My idea of a perfect Saturday evening at home is homemade pizza, a decent bottle of red, and a great film noir, watched alone or with friends. (I’m a simple girl at heart, really I am!) Back in 1946, the French film critic Nino Frank came up with the term “film noir” (translation: “black cinema”) to describe Hollywood films with dark themes.
On this early Saturday evening in Paris, raining and cool, I’m totally chilled. This is the first of a series of long weekends throughout the month of May. I’ve cracked open a bottle of Saumur-Champigny and my pizza pie is about to go into the oven. I just got off the phone with my godson in Lille who rang to thank me for the birthday card and candies I mailed him on Thursday (well, his father rang.) I have a date with a 6 year old next weekend.
“Tata Juliet,” he said, “When are we going to see Pierre Lapin?”
“Très bientôt!” I replied. (Very soon.) I had promised to take him to see the new Peter Rabbit movie. I had purchased my train tickets for this weekend, but can you believe it? The SNCF is on strike this weekend … and other weekends throughout May and June.
So, back to films noirs. What I love are the tough femme fatale women, the terse dialogue, the highly stylized black and white imagery (with shadowy lighting effects) and the cynicism. In the opening scene, there’s usually a car careening down a city street (or a desert road) and it’s raining and at night
The darkness of these films reflected the disenchantment of the times. Pessimism and disillusionment became increasingly present in the American psyche during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the world war that followed. After the war, factors such as an unstable peacetime economy, McCarthyism, and the looming threat of atomic warfare manifested themselves in a collective sense of uncertainty. The corrupt and claustrophobic world of film noir embodied these fears.
Below is a superlative opening scene of a young Cloris Leachman running barefoot down a darkened desert road in KISS ME DEADLY (1955).
Have a great weekend!