part in trying to portray their uneasy relationship as friends with adjacent offices, both helping out people in trouble.

There’s a lot to like about the story: it could easily be redone with most of the script intact. Dougherty seems to have stepped into production work instead of writing, but I bet he’d take another chance at having this done right. See it while it’s free.

Film Noir: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry by K. A. Laity

220px-The_Strange_Affair_of_Uncle_Harry_FilmPoster

From the play that shocked Broadway!

Led down a little George Sanders rabbit hole the other day I finally got around to watching this film which was mentioned in some of the film noir books I have read, probably Brookes’ Film Noir. Partly I suspect that because he’s very interested in the overlap between noir and Gothic. This film is a great embodiment of that. 

Robert Siodmak directs, Joan Harrison produces; script by Stephen Longstreet based on the play by Thomas Job. George Sanders stars as Harry Quincy of the Corinth Quincys, who used to the tony family of the tiny town, though they lost their money in the Great Depression. His sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester (Moyna Macgill) keep the ancestral mansion with the help of Nona (Sarah Allgood). The house is all they have left of the glory days. Everything seems cosy until New Yawk City slicker Deborah Brown (Ella Raines) comes to the quiet mill and shakes up Harry’s life.

Mostly because his hypochondriac sister Lettie doesn’t want anything to change and relies on Harry bending to her every whim. Very gothic: borderline incestuous – I wonder if the ‘shocking’ play made more of that. But Lettie pretends to welcome the interloper, but just can’t seem to find a place suitable for her and Hester so the two can get married. Six months pass. Deborah manages to convince Harry they should just run off to the wilds of Boston and get married, then honeymoon in big bad NYC.

Lettie collapses. Or appears to do so. Harry starts glaring at the poison bottle Lettie bought to put down their old dog Weary. 

There’s some great small town shenanigans: the trial of public opinion, gossip, fence peeping, taking sides, soda counters, men singing at the club (a far cry from the Drones) ‘Pickle My Bones in Alcohol’ and then a twist that comes out of nowhere – well, literally it came out the Motion Pictures Production Code. I could imagine this being remade either without the twist or with one more cynical twist.

George Sanders is always watchable; Geraldine Fitzgerald clearly has a great time with the theatrical Lettie. Fun stuff!

SALIENT MINUS TEN digital premiere 27 May!

salient minus 10

SALIENT MINUS TEN is the new Sci-Fi/Horror short film from award-winning filmmaker Emma Dark, and is a cerebral foray into the darker, more disturbing, side of Science Fiction.

Adam Harper (Alan Austen, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) is an average man. And on an average day he suddenly finds himself catapulted into the strangest, reality changing game… A game of time and chance, where the stakes are a matter of life and death.

“Instead of relying on gore or cheap jump scares to get under your skin, this is a film which asks you to think and connect the dots yourself, and you almost feel as though you want to thank it for that.” – Dread Central (4/5* review), http://bit.ly/2on4LJi

SCREENINGS & AWARDS: * Fantoms (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NEWCASTLE UK, Star and Shadow cinema, October 2019) * WINNER ‘Best Actor’ (Alan Austen), WINNER ‘Best Cinematography’ (Philip Bloom), WINNER ‘Best Editing’ (Emma Dark), Nominated ‘Best Short’, ‘Best Music / Sound’ (Eric Elick & Chris Collier), ‘Outstanding Female Filmmaker’ (Emma Dark) – Stormy Weather Horror Fest Summer 2019 * Medusa Underground Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NEVADA USA, The Artisan Hotel Boutique, Las Vegas, January 2019) * Black Sunday Film Festival (The Whirled Cinema, December 2018) * International Moving Image Society (01zero-one, October 2018) * WINNER ‘Albert Pyun Inspiration Award’ (Emma Dark), Nominated ‘Best Short Film’, ‘Audience Choice’, ‘Best Cinematography’ (Philip Bloom) – The Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival (NORTHERN IRISH PREMIERE, The Hub, Bangor, October 2018) * Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – NORTH CAROLINA USA, The Cary Theater, Cary, September 2018) * Nominated ‘Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ – Snake Alley Festival of Film (REGIONAL PREMIERE – IOWA USA, Capitol Theater, Burlington, June 2018) * Rue Morgue Magazine and Unstable Ground’s Little Terrors Monthly Short Film Festival (CANADIAN PREMIERE, Imagine Cinemas Carlton, April 2018) * Nominated ‘Best Horror/Sci-Fi’ – 2nd Annual – Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – PENNSYLVANIA USA (EAST COAST), Mauch Chunk Opera House, April 2018) * WINNER ‘Best Director’ (Emma Dark) – Starburst Magazine’s Media City Film Festival (REGIONAL PREMIERE – GREATER MANCHESTER, The Landing, March 2018) * Billy Chainsaw’s Nova Nights (The Horse Hospital, London, February 2018) * Panic Fest (USA PREMIERE, Screenland Armour Cinema, Kansas City, January 2018) * The Dark Side Magazine’s DarkFest (Genesis Cinema, November 2017) * Nominated ‘Best Short Film’ – The British Horror Film Festival (WORLD PREMIERE, Cineworld Leicester Square, November 2017)

CREDITS: Edited, Produced, Written, and Directed by Emma Dark Original Music by Eric Elick Director of Photography Philip Bloom Sound Design by Chris Collier

Adam Harper – Alan Austen

The Woman – Emma Dark

Commuter/Automaton – Chris Hampshire

Commuter – Beric Read

Commuter – Samantha Oci

For a full list of cast and crew credits and to find out more please visit the following links: IMDb – imdb.com/title/tt5935326 Facebook – facebook.com/SalientMinusTen Twitter – twitter.com/SalientMinusTen

BUY on DVD here > etsy.com/uk/shop/EmmaDarkOfficial

Copyright © 2017 Emma Dark. All Rights Reserved. emmadark.com facebook.com/EmmaDarkOfficial