Saturday, October 20, 2007

Teen Film Noir?

A few years ago, before they had their lovely daughter, Ammon and Heather and I sat down for a meal. Actually, I know exactly when this way: the fall of 2000. We all had a few drinks and somehow Heather developed (or perhaps it was already well developed) her theory of teen film noir. It was fascinating dinner conversation, really. I have a perverse fondness for talking about film and particularly about idiosyncratic interpretations thereof. This one certainly falls into that category.

The rudiments, even the outlines for this theory escape me. I only recall how much it made me laugh and how Tom Cruise's early film "Risky Business" (1983) was the paradigm. And I am hardpressed to think what could have drawn her to this theory, other than the images of Cruise wearing sunglasses and a detective-style fedora. But if you've seen actual film noir, it's clear enough that these impressions are inadequate to develop a theory. I have always identified film noir with detective stories, usually murders, and very contrasty black and white films. I like to take things pretty literally.

For me, the quintessential film noir is Charles Laughton's "Night of the Hunter" (1955), which is so goddamned black that Nick Cave must have loved every minute of it. And Robert Mitchum, the unsung hophead of the '50s, plays the evil preacher expresses this opaque strength, insuperable amorality, and that voice which stops you where you stand. The latter has been in a few others prototypical film noirs, such as "Out of the Past" (1947) and "Angel Face" (1952). I suggest the former before the latter.

Beyond this diversion, I write now because it seems to me that such a teen film noir has been created--and an exemplary one at that. "Brick" (2005), starring the dubitable Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I saw this about a year ago, but noticed it showing this afternoon. The story revolves around a brick, but is full of the quick, understated dialogue and the clever yet ill-fated narrator that makes a film like this good. At first the dialogue almost seems contrived. But then you don't know why everyone else doesn't talk this way. I mean, it's about the dramas of high school kids, but with a center of gravity, unlike "Clueless" (1995) which finds it too late. And it dispenses with the convenient fiction of how real life still remains at a distance, but without submitting "reality" to plainness. Although I have doubts that J. G-L. will ever amount to anything else, here he excels.

By way of conclusion, kudos Heather. Your imagination has found its way into reality (albeit not via Tom Cruise, Rebecca deMornay and don't forget Joe Pantoliano).


left coast jane said...

JGL "dubitable?"

He has already amounted to much much else. Check out the reviews of The Lookout, that came out this year. And Mysterious Skin, that came out before Brick. And anything else that he's done...

I can easily put the talent of lots of young performers out there into the "dubitable" category. JGL, not.

Chet said...

I still have yet to see "Mysterious Skin," although I have heard good things about it. However, I saw the first 10 minutes of "The Lookout" and that was enough to convince me to go see another movie in the theater.

What are you, his agent?

Doctor J said...

I have to agree with left coast jane about JGL. I think he's one of the best (and most underrated) young actors out there.

I wasn't a huge fan of "Brick." It seemed to creep along too slowly for me, and not in the good-ilm-noir kind of way. However, you MUST see "Mysterious Skin", which is remarkable. That film has some of the most profound and unsettling scenes of human (physical and emotional) vulnerability that I'v ever seen.

kgrady said...

I have been meaning to see Brick for some time now, but keep forgetting. Thanks for the reminder.

JGL rocks. The Lookout, however, didn't do it for me. I just typed JGL not having any idea what it stands for (I'll admit, I only glanced at your post, but promise to go back and read it now), but I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same person.