And, jumpin' Jehoshaphat, that's just what leads off the issue: carnival noir, as surveyed by poet, culture critic and new NC contributor Brent Calderwood, most recently writing for THE FILM EXPERIENCE. The feature starts well, but runs out of steam just the way that carnivals did (as noted in the intro) when urbanization overtook America's agrarian roots. Reading the feature's footnotes, one senses that they may have been provided by an editor to simulate a comprehensive list of film noir titles that were (even slightly) touched by the carnival. (Alas, two notable examples of classic French noir with strong ties to the "carny world" were overlooked: drop me a PM for the identities of these two films, as there's no reason to simply give away that information to those who don't quite complete their research assignments.)
It's followed by a condensed and retouched interview conducted by Calderwood with Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan as part of "the tout" for the new version of NIGHTMARE ALLEY. "Retouched" seems like a good description: del Toro is an eloquent fellow, but reading his responses really gives the impression that they were polished for publication. In it, there is his relentless attempt to connect his film with some form of ongoing political critique of America, while insisting that Gresham's novel is highly autobiographical (when it is more likely that Gresham's obsession with the world of the carnival and his fascination with the Tarot had coalesced into a richly lurid fictional depiction of a composite of characters he'd met or who he'd been told about). It appears that the "shut eye" concept--coming to believe in one's own patter about the creative project one is trying to put across to the public--may be enveloping the husband-and-wife team as well.
Finally, there is a review of the new film from Eddie, where he treads as lightly as possible on the production, positioning himself in the "rave with minor reservations" category. It's an interesting tap dance, where Eddie notes the Icarus theme of the original story but pretends not to notice how that is subverted by the filmmaker/screenwriters into a Oedipal tale (with additional scenes and pseudo-talismanic characters--the "pickled devil baby"--that do not appear in the source novel). He also states that he won't compare performances between the two versions, and--then goes ahead and compares performances between the two versions. (While he praises Rooney Mara to the skies, note that it's Coleen Gray on the cover of the magazine.) Eddie also endorses the "arming of Lilith Ritter" even while he tiptoes into an admission that "superfluous gore" seeped into the film--a significant portion of which came from giving Lilith a gun (and a strange body scar that also was not found in the novel). Frankly, given his friendship with Morgan, Eddie should've delegated the review to his "managing editor" Vince Keenan (Vince is actually "editor-in-chief," Eddie--that was a revealing Freudian slip in the email blast announcing the new issue...) or to someone else with no noticeable conflict of interest.
Next, Imogen Smith returns with a feature that also follows the form established in the earliest days of the NC e-zine: an exploration of a sub-type within noir that can be catalogued at varying levels of detail. Smith is more practiced at such an approach and more smoothly transitions between films dealing with "doppelgangers and stolen identities" (a sub-type that's hardly new, having first been associated with noir in an illuminating, idiosyncratic essay from Raymond Durgnat written fifty years ago), but she is uneven in her level of presentation and analysis within her catalogue, apparently deciding that the essay should (eventually) focus on MR. KLEIN, the 1976 collaboration between Joseph Losey and Alain Delon. Unfortunately, as she concludes her description of the film's action, she loses her way and ends on a wan, uncertain note that rings hollow and fails to integrate itself to any of the other material presented in the "prelude" section of the feature.
Another of the contributors brought to the e-zine during the "earlier regime," Jake Hinkson, returns with a feature which at long last seems to spark some verve in his prose that has been missing for some time. It's an impish but engaging look at a one of the iconic-but-incidental characters in noir: the cabbie. Three solid and engaging sub-sections roll out of Jake like shifting rapids: there's a cockiness in his authorial voice that brings him back to the almost novelistic engagement of earlier work (memorable features on folk such as Tom Neal and Peggie Castle). He mines this material well, and we get a look at several obscure but interesting noirs as a result--but things unravel a bit when Jake tries to push the concept into neo-noir, where the examples stray into extremity and caricature. ["Managing editor" Vince Keenan saves the day, however, by commissioning a separate essay on COLLATERAL (2005) that fills in some pivotal details about the dark pas de deux between Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx that Jake unwisely tries to sum up in a single sentence.]
As part of his conversation, Eddie failed to plug Paul Auster's recent literary
biography of Stephen Crane (entitled BURNING BOY in its American release)...
In between Smith and Hinkson is Eddie's conversation with novelist Paul Auster, as he looks to burnish his stalled bonafides as a crime novelist. Truth told, Auster is fantastic: both gracious and humble--and shows how, in the right hands, genre fiction and literature can connect in a kind of "magic surrealism." His fascination with Stephen Crane (and his intriguing suggestion that Crane is a precursor of the tonality found in twentieth-century genre fiction) is the most arresting portion of the conversation--though the direct connections made to film noir seem a bit on the convenient side (check the titles cited, and you'll see the pattern in the carpet). It also needs to be noted that Michael Kronenberg comes up with a neat layout device to introduce Auster's novels into the text--another of several spiffy design moments he's brought to the table over the last several issues.
But from here, the issue rapidly loses whatever steam it possessed, with the usual departments mechanically appearing--"noir or not", etc. Jason Ney is not quite as pithy as usual in his still-useful look at a noir that really needs to be screened by the FNF: EDGE OF FURY, a film that takes us deeper into the underlying psychosis that lurks in the underbelly of 50s noir. In the book review section, most of what's covered is truly marginal in its noir content--including two reviews penned by "managing editor" Keenan.
So, a mixed bag once again...but the former editor is at least comforted to see that the basic essay structure defined and employed in the "prior regime" is still the reigning model for the materials being produced in the e-zine. True, the execution of that model is being haphazardly applied; but where there's life, there's hope.