The State of Noir

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The State of Noir
by Tim Earle

“What could be more Noir than hot pink cursive?”

In a stark apartment under dim lights, a figure in a white jacket with a scorpion on the back stands in his window arranging some dubious undertakings for the night. Harsh shadows dress Gosling’s indeterminable expression as he chews his tooth-pick, driving though LA’s shadowy underbelly. Every little detail just screams Noir at me. So why are the opening credits hot pink and cursive? And why does it work so well?

The fact is that not one detail in this film is accidental, each costume decision, each sound queue. Bryan Cranston’s tucked in Harley Davidson T shirt, Carrey Mulligan’s long flowing skirts, Christina Hendricks’ unfortunate spike heels, Gosling’s skinny jeans and previously mentioned Scorpion jacket, each a carefully placed stylistic choice on the way to making one of the most distinct Noirs of the decade.

So why hot pink? When I saw the credits font I couldn’t help but think of Pretty in Pink, and the whole John Hughes compendium. It seems that Refn really likes the 80s. The purely synth pop score and nearly anachronistic costumes strongly support this fact. And I can imagine, as a director, saying “I love X, so I’m going to put it in my movie,” the effect here is a film that is far superior to the sum of its X’s. Refn is surely not the only guy who madly loves ‘80s pop music out there. Even I felt a strange twinge of nostalgia when the credits came up. I wasn’t even alive for most of the ‘80s. But that nostalgia really brought this movie home for me. Let me explain.

See, Noir has always been a product of afterthought. It’s the side effect of being defined, as a genre, years after it surfaced. By the time these dark and shockingly violent (for the times) tales had a name, they pretty much vanished. Now, 80 or so years later, Noir is a thing of profound nostalgia. The Tommy Guns, downturned hats, smoking everywhere. So when the Neo noir movement came around, they had two choices: Update or time travel. Either you brought the brutal cynical world of noir to the modern times or you took the audience back to the 1940s (ish). It’s been this way for decades. Rarely were their cases outside these two choices (Batman: The Animated Series comes to mind for being simply without a coherent time period). And now here’s Drive, a film that proves that the nostalgia of the Neo-Noir doesn’t have to be for the glory days of Bogart and black and white, but in fact any nostalgia at all.

There’s a great scene in Drive where Gosling, Mulligan and an unnamed assassin all ride in an elevator. The scene features both, a spot lit, slow motion, make out sesh, complete with anthemic synth pop, and a brutal, excruciatingly long face smashing. Once the scene ended and the elevator doors shut it occurred to me, “This is Neo-Noir!” Deep ingrained nostalgia + Brutality. I thought back to every Neo-Noir I’ve loved. Sin City: check (black and white + cannibalism), Brick: check (high school + murder). Memento: check (a man incapable of any memory besides nostalgia + rapemurder). It’s almost too obvious now. The veil has lifted and now I walk around, head high, eyes open, shouting at strangers “It HAD to be hot pink cursive!”

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