Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Noir

Here it is, only my third post, and I'm already feeling behind. Y'see, I don't like blogging on Monday, because ... well, because it's Monday. But I have a ready excuse (if recovering from The Big Noo isn't enough) ... I was holiday shopping this weekend.

I don't shop in traditional places like malls. I like going to antique shops and main streets, or real city places. This year, I bought some presents in Chinatown, and it was a blast. It also doubled as research for the book I'm currently working on (it's a good trick when you can write off dim sum).

Anyway, it got me to thinking about Christmas Noir. Is there such a thing? Can there be such a thing? Nox Dormienda is set during Saturnalia, but frankly, that Roman holiday wasn't quite as fuzzy as Rudolph and the Heat Miser. ;)

Consider, for a moment, It's A Wonderful Life. Now, if you haven't seen the film, hang your head in shame and take thyself to a DVD player and watch it forthwith. Back already? You remember it now? OK.

Parts of this movie, as it propels George to the "to be or not to be" moment on the bridge ... well, that's noir to me. That close-up of his desperate, sweaty, tortured face ... the cinematography ... everything. Then there's the image of "Pottersville", which is Noir Town all the way. Violet's getting hauled away for solicitation ... Ernie's wife has left him (probably for the cop) ... and Mary is (gasp!) an Old Maid, which is even more noirish than prostitution. Pottersville is like Hammett's Poisonville--all noir, all the time, a fatal habitat.

Y'see, Capra's moral is not that the world is an all singing, all dancing utopia because George is in it ... George's world is a pretty grim place, and he's looking at a prison sentence up until the happy ending, even as he's running down Main Street shouting "Merry Christmas, you old Savings and Loan!". The moral is that George realizes the world would be worse without him. Not bad--worse. And that means he's not a failure.

This was part of the disappointment and pessimism of post World War II America, when the GIs didn't come home to the country they'd remembered and fought for, but some place quite different. It was 1946, a great year for noir (Noir City called it "the year Hollywood went dark" a couple of years ago.) I'll post more on this subject later, but it's the reason why this film is so compelling, so haunting, and deserves the title of Holiday Noir even with Clarence the Angel.

So yeah, It's A Wonderful Life, baby ... because it's the only one we've got, and compared to life ... well, the alternative is worse.

Get your jingle on and post your other holiday noir observations ... and by the way ... have yourself a merry little Christmas/holiday of your choice! :)

1 comment:

Laura said...

It seems I missed "It's a Wonderful Life" this year--but I've seen it many years past. It *does* have that melancholy noir feel to it--that feeling of impending, inescapable doom. Though there is that pesky, delightful, happy ending. It used to annoy me. Then I had kids....

Happy, happy!