“La Noir The City As Character” attempts to document Los Angeles as seen by film directors of the 40’s and 50’s. It is odd because what many of those filmmakers tried to do with this highly stylized genre was obscure or conceal what could be seen in actual environments and project the dark menace and deep uncertainty that was unseen, lurking in the shadows. Many of these films were made on studio sets where the visuals could be tightly controlled, but for special sequences as in 1944’s “Double Indemnity” the cast and crew would venture forth into the so-called real world.
Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson and Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff meet in Jerry’s market on Vermont and Franklin Avenues. They are there, not to stock up on wartime rations, but to plan a murder. Phyllis wears dark glasses and a fright wig, Walter wears a business suit and a dark hat. Could any two people look less conspicuous as they stroll through the aisles of neatly stacked cans of fruits and vegetables? But there they are, front and center, hiding in plain sight as Billy Wilder and the real-life police watch their every move and gesture. (The police are watching to make sure no one rips off the food.) This is the stuff of noir, alright, but the well-stocked corner market could be anywhere. What gives the sequence its L.A. feel is not where it’s made, but how. Billy Wilder’s razor sharp eyes and ears miss nothing.
If you look at the many evocative black and white photographs in “L.A. Noir”, you will be disappointed if you compare the real Los Angeles to the imaginary Los Angeles dreamed up by noir filmmakers. Los Angeles may have been beautiful once upon a time, but you will not be awe struck by the real life Hollywood and Vine of 2005 and beyond. Hollywood only looks like what we want it to be within the eyes of a camera lens. Dark and light subjects fulfill the directors’ wildest fantasies and we never see the unphotogenic reality outside the frame. As you remember “D.O.A”, “Gun Crazy”, “In A Lonely Place”, “Kiss Me Deadly”, “Mildred Pierce”, “Sunset Blvd.”, “This Gun For Hire” and “White Heat”, take note that “L.A. Noir” is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. “Life should be”, as Myrna Loy once said, “more like the movies.” “LA Noir The City As Character” by Alain Silver and James Ursini is available through santamonicapress.com.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/19/05
L.A. Noir The City As Character
USA - 2005