film noir - quotes and descriptions to inspire creative writing
Hollywood crime dramas are my drug of choice. In those choreographed moments, directed by the greats and acted by legends I am free to explore my dark side. I root for the hero and enjoy the sick logic of the villain. Murder and violence for lust and money, it makes my soul tick in a way that ordinary life fails to. The movies are as much a drama in my mind, my inner self, as it is a story played out on the silver screen. I'm a self confessed “film noir” junkie. Simply buying the ticket is a Saturday night ritual I cannot forego. My heart rate quickens and I feel a tingle in my finger tips as the transaction completes. The cashier smiles, but for all her commercial faux-charm I am already drifting into that fictional mindset. I am already a hero, a villain, a cheating lover and mob boss. My car is a 1929 Studebaker President, not a run down corvette with chipped paint and a tail pipe more rust than metal. My stride and posture change, no longer the run down gas-station man, there is a swagger in my lengthening stride and a confidence that belongs to Marlon Brando. I can never get enough of his movies: A Street Car Named Desire, Guys and Dolls, The Godfather. If anyone asks my name from this moment on I say “Marlon,” and tip my trilby. I become that genius of filmography and the real world drifts away as if it was the fictional world and the movies are my new reality.
On the silver screen the actor is stoic beneath his fedora hat. For a moment the only movement is the curling smoke from his half-burnt cigarette. The woman looks up at him from her all-night diner bay through thick mascara, long fingers pulling her own cigarette from lips as red as her dress. Her brunette curls tumble down to her low cut neckline and if looks could kill the guy would be dead on the checkerboard tile. With his mouth still a grim slash and his eyes unmoving, he tosses photographs onto the table. This is what I love about film noir. It's gritty, mean, the characters play dirty. There isn't a chance in hell this picture is gonna have a “happy ever after.” The lady lets her eyes fall, taking in the black and white images. Her pause says it all. She's steaming mad but let's see her act cool and in control. This girl isn't just going to roll over, the movie is just getting started.
The darkness of the film is a gloom that permeates every aspect of script and plot. Clouds loom in the sky, every shade of monochrome from sliver though storm grey leaving gaps only for the black sky. Against the cars with their running boards lean the men, faces partially obscured not only by the lack of light but by the rims of their fedoras. The only glint in the blackness comes not from the moon, but from the tips of their cigarettes. In just minutes there will be a reason for the homicide cops to cordon off the area, but not yet. Soon more dark painted classic cars will crawl out of the black night. After some wise-cracks and a negotiation that was never destined to succeed, the shoot-out will begin.
A delicate arm in an elbow-length glove reaches across a starlet's dressing table at the exact same tine Lily reaches for her popcorn. The auditorium is a hush and would be silent were it not for the steady consumption of the concession snacks. The only light is from the movie, an old black and white film of Lily's favourite genre - “film noir.” For a non-smoking pacifist she sure soaks up cynical characters and scripts that promise “no light at the end of the tunnel” surprisingly well. I'm sure there's a part of her that wants to be just like the tough bad “dames,” perhaps without the chain smoking. So tonight I'm wearing nothing but a fedora and a serious face - a gangster and a dangerous woman with red nails, can't wait...
In the half light of the alley the woman appears small. She brings one knee in to meet the other like some little girl waiting for a gelato, but this is no Italian plaza in summer time. The camera lingers on her, and in that moment I can hear the audience take an extended breath. In the darkness could be any number of dangers, but in the end that won't matter, just one will do.
I should be able to smell the popcorn of the other movie patrons, but instead the only odour is the dank alleyway in which the actress stands, too young to know the movie legend she would become a few short years later. The weak illumination that casts her face into semi-relief isn't romantic moonlight, but instead it falters as old neon signs do. Were she to walk toward the street there would be pawn shops, hotels selling their rooms by the hour and junkies cruising for a fix.
The temperature in this ambient theatre drops without warning, on the filthy ground is the shadow of a man. With steady footsteps it draws closer and, without even a warning noise, the charcoal hand takes out a pistol. The young starlet turns. A male voice tells her "It's time to pay" and a single shot fires. She drops, still perfect: soft cherry lips, hair arranged with every strand in place, ivory skin, angelic with closed lashes of thick black mascara. I know “who done it” of course; this film is older than my father. It was playing in cinemas when no-one knew who would win world war II...
The tinkle of glass on glass as Ella mixes her cocktail is lost under saxophone notes that jump and dance in the smoky cavern. Her dress hangs from her shoulders, hugging her form as she stares at swirling liquor. When she raises heavily made up eyes at the man taking the stool next to hers, I know the movie has really begun. She fixes him in a look that would make any character other than our hero shrivel. He meets her gaze with the smile of one who knows the upper hand is his and lights up a cigarette to add to the hazy cloud, lingering, spiralling in stagnant air. She folds one leg over the other, dangling her high heel, showing more leg; yet her face stays aloof, disinterested. It's a film noir “stand off” of sexual power...
“Who's the kid?” Mac nods toward a teenager, a stringy boy, yet to gain bulk for his bones.
“None of your business... if you know what's good for you.” Every muscle on Jule's face tightens, eyes narrowed, chin jutted outward. He reaches up to adjust his fedora, placing it at a jaunty angle on the back of his head.
“I make it my business. This ain't no place for kids.” Mac slumps his weight onto one hip, bending the other knee just slightly, lighting up a smoke before turning his head to the docks. “Send him home or loose the deal.” Wide-eyed, the kid turns his head from Jules to Mac, taking a step backward and flinching as his boss pulls out a revolver. The moonlight plays only upon the wind rippled water and the steel of the barrel. “I wouldn't do that if I were you, Jules.” A single shot rents the air, echoing through the maze of shipping crates and accelerating into the horizon. A dull flash of recognition washes over the face of the kid's boss before he slumps to the rain-washed dock, a "red carnation" growing on his dinner shirt. “Get out of here, kid. Scram.”