Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Category: film

NOIRVEMBER 022 ~ Charlton Heston’s Trilogy

Tracking the downfall of a person is one thing, it provides a tight narrative spiral. It’s a clean execution. But describing the downfall of a society, now that’s a trick. And a challenge Charlton Heston has spearheaded thrice with great success.

planet of the apes lobby card

It all started with those damn dirty apes. Heston plays stranded astronaut, Taylor, who crash lands in the future on a planet ruled by many classes of the ape family and where humans have been subjugated. For the poor filthy wretches of this planet, the downfall already occurred. So it makes sense that Heston would arrive to lead a revival.

Unlike any of the other human creatures, Heston has language, and knowledge, and he won’t be caged. He challenges the civilised society of ape culture, their rules, their laws, and he demands human dominance be restored.

It’s exceptionally arrogant and that kind of headstrong resolve is exactly the thing you need to keep pushing against all barriers to enact your own noir ending. But sadly, Heston is so forceful he actually ends up triggering a second noir spiral that is unconsidered at first but is exceptionally sour when taken on its own context.

The tale of PLANET OF THE APES winds tight until the final sequence as Heston leads a group of apes into the Forbidden Zone where he reveals to himself and us that this planet is Earth in a far flung future and that civilisation as Heston hoped to be reconnected with has long been buried. He pounds the sand as the Statue of Liberty signals up while his heart tumbles deep deep down. This is Heston’s hell, his reward for being a pioneer of the new frontier. And he’s stuck in it, an outsider, alone, forever.

But take pause to consider the apes. For generations they’ve only known one way of life. And now that cradle of their civilisation is shattered. Their very ordered way of life has been turned upside by a truth hidden from them and one they were happier and more functional not knowing. Things can never be the same for them and just because they are hirsute does not mean they won’t feel this greatly.

the-omega-man-1971-poster

Heston would take a few years off from destroying societies but he would return in THE OMEGA MAN where he is instrumental in the downfall of humanity. This loose adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND novel changes the downfall of society from a bacterial infection to instead be a result of chemical warfare. This way, it is man orchestrating the demise themselves. Heston plays Robert Neville, a Colonel in the Army and as such someone connected to this terrible event. When he gets infected he experiments on himself and stumbles across a vaccine, though too late to save the millions of people turning into albino Luddite nocturnal freaks who will all soon rally against the lonesome Neville who comes to represent the old ways they loathe so much.

Neville spends his days wandering his city and hunting this new breed of person, called The Family. He has become the monster and it isn’t as if he can turn the tide and kill them all, and even if he did he’d be left all alone, so Neville is firmly planted in a futile situation. Until a woman arrives and they fall in love. Because of course you have time for love if it’s Heston you stumble upon.

Through a series of stubborn events, Neville gets Lisa’s brother murdered, and her infected, and he still won’t play nice and so he ends the movie slumped dead in a fountain with a spear through his side. As a hero, this is a pretty bad run of events and so should instantly be clear that Neville is not any kind of hero in this story. Not one bit. And so he gets no happy ending. There might be a happy ending for some of the other characters but Neville most certainly is buried because of his own actions, and he no doubt keeps a rift between the very few human survivors and The Family because of his actions born of frustration, fear, and closed-mindedness. He is the epitome of male stupidity and pride and it is his ultimate downfall. And a shame he insists on dragging others down with him.

There is no happy ending for THE OMEGA MAN and two years later Heston would make SOYLENT GREEN, a flick renowned for its horribly downbeat ending. Because in a film where people are being euthanized and food shortages are a common problem, there are always ways for Heston to make it all worse.

Soylent-Green-photo-2

The people of Earth face many problems but one isn’t what to eat, because Soylent Green is available and it’s got all the protein you need. Because of special plankton being farmed and turned into a wafer that’ll keep your system running. Though there isn’t much worth going more than a mild trot for. Society is fractured, only the 1% have anything of luxury – and those luxuries are things you and I take well for granted right now. Luxury is only convenience finessed up due to context of rareness. The world is a sad and small and oppressively hot place and Heston’s Detective Frank Thorn wants to do right. He’s investigating a murder and that rabbit hole leads him to a ghastly truth.

Soylent Green is people. It’s made from corpses. And in the movie’s final moments, with Thorn injured, he screams it to the masses, “Soylent Green is people!” And we close on a freeze frame of Heston’s bloodied hand in the air. It’s a hell of a close; poignant, grotesque, socially prescient.

It’s also as bleak as a week old corpse left to turn before becoming our next wafer of protein.

Y’see, what’s going to actually happen next? The only two ways my brain goes is to reckon either Heston’s public declaration gets Soylent Green production stopped, robbing society of the only real affordable and functional food source they have and driving a new societal collapse, and probably one where people turn to straight cannibalism once they realise what was happening all along. In for a penny, in for a pound of flesh, and all that.

Or maybe Heston changes nothing except for that he’s opened our eyes and we can’t just stay in our blissful ignorance of human body noshing. Every time someone cracks a wafer into their mouth they have to ‘know’ what they are doing. And that hardly seems fair.

Though I suppose they could just toss Heston straight into the production line and hope no one else believes the bleeding crackpot in the streets. This narrows the scope of the noir ending but it also highlights that no matter how you take it, SOYLENT GREEN, like THE OMEGA MAN and PLANET OF THE APES before it, all portray tales where Heston is around to watch the downfall of man, and the end of his own natural life, and if we wait long enough these sucker punches could be ripped from our headlines so we’re looking through a lens at the brick barrier we are all speeding into. Hrmm.

NOIRVEMBER 018 ~ Bonnie + Clyde

CRIME DOESN’T PAY is an old crime comic they used to put out and in it the criminals always had to come unstuck, or usually flat out die, just so the book wasn’t glorifying crime and criminals and fuelling a whole generational shift to just taking what we want because that Baby Boomer work ethic surely wasn’t going to stick, right?

It’s a pretty weird thing to consider such a mandate as if media has a totality of causation when it comes to making people do things. If so, why don’t a large majority of people live happily ever after like all the stories have told us will happen in the last few hundred years?

And every censor got it wrong anyway because while the comics caper of ensuring we only showed criminals biting the dust in the end would somehow lead to a positive lesson being learnt was no doubt done in earnest it was also all surely undone by one simple flick.

bonnie and clyde

Y’see, in BONNIE + CLYDE, the eponymous criminals are really not happy, they’re not very good at what they purport to do [“We rob banks!” they love to exclaim more than ever prove], and in the end they die in a rain of gunfire. Their story ends in that black warning of death and along the way we even see sexual dysfunction as Clyde struggles to be able to perform for the ever-willing Bonnie. The whole affair is actually quite cringe-worthy to observe and yet I can’t imagine this flick was the deterrent many old school hardliners might have hoped.

Why?

Well, there’s this little mental glitch whereby Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are just so goddamn good looking that this big cross country mess still comes off as glamorous well before we consider the sad and silly and deplorable aspects. Dunaway wears this hat and she’s gorgeous. The fact she’s crippled by some low self-esteem and is clearly self-destructive is forgotten as we see her make holding a gun in a photo look badass.

Because the dirty little secret is that people will often make poor choices if they are going to look good along the way. Send them a hint of a promise at looking fantastic or mysteriously alluring or straight up sexy and people start trampling over the people they love just to line up to fall down. This is why noir works because we often do know it’s the wrong choice but we make it anyway for the immediate gratification. We trade off the outcome in the hope of living in the moment. Or we probably just know 9 out of 10 people will look back and still think it was all worth it for those glorious minutes.

It’s why crime isn’t short on customers. It’s a gamble, maybe you won’t get caught, but if you do maybe it’ll be worth it. You watch Bonnie and Clyde do their thing, pushing each other further and further into the bank robbery game until there’s nothing left but to double down, or so they feel. There are always options but the truth is they start to like it, and they see the end coming so that’s all the more reason to seize the moments because they are now a finite commodity. You’re not going to waste what little you have left feeling regret or remorse or just plain boredom.

Noir means you went in for a penny and now you’re down for a pound.

Warren Beatty plays that idiotic truth perfectly as he constantly bounces from one bad moment to another because he doesn’t know any other way, doesn’t trust himself to find a way, and so plays off owning the bad because that means he never failed at trying to be good. He’s an idiot, a child, and a firecracker and yet it’s all these things that make him so alluring. You can just as easily read his behaviour to mean easily pleased, spontaneous, and capable of anything. Bonnie certainly gets caught in his dangerous contrails and from there it’s all over for her.

As you watch, you see why these two fall for each other so easily and while you don’t feel it [mostly because you are removed from the situation and so can be analytical without the pressure] you can instantly see why it would happen. The acting, the deft direction from Arthur Penn, everything brings this tale of downfall together so you only ever feel sad for these people. The criminals. These thugs and violent idiots. You feel for them, like maybe you could help them, if only they’d just help themselves a little. But they won’t. And in the end, you can’t look away.

You’ll watch two people walk themselves across their nation into certain death because when noir is this pretty then it is not to be ignored.

NOIRVEMBER 016 ~ David Cronenberg’s The Fly

Is there anything more noir than the mad scientist?

The definition of hubris, they are nearly always their own downfall. And why? Drive, determination, a sense they should and can do good but eventually the world won’t let them. Physics won’t let them. And they know this. Because they are smart, but they push on anyways.

Maybe mad scientists are driven by hope. By faith. Natural breaking points of the scientific mind.

the fly jan 1987

In 1986, David Cronenberg was tasked with remaking a very pulpy old horror flick that was iconic but definitely goofy to its core. The original tale of a scientist swapping heads with a fly is a silly concept, in both ethereal thought as well as final execution, but redrafting it through the body horror lens of Cronenberg was pure genius. I’d like to believe it was producer Mel Brooks who thought to approach the Canadian master of nasty shocks.

Yes, THAT Mel Brooks.

So Cronenberg came in and the result is a movie that swerves very far away from camp and becomes a parable about the AIDS generation that’s both disgustingly ghastly and ferociously terrifying while also being a heartbreak of decimating proportions.

You can probably thank Jeff Goldblum for making Seth Brundle, Mad Scientist M.D. the perfect foil for himself in this flick. When Goldblum is charming he is world devouring and we instantly connect with Brundle. He is sweet and kooky and disastrously intelligent. He is a perfect storm for which Veronica Quiafe will fall into and we buy it in every moment because we fall there, too.

This noir is exceptional because Brundle isn’t hard boiled, Quaife isn’t a femme fatale, and the world they inhabit is one hopeful and we watch it stripped of hope.

It is all very very real, which isn’t something you’d assume would come to mind for this remake if you were there before it landed.

Teleportation technology is at Brundle’s fingertips and with it so close he has to push on. Many would slow down on the accelerator when they find true love but Brundle is the kind of scientist who was initially married to science and he was never going to divorce. He could have extremely passionate women on the side but this is his path. And that sense of being locked in is what makes everything that follows feel so locked in.

The moment the fly enters the transportation pod with Brundle we get that sense of dramatic noir where we know it’s all going to play out one way and then we have to struggle through watching Brundle try to swerve off this deadly track with no luck. And we quietly observe Quaife watch the whole journey, trapped in the boot, and we can only hope she survives the crash we know Brundle won’t.

As Brundle starts to change due to his melding with the fly, he has hope. He documents these changes and sees the positive side. The strength, the ability just to engage with such mad science. He is abuzz. We all know what happens when you meddle with the unknown. You get radiation poisoning. You destroy Japanese cities. You fall and everything about you, everything with you, all that you do it for, is strapped to you and so it falls also.

And Brundlefly, as he becomes, falls hard. His body changes in good ways that soon crest into horrific jokes on the physical form. His skin cracks, his system adjusts, and it’s never anything but destructive to him. To the man.

Through it all, Quaife loves him, and tries to help. She isn’t just out for herself, she isn’t going to walk. Love is the strongest tie that binds through noir. The second is lust. And they went from one to the other and now their fall is joined. His is to fall and hers is to watch.

Veronica comes to discover she is pregnant to Brundle and cannot be certain when they conceived. Though a dream sequence where Veronica is in a birthing suite and Cronenberg himself acting as the gynecologist produces a grotesque larvae from her loins is something that makes you certain she is in her own noir spiral, but it’s a wider angle, and it’s a slower velocity, but it’ll get her too and now she knows it.

By film’s end, we all know it’s coming. Brundlefly is done, he’s a biological wasteland of possible science turned into probable death. He tries to drag Veronica into one final teleportation, to join him, and when it goes awry he is left off even more damage, a man-fly thing shedding flesh and humanity as he melds with the telepod itself. The result a techno-organic disaster that it should have seen coming but it kept on dipping back into the inky well as if the cause of the problem would suddenly affect a solution.

Finally, the ever hopeful brain of Brundle has finally given up. He’s beaten. But he doesn’t want to drag anything or anyone else down with him. He has done enough in his quest for more and now, in his final moments and acts, he wants to do less. Less damage.

He grabs the barrel of the shotgun Veronica holds and aims it at his head and it’s hideous which only serves to make it more heart rending. He takes himself off and his noir fall ends in a wet thud.

The kicker of a noir coda is that Quaife is indeed still tethered. She is pregnant, and we don’t even need to see it play out, we know it’s not the happy ending anyone would ask for. It’s the noir of uncertainty, which can and will plague you until you die [or a sequel stars your child – shout out to Eric Stoltz].

And all because we want to rise up, we fall so low and hard. Brundlefly is an example of how drive is good but the directions we choose are more important. THE FLY is a beautiful elegy of caution, forever caution.

NOIRVEMBER 013 ~ Gene Hackman

In the early 70s there were two titanically superb noir flicks delicately placed into new cinema canon and while neither of them immediately front as a typical noir flick you can be certain they are bleak to their modern core. And their lead actor brings the hollow games to the fore because no one in the 70s played a man downtrodden by the world and yet still marching forward like Atlas than Gene Hackman.

the french connection lobby card

In THE FRENCH CONNECTION, the role of Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle is such a great updated turn on the old pulp detective leads, as they show his flaws, his determination, and his desire for progress no matter what barriers might be placed in his way. In the way he continually trudged onward, in a manner we can see is to his own downfall, makes him a perfect noir lead, but he’s also a new breed of this sad soul archetype. And this is because of societal boundaries towards narratives.

Doyle is, to put it bluntly, a scumbag. He’s beyond the loveable scamps of old, or even the hardboiled bastards, no, Doyle is a flat out terrible human being. He’s racist, abusive, a drunk, and his moral code isn’t broken, it’s just casually cast aside, buried over time, forgotten. Noir leads often march because they see the light, or they ignore the dark, but Doyle marches into the darkness and screams into it. He screams to master it. He’s a complex guy and at this time was somewhat indicative of a new way of telling stories. You could suddenly go real deep and dark with your leads and there was little filter.

This perfect cultural storm of time and inclination brings us this NYC detective who will go to any lengths to stop the roaring drug trade pouring into his city – which is about the one redeemable aspect of the character, his ultimate goal is something good. He’s just given far too liberal a set of tools and methods to make this happen.

There is little joy to be taken in watching Doyle, and his partner Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo played by Roy Scheider, beating suspects and owning the streets through impact and aggression. The job is not shown to be fun because at that time it was not fun – hell, it’s probably never ‘eff you en’ to be a beat cop of any level – and so we see how the sausages were made at this time. It’s hard work and while you want Doyle to win you almost don’t want to know how he gets it done. Which is exactly how practises like these are cultivated in the first place.

But you quietly urge Doyle to do just one more thing, terrible as it might be, if it’ll just get him to that shining light of victory. You lean forward, you allow, right up until you realise it’s not going to work. There’s only ever one outcome from this behaviour.

You see it plastered across the car chase, both what you see and how we now know it was made. It’s a reckless pursuit of something grander and even when it works you are left wondering what could have been the outcome had it not. And in that moment of blunder, would it all have been worth it? You know a single beat ‘no’ is the only answer. But you watch the chase, and you laud it, and it’s amazing. And, well, it does look pretty damn fine, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love a fast car?

But is it amazing when a cop shoots a criminal in the back? Is that the moment you maybe start to turn away from Doyle? But do you condemn as you turn? Are we complicit in his noir downfall, or are we actually exhibiting the exact model that leads to societal downfall? We turn, but we allow. What else would Doyle do if he’s given rights to such barbarity by absence of reprimand or example? Or is this the necessary roughness needed to protect society from growing ill will and action? The poster tagline says Doyle is bad news-but a good cop. Do we hand off the responsibility of civil protection and then also hand across the right to complain when that job makes people sell their souls. It’s a set of super grey questions to ask which is the whole point of the flick. How far are we expected to go, and how far will we let others go for us? Never forget that we are at fault for helping Doyle fall, and all because we want to live in the good life his actions might possibly provide.

If he were successful in his goal. But the 70s were a great time in cinema to show us that the people promising you it’ll get better, the people promising you it’s worth the means to justify the end, are a bunch of bastards. And the bastards all quietly die on the inside, back when we thought people cared about that sort of demise. A flickering of the soul, a blackening of our hopes. All for the greater good.

Weren’t we all wrong?

Doyle is, and in the final sequence we see just how wrong when he chases drug kingpin Charnier into an old warehouse. Anyone half-familiar with cinema narrative structure knows this is the set up for the final reel showdown where the hero catches the villain, or perhaps is forced into killing him to end the madness. But this is not just noir it’s 70s cinema noir which means you have no idea what you are going to get.

Doyle is tracking this fiend when he sees a figure move, though can’t quite make out whom it is. He does the only heroic thing his dna understands and he opens fire. The figure is taken down but upon closer inspection we discover it is not Charnier, it is another federal agent. Doyle barely pauses, this should be cause for a broken career, no less a broken man, but Doyle processes it quickly and then moves on. He hasn’t caught his man so he needs to continue. It’s horrible in the most literal sense and it’s indicative of how black Doyle is on the inside. This friendly fire crime that’s cost another man his life doesn’t bother Doyle at all, he knows to do what he does he has to press forward.

Buy Doyle’s kind of forward is also very steeply downward.

Popeye Doyle is a bombastic noir lead, someone completely complicit in his every step down the path whereas 3 years later Hackman would play an entirely different noir man as Harry Caul in THE CONVERSATION. Caul is someone who has no idea the noir spiral is winding around him and he only feels it once it pulls tight, and it’s too late.

the-conversation-lobby-card

Francis Ford Coppola was hot off THE GODFATHER which swept some Oscars and is easily one of the best flicks of all time and while he was following that flick up with a sequel that some believe to be even better [I don’t] and just as many tout as the greatest sequel of all time [it’s gotta be right up there with DAY OF THE DEAD and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and ALIENS and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY] Coppola isn’t a guy who has ever wanted to be a one trick pony. Whereas most directors steer into the skid of the genre they initially dominate – and you get Scorsese’s crime flicks and Carpenter’s horror flicks – Coppola is the sort of guy who seems to engineer his career like he’s mapping his own professional noir as we see him go from being a master of the craft, a pioneer and innovator, to someone who is off the radar and disrespectfully forgotten, or ignored.

But before Coppola erased himself from history, he crafted a tale where someone was recording history and it led to their downfall. And now THE CONVERSATION stands as one of the finest pieces of quiet cinema you’ll find anywhere and you won’t quickly forget how Harry Caul’s world and mind are dismantled. Even though this team deliver a film you can instantly tell was destined to fail. Well, by that I mean it was destined to gain a lower gross and project a smaller tone so it so rarely gets held up against Coppola’s GODFATHER flicks or APOCALYPSE NOW. But it equally holds its own in that field.

It all begins with a simple task, record a couple walking and talking in the park. It’s mundane and even if it goes pear shaped you’d assume it’ll spill into a domestic problem. In a word: manageable.

So Harry Caul takes the job because he’s the best there is at what he does and what he does is peep on people and record their sound. He’s an aural kind of guy. But he doesn’t hear the thunder coming.

The fascinating thing about THE CONVERSATION is that from this initial premise, the story unfolds that what Caul thinks he’s listening to is not that, and it instead leads to the death of another man and a cover up whereby Caul can’t out the offenders. In the end, he’s left to stew in the belief he’s being kept under surveillance himself, his one true fear which we see early on that he safeguards against at all costs.

The narrative is thin because this was never about an epic governmental take down, this is the study of one man imploding. We watch Caul listen and relisten to one line from the conversation he stole and he’s peering into its abyss trying to work out what is down there. Suitably, he comes nowhere near cracking the code but watching how intently he draws focus and must prevail shows you how he gets led down in the end. He’s unilaterally afraid and yet has singular vision. A quality blindside – and it must be really high quality to work – completely takes him off the map.

You get the feeling if Coppola could have dropped another 45 minutes of Caul scrutinising the tape he would have. Because it’s that perfect vision of him not letting go and getting himself dragged down through tenacity and curiosity.

The story resolves with Caul hearing a playback of his own saxophone playing and realising he’s been tapped. He tears his apartment apart and there’s really no greater metaphor for noir.

The film closes on Caul alone, playing his sax, which is where the device most likely resides. He is utterly doomed to the bound and repressed life he has built himself.

NOIRVEMBER 011 ~ Blade Runner

I first watched BLADE RUNNER before I was a teen. And while I loved it there’s no way I got so much of what makes it astoundingly great. I had no idea what film noir was and so I missed out on pretty much exactly why the aesthetic of the flick is so brilliant. I understood the brutal beauty of the skyline, the hard cool stench of the smoky streets, but I didn’t get the thick vein of homage running through it that causes the masterful juxtaposition of it all.

blade runner lobby card

This is a firm sci fi flick and yet it’s filmed, shot, and put together like an old film noir of the finest kind. Young Ryan did not have that knowledge but Aged Weary Creaking Ryan gets it, and the love for this flick grew exponentially. Because the balls to put a Vangelis score against what we can only imagine was Ridley Scott thinking he saw a vision of Beijing’s future and he actually did see that future and then have the language change to meet the sci fi parameters of this android populated Philip K Dick story and then infuse it with all of the film noir style tips has gotta be one of the wildest mash ups of all time at the time this debuted on the big screen.

Putting a close-cropped Harrison Ford into a nice dirty coat, having him eat on the streets and know the lingo, those Venetian blinds. This flick looks like it was made in the 40s, of both the 20th and the 21st Century. It’s a bold undertaking. And it paid off. Eventually. Obviously the earliest 80s people didn’t know what to initially make of it but sharper minds prevailed and we got the classic we know and love and revere today. And no doubt will tomorrow also.

But for today, I want to look at the plain noir aspects of the flick, of which there are a few.

I love that Rick Deckard, everyone’s favourite Replicant hunter, spends pretty well the whole flick getting his ass kicked. Deckard succeeds not because he’s a beast but because he refuses to succumb to beasts, despite them pounding him down repeatedly. But go back and watch THE BIG SLEEP and watch Bogart get slapped around there, too. It’s not the fight in you so much as the resilience. Because they won’t wear you down physically but you’ll wear them down mentally. It’s refreshing to see a sci fi hero just get handed around into a few beatings.

By the end, it becomes ludicrously fascinating because the final showdown doesn’t come off as one for the good guys through any skillset of Deckard’s except for his propensity to take a pasting and keep on ticking. He literally just waits out Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty until he shuts down of his own volition. It’s an intriguing low key and passive way to end the hero’s journey. Perhaps this unconventionality is why it flopped; it was up against E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL and everyone could understand that kind of structure and tone.

Deckard spends the flick hunting these Replicants – itself something we can never gel as actually being the right thing to do because of the moral and ethical quandary it raises in regards to sentience and thus right to life – but we follow Deckard because it’s Ford with the best haircut he’ll ever have in his life and these robots are violent. Though Deckard is also violent. It’s as murky as the real world. But through all his hunting, Deckard is pretty useless except for his hard-headedness. And it’s this in the end that saves him but also goes a great length to showing us why he’s wrong. Why our ‘hero’ is anything but one.

Rutger Hauer delivers the ‘tears in rain’ soliloquy and it’s still as haunting and captivating today as it was all the way back then. Through this final dialogue, despite having watched Hauer break Deckard’s fingers and act like most big bad level bosses are supposed to, from all that we get a speech about the beauty of the universe and it’s something we can understand. Something we can comprehend, we yearn for, and we mourn its passing in what might feel like empathy on our best days when we want to self-congratulate but really, when you are honest with yourself, you frown for the fact you’ve never seen something as beautiful as what is described. You’ve never even comprehended it. Because you’ve been too busy just standing back up from life’s beatings. We are all Deckard and when we finally land that killing blow to the man/system/whole goddamn world, we instantly see why it was wrong and why nobody else does it, at least not with any frequency.

BLADE RUNNER is a noir and it’s Roy Batty’s fall from the majesty of space into the very real and human surface world of our everyday existence. Suddenly the fact this flick represents our future is sad and crushing, we are all walking into the dystopia of man and we are doing so little about it. Climate change, mining, space junk, all these chickens are going to come home to roost and all we have is one gargantuan nest made out of our regrets and our fears, all of which we failed to ever act responsibly upon. An emotionless walking computer can learn to see it but we are blind eternally.

With the blinking passing of Roy Batty, we see the noir of mankind writ large, atop a grimy rooftop in the rain. Because that’s how we’ll all go, unclean, afraid we might fall, and looking up and hoping/wishing for the more we know we deserved.

However, depending on your leaning on the flick, there’s more noir to share around. You see, Deckard might be a replicant also. Ridley Scott certainly believes him to be – I won’t say intended him to be one because that implies external intent, whereas Scott’s side of the story just is, and we can still choose to buy it or not. And if Deckard is a replicant, well, that means his life is a lie, his clock is ticking, and he’s just going to wind down to the middle of the end in exactly the same way Batty did right in front of him. Deckard has already seen his own demise and has only to wait. It makes his silence as Batty powers down all the more weighted. That’s worse than being locked up in a cell awaiting sentence, it’s standing on the gallows and not being given a time nor any reprieve and so stand you will continue to do.

The final sequence of the flick shows Deckard and Rachael escaping with each other. Deckard is willing to go forward with Rachael even though he knows she’s a Replicant and her clock is ticking, albeit a little longer than Batty’s. Deckard is willing to take that heartbreak of knowing a finite time and then having to say goodbye to her. And if you take on board that he’s a replicant then it’s doubly as sad. Either way, those two are escaping down and they won’t reach the bottom so much as they will just stop the descent and become a barnacle on the side of the final journey.

BLADE RUNNER has stood the test of time because it is not your standard action/adventure fare. It’s thematically weighted and leaves us with post-viewing questions and for me the meatier the movie then the more I get out of it through hours/days/months/years of discussion. The only thing I never discuss and merely state is, the story is a downer. Hell, it’s the downfall of man. That’s a big concept to see lost in time like tears in rain.

NOIRVEMBER 009 ~ Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It makes sense Joseph Gordon-Levitt would fill the role of the modern noir archetype. While every other leading man has been busy feeding chicken fillets and carb paste into his pecs, JGL has been off to the side amassing a wildly erratic and hugely high quality body of work. When you see him on the bill, you know you’re going to get some effort. And you know his character won’t have the red carpet laid out for him in every respect, JGL is the pure everyman in every superb sense of the word and that’s why he’s noir to the marrow in his bones.

JGL can take a hit and keep moving through sheer force of will.

jgl

If you think about noir leading men, they are so rarely the action hero type. They might get in a lotta scraps but they’d be batting under .400 easy as to their success rate. Your noir man isn’t about being a dazzling icon, or about spending their time pumping iron, they are about grit. JGL has grit in spades and we never saw it coming, which makes it all the more visceral when it sparks on screen.

Launching into our cultural hivemind as a child star, JGL had the decks stacked against him. A goofy sitcom, a very specific pony-tailed look, I’ll be honest in thinking we might never see the kid again. But we did, in a little high school noir film called BRICK and it was the sort of performance, and flick, and script, and event that completely erases everything you had considered about a person and puts you in the palm of their hand. It’s a hard boiled high school romance from Rian Johnson, with a nuanced language created for these streets alone, and the tone of the piece was incredibly sombre. From there, JGL could do anything and you had to follow him just to know.

Now, who knew what would actually happen. He went from sappy sitcom to 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, which while endlessly viewable in that 90s melange of teen flick safety isn’t exactly high art. BRICK was high art and from there JGL would solidify himself as an icon in a new place, a place between the blockbuster stars and the pretty boys. Which becomes interesting because he is himself capable of carrying some very big flicks and he is a handsome dude in the old school sense. But it begins to feel like he is purposefully choosing his place in the world so he gets to dabble in some fascinating narrative machines, many which would be considered unconventional and certainly not safe but that means you always get a sense he’s drawing from a place of art not commerce, something we don’t see enough of in Hollywood.

Post-BRICK, I tracked JGL to THE LOOKOUT [purely because of Scott Frank’s involvement as writer/director] and I was completely won over. This subdued heist flick is all about tone and JGL plays a guy who has suffered brain trauma and is impacted for it. It’s a small performance, he’s not out to make this problem flashy, and the whole flick matches that idea. Play the low key, make the audience sit forward and pay attention. It’s one of those modern crime flicks that slipped past the radar but seems to get enough of a run with the people who matter that it is not lost. And while it’s not exactly a true noir, I do consider its downbeat end to be worthy of mention here because it showcases that different and flexible attitude to noir. JGL’s character doesn’t end up dead or in a cell, but his injured mind/body is a cell, and the guilt and isolation he starts with are still present and might well forever be. He is, for all real intents and purposes, still trapped in a cell and it’s his own mind.

His next real notable for me is the clincher when proving JGL’s versatility, and it’s one of his finest noir roles. [500] DAYS OF SUMMER is an amazing flick. It’s supremely heartfelt, it’s real in its hyper-unreality of love, and it’s the finest romance-comedy flick of the past ten years, hands down. And it’s in this real and wild depiction of love that it shows the real noir in the world as we process heartbreak and its infinite darkness. The love between JGL and Zooey Deschanel’s character is all the more bleak because it’s only 500 days, you could fit at least two score of these types of heartbreaks in your life if you were un/lucky. You could near endlessly find the girl, fall deeply into her, have her snuff your heart, and be spat out in time for the next and you know you’d do it again. And the final moment confirms this as we are offered a moment of hope, JGL meets the new girl, the next girl, and why that might be [probably should be] affirming, and yet all I can think is that he’s just signing up for another 500 day stint of ventricle tenderising before the bastard is ripped out again.

Which is all his fault because he runs headfirst into the field despite being told it’s poisonous. He knows with Summer that she doesn’t want anything serious and yet he pursues anyway, because he’s his own problem. In fact, he’s a straight up dick. He’s moody, rude, and pretty damn stupid. In order to get those little highs, those blissful romantic moments we all strive for, he’s willing to hand his heart across to get stomped. Because he knows the memory of the best time will defib him back in time for the next time. He is rotationally setting himself up for failure, and pretending he doesn’t know it each time.

Love is the ultimate destroyer because it’s always about betrayal.

I weigh in on INCEPTION being a noir in that way we follow the determined downfall of one man, but that man isn’t JGL, it’s equally impressive ‘actor’ [not star or pec stand] Leonardo DiCaprio’s show. But JGL holds an important role that acts as a bridge to the next flick I wanna mention and it’s this: JGL is the muscle of INCEPTION. Not Tom Hardy, the brick bat also on this crew, no, Hardy is the weapons guy, and JGL is the ass kicker. Now, JGL is my size [so those who know me understand why this role of muscle is fantastic]. JGL isn’t physically intimidating…well, not if you just take his actual dimensions as they are. But when you add in the way he holds himself, the certainty with which he moves and acts, when you measure how big he feels, suddenly the numbers go up. You believe JGL can kick anyone’s ass through sheer force of determination and drive and it doesn’t break the narrative or the world at all. It is this mettle that makes JGL shine as a noir lead and INCEPTION was the ultimate proof that he can do anything needed to drive a narrative engine into the water and still gun the pedal down.

Which is what he does in LOOPER, acting as Bruce Willis’ younger self and you start to believe that he most certainly would grow up to be that grizzled old bastard who could walk through stone. This is also doubly fitting because before Willis was the hardened action star, with the engine block head, and the weary eyes, he was a rom-com tv show star who didn’t look like he could stand over his own shadow [hyperbole klaxon: love you, Bruce].

By the time we hit LOOPER, there was no doubt in my mind at all that JGL could be the guy waiting when you travel back in time and he’d shoot you down before you’d taken a full breath of air from the past. JGL was walking diamond by this stage and so nothing in this flick seems out of his range, right up to the final dusty denouement that breaks your heart in its inevitability.

Noir has found a vessel in Joseph Gordon-Levitt because you hate to see him end in a ditch but you know he’ll put himself there time and again if it’s in the better interest of just one other person. He is that man and we are all the better for having the opportunity to see him operate.

JGL Addendum

I also love his music so why not treat yourself:

NOIRVEMBER 005 ~ John Carpenter’s The Thing

Imagine for a moment if John Carpenter’s THE THING had a happy ending. Or if it’s hero lead was a true action star, always right, and able to uppercut any and all problems. Hot damn, that would be one boring ass rote flick.

Imagine if THE THING was only a horror movie. A slasher flick. If it wasn’t about anything – though, yes, some slasher flicks are about something. Gah, what a shitty world that would be.

jc's the thing

I’m thankful I grew up in a world where John Carpenter made a remake of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and he made it as a paranoid sci fi SFX driven noir. I’m also thankful I got to literally ‘grow up’ in this world because for some reason the monkeys at the parenting button fell asleep one night and I got to watch this flick at a disturbingly young age. And I loved it beyond belief. I was the only kid in primary school able to work in quotes from Carpenter interviews in Fangoria when it came time to roundtable about our favourite flicks. But I digress:

Consider Macready. Our bearded lead [I’m reticent to apply the ‘hero’ label here] played to perfection by a be-goggled Kurt Russell. Now consider him more closely, forget the crazy hat, the gigantic fur coat, c’mon, he’s in Antarctica, strip all that away and who do you have?

Macready’s personal scene where we peek at the cards he holds so close to his chest is a phenomenally deft display of characterisation as he plays chess against his computer while sipping some J&B whiskey. Because of course he’s a loner and he likes his tipple. And when the machine beats him, he calls her a bitch and pours his drink into her, frying her circuits. Because of course he’s compulsive and bitter. And alone. And shunning the one ‘female’ in the entire flick.

If there was ever a hardboiled lead -this time solid frozen – then it is Macready. He isn’t infallible, he gets his ass kicked, a lot, but he constantly gets back up and he’s willing to do the difficult things, even when they make him look batguano insane.

With him set up, amidst a cast of other kooks, we then unleash the alien force that’ll tear them apart [literally]. With the case afoot, people start dying and we follow Macready as he struggles to stay alive and solve the case. But in a case like this, what if there’s no solution? What if there’s only harm minimisation?

And that’s the biggest problem with a noir world [real problem, not narrative/genre problem], sometimes you can’t solve a problem. Sometimes someone has no ‘good’ setting. In crime, this is amped up and played as true but when you escalate this viewpoint into a malevolent force of alien nature that’s planning to assimilate the entire world and destroy us all, you make the stakes higher [perhaps the highest without going intergalactic] and yet Carpenter chooses to still play it all small.

One of the finest scenes in the flick is set on and around a couch. Carpenter doesn’t ever lose that human thread to the movie that connects to us on the deepest level. Because at the end of the flick, with the battle ‘won,’ I always considered Macready to have saved the world when in actuality he’s no doubt saved the galaxy/universe. Left unchecked, the thing would’ve just kept on going [we can only presume] and he’s halted its path. For now. But we consider it a human victory because of the job Carpenter does. This isn’t ray guns and V-necked horseshit. This is noir.

And I should unpack one quick thing I said above, the solution is only for now. Macready is making a sacrifice for a W that is most likely not going to last. It’s certainly easily undone, by someone with a misplaced electric blanket, or an oil drill. I mean, if we told climate change deniers that they’re eventually going to thaw out our ripped apart demise then maybe we’d finally make some much needed world change.

But Macready makes this sacrifice and the flick ends on what should be a happy note, a win, but instead we get two men staring at each other across the snow and no matter how you run it, it’s the saddest ending ever because Macready might actually be the thing at this point, or Keith David’s Childs might be, or they might both be, or neither of them is. Roll those dice, look at the dual display, and no matter what you’ve got it’s heartbreaking and all for completely different reasons. Impending painful doom, a wasted opportunity to find salvation; it comes down to basic mistrust and the greater good. No man is willing to risk saving themselves lest they save the other and he turn out to already be turned. It’s so terrible in its poignant perfection.

The ultimate down ending sends us off with “Let’s sit around here for a while…see what happens.” and then the flick ends because we really don’t want to see what happens. It’s too much – despite when a Dark Horse Comics miniseries thought otherwise as it showed us both men rescued and the narrative cycle begun anew.

No, there is no second chance, Macready does this right, he does it til the end, there is no more. Poor bastard.

CRIME FACTORY 17 Out Now – FLETCH

Crime Factory is a superb online crime mag you have to get down on.
CF 17 just went live. Do it.

Front-Issue17-KINDLE-229x300
I wrote an article in it about FLETCH the movie and the way it mashes up crime and comedy in this perfect weird blend.

T’was truly a blast to write and I think you’d dig it.
No, not you, the one in the back. “You, there! Why don’t you ever comment or share the link? You are here every week, I assume you have reasons, yes? Oh, no. Oh…well then, good day, sir.”

GONE GIRL – A Study in How To Investigate 21st Century Film Noir

GONE GIRL really blew my hair back and here’s exactly why.

SPOILERS — natch.

All I knew about the flick was that the wife goes missing. Boom, that’s it. So imagine my pleasure when I’m presented with this LAW & ORDER style examination of the case, the details, the suspect, the cops, and it’s done in this beautifully intense and exhaustive way that made me love the depth of Fincher’s ZODIAC.

I’m right into this case, it’s fitting into the same headspace I’m currently listen to SERIAL with, and generally reading nice long true crime articles. This flick is doing good things. Then halfway through it gets very good. The twist hits (spoilers, right, we covered that already) – the wife is alive. It’s an intricate frame up. Now I’m really digging it. We follow the wife, we see her things go south, and all the while Affleck is rocking the homefront and showing what an oaf he is by us discovering his affair. It’s a dick move, no doubt, but a dick is not a murderer and yet society really trashes him for it. So did my wife, in our post-game analysis driving home, so make of that what you will.

So now we have this cool twisted story, maybe as intricate as something James Patterson would write, a top shelf John Grisham, yeah? Just good old fashioned narrative engine with all the bells and whistles dingling and dangling.

But all of the above means I would have enjoyed the movie. It’s totally solid, enjoyable, dare I say safe. But I truly loved this flick, and why?

GONE GIRL is film noir and I barely even realised it at first. I mean, it’s clear we have a femme in the house, this wife is koo-koo-kachoo, she’s the problem, she’s nuts, and yet whip smart and razor sharp. She concocts a slick plan but it’s how she reacts and rolls with it all as it unfolds that captivated me.

Once the wife calls up Barney (I’m butchering names, you all know who I mean), things take this crazy turn. We’ve gone from conniving wife scorned to cold blooded killer very quickly. Or so it seems for us. We only just discovered her ways, but she’s actually been like this for years. So then it should make more sense and be in character.

But then I started wondering why the flick levelled up like that, the box cutter is particularly gratuitous, but it’s that scene that sells it all for me. The third act of any film noir sees the plan go awry and people scramble to get back on track. Usually, violence ensues. Taking the flick as some sort of CSI: Affleck meant the box cutter was out of place, but as a film noir, man, that’s just femmes being femmes, right? She should be capable of anything before the light ends.

By the final moments, I’m seeing that real noir ending coming, the sinker tied to our lead, him slowly disappearing down and down. There is nothing he can do. It’s perfect, and so hidden. As I walked out I had to slow clap Fincher in my head for using two crime genres to hide each other and leave me thoroughly impressed.

Though, I thought that final reel, all the aftermath, would have worked much better interspersed in the credits and dropped thus more obliquely, and experimentally. But I guess Fincher isn’t the hungry young gun he once was.

Now, GONE GIRL suddenly stands next to BODY HEAT and THE LAST SEDUCTION as one of my favourite modern noirs. I did not see that coming, and a noir ambush is always welcome in my media.

 

What To Do Next

There’s always that moment where you stop and wonder to yourself, “Huh, what’s next?”
You’ve just wrapped a script and it’s off to the editor/artist brainhive, or your pitch is off to the publisher and you have to wait for a greenlight, and you know there’s nothing ‘next’ that needs your immediate glance.
So, what’re you going to work on? What’re you going to dream up?
I mean, there’s always revisions to do, snark to drop on twitter, fractions of something in your future in ideas and lines and fun, there is always ‘something’ to do but some days you gotta start prepping the materials for the next gig.
There’s lots of ways to break new ideas into your headspace but here’s something to consider.
Widen your scope. Stretch yourself. Be bold.
You just did a crime book, try a romance book. You’re waiting for art on that sci fi horror book, try some slice of life on the side.
I got thinking about this idea when I was considering the chronology of some of my favourite creative minds. Let’s have a look at the progression of genius. Because you don’t need to limit yourself, and maybe you don’t know how well you’re going to tell that steampunk bromance.

JOEL and ETHAN COEN

I love the Coen Brothers. So many of their films sit high atop my must see lists and I find it inspirational to look over their career path and see how insanely headstrong they quite clearly are. Look at the fact they never pander, they don’t make Oscar Bait – though I’m sure it seems that way these days but cast back to a time where they were the kooky uncles of quality cult cinema.

Look at how they would conquer a genre and then move onto another genre straight after it. It never felt like the Coen Brothers were colouring by numbers, they were telling stories they absolutely had to tell. Genre be damned. Audience demand be damned. Never let it be said they phoned it in, these guys delve right into their narratives like it’s Scrooge McDuck’s money bin.

The Coen Brothers started with a simple bang, a crime story. BLOOD SIMPLE put them on the map with this visceral noir punch. Brutality, death, terrible people. This was a huge stake to drive into the ground as a debut.

So, how did they follow it up? With a slapstick gonzo trip about babies, and a mythical bikie bounty hunter, and how far we’ll go for true love. While RAISING ARIZONA is centred around a crime, it is miles away from BLOOD SIMPLE.

It’s such an incredibly bold move to just go from this black crime flick to something that’s bright and innovative and zany. Consider this, Quentin Tarantino debuted with RESERVOIR DOGS, a darkly comedic straight crime flick. How did he follow this up? He made the darkly comedic straight crime flick PULP FICTION.

It’s natural to want to replicate success, and feed the beast, but sometimes you gotta follow your heart.

Now, the Coen Brothers followed RAISING ARIZONA with MILLER’S CROSSING which is a little closer in heart to their debut. But whereas BLOOD SIMPLE was very new wave, MILLER’S CROSSING is very much more classical. This is Dashiell Hammett opposed to Gold Medal paperback pulp – both crime, each different.

From here, we can see the common vein in Coen flicks – besides vomiting fat men – is crime. But the crime is always tinted with very different lenses, and even genres. The Coen Brothers like to study flawed people, which nearly always strays to crimes of various levels, but the way they attack these narratives changes so often in fantastic ways.

Look at BARTON FINK, there are certainly crimes committed but it isn’t a crime flick. This is a deconstruction of a creative mind breaking in its own heartbreaking way. Then they roll into THE HUDSUCKER PROXY – a flick whose title alone tells you these guys just don’t care – and the farcical approach to this flick is genius but almost defies definition.

It would take over a decade before the Coen Brothers would tell another story close in tone and theme to BLOOD SIMPLE as they allowed people to end up in woodchippers, and wives to be kidnapped. And with FARGO they finally cracked the code and were allowed into the winner’s circle. They became touted as something we’d known they’d been for years – genius.

They dial it back with THE BIG LEBOWSKI – the sort of tonal fall from grace that saw them once more shunned at the Oscars, despite making the flick that would now have the deepest and most avid fanbase. You’d think once the brothers got into the Oscar Auditorium they’d scramble to stay there? Nope. And not for some time.

O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? is kind of genre insanity in that it’s a loose adaptation of a classic text via the film tropes of the 20s. It’s Clooney looking weird and acting weirder. It’s so well put together and yet those who came for/from FARGO or even THE BIG LEBOWSKI were going to have no idea what would hit them. A film with layers, that’s aged well, but not the sort of surefire follow up to anything. Because what the Coens want to do is explore genres, which they then show with their next two outings.

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE is straight up James M Cain (you can see them slowly go through all their favourite crime authors in good time) and in doing so it’s staying so close to the original tone of those flicks from the 50s that you know it turned some people away, but no doubt lured in the purists, who they have to have shunned by that final scene. It’s like they didn’t want anyone in particular to be the core for this flick, and yet the people they’d get, the few, would be there for life.

And as for INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, well now we can just see they want to play in genres that are about as close to box office poison as you can get without trying to replicate the magic of a GREASE2/TEEN WITCH double bill.

I guess we can all forget THE LADYKILLERS – which is a shame because a Coen/Hanks jam should’ve been better, but I guess all this navel gazing genre crushing fun leads us to…

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – a film so far removed from the past five outings – count ’em, FIVE – that it’s like they were putting that cattle gun to the past decade and wiping it out. And it worked. Everyone forgot THE CAREERKILLERS and the golden siblings were back. This is nowhere near their best flick, and it certainly didn’t deserve to beat THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but it’s straddling that line of tight storytelling, brutal Coenesque world views, and commercial appeal without asking for it that this was the revival they needed/deserved. FARGO worked, so did this, the data shows the formula, and so then they instead stay true to heart and make…

BURN AFTER READING – because apparently every BLOOD SIMPLE needs a RAISING ARIZONA, in the same way THE BIG LEBOWSKI clearly cleanses the palette after FARGO. They go deep and dark, and then they become bioluminescent. It’s a wonderful skill, but I get their agent – trying to skim from profits and not street cred – hates it. This flick is another genre mess. Crime, yes, but totally wacky and weird and Malkoviched out.

The brothers sink really deep again for A SERIOUS MAN, a flick more towards BARTON FINK in that it defies genre or audience expectation or dollar drive. And you could never foresee this flick leading them towards TRUE GRIT, a Western, a remake of a classic, an adaptation of a classic. Or by now, maybe we should see that coming. Maybe we should know when we are in the weird calm before the bombastic storm. Because this is what the brothers do, they defy you to guess their next step. I guarantee no one saw INSIDE LLEWELYN DAVIS coming.

And true, they haven’t done horror, or war, or every genre, but you can see each project stretches them in new ways. That’s clearly a good thing when you look at the quality they produce, and that there’s no burn out on what they do. You can barely compare flicks because they’re all so different.

Whereas if you look at the godfather of ganster crime flicks, I sometimes struggle to compare because they’re all playing strings on the same harp. But let’s try, just quickly, to look at the diversity of:

MARTIN SCORSESE

You’d think Scorsese’s flicks would all be the same, and so many of them are. After some rough and tumble early indie credits, Scorsese lands on the scene with MEAN STREETS, a very street level view of crime on the streets of New York. And while he follows up with the dramatic romance of ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, he’s back into the NY filth with TAXI DRIVER. He’s tried and been shown that his dark NY crime flicks are going to work, and going to work exceptionally well. So how does he treat the news of having a guaranteed successful genre on his hands?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK might reference his useful location but it doesn’t hold the same flavour at all, even with the screen stand in of Robert De Niro yet again taking the lead. You could call this flick a mistep and not many would argue. From perfect crime to some music/romance/slice of life hybrid, the flick just didn’t register as the usual Scorsese goods and so it flopped. From there, we get nearly the whole decade of the 80s with Scorsese hiding inside the genre that works.

Sorta.

Scorsese packs a lot of crime into the 80s, but it’s skewed through different genres. RAGING BULL is certainly a step removed from the mean streets, a boxing flick with black heart, and it’s a raging success on all levels. THE KING OF COMEDY defies expectations and reflections, a genre Frankenstein’s monster that’s ultimately a failure but stands proud because it shows Scorsese was happy to play the game, but on his terms. He’d do dark people – none of this saxophone playing anymore – but he’d still be trying out new irons on the green to see how to get the ball to move.

AFTER HOURS is the black mirror version of NEW YORK, NEW YORK, and while again a flop, it’s certainly worth its place in the back catalogue. It just also marks the end of the slide for Scorsese, as he accepts a sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY, and while it’s good enough to land him his next flick – the very personal THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, about perhaps man’s greatest crime – it all swirls inevitably towards the next flick that will define Scorsese’s name for an entire generation.

GOODFELLAS.

This flick is the obvious next step from MEAN STREETS –> TAXI DRIVER, and yet Scorsese took a decade and a half to get there. Those many years were spent looking at romance, and sporting flick as introspective downfall, to the Greatest Story Ever Told. Scorsese didn’t rest on his laurels, he didn’t go back in for the easy beat, he worked his ass off to do things that mattered to him. Maybe this is why he came back stronger and defined the genre with GOODFELLAS?

CAPE FEAR follows, then we dovetail into THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, before hitting GOODFELLAS-lite in CASINO. Scorsese knows how to game the system and he delivers one for them so he can do one for him. KUNDUN is his exploration, BRINGING IN THE DEAD, and to some lesser extent GANGS OF NEW YORK is what we expect but it’s not a carbon copy. He’s pushing niches into the crime genre he now owns. THE AVIATOR is for him, then he gives them THE DEPARTED and by this stage he’s doing the same genre but in a totally different way. It’s not the 70s anymore and this flick is the clear signifier of his growth.

SHUTTER ISLAND is such a fun pulp paperback, dropping down to HUGO which is a beast unto itself, and WOLF OF WALL STREET is something new in a myriad of ways – tone being a huge slice of it.

I know I think Scorsese just did crime flicks, with a few personal puff pieces between, but upon inspection you soon see a Coen level of differentiation.

And these are just two examples. You can look at so many creatives and see them stretch themselves constantly.

BKV did weird sci fi/travel/growth story, while doing political cape book. A masterful slice of life anthropomorphism allegory on war (PRIDE OF BAGHDAD), or the slice of life book about comic creators and what it is to create (THE ESCAPISTS). Now he’s doing romance as sci fi and dystopia sci fi as a PI commentary on social media on the side. You can see his throughline, sci fi, but it’s always something new, always pushing himself.

RICK REMENDER is currently doing a hard sci fi book, a weird school of assassins book that’s navel gazing into his teen years (and is absolutely brilliant), an underwater sci fi journey tale, and an upcoming weird looking sci fi book. This is all on the side of a mammoth Marvel event. Again, see the throughline, but see how it’s constantly different. BLACK SCIENCE might be a true sister title to FEAR AGENT but DEADLY CLASS is like nothing else.

MATT FRACTION is writing SEX CRIMINALS, to defy genre because it sounded like some warped sci fi time stopping tale but is really one of the sweetest relationship breakdown stories going. He’s also writing some crime homage to the early days of television, and a Marvel book that’s really just this lazy PI tale, and he has upcoming Odyssey meets sci fi book coming on. And all this atop a history of a talking gorilla, the greatest superspy fu comic ever, and a variety of Marvel books from wacky to straight up cape style. He’s constantly expanding his horizons, and is always better when he is.

The exception that proves the rule, for me, is ED BRUBAKER. He’s writing crime fiction, always crime fiction. He has a dash of spy in one of them now, and in the past injected capes into the mess, but otherwise, Brubaker, mostly with Sean Phillips, just rocks the mic for crime and rightfully so because he’s become a master of it.

So while looking at all this, I consider myself. What’s next?
I’ve just done this sci fi/thriller mash up, as well as an anthropomorphic/journalism/crime tale. I’ve tackled fatherhood, as well as a sci fi/Australian political/thriller mash up. I did boxing noir for my Vertigo short. So what’s next?

A PKD-sci fi/thriller about depression

An all-female Viking ghost story

An intergalactic espionage sci fi

An all ages sci fi romp

A hard sci fi journey periodical

A straight up lady kung fu bonanza

I hope an Australian warped historical thriller

And hopefully more anthropomorphic/journalism/crime, too

Maybe eventually that beach noir surf crime tale…

There’s other stuff, but let’s not prognosticate beyond our abilities.

My point is – I have a throughline, but I’m constantly poking what I can get away with. All ages, hardcore fight fu, devastating ghost tales, depression. I have a lot of sci fi, but it’s nearly always a different level of it. I’m also interested in looking into different emotions, themes. I’m not necessarily doing it perfect, the Coen Brothers are the true masters of diversification, but I know I want to knock about a bit, try lots of everything before I, hopefully, settle into mastering one or two of them very well. I’m keen to continue to ape that PKD style I dig of tone and a warped reality but I’m also excited to see what else I might do well. I have yet to do war, or cape, though I have a prison take in the works, and I’d love to try my hand at a western of sorts. All in good time, just gotta make sure I don’t get bogged down spinning the same wheels I am now.

Lord knows I’ve yet to get deep into my Cronenberg romance book. Yet.

tl;dr version – as a creator, are you trying brand new genres, or mash ups, or takes on genres, or are you doing the same old formula every time? Expand your horizons, most of your heroes do.

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