Memory, Metaphor, and Time: Volume 1
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I could tell by the lighting it was a noir kind of day. I was feeling gritty—in part because I'd skipped a shower that morning, but also due to my generally cynical, sardonic, disillusioned disposition. I figured myself for the tarnished protagonist whose nobility had been eroded by pessimism and pegged the blonde as my femme fatale—both dangerous and seductive but with a heavier emphasis on the fatal. Since I was a gumshoe of the popcorn-munching variety, navigating a dismal terrain of barren values in the seedy underbelly of film criticism, rife with corruption and crime, the doll was bound to have come from the silver screen. I needed a case that would provide more than answers to a mystery but would reveal a greater social truth. I only handled investigations that used crime, violence, and greed as metaphorical symptoms for larger social ills, I explained.

Someone had swindled the temporally twisted tale-telling technique. In the art world, this was a clear-cut case of homage, but I was down on my luck, so I agreed to look into it. My only condition was that this dame didn't dupe me into some crime of passion and finger me as the fall guy, but she was too busy doling out revenge at the pointy end of a samurai sword.

Tarantino's latest linear distortion a two-part trash culture tribute Kill Bill (see my review of Volume 1) is packed with his stylish trademarks: the snazzy pop-referential dialogue, quirky characterizations and equally quirky stories that can only be conveyed through a non-sequential sequence. To get the straight dope on the distortion, Q.T. would be the moneyman, and his Oscar award-winning neo-noir film Pulp Fiction would be the payoff.

While many purists refuse to acknowledge Tarantino's work as true noir (the argument isn't specifically against Q.T., but anything made after 1958, when the "Golden Age of Noir" ended), these cinematic influences are undeniable: low-key lighting, deep focus photography, and the multi-temporal narrative. Not to mention that a "Golden Age" of "Dark Cinema" is somewhat a contradiction or that Chinatown (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), and LA Confidential (1992) are each definitive noir post-golden era with more grit than all the beaches in California. The purist's song was off-key—the facts just didn't add up—but one note came out pretty clear. Tarantino's take on the techniques was tailored to a new crowd.

Historically, noir is a sub-genre of crime/gangster films—unlike the sweeping operatic rise and fall of gangster movies or the melodramatic action of crime cinema, noir is known specifically for the emotional texture it sets off. It is linked to an existential, modernist social crisis that coincided with the post-World War II era. The general vibe imparted is one of confusion, disintegrated moral value structures, nightmarish qualities of isolation, and a pessimistic contradiction to the highly popular action and adventure serials that coincided them. Interestingly, many of the early noir were actually created because of studio budget cutbacks—the lighting techniques, for example, were less aesthetic than necessitated. Its intentional symbolic feel was pinched from German Expressionism (think, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)) and given a criminal context. In content, noir dealt with the undercurrent of society, while commenting on the whole of culture itself. Its anti-hero protagonists contrasted the upper class literary detectives and adventurers that preceded them and broadly represented a darker facet of society. In the same way, operatic crime films chartered the rise and fall of a gangster as an allegorical comment on the American dream—noir fully embraced and expressed the disenfranchised and downtrodden.

Fittingly, Q.T. first came on the scene with a jewel caper—a video store clerk with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema who was about to learn that crime does pay—and pay well. Reservoir Dogs (1992) introduced his unique vision with a hilarious banter about the meaning of a Madonna song delivered to a methodically circling camera and then escalated into a non-chronological series of episodic vignettes that mixed chaotic action with an intensely textured drama that never lost its ultra-cool vibe. This merely complimented the crime/ gangster genre, but it was his 1994 Pulp Fiction that redefined neo-noir. If I was going to crack this case, Q.T. was the place to start…

Be sure to read Josh's next installment, “Memory, Metaphor, and Time: Volume 2.”

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