The on-set sexual tension between John Garfield and Lana Turner was clear to all in the film. Their first day together, he called out to her, "Hey, Lana, how's about a little quickie?" to which she reportedly replied, "You bastard!" —The Postman Only Rings Twice
Hungarian-born and now Toronto-based filmmaker Stephen Zoller, who escaped the Russian tanks in a knapsack on his father’s back, has a deep fascination with “Film Noir.” And in honor of this great genre, he’s created a series of dynamic digital collages that pay visual homage to this art form and which are meant to be viewed on large flat screen TV screens.
He suggests Noir is “Hollywood’s greatest contribution” to the pantheon of 20th century art, suggesting, “They represented a truer reflection of American mores than any other movie genre. Probably for that reason alone they have aged the least. Despite heavy censorship, noir films were subversive in many ways. They exposed the seedy underbelly of capitalism and the hypocrisy which lay behind the American Dream. And they did so with terse dialogue, smoke filled rooms, tense action and lots of inferred sex.”
The golden era of film noir includes such classics as Double Indemnity, Laura, Gilda, Out of the Past, Criss Cross, Kiss of Death, The Asphalt Jungle and The Big Heat. It’s suggested that Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) was the first true film noir, while the first classic was the John Huston-directed, The Maltese Falcon (1941) with Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade.
For my pal Stephen, novelist Jamesb Cain was at the front of the curve of literary source material that was mined for film noir’s rich catalog of fast-talking dicks and dangerous femme fatales. Cain’s 1934 novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice” was a basis for the 1946 movie starring Garfield and a sizzling Lana Turner as the drifter and married woman who plot to murder her husband. Cain’s novels were also the basis for Double Indemnity (1944) and Mildred Pierce (1945), just as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Glass Key (1942) were based on Dashiel Hammett’s novels.
Zoller, who likes to draw the main Noir arc from Cain’s “Postman” novel to Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), explains, “It was from Noir that the sarcastic anti-hero emerged along with the tough-as-nails woman who could stand up to any man. And it was in Noir films that the obligatory happy ending was expunged and replaced by a hard slap of irony.”
Zoller’s own inspiration derived from immigrating to Ireland, after escaping Soviet-occupied Hungary. Watching movies and creating “lobby cards" — by scouring old magazines for photographs and illustrations and cutting with scissors and pasting with glue — for his imagined Hollywood movies were his passion:
“In the late 50s and early 60s when television had yet to be imported, I went to the local cinema three times a week. Saturday's were devoted to sci-fi and adventure serials but I would also be ‘dragged’ by my parents to see adult movies — hardboiled black and white crime films with my father and Technicolor melodramas with my mother. I loved them both. But one thing that confused me, however, was the fact that the lobby cards for crime films were in full color yet on the screen they were in black and white. So I followed suit and made my collages in color. Which brings us back to today where computers and Photoshop make it possible to create ‘lobby cards’ that as a young boy I could only dream of.”
Last winter, having retired from a long career in and around movie-making, and devoting his time to fretting about the state of the world and/or entertaining his cat, he found himself creating hundreds of these stunning digital lobby cards for imagined Noir movies, complete with sarcastic dialog, ‘dicks,’ babes and implied steamy sex. The sexual situations in Noir had to softened to comply with the Production Code of the time, yet Zoller says:
“In America in the early 40s, people began questioning the buttoned down world. Noir was created with War coming, and then post War, Noir showed the new sexual expression — many of the returning soldiers, who had witnessed hardboiled, life and death scenarios, wanted to see films that reflected their experience. Many had fucked for the first time during the War, and Noir captured the zeitgeist of the time. You’d see these dames in the movies, and you’d get excited, knowing that they were strong women who also liked to have sex. But it was subtle, like Barbara Stanwyck’s anklet in Double Indemnity. You just knew her character liked to do it.”
So here’s to the seductive, amoral femmes noirs — Phyllis Dietrichson, Veda Pierce, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Kitty March, Gilda, and Postman’s Cora Smith. And also to their cynical male, anti-hero counterparts — Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer.
Stephen Zoller’s “The Colors of Noir” captures their essence in a dazzling digital display...and would be perfect as an AV installation at an artistic venue or gallery.
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