Where the sea and the city meet, they corrupt each other. Around docks, the ocean’s margins are scummy with oil and floating garbage; the water corrodes hulls, encrusts pilings, and slimes steps. Ports cater to men who come in and out with the tide, offering them prostitutes, dives, and cheap hotels. Yet the waterfront, with its brawling sailors and squabbling gulls, also reeks of poetry. The air is saturated with moisture and melancholy; a farewell mood infiltrates everything like the salt air.
This environment is a natural breeding ground for film noir. “It’s funny how water, or rather its margins, always attracts you when you’re at a loss, don’t know what to do or where to go,” Cornell Woolrich writes in The Black Path of Fear. It also attracts those looking to dispose of a body (The Reckless Moment, Where the Sidewalk Ends), live outside the law (Pickup on South Street, Night and the City), flee the country (99 River Street), or just scrabble for an honest living in a dirty world (Edge of the City). In noir, even the beach is a place of angst, not relaxation (Woman on the Beach, Female on the Beach), and beach houses are not getaways but places where everything ends, badly (Criss Cross, Mildred Pierce, Kiss Me Deadly).
Keaton at the Crossroads: Buster’s Last Silent Comedy, Spite Marriage
Despite the studio system’s stifling conditions, Buster Keaton’s follow-up to The Cameraman remains a testament to the funnyman’s singular style.
The Same Old Song: A Guide to Neonoir
Since its classic-Hollywood heyday, noir has remained a vibrant mode in both studio and independent filmmaking, taking on nostalgic resonances in the highly referential work of Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, Brian De Palma, and the Coen brothers.
Carole Lombard’s Divine Lunacy
A raucous, fast-talking diva, the actor had a remarkable ability to convey both glamour and silliness, a gift that made her the queen of screwball comedy before her untimely death in 1942.
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