Applause Books publishes American Neo-Noir

Applause Books recently released American Neo Noir: The Movie Never Ends! This excerpt from the book provides a definition of the genre:

Part One

Classic Becomes Neo

The movie never ends

It goes on and on and on and on.

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard

Their shadows searching in the night

Streetlights people, living just to find emotion

Hiding somewhere in the night.

Steve Perry & Neal Schon

A Definition

After many years, decades actually, of critical debate about what constitutes a film noir, the issue is still not entirely resolved. For us, film noir was never a genre but an American film movement that was defined by style as much as content, which began around the same time as World War II and ended just twenty years later.

That time frame, at least, is now almost universally accepted. The classic period of film noir spans the years in which American filmmakers created and sustained the cycle over the course of more than four hundred feature films. It began just after 1940 with The Maltese Falcon and wound down around 1960 or shortly after Touch of Evil (1958). Certainly there were prototypes and precursors of the movement going back to the acme of the gangster genre in the early 1930s. And there were many stragglers, late entries by Sam Fuller and other independent directors, but before the mid-1960s film noir’s classic period had run its course.

There is no precise moment or movie that marks the beginning of neonoir. For us, neo-noir is more genre than movement, a mimicking of the style and content of the classic period, the best early example of which is John Boorman’s 1967 Point Blank, an adaptation of The Hunter, part of a postwar, hard-boiled series of “Parker” novels about the criminal underworld by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark. Like its antecedent and from the first, neonoir would also be tied closely to a literary movement, riffs on the work of Hammett, Chandler, and McCoy, starting with the gritty exploration of sociopathy by Jim Thompson, the smug mysogyny of Spillane’s Mike Hammer and then a next generation that included Westlake, Ross Macdonald, and Elmore Leonard. 

While such novelists pushed their violent protagonists even further down Chandler’s mean streets dark with something more than night, the neo-noir genre was defined by screenwriters and directors who had grown up watching movies during the classic period. Some of the early neo-noir were “retro-noir,” narratives set in the not-to-distant past, whose characters wore period costumes and drove vintage cars, such as the private detectives Jake Gittes in Chinatown (1974), the classic-period icon Robert Mitchum as an older and more fatigued Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely (1975), or Det. Tom Spellacy investigating a fictionalized “Black Dahlia” in True Confessions (1981). The multinational creative personnel of a movie like Chinatown written by American Robert Towne and directed by Polish émigré Roman Polanski, reenacted such classic-period relationships as Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder crafting Double Indemnity or Herman Mankiewicz and Robert Siodmak on Christmas Holiday (both 1944).

The most self-conscious of the early neo-noirs came from writer/directors. Walter Hill—who had previously scripted the 1972 paean Hickey & Boggs where old-school PIs discover that “there’s nothing left of this profession…it’s all over, it’s not about anything”—infused 1978’s The Driver with a noir style that echoed Kubrick’s The Killing (1957) and De Toth’s Crime Wave (1954). Hill’s characters are so pointedly archetypal that they do not even have names: they are simply the Driver, the Detective, and the Player. Three years later Body Heat (1981), Lawrence Kasdan’s homage to Double Indemnity, set a new standard for femme fatales. By 1987 the double-crosses and twisted psychology in David Mamet’s House of Games (1987) fully evoked its creator’s intent: “I am very familiar with noir…and I love it. I tried to be true.”

At the height of the classic period individual noir films transcended personal and generic outlook and reflected the cultural preoccupations of America no matter where the filmmakers were born. From the late 1970s to present, in a “neo-noir” period, many of the productions that again create the noir mood, whether in remakes or new narratives, have been undertaken by filmmakers cognizant of a heritage and intent on placing their own interpretation on it. As the various interviews conducted by scholar Todd Erickson and reproduced in his thesis where the term neo-noir was coined affirm, most of the filmmakers approach neo-noir with a conscious, expressive intent.

If neo-noir is to some extent, as in the classic period, America’s stylized vision of itself, one might expect a cynicism made even harsher by decades of cold war, nuclear peril, fiscal uncertainty, the threat of terrorism, millennial dystopia, and cultural upheaval. While the emphasis may have shifted among these social realities, the outpouring of films has continued. The actual results remain mixed. One aspect of film noir that many filmmakers have chosen to underscore is its forlorn romanticism, the need to find love and honor in a new society that venerates only sex and money. Many others have followed alternative narrative paths blazed in the classic period, and as a result any overview such as this needs a new “family tree” to trace through the titles. Of course, as with critic Raymond Durgnat’s original essay, many of the categories overlap and intersect, and many titles crossover several branches.

8 x 10 in. cutout print

Andy Propst on Sunday Show Tunes with Nate & Paul

You Fascinate Me So author Andy Propst was recently featured on Sunday Show Tunes with Nate & Paul! During the interview, they talk about Cy Coleman and Andy’s new book!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00122483He penned songs such as “Witchcraft” and “The Best Is Yet to Come” (signature tunes for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, respectively) and wrote such musicals as Sweet CharityI Love My WifeOn the Twentieth Century, and The Will Rogers Follies—yet his life has gone entirely unexplored until now. You Fascinate Me So takes readers into the world and work of Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning composer/performer Cy Coleman, exploring his days as a child prodigy in the 1930s, his time as a hot jazz pianist and early television celebrity in the 1950s, and his life as one of Broadway’s preeminent composers.

This first-time biography of Coleman has been written with the full cooperation of his estate, and it is filled with previously unknown details about his body of work. Additionally, interviews with colleagues and friends, including Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Ken Howard, Michele Lee, James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, Hal Prince, Chita Rivera, and Tommy Tune, provide insight into Coleman’s personality and career.

A Celebration of Cy Coleman

On Monday, April 27, Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland became the place to celebrate Andy Propst’s new book, You Fascinate Me So: The Life and Times of Cy Coleman. Some of Cy’s favorite singers, including Lillias White, Cady Huffman, Eric Comstock & Barbara Fasano, Steve Leeds, John Miller, Ilene Graff & Ben Lanzarone, and Billy Stritch came to sing his praises and songs accompanied by the Cast Party Symphony Orchestra, which included Mr. Stritch on piano, Steve Doyle on bass and Mark McLean on drums. As Cast Party is an extreme open mic night, each impromptu performance was completely unrehearsed, but endlessly “bewitching!”

Watch this video assembled by Jane Marino to see some of the activities from the Cy Coleman-themed evening!

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Dale Sherman on Mr. Media

Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Original Reservoir Dog, was recently interviewed on MrMedia.com! Watch the interview here:

Quentin Tarantino is a man who came to Hollywood and didn’t break the rules so much as make plain that he didn’t even notice them. Making the films he wanted to see, Tarantino broke through with Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and then cemented his reputation in 1994 with the release of Pulp Fiction. As his fame grew, he spread his love for movies that are far from commonplace through his promotion of older films and theaters and by reviving the stalled careers of actors such as John Travolta, Pam Grier, and David Carradine.

Quentin Tarantino FAQ examines the movies directed by Tarantino, the influences on his work, and the inspiration he gave to others. There are also chapters on certain recurring elements in his films, from fake “product placement” to the music, actors, and even cinematic moments used. The book also reviews his work in television, the articles written about him or by him over the years, his acting career, his public battles, and some of the projects he abandoned along the way. It all comes together to tell the story of a man who forged his own unique path and helped shape the way movies are made today.

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Andy Propst Talks About Cy Coleman on Broadway Radio

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Library Journal called Andy Propst’s new biography of Cy Coleman, You Fascinate Me So, “a fascinating look at an influential man whose showbiz career spanned more than 50 years…Highly recommended for theater buffs, fans of music history, or those looking for an intriguing study of a memorable man.”  Listen to Andy talk about Coleman and his book with James Marino, Peter Filichia, and Michael Portantiere at broadwayradio.com!

Andy Propst Interview with TheaterMania!

You Fascinate Me So author Andy Propst recently sat down with Zachary Stewart of TheaterMania for an interview during which they talk about his new book and his book’s subject, Cy Coleman!

00122483You Fascinate Me So: Andy Propst Biography of Cy Coleman Examines Multitalented Artist

Broadway composer Cy Coleman had a remarkably varied career. Before age 10 he was already a concert pianist. He eventually moved into the nightclub world and then onto Broadway where he penned musicals like Little Me and Sweet Charity, the show about a dancer-for-hire that features the unforgettable number “Big Spender.” His operetta tribute, On the Twentieth Century, is presently receiving its first Broadway revival at the American Airlines Theatre. Throughout his life, Coleman never stopped experimenting with musical and theatrical form.

Author Andy Propst charts it all in his expansive new biography of Coleman, You Fascinate Me So. Propst (who was a staff writer and critic for TheaterMania from 2009-2013) spoke to us about Coleman’s work, his fraught relationship with Carolyn Leigh, and his eclectic style.

TheaterMania: You write in the book that you saw your first musical, Sweet Charity, at the age of nine. Whose idea was it to take a nine-year-old to that?

Andy Propst: A woman by the name of Susan Miller. She was a teacher of acting at University of Illinois who had gone to college with my mother in Pennsylvania. She became my Auntie Mame. Susan was always introducing me to theater that might have been a little progressive for a preteen, but it did inspire a love of theater in me that exists to this day.

By the time Coleman was nine he had already played Carnegie Hall. How did he get such an early start?

His mother, Ida, was a landlord. She owned a couple of buildings in the Bronx. At the height of the Depression, one of the tenants left and took all their belongings except one thing they couldn’t get out of the apartment: an upright piano. Ida brought it into the house and Cy (who was known as Seymour Kaufman at that point) started playing by ear. He began taking lessons at the age of four and just before he was seven his teacher had gotten him to the point where he was winning citywide competitions and playing at The Town Hall.

Later he worked as a jazz pianist in clubs all over the city. How did that influence his work as a composer?

Musically he was a sponge. All of the music he heard and played was fused into him. He had a love of Rossini, which led him to the grandiose style we hear in On the Twentieth Century. When he was starting out in clubs he was doing covers of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter. All of that became a part of his musical DNA.

Click here to read the rest of the interview!

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi!

Today is Peter Capaldi’s 57th birthday! In honor of the latest Doctor’s birthday, Doctor Who FAQ author Dave Thompson has written a birthday post, detailing his thoughts on Capaldi’s portrayal of the famous television character.

PETER CAPALDI’S BIRTHDAY       

by Dave Thompson

The odds were always stacked against the Twelfth Doctor.

For a start, was he the Twelfth Doctor? Even before John Hurt’s “War Doctor” came along to throw out the numbering once and for all, the very fact that the tenth had been doubled was already throwing the chronology a bit.

Add to this the fact that Peter Capaldi’s reign not only followed that of the bafflingly popular Matt Smith’s, but also the show’s own (frankly untoppable) fiftieth birthday celebrations; add to that, the continued sense that show runner Steven Moffat has now switched his default setting to Unnecessarily Convoluted Storytelling mode; and add to that, the mold-breaking emergence of the first Doctor in a decade who isn’t simply older than the show, he’s also older than any of his predecessors (William Hartnell was 55 when he debuted the role; Capaldi was 56) . . . that’s a lot of baggage to carry.

As he commences filming on his second season, however, Capaldi has already conquered the most important task of all. He has convinced us that he is the Doctor, and not just within the realms of his personal, vociferous, fan club (the fate of at least two, and possible four of his predecessors).

A performance that is uniquely his own has also, and utterly without contradiction, been described as an amalgam of every Doctor who came first; First’s irascibility; Second’s humor; Third’s occasional resemblance to the magician who performed at your best friend’s fifth birthday party; Four’s uniquely alien outlook; Five’s . . . well, we’re still waiting for five to show up. But Six’s irascibility, Seven’s sense of mystery; Eight’s . . . okay, eight is still absent as well. But Eccleston’s toughness, Tennant’s charm and Smith’s flapping silliness can all be extracted from Capaldi’s DNA; and he has required all those qualities, too.

It is redundant to suggest that Moffat’s career as a writer is locked in irreversible decline, particularly where Doctor Who is concerned. But the truth is . . . true. The first three stories that he wrote for the series, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink are routinely, and rightly, regarded as not simply the best tales told since the show returned in 2005, but among the best in its entire fifty year lifespan.

Subsequent creations could not maintain that quality, and often seemed set on upending it altogether; while the man who cast such razor-sharp eyes across simple human relationships via earlier creations Joking Apart, Coupling (both, tellingly, nominally sitcoms) and Jekyll is also responsible for foisting upon us some of the most cringe inducing romantic interests of the modern age: less Doctor Who, and more Who Cares?

That current companion Clara’s dalliance with “PE teacher” Danny Pink represents the most stultifying of them all was possibly the most heart-stoppingly dull of them all. Perhaps there are sound psychological reasons why the last ten year’s worth of Doctor’s companions have chosen to fall for the dullest blade in the knife box, but at least Mickey (Rose’s put-upon paramour) and Rory (Amy Pond’s pet rock) came good in the end, while even Donna’s ill-fated fiancé at least had the cojones to be working for the opposition all along.

The watery Pink, on the other hand, existed solely to provide the Doctor with an opportunity to indulge in further Mickey/Ricky mix-ups, this time by insisting that the math teacher taught PE; to push Clara into a series of emotional crises that were the least believable element of the entire series (and in a run that included the Moon being revealed as an egg; the legend of Robin Hood as an alien-induced hallucination; and trees as global fire-fighters, that’s quite an achievement); and to die, which we will get to in a moment.

Even more damagingly, not once were we offered any indication as to why Clara should care so much for the man. His persona is seen from just two perspectives – the Doctor’s scorn and disdain (which, unlike Ten’s constant mockery of Mickey, was not feigned), and his own tiresome PTSD induced sense of self-pity. Not once are we given even a hint as to why Clara should care any more for this bullying, over-possessive lunk than a fish would for a bicycle. Only once the season finale passed by did we understand why Pink was even part of the story to begin with.

It was so they could remake that whole Ianto/Cyber-girlfriend storyline from an old episode of Torchwood, of course. That, and the now inevitable insistence upon imbibing finales with a tissue box full of wearying lachrymosity. As if the death of Osgood, UNIT’s inhaler-wielding, scarf-toting hardcore queen of nerdish delight, was not shattering enough for the average viewer. As if the return of the Master, in the form of a fresh Mistress of Uber-camp Madness, was not breathtaking enough for the most trigger-happy channel-surfer. As if… as if we cared.

Capaldi triumphed over all of these things; and so did Clara, at least when she wasn’t being shoehorned into awkward clinches (and, via the Christmas special, even more awkward flashbacks) with the Pink thing. 

Indeed, no matter how high Capaldi soared as the season progressed, Clara soared likewise. Unquestionably, her sheer force of character convinced us that, at last, the Doctor had unearthed a force of nature capable of equalling even Rose (or Jo Grant, for any older viewers still watching). And capable, too, of delivering lines with such beguiling intensity that an entire generation is destined to melt every time they hear the words “run, you clever boy . . .” Or see a soufflé.

As an overall series, it wasn’t the best. At least three episodes (Into the Dalek, Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night) rank among the weakest deployed since the show returned, and it may or may not be coincidental that two of those were at least partially stymied by the frankly absurd science that underpinned them. Yes, we know it’s all make-believe, but if you’re setting a story on what claims to be the Earth that the rest of us live on, then make sure that basic physics don’t undermine the whole thing.

Of the others, Flatline, Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express were bold enough to withstand multiple rewatchings; Deep Breath was rewarding upon subsequent viewings; Robot of Sherwood was this year’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Caretaker was a glorious romp; Listen was a frankly terrifying notion that writer Moffat then castrated by trying too hard; and then it was time for the season finale.

Dark Water/Death In Heaven was the two-parter in which we finally learned the reason why past stories had been interrupted by Mary Poppins, before Poppins herself became . . . Well, cynics could point out that Missy is less a reincarnation of the Master than she is a pantomime revision of Moriarty, and there is truth to that. But she is also (like Moriarty) one of Moffat’s all-time classic villains; frighteningly insane, incalculably evil, and absolutely unmissable. The moment when she sweeps herself so elegantly backwards and calls out for “Doctor Chang” . . . if you didn’t have a Demented Nanny fixation before that, you do now.

And Capaldi? Capaldi matched her every step of the way, to emerge as strong a Doctor as he ought to be, and as likable a Doctor as he clearly doesn’t care to be. And, even better, unlike his last three regenerations, the man can’t even flirt properly.

Although you know that on the playground the following day, once the cries of ”exterminate” and “delete” had been exhausted, more than one juvenile would-be Lothario zoomed in on the girl of his dreams and declared “you look nice. Have you washed?”

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi. And happy birthday, Doctor. May there be many, many more.

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