Sunday, April 26, 2015

Orson Welles At 100: CITIZEN KANE (1941)

I'm over at Criminal Element with the new installment in my series on Orson Welles At 100. Time to tackle the big one: CITIZEN KANE.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

NOIR CITY: The Comix Issue

The new issue of Noir City is here, and it is a beauty. Great contributions from Steve Kronenberg, Imogen Sara Smith, and Eddie Muller--and some really standout work from art director and designer Michael Kronenberg. The focus of the issue is comix and noir, and features a big interview with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the team behind the brilliant series THE FADE-OUT.

The book also features a couple of articles by yours truly: first up,  a piece on BATMAN: YEAR ONE which might be the most noir Batman story ever. 

My other article is the newest installment in my series on Poverty Row Professionals: a career overview of director W. Lee Wilder. Wilder was the older brother of Billy Wilder, and he's been overlooked for years, but he's a really fascinating figure. He stayed an independent on Poverty Row his entire career, and while his films are bargain budget productions, they have a theme so unified that it counts as an obsession: the predatory older man who stalks an impressionable young woman.

Check out Noir City Spring Issue 2015.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nice review of THE BLIND ALLEY

Scott Adlerberg has written a really smart review of THE BLIND ALLEY for the great new website The Life Sentence. Check it out. While you're there, you should also read Lisa Levy's insightful interview with Laura Lippmann. No one is better that Lippmann, and this is one of the best interviews I've ever read with her.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Letter From Lyon

above: A Couple of Goons

I wrote about my adventures with Benjamin Whitmer​ at the Quais Du Polar​ in Lyon, France.

You can read "Letter To Lyon" over at Criminal Element.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Noir At The Bar: CHICAGO

I lined up some kick ass talent for the newest edition of Noir At The Bar Chicago. If you're in Chicago or a surrounding area, make sure to come out for booze and crime.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Report From France PLUS A Great Article In The Arkansas Times

We're having an incredible time in France. I've done a few events with the great Ben Whitmer (PIKE and CRY FATHER), who, it turns out, is as cool as he is talented. We did an event at a Paris bookshop, then I headed to Montpellier to do some presentations while Whitmer was dispatched to some other town to do the same. Then we met up in Lyon for the huge Quais Du Polar festival where we got to meet readers and hobnob with literary lights from around the world. I sat on a panel discussion, had a solo event that was shockingly well attended, and signed books. Then we headed back to Paris for a party with booksellers last night. The level of organization here between publishers, booksellers, and readers is incredible. I know of nothing like it in the states. The reception that I've gotten here quite frankly has me stunned. It's been so warm and effusive. We sold out of my books at the festival, and I found out that I'm on the bestseller list for independent bookstores. I mean, what the hell is going on?

I'll report back and post some more pictures here when I get back to Chicago. For now, though, I wanted to post the OTHER best thing that's happened to me in the last week, this great article in the Arkansas Times ("Jake Hinkson's Arkansas Noir") by Matt Baker. I've never gotten much coverage in my home state, so it's really exciting to get such a nice write up.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

7TH HEAVEN (1927)

There's something so incredibly pure about the romanticism of Frank Borzage that his films become, at least for me, impossible to resist. When you watch a movie like 7TH HEAVEN, you're watching a filmmaker in complete command of his craft. That he is making a romance about the transcendent power of love is, in some ways, of secondary concern for me. Perhaps another way of saying this is that while I don't believe in the transcendent power of love in the way that Borzage did, I do believe in Borzage.

7TH HEAVEN is based on a play by Austin Strong, and the screenplay and titles were written by Benjamin Glazer, H.H. Caldwell, Katherine Hilliker, and Bernard Vorhaus. It tells the story of an impoverished young prostitute named Diane (Janet Gaynor) who lives with her abusive sister in the slums of Paris. She is rescued from this plight by a sewer worker named Chico (Charles Farrell), who takes her to his bird's nest apartment high above the city. Soon they fall in love and are married, but Chico is drafted into service in the killing fields of WWI. Will he return to her? Can even death itself keep them apart?

A film like 7TH HEAVEN is at once wholly artificial and deeply real--which might be a good description of the Borzage aesthetic. It is artificial in the sense that it is every inch a silent film, a film of big broad gestures and big broad emotions in both the acting and directing. The set design and cinematography are impressionistic. Even by the standards of the silents, though, the film unfolds in a world of fantasy. Despite the backdrop of WWI, there is no hint of the literary modernism that came out of that war and informed much of the literature that dealt with it.

Yet the glory of Borzage's film is that it makes the unreal real, makes the plainly artificial deeply believable. It is a movie about dreamers who are desperate to escape the unbearable realities of poverty and war. The key to understanding it is to understand that their dreams, their romance, is more important to Borzage than those grim realities. Near the end, Chico is killed in the war. Yet he returns to her, born again in shafts of bright white light. It is pure fantasy, and I mean both the "pure" and the "fantasy." What is real here is the yearning, the desire to be free of the dirt and pain and sorrow. 

Chico is a proud atheist, but he finds spiritual (and bodily) redemption in his love with Diane. I don't think Borzage is trying to make a theological statement here--there's no reason to think he actually believed that love could bring the dead back to life--but he is clearly making an artistic statement. He was the screen's great romantic. Modernism be damned. 

The central performances of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell are glorious. They were the perfect screen couple of their day. She was tiny, pixish, and fragile--yet somehow indestructible as well. (The scene where she finally fights back against her abusive sister is surprising in the furor of its violence.) He was tall and handsome, masculine yet entirely vulnerable. (He breaks down crying from fear when he discovers he has to go to war, an unthinkable thing for a screen hero to do in our macho age.) They are such products of their era, not simply in their acting but in their bearing and being. He's more beautiful than she is, and she has a scrappiness that makes her a particularly earthy angel.

Of course, like all silent films, 7TH HEAVEN is not for everyone. It is so far removed from what we think of as a movie today, it's essentially a different art form. It's part fairy tale, part light show. It is beautiful, though. Beautiful, deep and true.