Gettin’ all Noir on ya!

Happy New Year! It’s gotta be better than 06, which was a complicated and multi-layered year, but in basic ways didn’t win any awards from me. I said goodbye to my daughter last night, sending her back to the East and to finish college in Montreal… the hardest part of parenting is saying goodbye to your kid, no matter how enthusiastic you are about their independent life (and I’m very enthusiastic!). When she leaves I feel a terrible sorrow… it’s tempered by the grand time we just had, and knowing we’ll be travelling together in a few months, but the empty spot she leaves behind is profound… alas.

I titled this entry Noir even though the sweet relationship I have with Francesca is about as diametrically opposite of noir as one can imagine. I know Noir generally refers to the alienated individual living a meaningless and often brutally short life. Pointless death lurks nearby, dehumanization and instrumentalized exploitation are the norm in society… I’m using it differently here, to point to a longer tradition of artistic rebukes made by portraying barbaric and degraded human conditions in horrific detail…

On Tuesday we headed up to Sacramento to see the remarkable Irving Norman show “Dark Metropolis.” Here’s a link to his huge tryptich called “The Human Condition” with tons of mouse-over details to check out. Ironically, or appropriately, we spent almost 6 hours in the car going back and forth, for about 1.5 hours of actual enjoyment of the show. Some of his paintings deal with traffic jams, like this one from 1953 called The Bridge, obviously on the Golden Gate Bridge. He apparently used to drive onto local bridges at rush hour in the early 1950s to see up close what people were experiencing on those new-fangled commute corridors. A lot of his work portrays densely packed humans in slum towers, buses, night clubs, urban maelstroms, etc. Remarkably, each individual is unique, every window and vehicle houses a story of its own, sometimes hundreds in a given painting.

The Bridge, 1953, copyright Irving Norman…

His real focus is the human condition, plagued by industrialism, war and urban hell in many variations. He fought with the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and his Goya-esque depictions of war machines and the writhing results of modern war are really gripping. The show closes on January 7 (the Crocker Museum is housed in a huge old mansion near downtown, an impressive place to see in its own right) and I really recommend making the trip up there. You can avoid the stupidity of sitting on I-80 with thousands of others in their cars by taking the Capital Corridor Amtrak train.

Seeing Norman’s remarkable show fit nicely with a book of Pieter Bruegel the Elder that I was browsing during xmas at my parents’ house. Here’s a couple of images from the 1500s.

The Fall of the Magician, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Envy, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Bruegel was one of the first artists I really fell for as a teen, decades ago. So many things going on in his paintings. The Dover book I lifted these images from has long explanations of the details in each image, very helpful as one tries to digest the cacophony of madness being depicted. Here’s another link to one of his famous images (“Death”) of a devastated landscape after war has ravished the scene.

In keeping with the dark time of the year we’re in, we went to see on xmas day “Children of Men“, a dark but really satisfying sci-fi film. The basic premise is that everyone on the planet has gone sterile for 18 years and the bulk of the planet is such a disaster that it can’t even be seen. The movie is set in an England a few steps removed from the worst nightmares of Homeland Security anti-immigrant authoritarianism we’ve all glimpsed in the Cheneyites… I won’t say much about it, because it’s easy to give away too much and ruin some of the pleasure of this film. But notice how unlike a typical U.S. Hollywood action picture it is, and yet still full of ‘action’… the marketers have even created a website to lure big fans deeper into its fictional web… Anyway, it’s the perfect movie to leave a traffic jam for!

Lastly, to top off this Noir-ish entry, is a real collection of San Francisco Noir, edited by my pal Peter Maravelis, and it’s a Marvelous collection! It escapes the typical constraints of the genre completely, going from crazy whimsy to political history to twisted sci-fi, with plenty of gore and alienation strewn about to keep aficianados happy. I really loved Alvin Lu’s story of Maoist bagmen from different party factions going to China to bring back a pile of money, Michelle Tea’s gory acquistion of a new apartment, Jim Nisbet’s imaginary GG Bridge force field, Alejandro Murguia’s very noir-ish fictional account of the Gartland Hotel fire in 1975… like I said, it’s a great collection, full of surprises, worthy of the city’s quirky dark corners…

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