Reaching milestones of my own invention

In my last post, I described how a great friend of mine and I exchange generous Amazon gift cards for our birthdays. One gift I have already used this year’s card to purchased is this four-DVD film noir box set:

Filn Noir collection.JPG

Filn Noir collection--titles.JPG

Of the four titles in this no-frills set (the only extras are trailers for every film except Storm Fear), the only one I had already seen was He Ran All the Way. Both the surprisingly-well-made Storm Fear and the classic He Ran All the Way are superb examples of what could be called “hostage noir.” Other examples would be Suddenly—featuring a spellbindingly psychotic Frank Sinatra; Blind Alley and its 1948 remake The Dark Past; and the underrated gem Dial 1119.

Witness to Murder, despite featuring Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders and Gary Merrill, is a watered-down version of the brilliant Rear Window; what redeems it is mesmerizing black-and-white cinematography by the ground-breaking John Alton. The titular witness, Stanwyck, does her best with the material, including a hard-to-swallow romance with Merrill’s homicide detective. Sanders, however, is believably menacing and creepy as he-who-is-witnessed; no spoilers here, as the trailer itself reveals Sanders is the killer.

A Bullet For Joey is a 1955 film best described as “bonkers,” albeit generally entertaining. Edward G. Robinson, terrific as always, is wasted as a homicide Inspector—working in a Montreal which looks suspiciously like Los Angeles, and where nobody speaks with a Canadian accent. Audrey Totter looks bored, and George Raft is—well, George Raft, wooden yet strangely charming. Both Robinson and Raft had great early success in early 1930s gangster films, but while Robinson seamlessly shifted to other roles, Raft always seems stuck around 1931. To be fair, Raft is quite good as a homicide detective in a 1954 film I quite like called Black Widow, a rare example of color film noir from the “classic” era, roughly 1940 to roughly 1960.

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But wait, IS Black Widow a film noir?

Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote about the “personal journey” I had taken to become a devoted fan of film noir. Two months later, a conversation with my wife Nell about career paths inspired me to write the book I am close to finishing (working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive into My Family’s History…and My Own). My original plan was simply to flesh out the multiple facets of my personal journey into book-length form, but it quickly morphed into a full-on investigation of…what the working title sums up nicely.

In that May 2017 film noir post, I introduced my quantitative film noir research project. Essentially, I collected as many published—either as a book or on a credible website—film noir lists as I could find. These lists could be explicit (encyclopedias, dictionaries, guides, filmographies) or implicit (discussed as film noir within the text of a book about film noir), and needed to include a minimum 120 films.

Ultimately, I acquired 32 such lists, from which I created an Excel database of 4,825 films at least one “expert” labelled film noir, however indirectly. From these data I calculated a score cleverly called “LISTS,” which denotes how many lists feature that title. The idea is simple: the more film noir lists on which a film appears, the more widely it is considered film noir. Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a measure of how “noir” a film is, merely how often it is cited by acknowledged experts as noir. To date, no agreed-upon definition of “film noir” exists.

Somewhat to my surprise, only four films appear on all 32 lists: Double Indemnity, Kiss Me Deadly, The Maltese Falcon and The Postman Always Rings Twice; not surprisingly, these are exemplary films noir. Along those lines, only 201 titles (4.2%) appear on as many as 20 lists, and only 478 titles (9.9%) appear on as many as 12 lists; at the opposite end, just under half of the films appear on only one list.

Using additional information from 1) 13 shorter lists and 2) lists within lists, such as the 50-film Canon in The Rough Guide to Film Noir[i], I next calculated a score called “POINTS.” The maximum number of POINTS a film can receive is 67.5; Double Indemnity comes closest with 62.0 POINTS, followed by Out of the Past (59.0); The Maltese Falcon (58.0); Kiss Me Deadly (54.0) and Murder, My Sweet (53.5). As with LISTS, shockingly-few films had as many as 20 POINTS—249, or 5.2%–while only 515 (10.7%) had as many as 12 POINTS. Just under half—48.2%–of films had only one POINT; by definition, they appeared on only one list as well.

You may review my 46 total sources and POINT-allotment system here: Film Noir Database Sources.

Based upon the similar distributions of LISTS and POINTS[ii], every title is classified as Universal (≥12 LISTS or POINTS), Debatable (>5, <12 LISTS or POINTS) or Idiosyncratic (≤5 LISTS or POINTS); the percentage of films in each category is roughly 10%, 10% and 80%, respectively.

So, to answer the question with which I opened this section: Black Widow has 7 LISTS and 8.5 POINTS, putting it squarely in the Debatable category. I encourage you to watch it and draw your own conclusions.

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When I first wrote about my film noir fandom “journey” in May 2017, I had seen 558 (11.6%) of the films in the database. Incrementally increasing the LISTS minimum from 1 to 20, the percentage of films I had seen increased steadily to 87.1%. And the films I had seen comprised well over 30% of total LISTS and 40% of total POINTS; unfortunately, I failed to record the precise percentages at the time.

However, through my recent viewing of Storm Fear, every one of those values has increased. I have now seen 698—14.5%–of the 4,825 films in the database; that is 140 first-time film noir viewings in nearly 30 months, or nearly five titles a month. Updating the original breakdown:

Any film        698/4,825=14.5%

LISTS≥3        564/1,613 =35.0%

LISTS≥6        470/890    =52.8%

LISTS≥12       362/478    =75.7%

LISTS≥15      308/364    =84.6%

LISTS≥20      193/201    =96.1%

As of this writing, the only films with LISTS≥20 I have yet to see are The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Suspense, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, Rogue Cop, Nightmare, The Thief, The New York Confidential and World For Ransom. The bottom line, however, is that the 698 films I have seen total 8,887 LISTS, or 46.3% of all LISTS in the database, putting me 705 total LISTS shy of a majority. I could reach that milestone by watching the top 40 films, by LISTS, I have yet to see, which I very much look forward to doing.

Meanwhile, when my DVD set arrived, I had seen 695 films totaling 10,735 POINTS, or 49.85% of all POINTS in the database. Witness to Murder (19 LISTS, 19 POINTS) got me to 49.94%, while A Bullet For Joey (10,10) got me to 49.98%. And…after watching Storm Fear (16,16), I was at 10,780 POINTS, which is 50.06% of the 21,534.5 POINTS in the database.

Having seen a set of films comprising a majority of all POINTS in my film noir database is a milestone I invented, but that makes it no less fun to celebrate.

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Speaking of milestones…I am extremely reluctant to tout my blog statistics. I write on this site because I think I have something interesting to say, not for accolades or gaudy view numbers—not that I am averse to either, mind you.

This reticence, to be honest, stems in large part from the statistics themselves: as I approach the end of three years writing on this site, I have “only” 109 followers, and my posts have been viewed “only” 8,814 times. Still, the rate of increase for both—and the latter especially—has been steadily accelerating over time. And I greatly appreciate every single follower and view—even the fellow on Twitter who said that someone to whom he had shown this post—which I published two year ago today—had called it “trash.”

And, to be fair, a number of my posts have been (relatively) widely read. In fact, in September 2018, Film Noir: A Personal Journey became my second post to receive 100 views; it has now been viewed 148 times. One month later, this post on now-Associate-Justice Brett Kavanaugh became the third to reach that milestone, and last month it topped 200 views, my second-ever post to do so. It has now been viewed 215 times, while five posts in total have now topped 100 views—133 or more views, actually.

So which post beat “Personal Journey” to 100 views and “Kavanaugh” to 200 views?

It was one I wrote on a lark as I began to write the “Charlie Chan” chapter of my book, the one in which I describe how my love of classic black-and-white crime and mystery films was predicated upon my discovery—just shy of my 10th birthday—of the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films of the late 1930s and early 1940s[iii]. Collecting information about those films, I built an SPSS database containing, among other data, how various organizations and critics rated those films. Combining those data into a single value, I was able to “rank” every Charlie Chan film in relative quality from lowest to highest.

I published Ranking Every Charlie Chan Film on August 26, 2017 to what could best be described as crickets. It was viewed only seven times that month and only 23 times through the end of the year, close to the median 25 views my posts receive. By the end of April 2018, it had received 42 views, just over my post-average of 40.

But starting in July 2018, something happened. The post received 20 views that month, followed by 33, 34, 46, 55 and 53 views over the next five months; by the end of 2018, it had been viewed 299 times. And, of course, the more it was read, the higher it rose on Google searches, and so the more it was read. Over the first eight months of 2019, in fact, it was viewed an astonishing (to me, anyway) 823 times, or 103 times a month. And in July 2019, nearly two years after I published it, it crossed the 1,000-view threshold. As of this writing, it has been viewed 1,234 times.

Not coincidentally, if you Google “Charlie Chan films,” the 41st entry is my post; until recently it had been 16th, but I am not complaining one bit. And if you add the word “ranked” to the search, the very first entry is my post.

As esoteric and specific as that is, I am deeply humbled by it.

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There is one last thing.

I do not read or follow as many blogs as I am “supposed” to in order to a “successful” blogger, but there are a handful whose latest posts I am always excited to see appear in my Inbox. In no particular order, they are:

In Diane’s Kitchen

bone&silver

MadMeg’s Musings

JulieCares

What these sites have in common, besides each author’s gracious reactions to my, at times, long-winded comments, is they are all authored by women with uniquely interesting and powerful personal stories to tell. I always have something to learn from them.

Until next time…

[i] Ballinger, Alexander and Graydon, Danny. 2007. The Rough Guide to Film Noir. London, UK: Rough Guides, Ltd.

[ii] The correlation between the two scores is 0.983.

[iii] There is a lot more to this story, of course, mostly involving my relationship with my father, his gambling and an old family business, but I save that for the book itself.

Happy July 4th! Here is my American story.

Happy 4th of July!

Let me first note, transparent in my pedantry, the Declaration of Independence was actually approved on July 2, 1776. Nonetheless, it was dated July 4, 1776 and signed August 2, 1776.

Allow me next to relate I was physically born (at long-since-closed Metropolitan Hospital, then at 3rd and Spruce) roughly 1/5 of a mile (about 4½ city blocks) southeast of Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were written.

And permit me to conclude with the fascinating coincidence that both the 2nd president of the United States, John Adams, and the 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, died on this day in 1826—50 years to the day from the day we designate as our official day of independence from England.

That is, I conclude these introductory paragraphs that way.

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A few hours, I began to write a thread on Twitter. It opened thus:

1/ For July 4, I present my American story.

I was born in Philadelphia–where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States were written.

I was adopted in utero in the late summer of 1966. Both of my (legal) grandfathers were born outside the US.

The thread ties together the various elements of my background into a single, “American” story. Regular readers of this site will not be surprised, given a series of posts I have written (collected here) telling parts of this same story.

Moving right along:

2/ Morris Berger was born in what is now Poland in 1894 and came to the US when he was 4 years old. A Yiddish speaker, he became a successful business owner and Jewish community leader in West Philadelphia.

His son David Louis was my (legal) father.

He went the other direction.

Two things here (besides proudly observing I was given the Hebrew name Moshe ben David Leib in his honor).

One, the year of my (legal) paternal grandfather’s birth is incorrect. Twitter, however, lacks an edit function, so I could not correct this tweet once it was posted.

Two, there is some uncertainty as to when, exactly, Morris Berger (and three of his siblings) was born.

Next:

3/ Charming, gregarious and generous, “Lou” spiralled down after his iron-willed mother died in 1972. A gambling addiction cost him the business his father and uncle had built. He also lost his marriage–though he never lost me. He died, broke, from a heart attack at 46 in 1982.

David Louis “Lou” Berger died on June 30, 1982, meaning the 37th anniversary of his death was four days ago. By an egregious act of bad timing, June 30 is also the birthday of a close cousin. In fact, my mother and I spent the evening he died at a birthday party for this cousin. As we walked in the front door of our apartment after the celebration, the phone was ringing shrilly. My mother walked behind her white-and-chrome desk to answer it. It was her ex-husband’s—what is the adult form of “girlfriend?”—calling from her hospital bed to inform us of Lou’s sudden passing.

At the time, he was driving a cab for a living (quite happily, I hasten to add, because it gave me a freedom he had rarely known). He was headed to Little Pete’s diner (which closed in 2017) to meet some fellow cabbies for a meal, when he collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the Warwick Hotel (where my wife Nell and I stayed a few times early in our relationship). He was dead before he hit the ground from his third heart attack in 10 years.

Ignoring decades-old tears and moving on:

4/ Yisrael HaCohen was born in what is now Ukraine in 1904. He came to the United States when he was 7, speaking Yiddish. To join the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1930s, he changed his name to Samuel Kohn (sounded less Jewish) and changed his birthplace to Cleveland.

This story I have told before, so let us proceed:

5/ He served for nearly 20 years, rising to Detective. He ultimately retired to Atlantic City.

His daughter Elaine was my (legal) mother.

Serious reproductive health issues (and hysterectomy) led her only natural child (b. 1962) is “severely intellectually disabled.”

Again, one cannot edit a tweet—that should read, “led…to be.”

Because it is better to laugh than to cry, I sometimes tell the following “joke”: My mother had two miscarriages and a hysterectomy, and then I was born!

It was not until I became my sister’s sole legal guardian and began receiving her annual Life Enrichment Plans that I knew the extent of my mother’s reproductive miseries. Besides the two miscarriages—and a prolonged, painful labor resulting in her daughter being deprived of oxygen at critical moments during her birth process—Elaine Berger also had uterine cancer. Thus, the hysterectomy.

Oy.

Next:

6/ I am my sister’s legal guardian. She lives in a facility run through private-public partnership; she is funded through supplemental Social Security income. Thank you, FDR.

Elaine took the opposite path from Lou. After her marriage ended in 1977, she worked a minimum wage job.

She actually took that job—cold-calling folks on behalf of the A-1 Carpet Cleaning Company—some time around October 1976, as her marriage was inexorably coming to an end.

And I must say this: the end of my (legal) parents’ marriage was about as amiable as such an event can be. As painful as it must have been (the night before they officially separated was the only time I saw my father cry), I will always be grateful to them for this civility.

Meanwhile, this is what I mean by “supplemental Social Security income.”

Moving on:

7/ Eventually, Elaine bought that business and, with some help from her own business-owning mother, made a good living for nearly 25 years.

But her reproductive issues returned, and she died from ovarian cancer, aged 66, in 2004.

Oh…her mother. Irene Gurmankin, later Goldman.

Yes, my (legal) maternal great-grandfather—or, at least, his four daughters—also Anglicized his name.

Three years after Elaine Berger began as a minimum-wage-earning telephone solicitor, the owner—a lovely man named (if memory serves) Schwartz—retired. My mother worked out a deal with the man who owned the actual carpet-cleaning machinery to run the business together. A few years after that, this other man retired (or something, my memory defies interrogation on these points), and Elaine Berger took over the A-1 Carpet Cleaning Company (a two-person operation—three when I pitched in, mostly by filing or placing leaflets on car windshields—to be sure) for good.

Here she is in 1988 running that business (same desk, different apartment) with her two children framed in the background:

1988-2.jpg

Next:

8/ After divorcing Samuel Kohn in (I believe) 1964–a rarity in those days–she started a cosmetics and costume jewelry business. That business–and her own iron will and fierce work ethic–became fairly successful, allowing her to live comfortably until her death at 92 in 2007.

For some reason, Irene Kohn (she kept the surname) soon moved 60 or so miles west to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she set up shop at the newly-opened Host Farm. Because of her beauty and extroverted (if sometimes cruel—my relationship to her was complicated) charm, she quickly established herself as the unofficial hostess of the sprawling resort. This was a great boon to my cousins and me, who effectively had the run of the place (two pools, a game room, a gift shop, three great restaurants with employee discounts, endless hallways to explore, a superb daylong program called the Peppermint Parlor). Heck, I got to see my man Rupert Holmes perform in the Host Farm Cabaret (for free) in the summer of 1981!

She finally moved back to Philadelphia in 1984, though she never actually retired, running a mail-order business for loyal customers well into her 80s.

Next:

9/ Meanwhile, Morris Berger died, aged 61, in 1954 (correction, he was born in 1893–if only Twitter allowed editing), and Samuel Kohn died, aged 73, in 1978.

OK, that is my legal family, the only family (prior to marriage and parenthood) I have ever known.

I really wish I could have known my namesake—whose death was one of a series of blows to young Lou Berger, who was asked to shoulder more responsibility than he was prepared to. As for “Pop Pop Sam,” for all his “combative personality” and temper, he was a kind and loving grandfather, and I miss him still.

The next few tweets in the thread speak for themselves:

10/ Here is what I know about my genetic family.

My maternal grandmother could trace her ancestry–and family presence in the United States–to the 1700s. English, Dutch. Her ancestors primarily lived in the southeasterern [sic] United States.

Where they fought for the Confederacy.

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11/ Alice Mulkey married an Irish Catholic Philadelphian named William Dixon, and moved to Philly. Their first child is my genetic mother.

They lived in what was then a working class area

At 19, while working at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, she met my genetic father.

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12/ This part is…fuzzy…so I elide it.

However, the man she met was almost certainly the only son of legendary naval historian Reuben Elmore Stivers. Assuming I am correct, my genetic father died in 2006.

The Stivers family also goes back in the United States to the 1700s.

I exaggerate only slightly when I use the word “legendary” to describe the man who is almost certainly my (genetic) paternal grandfather. When I explained to a different cousin, who serves his country ably and proudly as a Lieutenant Commander, Naval Intelligence, “Smokey” Stivers was likely my ancestor, he said admiringly, “Oh, THAT Reuben Stivers!”

Continuing the thread:

13/ Except they were primarily in Kentucky.

And those men fought for the Union during the Civil War.

“My” branch settled in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. This could explain my (legal) mother’s belief that my genetic father was Colombian.

I miss her (and my father).

Two points.

One, it was not just Kentucky. It was specifically around Lexington, Kentucky, based on what I have learned on Ancestry.com and through discussion with newly-discovered genetic cousins (who have been unfailingly gracious).

But more to the point, I was shocked to learn my genetic ancestors fought each other (perhaps literally, I do not know) in the American Civil War; ponder that counterfactual for a while. This discovery also fits well within the context of my “split identity” first post.

Two, Elaine Berger was so convinced (after a bad game of Telephone: my genetic mother conveyed what she knew to Modell, who passed it on to his client, who probably misunderstood “District of Columbia”–which had only just received its three electoral votes—as “Colombia”) of my genetic paternal heritage she went to the library to see what Colombian children looked like. I do not know what photographs she saw, but she told me numerous times she thought I would be black, or at least much darker-skinned.

She was one of a kind, my mother was.

14/ Upon learning she was pregnant, my genetic mother–unmarried and lacking means–chose to put me up for adoption.

That adoption was arranged through another child of Jewish immigrants, Herman Modell.

How, you ask, did my (legal) father and uncle know the powerful Mr. Modell?

I scrupulously avoid injecting my own political beliefs onto this site, but I make an exception here.

Had I been conceived seven years later, my genetic mother could have had her fetus legally aborted, thanks to Roe v. Wade.

Now, because of her Catholic upbringing—and this is pure speculation on my part—my genetic mother may have carried me to term anyway. She also may have been living in different economic and/or personal circumstances after January 1973. The counterfactuals make my head spin.

And let me back up a second here.

Nell and I have discussed on more than one occasion how much of a role privilege (read: white privilege) plays here. Her own mother was raised with a modicum of wealth, and there is no doubt that if she had found herself with an unwanted pregnancy early prior to 1973, her family would have quietly arranged an abortion for her. It is a near-certainty my genetic mother had no such option (which is why, as long as I am shouting from my soapbox, I have always been opposed to the Hyde Amendment—it denies less well-off women access to a Constitutionally-protected medical procedure and is thus, frankly, unconstitutional. Talk about an “undue burden!”).

But if, under ANY circumstances, my genetic mother had chosen to abort the fetus gestating in her womb—the fetus that would not really become yours truly until the end of September 1966—I would absolutely and unequivocally support that decision.

It was her body, so it was her choice. As it is for all women, everywhere. If you do not like abortions, do not have one, but do not sit in any sort of judgment on any woman who makes that most painful of decision in private consultation with her medical providers and selected loved ones.

Just as I do not get to sit here, more than 50 years later, and judge my genetic mother for any decision she made (or did not make, or could/would have made). I did not yet exist as an autonomous being…and I if I had never existed as an autonomous being, so be it. It was never my decision to make.

My (legal) mother would often remark something to the effect of “If men could get pregnant, you would be able to get an abortion on any street corner.”

For a woman with only a few years of post-high-school medical technician training, she saw things with exceptional clearly.

Returning to my Twitter thread:

15/ Through their simultaneous membership in La Fayette Lodge No. 71.

Yes, my (legal) father, his uncle and the powerful lawyer who arranged my adoption were brother Freemasons.

To be fair, my (legal) father was asked to leave La Fayette Lodge No. 71 for non-payment of dues.

I have told some of this story before, so let us move on; see also here. I would just add that to the extent you knew my father—and realize he was a Freemason for about 10 years—any support for the myth of the controlling influence of the Freemasons evaporates.

16/ But consider this.

When the unplanned child of two people who could trace (mostly) ancestry in the United States to the 1700s was placed for adoption, with whom was he placed?

The children of Yiddish-speaking immigrant fathers who had built successful lives in Philadelphia.

And there it is…thank you for continuing to “just bear with me.” Often lost in our collective squabbles over immigration: the descendants of recent immigrants often do better economically and socially than the longer-term “original settlers.”

Speaking of bearing with me:

End/ I was fortunate to be raised by loving parents of some means in the leafy suburbs north and west of Philadelphia. Nature and nurture cooperated successfully, and I enrolled in Yale College in 1984, sparking a fairly successful life of my own.

And that is #MyAmericanStory

Here is a photograph of those leafy suburbs, as my (legal) father holds his two children (backstory here):

Sue Ellen Drive Feb 1967 or October November 1967

And here I am with my legal mother and maternal grandmother at my graduation from Yale in 1988.

Yale graduation with Nana and Mom 1988.jpg

Here is the first postscript:

PS/ I am writing a book (inspired by, of all things, trying to explain why I love #FilmNoir so much) detailing this history. Working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir, Identity and a Search for Truth.

For more, please see justbearwithme.blog.

Thank you, and Happy 4th!

Hmm, this is getting very circular.

And, finally:

PPS/ My profile picture is from my (legal) parents’ wedding in January 1960. Their wedding, literally and metaphorically, took place about half a mile south of City Line Avenue. They were on the Philadelphia side, but maybe they could see their future home in the suburbs.

For those of you who do not follow me on Twitter (tsk, tsk–@drnoir33), here is that photograph:

Elaine and Lou Berger with parents January 17 1960.jpg

I do not know who the gentleman on the far left is (a great-uncle?), but from left to right are Rae Caesar Berger (mother of the groom, Lou Berger, Elaine Kohn Berger (photograph taken after exchange of vows), Irene Kohn (mother of the bride) and Samuel Kohn (father of the bride).

I LOVE this photograph, even if the men on either end look dyspeptic.

Please have (or continue to have, or I hope you had) a safe and festive holiday!

Until next time…

The Noir of Who: Part 4

I have long been fascinated by “two worlds collided” connections between disparate things. Emblematic of that fascination has been observing the influence of classic-era film noir on the television series Doctor Who, following its resurrection in 2005. Emerging from those observations was the essay “The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who,” which I first wrote in the summer of 2018. I had hoped it would be published in a particular film noir magazine, but it was deemed too long and off-topic. To be fair, the criticism was valid–though I did not agree with the presentation of that critique.

The upshot, then. was that I edited the original essay down to roughly 7,600 words for publication on this site in four parts.

You may find the full backstory and Part 1 (establishing the essay’s premise and introducing the series itself) here. 

You may find Part 2 (characterization: femmes/hommes fatale and the Chandlerian good man gone wrong) here. 

You may find Part 3 (doubling/mirroring) here. 

You may find the last installment of the essay, Part 4 (fatalism: convoluted timelines and inexorable fate) below. I will make a PDF of the complete essay available on this site shortly.

Please enjoy.

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The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who

Part 4

After watching the “death” of the 11th Doctor at Lake Silencio, Utah (“Impossible Astronaut”), River is stunned when a two-centuries-younger version of the 11th Doctor walks out of a nearby diner bathroom. After slapping him, this exchange occurs:

The Doctor: Okay. I’m assuming that’s for something I haven’t done yet.

River: Yes, it is.

The Doctor: Good. Looking forward to it.

River’s relationship with The Doctor is so convoluted each maintains a journal (resembling the TARDIS) to track when they are. When the 10th Doctor first meets River in his timeline, it is the last day of her life: the word “spoilers” epitomizes their interactions.

Film noir similarly disoriented viewers with non-linear narratives. Single continuous flashbacks (Double Indemnity, The Guilty, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Out of the Past, Possessed, etc.) were sometimes divided, as in They Won’t Believe Me. Rebecca embeds a flashback within a flashback, while The Locket embeds a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. There is the drunken recollection of murder in Black Angel, an alternate-timeline dream sequence of The Chase, and characters-as-children flashbacks from Ruthless and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. But these pale next to the multiple flashbacks, from different points of view, in I Wake Up Screaming (aka The Hot Spot), The Killers (both versions), Mildred Pierce, and, of course, Citizen Kane.

“Blink” contains the definitive Doctor Who statement on temporal complexity. Having been sent with Martha Jones (and without the TARDIS) by a Weeping Angel to 1969, the 10th Doctor seeks help by filming his responses to a written transcript onto what will become a DVD “Easter egg.” Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan) watches the clip in 2007, mystified how The Doctor can respond, 38 years earlier, to everything she says; her words, meanwhile, are transcribed by Larry Nightingale (Finlay Robertson) onto a copy of The Doctor’s end of the conversation. In the final scene, Sally hands her copy of the now-complete conversation to The Doctor, who has not yet been sent to 1969, completing the narrative loop.

On the DVD clip, The Doctor says:

“People don’t understand time. It’s not what they think it is…It’s complicated. Very complicated…People assume that time is a strict linear progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.”

The 12th Doctor breaks the fourth wall in “Before the Flood” (October 10, 2015) to provide this example of the bootstrap paradox: taking Ludwig von Beethoven’s music to Beethoven’s time, finding no such person existed, then publishing the music under the name “Ludwig von Beethoven” (who, then, wrote the music?). These explanations do little to assure us time travel’s paradoxes “by and large work themselves out” (“Hide”).

While Doctor Who’s fractured timelines mostly serve as entertaining narrative devices, they can have painful consequences. In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (May 6, 2006), the 10th Doctor, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Mickey find a fire burning in an 18th-century French fireplace—on a crewless 51st century spaceship. They talk through the fireplace to a young girl in 1727 Paris named Reinette Poisson (Jessica Atkins)[1]. When The Doctor revolves through the fireplace wall moments later, months have passed on Reinette’s side. Rotating again shortly thereafter, an adult Reinette (Sophia Myles) is so delighted to see her childhood friend she kisses him passionately (a series first), leading the latter to say—when queried by a manservant—“I’m The Doctor, and I just snogged Madame de Pompadour.” The ship contains random portals into Madame de Pompadour’s life; one traps The Doctor in the past until he locates Reinette’s original fireplace. Before making one last revolution, he says:

The Doctor: Give me two minutes. Pack a bag.

Reinette: Am I going somewhere?

The Doctor: Go to the window. Pick a star. Any star.

But the faulty wall decrees that when he returns moments later for him, years have passed and Reinette has just died (aged 45), leaving a heartbreaking note for her “lonely angel.”

Fate’s malevolence is even more apparent when a character attempts to alter fixed points in time. In “Father’s Day” (May 14, 2005), Rose saves her father Pete (Shaun Dingwall) from being killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking to a wedding in 1987, leading vulture-like Reapers to kill humans to “heal” the time rupture. Realizing who the young woman who saved him is, and what she has done, Pete allows himself to be killed by the car after all—though at least he does not die alone this time. In “Vincent and the Doctor” (June 5, 2010), after spotting a monster in Vincent Van Gogh’s The Church at Auvers at a London exhibition, the 11th Doctor takes Amy to 1890 to meet him (Tony Curran). Aiming to prevent his suicide that July 29, they bring Van Gogh to the same exhibition, where a curator (Bill Nighy) proclaims him “not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.” Moved as Van Gogh is by this affirmation, he still takes his life, as a devastated Amy soon learns. And in “The Waters of Mars” (November 15, 2009), the 10th Doctor arrives on the first human base on Mars the day in 2059 it was mysteriously destroyed. Base commander Adelaide Brooke’s (Lindsay Duncan) heroic death inspires her granddaughter to pilot Earth’s first lightspeed ship, triggering space exploration by her descendants. When the virus-infected humans that destroyed the base threaten Earth, The Doctor must choose between rescue and not altering a fixed point in time. With no companion to ground him, he cracks:

 “There are laws of time. And once upon a time there were people. And those people were in charge of those rules. But they died. They all died. And do you know who that leaves?!? ME! It’s taken me all these years to realize the laws of time are mine, and they will obey me!”

laws of time will obey me

Safely returned to Earth with two colleagues, Adelaide worries The Doctor has altered history for the worse. Taking matters into her own hands, Adelaide shoots herself, essentially restoring the original timeline—and shocking The Doctor out of his arrogance (“I’ve gone too far.”).

The Doctor’s inevitable regeneration (a form of death), though is the definitive fated moment in the resurrected series. As the 11th Doctor plaintively observes to Clara in “The Time of the Doctor” (December 25, 2013), “It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment…like breath on a mirror,” echoing Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) final words in the neo-noir Blade Runner: “All those moments will be lost in time…like tears in the rain. Time to die.” And when the 12th Doctor was convinced by the 1st Doctor (David Bradley, “Twice Upon a Time”), also resisting regeneration, to accept his fate, he still claimed “one more lifetime won’t kill anyone…well except me.”

Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish), more of whose stories were adapted into films noir than any other author (arguably 17 just between 1942 and 1956), provided the definitive noir statement on death. Woolrich biographer Francis M. Nevins, Jr. wrote it was…

“…perhaps the most important moment of his life, literally his dark night of the soul, when he suddenly understood, not just intellectually but in his heart and blood, that someday like Cio-Cio-San [of Madame Butterfly], he too would have to die, and after death there is nothing. It happened…’one night when I was eleven, and huddling over my own knees, looked up at the low-hanging stars of the Valley of Anahuac, and I knew I would surely die finally, or something worse.’ This…was the beginning of ‘the sense of personal, private doom.’ […] I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you’ve put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can’t, and it can’t, and it can’t’[2]

The 10th Doctor most actively resisted this fate, famously crying “I don’t want to go” just prior to regenerating (“The End of Time, Part Two,” January 1, 2010). He told Donna’s grandfather Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbens; “The End of Time, Part One,” December 25, 2009) his regeneration will be signaled by “four knocks.” Eventually (“End of Time, 2”), he faces a choice: save Wilfred by exposing himself to a massive dose of radiation or let him die (as Wilfred suggests—after, you guessed it, knocking four times on the door of the booth in which he is trapped). Wallowing in self-pity, The Doctor declares “Well, exactly, look at you. Not remotely important. But me…I could do so much more! SO MUCH MORE! But this is what I’ll get, my reward. But it’s NOT FAIR!” That he ultimately saves Wilfred, calling it “an honor,” does not excuse his arrogant petulance.

Of course, the most catastrophic alteration of a fixed point in time in the resurrected Doctor Who is River NOT shooting the 11th Doctor at Lake Silencio: all of history happens simultaneously. Once the younger 11th Doctor discovers his scheduled demise, he spends Series 6 trying to “outrun” it. Finally realizing running is futile, he accepts his fate…though not before figuring out how to survive.

You may not be able to outrun destiny, but you can occasionally delay it.

**********

It took only nine episodes for Doctor Who to reach its aesthetic noir pinnacle. The two=part “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” 2006 Hugo Award winner for Best Dramatic Presentation, are the first of six episodes (“Girl in the Fireplace,” “Blink,” and 2008’s “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”) Moffat wrote before becoming showrunner in 2010. Gorgeously photographed in electric blues and muted browns by Ernest Vincze (2006 BAFTA Cymru winner, Best Director of Photography—Drama), the story unfolds over a single night during the 1941 London Blitz.

Chasing an unidentified cylindrical object, the 9th Doctor and Rose park the TARDIS in a shadowy London back alley. While The Doctor seeks answers in that most noir establishment, a nightclub, Rose spots a small boy (Albert Valentine) on a roof wearing a gas mask and calling for “Mummy.” Climbing light-slicing fire escapes after him, she winds up dangling from a barrage balloon during a German air raid before Captain Jack rescues her. The Doctor, meanwhile, follows teenaged Nancy (Florence Hoath) to a house with a supper abandoned due to the raid, which Nancy shares with other kids “living rough.” The Doctor joins them, inquiring about the gas-masked-boy following Nancy asking “Are you my mummy?” As the boy (who we soon learn is Nancy’s brother Jamie, killed by a German bomb the night the unidentified object landed) seeks entry, Nancy warns The Doctor not to let Jamie touch him, lest he become “empty” as well. Following Nancy’s advice to visit “the doctor” in Albion Hospital, The Doctor wanders its shadowy halls to find hundreds of patients with precisely the same injuries—down to fused gas mask—as Jamie. Captain Jack confesses he tried to con The Doctor and Rose into buying the cylindrical object, a “harmless” Chula battlefield ambulance, before transporting them to his ship. Realizing Captain Jack’s ship (also Chula) is loaded with nanogenes, microscopic robots which heal living tissue, The Doctor concludes the nanogenes from the ambulance saw mutilated dead Jamie in his gas mask and thought that is what humans look like. They then “healed” other humans by turning them into Jamie. When Nancy tearfully claims it is “all my fault,” The Doctor finally understands: “Teenage single mother in 1941, so you hid, you lied, you even lied to him.” At The Doctor’s urging she embraces Jamie and tells him, “I am your mummy, I will always be your mummy.” In a moving sequence, the nanogenes recognize the “superior information” of the parent DNA.

everybody lives

Running to the child, The Doctor pleads, “Oh come on, give me a day like this, give me this one” and pulls off the gas mask to reveal a fully-healed, slightly confused boy. The Doctor then uses “upgraded” nanogenes to restore everyone, proclaiming: ”Everybody lives! Just this once, Rose, everybody lives!”

That moment of supreme jubilation, however, the idea that “just once” nobody died when The Doctor triumphed, only underlines just how much classic film noir influences the resurrected Doctor Who.

Until next time…

[1] For the record, she did not actually gain the nickname “Reinette” until 1731, when she was 9. http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/pompadou.html Accessed June 30, 2018.

[2] Nevins, Francis M., Jr. 1988. Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die. New York, NY: The Mysterious Press, pg. 8.

The Noir of Who: Part 3

I have long been fascinated by “two worlds collided” connections between disparate things. Emblematic of that fascination has been observing the influence of classic-era film noir on the television series Doctor Who, following its resurrection in 2005. Emerging from those observations was the essay “The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who,” which I first wrote in the summer of 2018. I had hoped it would be published in a particular film noir magazine, but it was deemed too long and off-topic. To be fair, the criticism was valid–though I did not agree with the presentation of that critique.

The upshot, then. was that I edited the original essay down to roughly 7,600 words for publication on this site in four parts.

You may find the full backstory and Part 1 (establishing the essay’s premise and introducing the series itself) here. 

You may find Part 2 (characterization: femmes/hommes fatale and the Chandlerian good man gone wrong) here.

You may find Part 3 (doubling/mirroring) below.

Please enjoy.

**********

The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who

Part 3

Film noir reflected the divided self both cinematically, by casting faces in shadows, and physically, through doubles and mirroring. Examples of the latter include 1) twin sisters in The Dark Mirror and The Guilty (and twin brothers in Among the Living) and 2) portraits in, among others, Corridor of Mirrors, The Dark Corner, Laura, Scarlet Street, The Unsuspected, The Woman in the Window and, of course, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Twice in Window Joan Bennett’s Alice Reed is reflected in the window through which Professor Wanley stares at her portrait. Shadow of a Doubt features two psychically-linked “Charlies”: Cotten’s “Uncle Charlie” and Teresa Wright’s Charlie Newton. In Strange Impersonation and Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar), Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) and John Muller (Paul Henreid), respectively, physically transform themselves into another character; in Hollow, a mirror itself causes the scheme to unravel.

Doubles in the resurrected Doctor Who include: Mickey/Ricky Smith (Noel Clarke) in “Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel” (May 13/20, 2006), as well as shape-shifting Zygon mirror images of Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page), Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Beverly Cressman) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) in “Day of the Doctor,” and Clara in “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion” (October 31/November 7, 2015).

And then there is Missy/The Master.

Michelle-Gomez-Missy-John-Simm-Master-The-Doctor-Falls.jpg

After appearing at the end of most Season 8 episodes, the mysterious “Missy” (Michelle Gomez), dressed like a noir Mary Poppins, tells a horrified 12th Doctor (“Dark Water,” November 1, 2014) her name is “short for Mistress. Well…couldn’t very well keep calling myself The Master, now could I?”

When eight-year-old Time Lord Academy initiates stared directly into the untempered schism of the Time Vortex, “some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad” (“The Sound of Drums,” June 23, 2007). One initiate went mad and ran away, morphing in the process from The Doctor’s friend to his arch-nemesis (and negative image).

As Missy, though, she has mixed feelings about “my boyfriend” (“Deep Breath,” August 23, 2014), seeking redemption throughout Series 10, despite briefly allying with an earlier incarnation (John Simm; “World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls,” June 24/July 1, 2017). Simm’s Master is clearly attracted to Missy, his future incarnation. Ultimately, however, the incarnations kill each other, becoming literal fatales.

Of course, the clearest reflection of the divided self in the resurrected Doctor Who are duplicates of The Doctor himself. Multiple Doctors have appeared in the same episode, not always happily. In “The Three Doctors” (December 20, 1972), the 1st Doctor sniffs, “Oh, so you’re my replacements: a dandy and a clown.” While assisting the War Doctor (initially put off by his future selves) in “The Day of the Doctor” (November 22, 2013), the 10th and 11th Doctors squabble over the question “Did you ever count…how many children there were on Gallifrey that day [you ended the last great Time War]?”

In “Human Nature” (May 26, 2007), the 10th Doctor excruciatingly transforms into the human “John Smith” to hide from the Family of Blood on Earth in 1913. To remain undetected, The Doctor must forget who he is (amnesia as disguise). Unfortunately, he did not anticipate falling in love with Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes), an oversight “John Smith” disdains (“Falling in love, that never occurred to him? What sort of a man is that?”). And when the Family pose an existential threat, “John Smith” resists transformation, desiring only to share his life with Joan (shown in a poignant flash-forward). A heartbroken Joan is equally unimpressed: “If The Doctor had never visited us, never chosen this place on a whim, would anyone here have died?…You can go.”

doctor-who-the-family-of-blood-review-david-tennant-jessica-hynes-john-smith-joan-redfern-tenth-doctor-paul-cornell-human-nature

Harsher self-division occurs in the haunting “The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People” (May 21/28, 2011), photographed in eerie shadows by Balazs Balygo. Near-future humans create “flesh” doppelgangers to handle dangerous chemicals. These “gangers” are melted down (or simply discarded) when no longer necessary. After a solar flare also transfers emotions and memories to the gangers, a battle for dominance occurs, ending in an uneasy truce. A flesh avatar of The Doctor is created, though (for once) the two get along famously.

But the Series’ nadir of self-division nadir comes in “Time Heist.” The Doctor, Clara, Psi (Jonathan Bailey) and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), who replicates—or “doubles”—anyone she touches, are directed by the unseen “Architect” to break into the most secure bank in the universe. Their memories of how they arrived there are erased—amnesia as self-protection.

In the climax, they confront bank director Madame Karabraxos (Keeley Hawes) in the bank’s private vault. Unfazed, she calls her Director of Security on a computer screen:

Karabraxos: Intruders, in the private vault. Send me The Teller. I want to find out how they got in, and then…I want to wipe their memories.

The Doctor: She’s a clone.

Karabraxos: It’s the only way to control my own security. I’ve a clone in every facility. [To the screen] Get on it right away.

Ms. Delphox: Yes, of course.

Karabraxos: And then, hand in your credentials. You’re fired. With immediacy.

Ms. Delphox: But please…I’ve been in your service…

Karabraxos: …ever since the last one let me down, and I was forced to kill it. I can’t quite believe that you’re putting me through this again…My clone, and yet she doesn’t even protest. Pale imitation, really. Ha. I should sue.

Clara: You’re…killing her. You just said “fired.”

Karabraxos: I put all of the used clones into the incinerator. Can’t have too many of moi scattered around.

Psi: Sorry…you don’t get on with your own clone?

The Doctor: She hates her own clones. She burns her own clones. Frankly, you’re a career break for the right therapist. [An idea strikes him]. Shut up. Everybody just, just shut up.

Karabraxos: [Mimicking The Doctor] And what is this display? Now, as amusing as you are…

The Doctor: Shut up. Just shut up. Shut up shut up shuttity up up up. What did you say? What did…what did YOU say? What did you say about your own eyes? De-shut up. Say it again.

Saibra: How could you trust someone if they look back at you out of your own eyes.

The Doctor: [To Clara] I know one thing about The Architect. What is it that I know about The Architect? I know one thing, one thing I have known from the very start.

Clara: What?

The Doctor: I hate him. He’s overbearing. He’s manipulative. He likes to think that he’s very clever. [Pointing to himself] I HATE HIM. Clara, don’t you see?!? I hate the architect!

Karabraxos: What in the name of sanity is going on in this room now?

The Doctor: We’re getting sanity judgment from the self-burner?

Doctor-Who-Time-Heist

Of course, The Doctor is The Architect, and he sees his own darkest side in him.

Still, not all “doubling” in Doctor Who is tragic, as seen in this exchange in “A Good Man Goes to War”:

Rory: I’ve come from The Doctor, too

River: Yes, but at a different point in time.

Rory: Unless there’s two of them.

River [Grinning lasciviously]: Now, that’s a whole different birthday.

To be continued…

The Noir of Who: Part 2

I have long been fascinated by “two worlds collided” connections between disparate things. Emblematic of that fascination has been observing the influence of classic-era film noir on the television series Doctor Who, following its resurrection in 2005. Emerging from those observations was the essay “The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who,” which I first wrote in the summer of 2018. I had hoped it would be published in a particular film noir magazine, but it was deemed too long and off-topic. To be fair, the criticism was valid–though I did not agree with the presentation of that critique.

The upshot, then. was that I edited the original essay down to roughly 7,600 words for publication on this site in four parts. You may find the full backstory and Part 1 (establishing the essay’s premise and introducing the series itself) here.

Part 2, addressing characterization (femmes/hommes fatale and the Chandlerian good man gone wrong), may be found below.

Please enjoy.

**********

The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who

Part 2

An archetypal film noir character is the strong, seductive and duplicitous woman (or man) who uses a willing man (or woman) for selfish, often deadly, ends. The Rough Guide to Film Noir lists 10 exemplary femmes fatale including Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity, Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) in The Lady From Shanghai, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) in Out of the Past, Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) in Criss Cross and Kitty March (Joan Bennett) in Scarlet Street.[1]

A thought-provoking variation on the femme fatale in the resurrected Doctor Who is the psychopathic River Song.

Traveling on the TARDIS after their wedding, Rory impregnates Amy. Soon after, Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber) has The Silence kidnap Amy, replacing her with an avatar. “Melody Pond” is born in the 52nd century on the asteroid Demon’s Run (“A Good Man Goes to War,” June 4, 2011) then taken to 1960s Earth by Madame Kovarian. Conceived in the time vortex, Melody has both human and Time Lord DNA, meaning she can be conditioned to become a weapon against The Doctor. Amy, Rory, River and the 11th Doctor unknowingly encounter young Melody (Sydney Wade) in Florida in July 1969 (“The Impossible Astronaut,” April 23, 2011) as she escapes her captors. One night six months later, she wanders into a noir-lit Manhattan alley, where she assures a concerned wino “It’s alright, it’s quite alright. I’m dying. But I can fix that. It’s easy really. See,” before regenerating in a chiaroscuro explosion of light (“Day of the Moon”).

1970 regeneration.jpg

Later, a newly-regenerated River engages in a flirtatious cat-and-mouse game with The Doctor before kissing him with a poisoned lipstick with no known antidote (“Let’s Kill Hitler,” August 27, 2011). However, River soon begins to fall in love with the man she was raised to kill, upending her femme fatale persona (at least where The Doctor is concerned), using her remaining regeneration energy to save The Doctor. Nonetheless, Madame Kovarian eventually recaptures River and forces her to kill the man she loves. Indeed, we are told over and over that this is a fixed point in time—it must happen where, when and how it happens. Thus, when River instead empties her weapon pack, time itself collapses (“The Wedding of River Song,” October 1, 2011). Literally to “save time,” the 11th Doctor marries the psychopathic daughter of his closest friends—the woman who is ultimately incarcerated in a maximum-security prison for his “murder.” No classic film noir ever contained so many twists of fate.

river berlin

Film noir hommes fatale, meanwhile, include Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) in Born to Kill, Webb Garwood (Van Helfin) in The Prowler, Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton) in Shadow of a Doubt, Fred Graham (Robert Mitchum) in When Strangers Marry (aka Betrayed) and multiple Zachary Scott portrayals (Danger Signal, Mildred Pierce, Ruthless). Jerry Slocum provides a homoerotic twist in The Sound of Fury.

the empty child

Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, above on the right, along with Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler and Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor) is the resurrected Doctor Who’s clearest homme fatale. When we first meet him (“The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances,” May 21/28, 2005), he is a con artist who left the 51st-century Time Agency after two years of his memories were erased (amnesia as HR policy). He is also a sexually-flexible man willing to betray and/or seduce to get what he wants. Handsome, charming and intelligent, Captain Jack briefly travels with The Doctor before turning the Torchwood[2] Institute, founded by Queen Victoria (“Tooth and Claw,” April 22, 2006) to protect the Earth from aliens (even The Doctor), into The Doctor’s ally. In fact, the spin-off series Torchwood (2006-11) is an even darker, more violent and sexually-explicit version of the resurrected Doctor Who.

But The Doctor’s own transformation best exemplifies noir in the resurrected series. In “Into the Dalek” (August 30, 2014), the 12th Doctor asks Clara for help:

The Doctor: I am terrified.

Clara: Of what?

The Doctor: The answer to my next question. It must be honest, cold and considered, without kindness or restraint. Clara, be my pal and tell me. Am I a good man?

Clara (taken aback): I…don’t know.

The Doctor (resigned): Neither do I.

Their exchange captures The Doctor’s struggle to remain (in Craig Ferguson’s pithy summation) a “force for good in an otherwise uncertain universe,” evoking Chandler’s idealized detective/hero:

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be…a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world […].”[3]

As we saw with Ford’s Dave Bannion, this heroic persona can be difficult to sustain down those mean streets: Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) cuckolds his partner and sends his lover to prison in The Maltese Falcon; Mike Hammer is a narcissistic thug in I, The Jury, My Gun is Quick and, especially, Kiss Me Deadly; Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum) is all too willing to run away with his client’s lover Kathie in Out of the Past.

And not only detectives go off the moral rails. Decent men like Bart Tare (John Dall) in Gun Crazy, Professor Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) in The Woman in the Window, Joe Peters (Charles McGraw) in Roadblock and Dr. Richard Talbot (Kent Smith) in Nora Prentiss are lured by desirable women into criminal activity. Failure to provide for his family drives Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) to join Jerry Slocum’s crime spree in The Sound of Fury, with fatal results. But the definitive noir good-man-gone-wrong is Robinson’s milquetoast bank teller in Scarlet Street who lies, embezzles and kills—before allowing Johnny Prince’s (Dan Duryea) unjust execution for the crime—to win Kitty.

The “good” Doctor sees his character eroded by unbearable guilt and self-righteous egotism. In “Dalek” (April 30, 2005), the 9th Doctor is locked in a pitch-black room with an unknown alien subjected to brutal torture (like Grayle’s Weeping Angel). After The Doctor offers aid, the alien slowly reveals itself to be a Dalek—albeit one too weak to “exterminate” a terrified Doctor, who then maliciously describes how he destroyed both their races. When the Dalek notes they “are the same” because both are “alone in the universe,” The Doctor snaps, viciously torturing the Dalek himself. Later, having regained full power, the Dalek (now on a killing spree) seeks orders:

The Doctor: Alright, then. If you want orders, follow this one: Kill yourself.

Dalek: The Daleks must survive!

The Doctor: The Daleks have failed! Now why don’t you finish the job and make the Daleks extinct? Rid the universe of your filth! Why don’t you just DIE?!?

Dalek: You would make a good Dalek.

This theme is repeated in “Into the Dalek” after the 12th Doctor and medical personnel are miniaturized to enter a dying Dalek—evoking 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, coincidentally directed by film noir veteran Richard Fleischer (The Narrow Margin, Armored Car Robbery, Follow Me Quietly, Bodyguard, etc.). Confronted with its race’s atrocities, the Dalek observes The Doctor’s own cancerous hatred: “I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.” And in “Witch’s Familiar,” the 12th Doctor angrily confronts the Daleks he mistakenly believes killed Clara, leading Missy (about whom later) to tell her, “Listen to that. The Doctor without hope…Nobody’s safe now…He’ll burn everything, us too.” Befitting a Doctor fighting his own demons, Ali Asad photographed “Witch’s Familiar” in near-constant darkness, creating an oppressive sense of doom reminiscent of the neo-noir Se7en.

It is not only Daleks who trigger The Doctor’s dark side, though. In “Family of Blood” (June 2, 2007), the 10th Doctor (David Tennant), arrogating judgment to himself, metes out eternal punishments to the titular family: “He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing. The fury of the Time Lord.” In “Journey’s End,” the 10th Doctor is shown the collateral damage of his righteous arrogance. The Doctor, companion Donna Noble, some allies and a “human” Doctor (created when The Doctor short-circuited regeneration after being mortally wounded by a Dalek) are trapped on a Dalek base by their creator Davros, who seeks to detonate a “reality bomb.” In response, former companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) threatens to destroy Earth with nuclear weapons (thwarting Davros’ plan), and Captain Jack threatens to destroy the base with a “warp star.” Davros easily stops them, then delivers his coup de grace:

The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons…Behold your children of time transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor, you made this…How many more? Just think. How many have died in your name? [A sequence of 15 faces from prior episodes plays] The Doctor, the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dares not out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor, I have shown you yourself.

But The Doctor’s fall from grace is most clearly displayed in “A Good Man Goes to War.” highlighted by River’s climactic voiceover:

Demons run when a good man goes to war.

Night will fall and drown the sun when a good man goes to war.

Friendship dies and true love lies.

Night will fall and the dark will rise when a good man goes to war.

Demons run but count the cost; the battle’s won but the child is lost.

Stunningly photographed by Stephan Pehrsson in ethereal reds, blues and greens, nearly every face is shrouded in shadow. Outside the brightly-lit white room in which Amy is held captive,

amy demons run

little light is visible on the base in which most of the action takes place.

demons run

To rescue Amy, The Doctor calls upon those he once helped. However, when Rory tries to recruit River, she refuses, adding “This is the Battle of Demon’s Run, The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further.”

After “too easy” a victory, The Doctor insists that Colonel Manton, allied with Madame Kovarian, tell his troops “to run away” so children will mock him as “Colonel Runaway,” adding…

The Doctor: Look I’m angry. That’s new. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen now.

Madame Kovarian: The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.

The Doctor: Good men don’t need rules…But today is not the day to find out why I have so many.

While The Doctor spars with Madame Kovarian, a trap is laid for Amy, Rory and five allies, three of whom are killed in the ensuing battle (over which River recites the poem). Too late, The Doctor realizes his vengeful blood-lust blinded him to Madame Kovarian’s plan to kidnap Melody Pond, as revealed by the just-arrived River:

The Doctor: You think I wanted this. I didn’t want this. This isn’t me.

River Song: This was exactly you. All this. All of it. You make them so afraid. When you began all those years ago, sailing off to see the universe, did you ever think you’d become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name. “Doctor,” the word for healer and wise man throughout the universe. We get that word from you, you know. But if you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean?…To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word means “mighty warrior.” How far you’ve come. And now they’ve taken a child, the child of your best friends. And they’re going to turn her into a weapon just to bring you down. And all this, my love, in fear of you.

Even though 12th Doctor tells his next incarnation (“Twice Upon a Time”)…

“Never be cruel. Never be cowardly…Remember, hate is always foolish, and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind […] Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

…the necessity to remind his future self (“let’s get it right”) of Chandler’s precepts underscores the inevitable tension between the “untarnished hero” and the “mean streets” in which (s)he labors, be they in mid-20th-century Los Angeles or across all of time and space.

[1] Ballinger, Alexander and Graydon, Danny. 2007. The Rough Guide to Film Noir. London, UK: Rough Guides, Ltd., pg. 210.

[2] “Torchwood” is an anagram of “Doctor Who.”

[3] Chandler, Raymond. 1944. “The Simple Art of Murder” (revised edition) in Haycraft, Howard. 1946. The Art of the Mystery Story. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., pg. 237.

 

The Noir of Who: Backstory and Part 1

Back in, I think, 8th grade English class, we read Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. A friend of mine (whose mother would later introduce me at his wedding as “her third son”—a high compliment) was so taken with the intricate web of connections between the book’s many characters that he pulled out a piece of paper and attempted to graph them. He ended up with two columns of identical names with lines connecting nearly every name in the left-hand column to nearly every name in the right-hand column. It looked like a game of cat’s cradle gone horribly wrong, and I was fascinated by it.

To this day I remain fascinated by connections between seemingly disparate things. Because in life, as in art, everything connects to everything when looked at just the right way (though with all due respect to Carl Jung and The Police, I think the “acausal connection” of “synchronicity” is a stretch; like cigars, sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence).

It was inevitable that connections like this would make their way into my posts, beginning with describing the joy I took tracking how many actors and actresses from the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films of 1935-43 had appeared in the two dozen films screened during the 2015 NOIR CITY film festival. This exemplifies what I would call the “two worlds collided” connection, when disparate interests overlap in an interesting (if not necessarily meaningful) way. Great examples (for me, anyway) would be if I turned on MSNBC one weekday evening—and Rachel Maddow was interviewing director David Lynch or Chris Hayes was dissecting the latest game played by the Philadelphia Phillies[1].

Or when you continually see elements of film noir appearing in Doctor Who, following its resurrection in 2005. I use the word “resurrection” in homage to the scene from the brilliant film noir Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955; 54.5 POINTS) in which Dr. G. E. Soberin (Albert Dekker) says, after he and his goons have tortured Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) to death:

If you revive her, do you know what that would be? Resurrection, that’s what it would be. And do you know what resurrection means? It means raise the dead. And just who do you think you are that you think you can raise the dead?

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To be perfectly honest, for most of my life I was not a fan of Doctor Who. My wife Nell (now as ardent a fan of the series as I am) and I had similarly annoyed reactions to the show as children: it always seemed to be airing (or about to start) on our local PBS station just as we wanted to watch something else.

In fairness, I did love the show’s original opening theme (which for a time I conflated with the opening theme from Dark Shadows[2]).

Around 1991, not long after the first incarnation of the series was cancelled, an apartment-mate would watch Doctor Who every Saturday afternoon with a small group of friends. The few times I tried to watch an episode with them, I was stymied (and, frankly, a bit bored) by the serial nature of the show (prior to 2005, a single story would be told in multiple half-hour-long episodes).

And that was that…until May 2010.

At that time, I was vaguely aware that Doctor Who had returned, but it still held no interest for me. But then another friend shared this video with me.

Charmed by Craig Ferguson’s boyish enthusiasm, I relented and decided to watch the first few minutes of a recent episode, expecting to be confused and bored again. Our OnDemand included the current Series (#5). It made sense to start with first episode of the Series (“The Eleventh Hour,”[3] April 3, 2010). I settled onto the sofa, clicked “Play” on the remote control and began to watch.

Within a few minutes, I realized I was inexorably hooked on Doctor Who. It was that compelling. It helped that this was the first episode to feature Matt Smith as The (11th) Doctor, as well as the Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as new companions Amelia Pond and Rory Williams, respectively, and that it started a new storyline under a new showrunner, Steven Moffat[4]. Not only could I enjoy the episode on its own merits, it allowed me (and Nell, also instantly transfixed when I convinced her to watch the episode a day or so later) to ease into the series and its particular iconography.

We watched all of Series 5, first OnDemand and then as they aired, and we have watched every episode since then. Between Series 5 and 6 (I think), I watched the previous four Series’ in order. I also watched some episodes from the first incarnation (1963-89), though I remain less enamored of them (with a few notable exceptions from Tom Baker’s run as the 4th Doctor).

It was only a matter of time before a) our daughters also became fans (our eldest daughter practically memorized this book) and b) we started buying Doctor Who paraphernalia—I even had a TARDIS iPhone case until I inadvertently drove over it a few months ago. And one of the first posts I ever wrote was a data-driven analysis of post-resurrection Doctor Who episodes (updated and vastly improved here).

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As I watched the series, I was also further exploring my growing fascination with film noir. It was inevitable that I would begin to observe “noir” aspects to the series (even if, as Ferguson notably sang, the show “is all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism”). Not long after defending my doctorate in December 2014, I started to play with the “Doctor Noir” persona (the appellation was, I believe, coined by a college friend)—even going so far as to adopt the handle @drnoir33 when I joined Twitter in July 2017.

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The author at the 2015 NOIR CITY film festival in San Francisco brandishing a replica of the 11th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (and omnipresent bow tie).

These two worlds “collided” in my head until June 2018, when I finally sat down to write what would become “The Noir of Who: Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who.”

What I originally expected (naively, perhaps) to be roughly the length of a short peer-reviewed journal article (3,000 words) soon evolved into a 10,000+-word magnum opus. Following some gentle, albeit pointed, criticism from Nell, I whittled it down to just over 8,300 words.

And that was the version I e-mailed to the editors of the Film Noir Foundation’s quarterly e-magazine NOIR CITY on August 17, 2018, knowing full well the usual procedure for prospective authors is to submit an idea for a piece first; I suppose I was thinking “look, I actually have a finished product for you.” I was also aware there is little overlap between film noir devotees and Whovians, even joking on Facebook when I posted this photograph of my replica of the 9th/10th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver sitting atop a 2015 NOIR CITY souvenir brochure that “nobody here knows what this is.”

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The bottom line is that I was going to write “The Noir of Who” anyway. One reason I remain comfortable with the decision I made nearly two years ago to become a writer, despite not yet earning any income from it, is that as difficult as the writing process is, I have taken more joy in it (especially on this site) than in nearly anything I ever previously done. Moreover, at times it as though ideas need to physically come out of my head and onto the page. (Never mind that it has also been almost two years since I started writing the book I thought would take six months, tops, to write.)

Needless to say, after a bit of nudging, I had a response on September 28: a unanimous “intriguing idea, but far too long to fit within the traditional confines of a print magazine), suggesting I trim the essay to ~1,500 words as a possible installment of “Noir…or Not?” However, in January 2019, the revised version was also unanimously rejected.

Which, I must admit, stung a bit[5]; I was proud of what I had written, and I thought had presented solid examples of the influence of classic film noir on the resurrected Doctor Who. I concede the original submission was both too long for a publication governed by traditional size restraints and somewhat “off-topic.” Indeed, where I struggled most writing “The Noir of Who” was in providing enough information about the series to elucidate its basic premise, characters and themes for readers who had never seen the show without inundating them with unnecessary information. I likely would have had the same challenge establishing what “film noir” is to an audience of Whovians, had I submitted the essay to a Doctor-Who-themed publication.

But in cutting the essay down to 1,500 words, clarity was sacrificed for brevity. Necessary background information on the series, along with many examples of noir influence, was removed.

So after much though (and trying not to think about it), I have decided to post the essay on this site (edited down to just over 7,600 words) in four installments.

The first installment, establishing the essay’s premise and introducing the series itself, may be found below.

Please enjoy.

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The Noir of Who: Classic Film Noir’s Imprint on the Resurrected Doctor Who

Part 1

Typewriter keys pound out narration amid nocturnal views of the Manhattan skyline: “New York, the city of a million stories. Half of them are true, the other half…just haven’t happened yet.”

Mark Hellinger’s closing words in his exemplary film noir The Naked City echo unmistakably: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them,” while the typewriting recalls neo-noir Hammett as the titular detective-turned-writer rewrites the film’s events in a literary Moebius strip.

An older man speaks: “So, will you take the case, Mr. Garner?”

Garner, the narrator, is a dark-haired young man wearing a gray raincoat over a dark suit, tie loosened at the collar: “Sure, why not?”

“Because you don’t believe me,” answers a large gray-haired man in a stylish blue three-piece suit: Dashiell Hammett’s man of power, broadly afraid of nothing and no one.

“For 25 dollars a day plus expenses, I’ll believe any damn thing you like.”

The office where they stand is lit solely by two thick-shaded table lamps behind Garner’s head, a desk lamp, an inconspicuous fire and street lights dimmed by thick curtains.

After more banter, Garner says “Goodnight, Mr. Grayle.” He pockets a packet of bills, dons his gray fedora and departs. Outside, rain soaks Manhattan.

More typing: “The address Grayle gave me was an apartment block in Battery Park. He said it was where the statues lived…I asked him why he didn’t go look himself…He didn’t answer…Grayle was the scaredest guy I knew. If something scared him, I kinda wanted to shake its hand.”

An obscured Garner climbs short stone steps into an eerily dark brick building atop which a red neon sign flashes “WINTER QUAY.” Inside the dusky lobby, he is a dark shadow crossing a black-and-white chessboard tile floor. His shouted “Hello?” causes a cage elevator straight from the Bradbury Building to whirr into life, its car descending and opening with a sharp ding. It deposits Garner at the end of a short hallway with blood-red carpet and doors reminiscent of the blistering-hot hallway at the end of the neo-noir Barton Fink.

The typewritten label affixed to the right of the door to room 702 reads “S. GARNER.” Garner enters with a tentative “Hello? Anyone home?” A standing hat rack holds a fedora and raincoat exactly like Garner’s, while a battered wallet on a wooden side table contains the time-worn private investigator’s photo-license of “S. Garner.” Pulling out his wallet, Garner extracts the identical—albeit practically new—license.

Looking befuddled, Garner hears a noise in the bedroom, where a figure lies in bed. To Garner’s angry-scared “Who are you?” the response is, “They’re coming for you. They’re going to send you back.”

“Who’s coming? Back where?”

“In time. Back in time. I’m you.”

An old man with wispy gray hair sits up in bed, fully lit. Pointing mournfully at Garner, he repeats, “I’m you.”

Garner darts into the hallway, murderous-looking marble statues at either end. Looking from one to the other, they get closer. Garner’s drawn gun looks useless. Entering a dark stairwell—its slats cutting shafts of light—his descent is blocked by statues, forcing him to climb flight after flight as the typing reappears: “1. The Dying Detective.”

On the rooftop, Garner backs to its edge as loud thumps shake the building. He pauses, bewildered. Looming behind him are giant sharp teeth menacingly arrayed inside a wide-open marble mouth. With his head framed by the Manhattan skyline, Garner turns to look, and exclaims, “You gotta be kidding me.”

And we see

Winter Quay Statue of Liberty

…just before the opening credits, not of a classic or contemporary film noir, but of “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the September 29, 2012 episode of the longest-running science fiction television series ever: Doctor Who.

Yet only the overtness of noir distinguishes “Angels.” While Doctor Who has mostly fit Craig Ferguson’s pithy summation (The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, November 16, 2010) as “the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism”[6], it has also exhibited far more “noir” since its 2005 resurrection than one would expect. Among other elements, the resurrected Doctor Who has effectively utilized three interrelated aspects of classic film noir:

  1. Characterization: femmes/hommes fatale and Chandler’s “good man” gone wrong.
  2. Doubling/mirroring: the divided self
  3. Fatalism: convoluted timelines and inexorable fate

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”The Doctor” (original name a secret) is a centuries-old Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Time Lords can see and feel time itself, enabling them to protect the laws of time, including “You can’t rewrite history, not one line!” (“The Temple of Evil,” May 23, 1964).

For unknown reasons, The Doctor stole a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), the device Time Lords use for time/space travel, and ran away from Gallifrey. Despite having all of time and space to inhabit, The Doctor maintains a particular affinity for Earth.

As for The Doctor’s name, in “Twice Upon a Time” (December 25, 2017), the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) warns the about-to-debut 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor), “you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No one would understand it anyway…except children. […] But nobody else. Nobody else, ever.” This pseudonymity evokes Hammett’s unnamed Continental Detective Agency operative and reminds us the second “Mrs. DeWinter” in both Daphne DuMaurier’s novel Rebecca and its 1940 film adaptation has no first name.

Doctor Who was conceived by Sydney Newman, the BBC Head of Drama who astutely made 27-year-old Verity Lambert the first woman to produce a drama at the BBC. With its hypnotic black-and-white title sequence and intelligent writing, Doctor Who’s debut episode (“The Unearthly Child,” November 23, 1963, the day after President John F. Kennedy was shot—a truly noir debut) instantly distinguished itself. “Unearthly Child” also featured the first of 40+ “companions” to travel with The Doctor and the first startled observation the TARDIS (now permanently disguised as a 1950s British blue police box) is “bigger on the inside.”

2010 T

A life-long fan, Newman once described science fiction “as a marvelous way—and a safe way, I might add—of saying nasty things about our own society.”[7] The same is true of film noir, and not only in sci-fi/noir hybrids like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Actors like John Garfield (critiquing capitalism in Force of Evil) and Robert Ryan (anti-Semitism in Crossfire, racism in Odds Against Tomorrow) used film noir to express their social conscience. Media’s demagogic excesses were excoriated in Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival), Try and Get Me (aka The Sound of Fury) and The Underworld Story. And crime-reporter-turned-director Samuel Fuller tackled faux patriotism in Pickup on South Street, inter-racial romance in The Crimson Kimono and prostitution in The Naked Kiss.

Doctor Who connected instantly to film noir, casting popular actor William Hartnell as the peripatetic Time Lord. Hartnell may best be known to film noir fans as Dallow, Pinkie Brown’s (Richard Attenborough) henchman in the 1948 film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock. Hartnell had played harassed publican Fencie in the 1947 robbery-gone-wrong noir Odd Man Out (co-star Cyril Cusack actually turned down the role of The Doctor), and also appeared in the films noir Appointment with Crime, Escape, Footsteps in the Fog and Temptation Harbor.

Within three years, however, Hartnell’s arteriosclerosis led him to flub lines with increasing regularity. Facing cancellation, Doctor Who’s producers had an ingenious solution: Time Lords could prolong their lives by “regenerating” into an entirely new body (with equally-new personality) while retaining all knowledge and memories. In “The Tenth Planet, Episode 4” (October 29, 1966), The Doctor regenerated into the 2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton). Five additional Doctors followed before decreasing ratings and shrinking budgets led to the series’ cancellation in December 1989. Other than a 1996 American series pilot that went nowhere (featuring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor),  the series would not air again until the BBC aired “Rose” on March 26, 2005 (starring Christopher Eccleston at the 9th Doctor). Executive Producer (and chief writer) Russell T. Davies would helm 60 episodes before being replaced by Steven Moffat in “The Eleventh Hour,” himself replaced by Chris Chibnall in September 2018.

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Following the opening credits of “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the 11th Doctor enjoys a sunny afternoon in modern-day Central Park with married friends Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). The Doctor reads aloud from the hardboiled “Melody Malone” novel being typed in the cold open. While getting coffee, Rory encounters Weeping Angels, perhaps the most terrifying villains in the resurrected Doctor Who. “Quantum-locked” beings who turn to stone when seen, they are described as:

Weeping_Angel

Sent to 1938, Rory encounters Melody Malone, actually River Song (Alex Kingston), about whom more below. The Doctor and Amy follow in the TARDIS, despite difficulty landing in 1938 Manhattan. They learn Grayle has been torturing a captured Weeping Angel, explaining his terror. Rory soon meets his older self in a Winter Quay apartment, where Manhattan’s Weeping Angels store time energy. After “old Rory” dies, Amy and “young Rory” find themselves trapped on the roof by the Statue of Liberty, the definitive Weeping Angel. “Young Rory” reasons if he dies then and there, the resulting paradox (he cannot be sent back from 2012 if he dies in 1938) would destroy Manhattan’s Weeping Angels. In a heart-stopping moment, Amy and Rory leap together off the roof…and land unhurt in modern-day Central Park, alongside The Doctor and River. But a surviving Weeping Angel sends Rory back again. Since the TARDIS can no longer land safely in 1938 Manhattan, a tearful Amy allows the Weeping Angel to send her to join Rory, whereupon she writes the novel.

Neville Kidd pointedly photographed the 1938 scenes in “Angels” using the low-key high contrast lighting of classic film noir. As producer Marcus Wilson explained in 2012, he “[t]ried to shoot [“Angels”], not in a film noir style but [to…] look like film noir.”[8] In the same interview, Moffat’s “Angels” writing is termed “Chandlerian.” Asked if his “head is full of film noir,” Moffat said, “As research I watched The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.” His research paid off, as the episode successfully uses various film noir tropes—femmes fatale, private detectives, convoluted timelines, doubling/mirroring, and a malevolent-fate ending—to tell a tragic story.

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Again, however, the resurrected Doctor Who has been aesthetically and tonally darker overall. The in-universe reason for this shift is how the 9th Doctor engineered the end of the last great “Time War,” conflicts fought across all of time and space between Time Lords and Daleks (metal-encased squid-like creatures whose sole purpose is to “exterminate” non-Dalek lifeforms). Weary of the endless carnage, the War Doctor (John Hurt, a “shameful” incarnation between Doctors 8 and 9) simultaneously annihilated the Daleks AND the Time Lords. The devastating psychic impact of this type of act is described by Major Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) in “Hide” (April 20, 2013) as he and The Doctor stand in a literal darkroom (the developing photograph of The Doctor evokes Weegee, whose darkly-beautiful photograph collection Naked City inspired the 1948 film noir):

The Doctor: Yes, but how does that man, that war hero end up here, in a lonely old house, looking for ghosts.

Palmer (remorseful): Because I killed. And I caused to have killed. I sent young men and women to their deaths. Yet here I am, still alive. It…it does tend to haunt you, living, after so much of…the other thing.

Like Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) after gangsters killed his wife in The Big Heat, the 9th Doctor was “born in battle, full of blood and anger and revenge” (“Journey’s End,” July 5, 2008). He is crushed by guilt like Frank Enley (Van Heflin), who betrayed his fellow prisoners of war in Act of Violence, or Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), who allowed another man to be executed for his crimes in Scarlet Street.

Reflecting The Doctor’s transformation, the interior of the TARDIS itself changed from brightly lit

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…into a dark and shadowy lair:

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This interrogation scene in “The Idiot’s Lantern” (November 10, 2006), set in 1953 London, has a distinctly noir feel.

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Even new villains physically manifest noir: the tiny piranha-like Vashta Nerada travel as literal shadows, Weeping Angels thrive on darkness and The Silence—Edvard Munch’s The Scream in black suits, white shirts and black ties—are forgotten when you cannot see them (amnesia—a staple of classic film noir plots since 1942’s Street of Chance—as cloaking device).

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To be continued…

[1] Unlikely perhaps, as Hayes is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.

[2] Newspapers.com tells me that in 1976 and 1977, it aired at 11:30 pm weeknights on Philadelphia’s Channel 48, right after Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which I would watch with my mother. This is a great example of “interrogating memory,” as I thought I saw the beginning of the show around 1983 or so, after a show like Doctor in the House at 11:30 pm or so. And while we are making connections: a star of Dark Shadows was one of the queens of classic-ear film noir, Joan Bennett.

[3] OnDemand did me no favors by listing Billie Piper—who left the series in 2006—as one of the stars of the episode.

[4] Curiously, the last time I had an instant visceral positive reaction like that to an unfamiliar television show was when I stumbled one night onto the “Nightlines” episode of Coupling. I had no idea who any of the characters were, but I pretty much laughed from start to finish. Both Coupling and Series 5 of Doctor Who had the same show-runner: Steven Moffat.

[5] I would also argue the e-mails were unnecessarily…let’s call it “snarky.”

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9P4SxtphJ4 Accessed June 14, 2018.

[7] Cook, Benjamin. January 12, 2006. “Chaos and Creation in the Junkyard, “Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition: In Their Own Words. Panini Comics (12): 5.

[8] http://femalearts.com/node/309 Accessed June 19, 2018.

Choosing the funny and the absurd…

There are very few persons, places or things I outright despise.

One of those rare things is St. Valentine’s Day (despite my fascination with what happened that day in Chicago, IL in 1929). I generally believe that cynicism is toxic—but I am irredeemably cynical about this “Hallmark holiday.”

My objection to the holiday was originally rooted in being mystified what purpose it serves:

  • Anyone currently in a romantic relationship should not require a specific day of the year to demonstrate her/his affection for her/his partner. I still leave my wife Nell a scrawled “good morning, I love you” note every night before I go to sleep (though now it also encompasses our daughters and our golden retriever Ruby), even after 11+ years of marriage.
  • It does not apply to anyone NOT in a romantic relationship—and it may even cruelly exacerbate such a person’s loneliness.

Two things later occurred on February 14 which cemented my disdain for this holiday:

  1. A college girlfriend broke up with me as we rode the commuter rail back to New Haven, CT from New York City (before falling asleep with her head in my lap).
  2. In 2007, Nell (then my girlfriend) had a D&C to end a partial molar pregnancy; the pregnancy had not been planned, despite my having spent four years working as a researcher in family planning. In an additional, more bittersweet bit of irony, going through this traumatic experience together (there were months of weekly blood tests to confirm the absence of the molar tissue) actually spurred us to make our relationship permanent; we married that October.

Now, to be fair, I was so entertained by the events of St. Valentine’s Day 2001 (despite—or maybe because of—having recently ended two relationships[1]) that after my friends left my Philadelphia apartment in the wee hours of the following morning, I sat down at my computer to write everything I remembered about that day, intending to turn it into a short story.

I still have an inchoate, marked-up draft of “Valentine’s Day” in my filing cabinet.

Nonetheless, rather than dwell on the negative, I will instead share a handful of funny photographs, newspaper clippings and stories.

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This is the sign outside of our pediatrician’s office. Could the street address be any more perfect?

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This is an actual street corner in Wayne, PA. And it is only about a 10-minute drive west rom where Old Gulph Road crosses South Gulph Road to become Upper Gulph Road (making it the intersection of Gulph, Gulph, Gulph and Gulph).

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After Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three firms, including the Internet Research Agency—home to a group of Russian “Internet trolls,” I began telling Nell (mostly in jest) that I wanted my own “Russian troll farm.”

Well…look what showed up in our dining room Christmas morning, 2018! (Thank you, Nell!)

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Who are you calling corny?

Daddy corn 10-12-2008

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As I research and write my book, tentatively entitled Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search for Identity, I have spent hours reading through old newspapers. A joyous by-product of this activity is happening upon truly bizarre or funny articles/advertisements.

This appeared on page 14 of the March 27, 1910 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Maybe all the hours our daughters spend on the iPad or playing video games are not so bad after all…

Bonfire of the absurdities

What always gets me is the mental image of “the excited children danced about the blaze.”

I literally wrote “This just made my day…” when I clipped this advertisement (so cleverly disguised as an actual article its authors helpfully wrote “Advt” at its end) from page seven of the September 30, 1913 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Best Laxative for Bowels

If only our local CVS would start selling Cascarets so I can avoid the Coated Tongue I so often experience after imbibing Purgative Waters to stop being bilious!

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On December 20, 2014. six days after I successfully defended my doctoral thesis in epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, I took our two daughters—then aged six and almost-five—for a drive, what we used to call “an adventure.” Meandering west, we wound up in the town of Hudson (birthplace of former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci).

What transpired there led me to write the following Facebook post (edited for clarity).

Call me Doctor Idiot. Earlier today, the girls and I went for a drive. Giving Nell a break, while seeking adventure. Wound up in Hudson, about 26 miles west of Boston. Parked in front of the Public Library at 4:45. [We see that it] closes at 5:00. Plan: use the bathroom [We did exactly that—used the restroom in the library, explored it, then left shortly before it closed at 5 pm], then maybe walk around [Hudson] a bit, eat something. Fine. We leave, and start to walk. Now [our younger daughter] needs a bathroom. Library [now closed]. We run down the hill past the closed diner, the dark gas station…to the McDonalds. While I wait for the girls, I instinctively look at my iPhone. Umm, where is my phone? Seriously, where is my phone?? Let’s see, I had it in the bathroom at the libra-…no, no, you have GOT to be kidding me. Girls finish [using the bathroom at McDonalds], we run back up the hill to the library. Completely dark. Locked. No answer to the frantic banging and knocking. Not open again until Monday. This is NOT good. Remembered the Hudson police officer parked across from McDonalds. So…back down the hill we run. Officer just about to pull out of the lot. STOP, I wave! Explain the situation. Very nice, but he gives me that look…are you serious? They’ve only just closed, I stammer. He hesitates, then reaches for his radio. Pauses. Finally relays my problem to the station. Now, we wait and see, he says. What do I do now? Do you have a car? Yes, parked in front of the library. Swing down here and park in the lot. So…back up the hill one more time. Pile in the car and drive down to the lot. I position my Honda next to his cruiser. No word yet, he signals to me. [While we waited, our older daughter], from the back seat [says]: Daddy, if you dropped it and someone picked it up, they can’t use it ’cause it has a password, so they might just throw it in the trash and it’ll get crushed. Aaarggh, I scream in my head. After 10, maybe 15 minutes, Officer Jesse…S-something starts to pull out of the lot, motions me to follow. I do. He drives to the library, pulls a U-ey, and parks in front. I park across the street and get out. leaving the girls safely buckled in the car. I see no library employees. Instead, three members of the Hudson Fire Department are standing there. Looking quite amused. One of them jangles a key ring. Don’t know if we can get in the front door–but definitely the side door, he says. None of the keys open the front door, so we all troop around [to] the right-hand side of the building. Seconds later, two firemen and I are standing in a foyer. The door in front of us has a number lock, but there is an unlocked door to our right. Leads to the Children’s section, downstairs. Firemen #1 walks into the dark room just ahead of me, holding a flashlight. Which bathroom? I point across the way. We walk inside, and he turns on the light. I don’t see my TARDIS-encased phone at first, and I start to panic. But then I see it, right where I had set it down. At that moment, the building alarm goes off. The Hudson Public Library has a VERY loud alarm. We head back outside, closing the doors. In the alley, I shake every hand I can, thanking them profusely, if a bit incoherently. How can I repay you guys, I ask. Oh, forget about it (for some bored firefighters, this was *fun*). You can make a donation to the library (check—[I sent them $50 that night]). Then I ran back up the alley, across the street to my patient girls. Gave them a big thumbs up. Sat down in the front seat, started the car…and got the hell out of Hudson!

We have not returned to Hudson since then.

Until next time…

[1] One would actually resume not long after—only to become the most tumultuous relationship of my life, before  ending for good in 2004.

In which the objective is to get more…personal

I launched my blog on December 19, 2016 with this introductory post. It is ironic (even premonitory), given that I am now writing a book exploring facets of my identity, that I debuted with two radically different versions of my life story.

On December 17, 2017 I published this post, my 52nd in 52 weeks, exactly one a week for a year. I have not posted since then, for personal and introspective reasons. Thank you for “just bearing with me” in the interim.

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Channeling Muffy Tepperman for a moment, it behooves me to wish every reader (and their family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances) Chag Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Heri za Kwanzaa and Happy New Year! As you can see, we celebrate a little of everything in our home, despite the fact that I am a Jewish-raised agnostic-turned-atheist and Nell is an Episcopalian-raised agnostic.

Among the personal reasons for this four-week hiatus, besides the crush of holidays, are the winter break for our two daughters (bringing in its wake a tidal wave of play dates, sleepovers and other assorted mayhem), a looping series of vicious parental colds, and the celebration of our younger daughter’s 8th birthday.

Plus, I have re-immersed myself in writing my book (new working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search For Identity). While I am not nearly as far along as I had planned to be, I am happy to report that I have written 41,181 words (34,664 words of actual text, once you exclude “chapter” headings and endnotes) across parts of 13 chapters (or brief introductory/concluding sections).

The other day I was working at my computer and our older daughter came up behind my desk chair.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “You are already up to Chapter 9?”

“No,” I explained. “I am jumping around from chapter to chapter.”

Oh, she muttered in response, intently reading the words on the screen. After a few paragraphs relating to why I chose to major in political science at Yale instead of mathematics, she voiced her approval, saying it had “sucked her in.”

Here I proudly point out that she is a voracious reader, at a level far higher than fourth grade (in understanding, if not yet in content–THOSE conversations are still a few months, or a year, away).

My ultimate goal is at least 100,000 words, so I am more than one-third of the way there. So long as I stop getting sidetracked (or “distracted” as my therapist calls it) by my research, I should have a solid first draft by the time NOIR CITY Boston begins on June 8.

Speaking of which, I will be flying back to San Francisco wicked early on the morning of January 25 for my fifth consecutive NOIR CITY film festival (looking forward to seeing 14 of these 24 films for the first time). I encourage everyone who will be in the Bay Area between January 26 and February 4 to attend at least one of the screenings. The modest price of admission is worth it for the period attire alone.

But that means it will again be radio silence for this blog while I am in California, though I anticipate posting at least one comprehensive review of my trip when I return (an example of which can be found here).

Plus you can always follow me on Twitter using the handle @drnoir33. I expect to tweet multiple times each day about my experiences (I have a fetish for getting a photograph of every Castro Theatre marquee displayed during the festival—such as this photograph from the opening night of NOIR CITY 15 in January 2017).

IMG_2942 (2)

As for the introspective reasons…

After one year of publishing this blog, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon how what I have written aligns with what I had intended to write, and to decide what, if anything, I wanted to change.

To that end I present a brief numerical synopsis.

I originally planned to limit posts to roughly 1,000 words, driven by the desire to tell my data-driven stories briefly. Almost immediately, however, I realized that was far too limiting, leading to the awkward splitting of two early posts into three parts: my analysis of the popularity of episodes of the television program Doctor Who following its 2005 re-launch of the show and my exploration of the links between the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films and film noir.

Lesson learned.

My posts have averaged nearly twice as many words (1,944, with a median of 1,910) as planned, using the counts provided by WordPress. And they have gotten longer over time, at a rate of 129 words per month; my October-December 2017 posts averaged 2,773 words (median=2,684), while my December 2016-February 2017 posts averaged 1,255 words (median=1,036).

Interestingly, the increasing length of my posts has not deterred readers. Overall, my posts have been viewed an average of 20 times (median=17). This number has barely changed over time, increasing by an average of less than one view per month.

(Clearly this blog did not set any popularity records in its first year of existence, humbly grateful as I am to every single person—from the United States and 31 other nations—who has visited this blog. That may be because this is not a “blog” in the traditional sense: frequent short posts on a single subject or theme. It is more of a repository of esoteric short articles driven by the joint desire to disseminate data analyses and tell stories—a friend just referred to them, not inaccurately, as “monographs”).

No, what differentiates post readership is how “personal” posts are.

By my count, 33 of my 52 posts were purely “objective,” summarizing analyses of political (17 posts, or 52%) or other data (Charlie Chan films, Doctor Who episodes, epidemiology, baseball statistics, etc.) without explicitly revealing anything about me in the process. The remaining 19 posts partly or wholly consisted of stories from my own life (e.g., here, here, here, here, here and here).

My personal posts have been viewed an average of 28 times, while my objective posts have been viewed an average of 15 times, a difference of 13 views (95% confidence interval=6-20). That is, the posts in which I tell stories about my own life are nearly twice as popular as the posts in which I am analyzing, say, county-level election data from the 2016 presidential election.

So what does this mean for this blog going forward?

Let me answer this question by first reminding myself what I wrote about the purpose of this blog nearly 13 months ago:

This blog is devoted to telling entertaining data-driven stories, with occasional personal backstory for context. My meandering, perhaps-too-detailed storytelling style inspired the title of this blog, and it is reflected in the look on poor Louis Sorin’s face as Groucho confuses him more with each new word. Unlike Groucho, however, I do get to the point. Eventually.

From the start this blog was a jerry-rigged hybrid, inspired both by the groundbreaking data journalism of FiveThirtyEight and by my raconteur spirit. The fact that nearly one-third of my posts somehow deal with election data shows just how influenced I was by FiveThirtyEight, whose analyses of that year’s presidential and Senate elections first caught my attention in October 2008. The unexpected (though it should not have been) result of the 2016 presidential election also greatly impacted my choice of post topics.

I would strongly argue, then, that I have succeeded in the data-driven piece.

Where I am less pleased is with the “meandering storytelling” piece, the ones that capture how I tell stories verbally, with lots of asides and implied footnotes.

It may be that my training in the formal exposition of data analyses coupled with my deep admiration for the elegantly spare writing style of Dashiell Hammett has prevented me from writing these posts more in the way I had envisioned: looping and a bit rambling, but ultimately getting to the point.

This may be why I am proudest of those posts that do just that, such as this discourse on attitudes toward gun control (my single favorite post) and my argument for why pitcher Jamie Moyer absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame.

If you just bear with me a moment, I must decry the fact that the honorable crafty left-hander—who won 269 games (203 AFTER he turned 34 years old) with a fastball that barely cracked 83 MPH in the height of the steroids era—is unlikely to get even the 22 votes (5% of ballots submitted by 10+-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America) he needs to remain on the ballot after this year. As of this writing, Moyer’s name had been checked on only one ballot (voters can check up to 10 names), according to the “BBHOF Tracker” created by Ryan Thibodaux. Assuming a total of 424 ballots are cast, Moyer’s name would need to be checked on 8.7% (21) of the remaining 241 ballots to remain on the ballot.

It is not looking good, and here I denounce the “statheads” (yes, I have a Master’s Degree in biostatistics and I write a “data-driven” blog—the irony is not lost on me) that have taken over the way in which we think and talk about baseball.

Tilting at Hall of Fame voting windmills aside…even these more personal posts do not reveal as much as they could about, well, me. The life stories—my life stories—in them are still too often told as though they happened to some other Matt Berger. It is as though I cannot escape the voices in my head (OK, stop tittering out there) of academic advisors and others who tell me, “It’s not about you.”

Well, as the same wise friend who described my posts as monographs (and whose terrific blog I urge you to read) just told me: it is about me. Bloggers write blogs for—and about—themselves.

So I will close with a little insight into what makes me tick (no data this time, although data analysis will remain one of this blog’s raisons d’etre).

Ever since we moved Nell’s mother from Washington, DC to the Boston area four-plus years ago, we have hosted Thanksgiving at our home. There are always at least eight of us (Nell and I, our two daughters, Nell’s mother, a cousin and a married couple friends of ours), with as many as 12 some years.

I will confess that as much as I love the company and the food and the drinking and the conversation, what I most look forward to on these Thanksgivings is…the cleanup.

Seriously.

Before Thanksgiving, I create an iPod mix carefully sequenced so that tracks “flow” into each other musically. The mix is around four hours long, because I know from experience that is how long I will need.

Once the final guests have departed, just after 11 pm, and Nell and the girls have gone to bed, I (metaphorically) roll up my sleeves, plug in my earbuds and take a (literal) deep breath.

I then go into “the zone.”

Methodically, rhythmically, efficiently, I move all of the dirty dishes and mugs and glasses and silverware into the kitchen, where I have already stacked up the platters, pots and pans. Once that is done, I rearrange all of the living/dining room furniture, then put everything back into the living/dining room we had to remove to make room for our guests (and to make our child-dwelling home look as though adults also live there).

The wooden dining room and glass coffee tables get wiped down/Windexed, and all of the dirty linen gets tossed down the stairs (our apartment has two floors) to the floor outside the laundry room (also the downstairs bathroom).

When I have gotten the living room back into shape, I begin to tackle the kitchen. First, all of the leftovers (at which I am still picking) need to be stored in the refrigerator, requiring every spatial reasoning skill at my disposal.

Here I observe that, if memory serves, my IQ (which I freely admit is a nonsensical and invalid measure of the multi-dimensional concept called “intelligence”) would have been 139 but for the spatial reasoning portion of the examination. That portion knocked my score down to “only” 129. Somehow, though, I soldier on.

And then there is the actual washing of dishes. Being a bit of a compulsive perfectionist, EVERYTHING has to be put away before I am finished. That means that I will not leave the dishwasher to be emptied in the morning. But that also means that I need to get the dishwasher running quickly because it takes a bit over three hours to run.

There is also the matter of our (relatively) small sink, one of my very few complaints about our apartment. This involves more spatial reasoning, as I need to keep moving platters strategically around the counters and stovetop (and chairs) to juggle all of the washing.

We use the good china and the silver, umm silverware on Thanksgiving; I choose to wash every one of those pieces by hand in the sink. I have actually used up all of the hot water a few times, though not for the past two or three years.

All the while, I am dancing and singing and moving to the grooving (tip of the bellbottoms to Wild Cherry)—quietly, of course, so as not to wake up my sleeping wife and daughters.

Slowly, inexorably a clean kitchen emerges from the chaos and detritus of previous evening (it is now past midnight). All of the china and silverware and fancy schmancy wine glasses, all of the platters and pots and pans, have been washed, dried and put back on their shelves, or into their cabinets, or on top of the cabinets. The dishwasher has finished running; I empty it. I set up the coffee maker for the next morning (a habit I picked up as a single working man 15 years ago).

All that is left to do is put the dirty linen into the hamper, wash the kitchen floor (I sadly cannot vacuum—too loud) and take out all of the trash and recycling. Once that is done, I wash and wipe down the counters and stove top with a sponge, paper towels and Clorox wipes.

Ohhh, do I love Clorox wipes.

Last Thanksgiving, I finished the entire process with four tracks (out of 57, totaling four hours, eight minutes of music) to spare. I was exhausted—and blissed out.

It really is my “moment of zen,” looking around at a kitchen and living/dining room that show not a single sign of the festivities they had hosted only a few hours earlier.

I should start taking “before and after” pictures.

But now I need to empty the dishwasher.

Until next time…

Querying the impossible once again….

As readers of this blog know (and I am grateful to each of you, especially as the one-year anniversary of this blog arrives tomorrow), I am writing a book tentatively titled Interrogating Memory: How a Love of Film Noir Led Me to Investigate My Own Identity. The impetus for the book came from a career-related conversation with my ever-supportive wife.

The notion of “interrogating memory” emerged when I began to research and write this book. My initial plan was simply to trace my path to becoming a film noir aficionado: from the still-hazy circumstances of my adoption through being a precocious child reader of mysteries through my discovery of the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films through my widened exposure to films and hardboiled detective fiction at Yale through the perpetual lure of “night and the city” through my ongoing embrace of the Film Noir Foundation and its annual NOIR CITY film festival (about which I have written here).

But as I began to think more critically about relevant childhood memories—stories I had refined to a high gloss after decades of retelling—I realized they did not always neatly align with verifiable facts from independent sources (e.g., newspaper accounts, contemporaneous records, diaries, photographs).

For example, the story of my in utero adoption always included my Colombian genetic father and Native-American great-grandparent (or was it great-great-?). Only this past summer did I learn through 23andMe genetic testing that I am, at best, 0.5% Iberian and not at all Native American.

Sometimes meticulous investigation raises more questions than answers, as when the ages listed on an old photograph of my sister and me could not possibly both be correct.

And in still other instances, I discovered that memories I had convinced myself were false (or, at best, completely mangled through the mnemonic equivalent of a game of Telephone) turned out to be almost entirely true, like the story of the early childhood friend I never saw again after he severely burned himself.

I still adhere to the last sentence in that post: “It is remarkable what you can learn (good and bad) when you interrogate your memory.”

Thus, “Why do I love film noir so much?” morphed quickly into “Who am I?” (driven externally by ongoing conversations with my psychotherapist) leading inexorably to the epistemological exercise of memory interrogation—and the resultant traveling of unexpected and unusual research paths: from an influential Masonic lodge to a mid-20th-century “Crime Prevention Squad” to a seaside motel that was demolished in 1978.

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The latest bit of memory interrogation is the direct result of setting the historic stage (in what I expect will be Chapter 7: “Chinatown”) for that Saturday night in July 1976 when a bored nine-year-old version of me stumbled across a Sherlock Holmes/Charlie Chan double-feature on Philadelphia’s Channel 48.

If it had been either of the previous two summers, I would have missed these movies entirely, because my mother, father and I would have been at the Strand Motel in Atlantic City, New Jersey (seedily nestled in the square lot bordered to the east and west by the Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue and to the north and south by Boston and Providence Avenues)…or strolling the Boardwalk…or visiting my maternal grandfather at the Warwick Apartments on Raleigh Avenue (which look exactly the same as they did 40 years ago).

619963-large-fullheightview-view-from-the-southeast

I am still interrogating memories of why our family finances did not allow us to spend the summer of 1976 in Atlantic City (with my father driving back-and-forth the 84 or so miles every weekend), as we had the previous two summers.

But those two blissful summers on the Jersey shore were particularly liberating for reasons that had nothing to do with finances.

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My legal parents married in January 1960. Over the next four years, as they sought to have children, my mother had two miscarriages before being diagnosed with cervical cancer (or uterine cancer, depending on the report[1]) in 1964, when she was just 26 years old. As a result, she had a full hysterectomy, limiting her natural childbearing to a girl—who she and my father named Mindy Joy—born in March 1962.

Unfortunately, Mindy’s birth followed an extremely painful, 18-hour-long labor. In the process, Mindy’s head kept emerging in and out of my mother’s vagina, possibly restricting oxygen flow to Mindy’s still-developing brain.

Perhaps this is why Mindy had delayed developmental milestones, leading to a 1960s-vintage diagnosis of “Severe Mental Retardation” (along with Seizure Disorder—although she has not had a seizure since June 1993), which is now “Depressive Disorder due to another medical condition w/Mixed Features and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.” This disorder may (though medications now greatly reduce their frequency) result in “[u]npredictable changes in mood states, which can lead to tantrum behaviors. Mindy can scratch, bite, hit, pinch and pull others’ hair.”

My parents, of course, loved my older sister absolutely (my father was the one person who could adequately control Mindy—who was inordinately impulsive and strong—when he was around to do so).

Still, in the late summer/early fall of 1966, they arranged through a private attorney they knew to adopt a second child. This is how a four-day-old version of me got driven away from Pennsylvania Hospital to a three-bedroom home on a quiet Havertown street in October 1966.

But that is a story for another day.

As difficult and uncommunicative as she could be, I generally got along well with my older sister, as this 1971 photograph shows.

Mindy and I 1971

It helped the impish younger version of me that Mindy often exhibits echolalia, parroting back words and phrases just spoken to her. Attempting to play with her, I would sit Mindy down and have her repeat words like “Czechoslovakia” and “Yugoslavia.” This would only last a short time, until she began to get agitated. That was my cue to move on to a less potentially destructive activity.

Younger siblings may be a bit cruel at times, but they ain’t stupid.

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As of last year, Mindy’s annual progress reports are now being prepared by a non-profit advocacy agency called The Arc Alliance.

These reports have incorporated more detail about a process I vividly recall from my early childhood: the ceaseless search for a long-term care and education facility that would accommodate Mindy for more than a few months.

Between 1970 and 1974, alone, Mindy attended the…

  • Elwyn Institute (Media, PA; 1970-71),
  • Melmark School (Berwyn, PA; February 1971-73),
  • Martha Lloyd Residence (Troy, PA—a 3-4 hour drive north, nearly to the New York state line; July-August 1973),
  • Crozer-Chester Medical Center Intermediate Unit Program (Chester, PA; fall 1973)
  • Van Hook-Walsh School (Middletown, Delaware—an hour-plus drive south; February-June 1974) and
  • NHS School Woodhaven (Philadelphia, PA; since December 3, 1974)

It was not atypical for Mindy to have been “terminated” from the Van Hook-Walsh School after “the neighbors complained.”

Mindy’s requirement for 24-hour care and supervision made it next-to-impossible to do much in the summertime (or in the evenings, as babysitters who could accommodate Mindy were scarce, to say the least).

So when I look at that June 1974 termination date in Mindy’s Arc Alliance annual report, I feel like my memory is playing tricks on me.

There is simply no way we could have spent one night in Atlantic City, let alone an entire summer, if Mindy were not in a residential care facility in July and August 1974.

But if Mindy really was “terminated” from the now-defunct Van Hook-Walsh School in June 1974 and did not move into the brand new, Temple-University-operated Woodhaven campus[2] (where she has been a resident for 43 years and counting) until that December…then where was she that summer?

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Just bear with me while I tell a quick story (which I may never be able to interrogate):

By the fall of 1974 my mother had finally tired of finding a permanent program for Mindy, and she wanted to get her enrolled into the newly-opened Woodhaven facility as quickly as possible. However, she was getting nothing but delays and “be patient” from Woodhaven administrators. One afternoon, she and Mindy were in “the offices” [I have no idea where these would have been], and she was getting the same “be patient” message. My mother finally snapped…and she stopped trying to keep Mindy from being disruptive. Mindy promptly ran around the office throwing papers, yelling and generally wreaking havoc. My mother then vowed she would bring Mindy back there every afternoon until she was enrolled. Within a few days, Mindy was accepted into Woodhaven, where she remains to this day.

I am certain there is more than a kernel of truth to this story (I would not have invented it, and my mother certainly had her badass moments), but I may never know how much.

**********

As you would expect, I will now interrogate the memory that my mother and I spent the summer of 1974 living at the Strand Motel in Atlantic City.

As evidence, I submit three photographs with the same developer’s code stamped on the back of each one, two of which have also have “Aug 1974” written on their backs in my mother’s handwriting.

Luvey in Atlantic City August 1974 2

Luvey in Atlantic City August 1974

Strand motel August 1974

The first two photographs are of Luvey, the keeshond we acquired in January 1973. In the second photograph, he is clearly sitting in the doorway that led to the patio we shared with the “B” penthouse (we stayed in the “A” penthouse—a slightly larger motel room with a walk-in closet) overlooking the outdoor pool and, across the adjacent Boardwalk, the Atlantic Ocean.

Incidentally, the resident of the “B” penthouse both years was this interesting man. I used to walk his beautiful golden retriever Whiskey with Luvey, and I once asked him (he would have been 32 or 33 years old) what he wanted to be when he grew up.

I do not remember his answer.

The third photograph shows my mother sitting on the motel room patio of family friends (cropped out to protect privacy) who also spent that summer at the Strand Motel. The second photo of Luvey was taken in their motel room.

If my mother looks, umm, blissed out in this photograph, well…she used to buy her grass from the Strand Motel’s handsome young male lifeguards.

(My mother once told that I was not allowed to start smoking weed until I was 32, because that was how old she was when she started. No comment on whether or not I heeded her advice.)

The bottom line, though is that my memory is correct: my mother and I spent the summer of 1974 staying at the Strand Motel in Atlantic City.

So where was Mindy?

I see two possibilities:

  1. Mindy left Van Hook-Walsh in June 1974 then went into a different facility for the summer, and whoever provided Arc Alliance the list of schools forgot to list it (or someone forgot to include it).
  2. The “6/74” written in the 2017 report is simply a typo. Perhaps somebody inverted a “9” into a “6?

The second possibility makes the most sense to me given the scramble to get Mindy into Woodhaven a month or two later.

When my mother died in March 2004, I acquired all of her paperwork relating to Mindy. It is sitting in a folder in the filing cabinet just to my left as I type.

The answer may lie somewhere in those papers.

Now THAT would be a fascinating interrogation of memory.

For now, though, I leave you with this photograph taken in December 1979, almost three years after my parents separated (they would divorce two years later, seven months before my father’s untimely death at 46), the only photograph I have showing all four of us together.

a

Until next time…

[1] Much of the information in this and ensuing paragraphs is taken from Mindy’s Individualized Support Plan (ISP), which I receive annually as her plenary legal guardian. I was made co-legal guardian in 2002, when my mother was first diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, in what may have been the shortest legal proceeding in history. In my memory, the presiding judge from the Orphans Court of Delaware County took one look at Mindy and said “You’re her legal guardian. Next!”

[2] According to a June 27, 1974 (pg. 10) Philadelphia Inquirer story titled “Woodhaven program is working,” the facility was new as of April 1974.

Separating the art from the artist

The director David Lynch—who I dressed as this past Halloween—gave this response to a question about the meaning of a puzzling moment toward the end of episode 15 of Twin Peaks: The Return.

“What matters is what you believe happened,” he clarified. “That’s the whole thing. There are lots of things in life, and we wonder about them, and we have to come to our own conclusions. You can, for example, read a book that raises a series of questions, and you want to talk to the author, but he died a hundred years ago. That’s why everything is up to you.”

On the surface, this is a straightforward answer, one Lynch has restated in different ways over the years: the meaning of a piece of art is whatever you think it is. Every individual understands a piece of art through her/his own beliefs and experiences.

I am reminded of a therapeutic approach to the interpretation of dreams that particularly resonates with me.

You tell your therapist what you remember of a dream. The therapist then probes a little more, attempting to elicit forgotten details. The conversation then turns to the “meaning” of the dream. Some therapists may pursue the Freudian notion of a dream as the disguised fulfillment of a repressed wish (so what is the wish?). Other therapists may look to the symbolism of characters and objects in the dream (is every character in a dream really a version of the dreamer?) for interpretation.

Then there is what you might call the Socratic approach; this is the approach that resonates with me. The therapist allows the patient to speculate what s/he thinks the dream means. Eventually, the patient will arrive at a meaning that “clicks” with her/him, the interpretation that feels correct. The therapist then accepts this interpretation as the “true” one.

That the “dreams mean whatever you think they mean” approach aligns nicely with Lynch’s musing is not surprising, given how central dreams and dream logic are to his film and television work.

We live inside a dream

However, there is a subtext to Lynch’s musing about artistic meaning that is particularly relevant today.

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The November 20, 2017 issue of The Paris Review includes author Claire Dederer’s essay “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?”

I highly recommend this elegant and provocative essay.

For simplicity, I will focus on two questions raised by the essay:

  1. To what extent should we divorce the artist from her/his art when assessing its aesthetic quality?
  2. Does successful art require the artist to be “monstrously” selfish?

Dederer describes many “monstrous” artists, nearly all men (she struggles when cataloging the monstrosity of women, despite how odious she finds the impact of Sylvia Plath’s suicide on her children) before singling out Woody Allen as the “ur-monster.”

And here is where I discern a deeper meaning in Lynch’s “dead author” illustration.

Lynch’s notion that one brings one’s own meaning to any piece of art is premised on the idea that the artist may no longer be able to (or may choose not to) reveal her/his intent.

But that implies that something about the artist is relevant to understanding her/his art. Otherwise, one would never have sought out the artist in the first place.

The disturbing implication is that it is all-but-impossible to separate art from artist.

This is Dederer’s conundrum, and it is mine as well.

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A few years ago, a group of work colleagues and I were engaging in a “getting to know each other” exercise in which each person writes down a fact nobody else knows about them, and then everyone else has to guess whose fact that is.

I wrote, “All of my favorite authors were falling-down drunks.”

Nobody guessed that was me, which was a mild surprise.

Of course, the statement was an exaggeration, a tongue-in-cheek poke at the mock seriousness of the process.

Still, when I think about many of the authors I love, including Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Edgar Allan Poe, John Dickson Carr, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis[1]

…what first jumps to mind is that every author I just listed is male (not to mention inhabiting the more noir corners of detective fiction). So far as I know, my favorite female authors (Sara Paretsky, Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie, among others) do/did not have substance abuse problems.

Gender differences aside, while not all of these authors were alcoholics, they did all battle serious socially-repugnant demons.

Carr, for example, was a virulently racist and misogynistic alcoholic.

He also produced some of the most breathtakingly-inventive and original detective fiction ever written.

Woolrich was an agoraphobic malcontent who was psychologically cruel to his wife during and just after their brief, unconsummated marriage[2].

He also basically single-handedly invented the psychological suspense novel. More films noir (including the seminal Rear Window) have been based on his stories than those of any other author.

And so forth.

It is not just the authors I admire who are loathsome in their way.

I never ceased to be amazed by the music of Miles Davis, who ranks behind only Genesis and “noir troubadour” Stan Ridgway in my musical pantheon. His “Blue in Green” is my favorite song in any genre, and his Kind of Blue is my favorite album.

But this is the same Miles Davis who purportedly beat his wives, abused painkillers and cocaine, was taciturn and full of rage, and supposedly once said, “If somebody told me I only had an hour to live, I’d spend it choking a white man. I’d do it nice and slow.[3]

Moving on, my favorite movie is L.A. Confidential.

Leaving aside the shenanigans of co-star Russell Crowe, there is the problem of Kevin Spacey, an actor I once greatly respected.

Given the slew of allegations leveled at Spacey, the character arc of his “Jack Vincennes” in Confidential is ironic.

But first, let me warn any reader who has not seen the film that there are spoilers ahead. For those who want to skip ahead, I have italicized the relevant paragraphs.

Vincennes is an amoral 1950s Los Angeles police officer whose lucrative sideline is selling “inside” information to Sid Hudgens, publisher of Hush Hush magazine, reaping both financial rewards and high public visibility. Late in the film, he arranges for a young bisexual actor to have a secret (and then-illegal) sexual liaison with the District Attorney, a closeted homosexual. Vincennes and Hudgens would then catch the DA and the young actor in flagrante delicto.

Sitting in the Formosa Club that night, however, Vincennes has a sudden pang of conscience and leaves the bar (symbolically leaving his payoff—a 50-dollar bill—atop his glass of whiskey), intending to stop the male actor from “playing his part.” Unfortunately, he arrives at the motel room too late; the actor has been murdered.

Determined to make amends, he teams up with two other detectives to solve a related set of crimes, including the murder of the young actor. In the course of his “noble” investigation, he questions his superior officer, Captain Dudley Smith, one quiet night in the latter’s kitchen. Realizing that Vincennes is perilously close to learning the full extent of his criminal enterprise, Smith suddenly pulls out a .32 and shoots Vincennes in the chest, killing him.

OK, the spoilers are behind us.

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This listing of magnificent art made by morally damaged people demonstrates I am in the same boat as Claire Dederer: I have been struggling for years to separate art from artist.[4]

And that is before discussing the film that serves as Dederer’s Exhibit A: Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

Dederer singles out Manhattan (still one of my favorite films) because of the relationship it depicts between a divorced man of around 40 (Isaac, played by Allen himself) and a 17-year-old high school named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway).

Not only is the relationship inherently creepy (especially in light of recent allegations by Hemingway and the fact that in December 1997, the 62-year-old Allen married the 27-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his long-time romantic partner Mia Farrow[5]), but, as Dederer observes, the blasé reaction to it from other adult characters in the film makes us cringe even more.

As I formulated this post—having just read Dederer’s essay—I thought about why I love Manhattan so much.

My reasons are primarily aesthetic: the opening montage backed by George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (and Allen’s voiceover narration), Gordon Willis’ stunning black-and-white cinematography, the omnipresence of a vibrant Manhattan itself.

In addition, the story, a complex narrative of intertwined relationships and their aftermath, is highly engaging. The dialogue is fresh and witty—and often very funny. The characters are quirky (far from being a two-dimensional character, I see Tracy as the moral center of the film) but still familiar.

And then there is the way saw the film for the first time.

The movie was released on April 25, 1979. At some point in the next few months, my father took me to see it at the now-defunct City Line Center Theater (now a T.J. Maxx) in the Overbrook neighborhood of Philadelphia. Given that I was 12 years old, it was an odd choice on my father’s part, but I suspect he wanted to see the film and seized the opportunity of his night with me (my parents had been separated two years at this point) to do so.

City Line Theater

I recall little about seeing Manhattan with him, other than being vaguely bored. I mean, it was one thing for old movies and television shows to be in black-and-white (like my beloved Charlie Chan films), but a new movie?

I do not remember when I saw Manhattan again. At one of Yale’s six film societies? While flipping through television channels in the 1990s? Whenever it was, the film clicked with me that second viewing, and I have only become fonder of it since then.

Two observations are relevant here.

One, it is clear to me that the fact that I first saw Manhattan at the behest of my father, who I adored in spite of his many flaws, heavily influenced my later appreciation of the film[6].

Two, this appreciation cemented itself years before Allen’s perfidy became public knowledge.

These two facts help explain (but not condone) why I still…sidestep…my conscience to admire Manhattan as a work of art.

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Ultimately, I think the following question best frames any possible resolution of the ethical dilemma of appreciating the art of monstrous artists:

Which did you encounter first, the monstrous reputation of the artist…or the art itself?

I ask this question because my experience is that once I hear that a given artist is monstrous, I have no desire to experience any of her/his art.

Conscience clear. No muss, no fuss.

That includes not-yet-experienced works by an artist I have learned is loathsome. I have not, for example, seen a new Woody Allen since the execrable The Curse of the Jade Scorpion in 2001.

But if I learn about the artist’s monstrous behavior AFTER reacting favorably to a piece of her/his art, I will often find myself still drawn to the art.[7]

Conscience compartmentalized. Definitely some muss, some fuss.

My love of these works is just too firmly embedded in my consciousness to unwind. Thus, I still love the music of Miles Davis. L.A.Confidential remains my favorite movie. Manhattan may have dropped some in my estimation, but it is still in my top 10.

I am reminded of this line from “Seen and Not Seen” on the Talking Heads album Remain in Light:

“This is why first impressions are often correct.”

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And here is where I think Lynch’s impressionistic approach to finding meaning in art and the patient-centered approach to dream interpretation—art and dreams mean whatever we think they mean—relate to the question of loving art while loathing the artist.

Art is a deeply personal experience. The “Authority” Dederer so pointedly disdains in her essay can provide guidance, but (s)he cannot experience the art for you or me.

Put simply, each of us is an “Authority” on any given piece of art—and also on whether or not to seek out that art.

For example:

As a child, I found myself hating The Beatles simply because I was supposed to love them. However, once I discovered their music on my own terms, purchasing used vinyl copies of the “Red” and “Blue” albums (which I still own 30+ years later) along with Abbey Road, The Beatles (the “White” Album), Sgt. Peppers’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver and Rubber Soul…suffice to say I have 124 Beatles tracks (out of 9,504) in my iTunes, second only to Genesis (288). The Beatles also rank sixth in total “plays” behind The Cars, Steely Dan, Miles Davis (there he is again), Stan Ridgway and Genesis.

Each of us is also the Authority on our changing attitudes toward a given piece of art, including what we learn about the artist, knowledge which then becomes one more element we bring to the subjective experience of art.

**********

Dederer speculates about whether artists (particularly writers) somehow NEED to be monstrous to be successful.

(Upon writing that last sentence, the phrase “madness-genius” began to careen around my brain).

As a writer with advanced academic training in epistemology-driven-epidemiology, I would suggest this study to assess this question.

A group of aspiring artists who had not yet produced notable works would be identified. They would be divided into “more monstrous” and “less monstrous,”[8] definitions to be determined. These artists would be followed for, say, 10 years, after which time each artist still it the study would be defined as “more successful” and “less successful,” definitions to be determined The percentages of artists in each category who were “more successful” would be compared, to see whether being “monstrous” made an aspiring artist more or less likely to be “successful,” or even made no difference at all.

This would not settle the question of the link between monstrosity and art by any means, but it would sure be entertaining.

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When Dederer talks about the monstrous selfishness of the full-time writer, she focuses on the temporal trade-offs writers must make—time with family and friends versus time spent writing. Writing is an almost-uniquely solitary endeavor, as I first learned writing my doctoral thesis, and as I continue to experience in my new career.

Luckily, my wife and daughters remain strongly supportive of my choice to become a “writer,” so I have not yet felt monstrously selfish.

There is a different kind of authorial “selfishness,” though, that I would argue is both more benign and more beneficial to the author.

When I began this blog, my stated aim was to focus solely on objective, data-driven stories; my personal feelings and life story were irrelevant (outside of this introductory post).

Looking back over my first 48 posts, though, I was surprised to count 17 (35.4%) I would characterize as “personal” (of which three are a hybrid of personal and impersonal). These personal posts, I observed, have also become more frequent.

Even more surprising was how much more “popular” these “personal” posts were. As of this writing, my personal posts averaged 28.4 views (95% confidence interval [CI]=19.9-36.9), while my “impersonal” posts averaged 14.5 views (95% CI=10.8-18.1); the 95% CI around the difference in means (14.0) was 6.3-21.6.[9]

Moreover, the most popular post (77 views, 32 more than this post) is a very personal exploration of my love of film noir.

In other words, while none of my posts have been especially popular (although I am immensely grateful to every single reader), my “personal” posts have been twice as popular as my “impersonal” posts.

I had already absorbed this lesson somewhat as I began to formulate the book I am writing[10]. Initially inspired by my “film noir personal journey” post, it has morphed into a deep dive not only into my personal history, but also the history of my family (legal and genetic) going back three or four generations.

This, then, is the “selfish” part: the discovery that the most popular posts I have written are the ones in which I speak directly about my own life and thoughts, leading me to begin to write what amounts to a “hey, I really like film noir…and here are some really fun stories about my family and me” memoir-research hybrid. One that I think will be very entertaining.

Whether an agent, publisher and/or the book-buying public ever agree remains an open question.

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Just bear with me (I had to write that phrase at some point) while I fumble around for a worthwhile conclusion to these thoughts and memories.

I am very hesitant ever to argue that means justify the ends, meaning that my first instinct is to say that art produced by monstrous artists should be avoided.

But I cannot say that because, having formed highly favorable “first (and later) impressions” of various works of art produced by “monstrous” artists, I continue to love those works of art. I may see them differently, but the art itself has not changed. “Blue in Green” is still “Blue in Green,” regardless of what I learn about Miles Davis, and it is still my favorite song.

And that may be the key. Our store of information about a piece of art may change, but the art itself does not change. It is fixed, unchanging.

Of course, if Lynch and the patient-centered therapists are correct that we each need to interpret/appreciate (or not) works of art as individuals, then how we react to that piece of art WILL change as our store of information changes.

Shoot. I thought I had something there.

Well, then, what about the “slippery slope” argument?

Once we start down the path of singling out certain artists (and, by extension, their works of art) for opprobrium, where does that path lead?

The French Revolution devolved into an anarchic cycle of guillotining because (at least as I understand it) competing groups of revolutionaries began to point the finger at each other, condemning rival groups to death as power shifted between the groups.

This is admittedly an extreme example, but my point is that we once start condemning monstrosity in our public figures, it is difficult to stop.

It is also the case that very few of us are pure enough to condemn others. We all have our Henry Jekyll, and we all have our Edward Hyde, within us. I think the vast majority of us contain far more of the noble Dr. Jekyll than of the odious Mr. Hyde, but we all enough of the latter to be wary of hypocrisy.

And if THAT is not a good argument, then I have one more.

Simply put, let us all put on our Lynchian-therapeutic cloaks and make our own decisions about works of art, bringing to bear everything we know and feel and think, including our conscience…while also understanding that blatant censorship (through public boycott or private influence) is equally problematic…

These decisions may be ethically uncomfortable, but as “Authorities,” they are ultimately ours and ours alone.

Until next time…

[1] Fun fact about Goodis: Philadelphia-born-and-raised, he is buried in the same cemetery as my father.

[2] Woolrich was also a self-loathing homosexual.

[3] This quote is found on page 61 of the March 25, 1985 issue of Jet, in a blurb titled “Miles Davis Can’t Shake Boyhood Racial Abuse.” The quote is apparently from a recent interview with Miles White of USA Today, but I cannot find the actual USA Today article.

As a counter, and for some context, here is a long excerpt from Davis’ September 1962 Playboy interview.

Playboy: You feel that the complaints about you are because of your race?

Davis: I know damn well a lot of it is race. White people have certain things they expect from Negro musicians — just like they’ve got labels for the whole Negro race. It goes clear back to the slavery days. That was when Uncle Tomming got started because white people demanded it. Every little black child grew up seeing that getting along with white people meant grinning and acting clowns. It helped white people to feel easy about what they had done, and were doing, to Negroes, and that’s carried right on over to now. You bring it down to musicians, they want you to not only play your instrument, but to entertain them, too, with grinning and dancing.

Playboy: Generally speaking, what are your feelings with regard to race?

Davis: I hate to talk about what I think of the mess because my friends are all colors. When I say that some of my best friends are white, I sure ain’t lying. The only white people I don’t like are the prejudiced white people. Those the shoe don’t fit, well, they don’t wear it. I don’t like the white people that show me they can’t understand that not just the Negroes, but the Chinese and Puerto Ricans and any other races that ain’t white, should be given dignity and respect like everybody else.

But let me straighten you — I ain’t saying I think all Negroes are the salt of the earth. It’s plenty of Negroes I can’t stand, too. Especially those that act like they think white people want them to. They bug me worse than Uncle Toms.

But prejudiced white people can’t see any of the other races as just individual people. If a white man robs a bank, it’s just a man robbed a bank. But if a Negro or a Puerto Rican does it, it’s them awful Negroes or Puerto Ricans. Hardly anybody not white hasn’t suffered from some of white people’s labels. It used to be said that all Negroes were shiftless and happy-go-lucky and lazy. But that’s been proved a lie so much that now the label is that what Negroes want integration for is so they can sleep in the bed with white people. It’s another damn lie. All Negroes want is to be free to do in this country just like anybody else. Prejudiced white people ask one another, “Would you want your sister to marry a Negro?” It’s a jive question to ask in the first place — as if white women stand around helpless if some Negro wants to drag one off to a preacher. It makes me sick to hear that. A Negro just might not want your sister. The Negro is always to blame if some white woman decides she wants him. But it’s all right that ever since slavery, white men been having Negro women. Every Negro you see that ain’t black, that’s what’s happened somewhere in his background. The slaves they brought here were all black.

What makes me mad about these labels for Negroes is that very few white people really know what Negroes really feel like. A lot of white people have never even been in the company of an intelligent Negro. But you can hardly meet a white person, especially a white man, that don’t think he’s qualified to tell you all about Negroes.

You know the story the minute you meet some white cat and he comes off with a big show that he’s with you. It’s 10,000 things you can talk about, but the only thing he can think of is some other Negro he’s such close friends with. Intelligent Negroes are sick of hearing this. I don’t know how many times different whites have started talking, telling me they was raised up with a Negro boy. But I ain’t found one yet that knows whatever happened to that boy after they grew up.

Playboy: Did you grow up with any white boys?

Davis: I didn’t grow up with any, not as friends, to speak of. But I went to school with some. In high school, I was the best in the music class on the trumpet. I knew it and all the rest knew it — but all the contest first prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. It made me so mad I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn. If I hadn’t met that prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have had as much drive in my work. I have thought about that a lot. I have thought that prejudice and curiosity have been responsible for what I have done in music.

[4] This has actually impacted me directly. Privacy concerns prevent me from using names, but I have had long and painful discussions with people close to me who were either related to, or knew very well, artists whose work they admired but who were/are loathsome human beings.

[5] Purportedly, Allen and his quasi-step-daughter (Allen and Farrow never married) had been having a long-term affair.

[6] And, perhaps, of black-and-white cinematography more generally.

[7] There are exceptions to this, of course. As much as I love the Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton, his blatant anti-Semitism has likely permanently soured me on his writing.

[8] Acknowledging that “monstrosity” is not binary, but a continuum. We have all had monstrous moments, and even the most monstrous people have had a moment or two of being above reproach.

[9] Using a somewhat stricter definition of “personal” made the difference even starker.

[10] Tentative title: Interrogating Memory: How a Love of Film Noir Led Me to Investigate My Own Identity.