Should we depressed people immerse ourselves in Noir? I’ve always been drawn to dark culture, gallows humour and a vicarious life of crime. I didn’t have any choice as to Kink, which can take you to very dark places, especially combined with drink and drugs, (as not recommended by scene preachers, widely indulged all the same.) Ecstasy and transcendence may only be a temporary solution – kicks, as some called it when this movie was made – but it works in the moment. Where we live.
Louis Malle came from a prosperous family but throughout this tangled tale of adultery and murder his sympathies are with the underdog. We open on a passionate declaration of love from a beautiful woman, straight to camera, no make up. With her lover she has plotted her husband’s murder. It’s a perfect locked room mystery until he goes back to be trapped in what may be a Lift to the Scaffold – the death penalty still applies. Later a car thief discusses whether his head will roll. Sports Car to the Guillotine? The American title for this was also a little awkward to English ears: Elevator to the Gallows. (I have recently been so immersed in the electoral defeat of a dictator’s stooge that I just typed ‘Gallows’ as ‘Galloways’.)
The killer is observed by teenage delinquents, perhaps the inspiration for the couple in Godard’s Breathless. He’s a James Dean wannabe in leather – a sulky churl who would benefit from some physical chastisement – nothing erotic, just a good, sound drubbing. She’s beautiful, charming and chic. And trouble. When their little adventure goes badly wrong she suggests an overdose, dreaming of newspaper headlines: ‘the tragic lovers’.
A more tragic, infinitely less glamorous couple were fighting at St Leonards Warrior Square when I returned from Bexhill, a pleasant coastal town where I picked up a freecycle Louis Malle box set from the station waiting room. Our star-crossed lovers were a stocky thug and a screeching shrew. Chav couture by Sports Direct. Loud, crude abuse courtesy of very few brain cells. Conflict resolution from Jeremy Kyle, the very name an amused bystander mentioned. ‘It’s always at this station’. Well, we also have Bohemia, which housed the original artistic rebels and still tolerates the genteel poor, including me and my wife.
Despite having acquired a criminal record through various drink and drug-fueled idiocies, I still reserve the right to despise thick yobs. Bourgeois hypocrisy? Classism? No, realism. Ted Lewis and Robin Cook/Derek Raymond’s narrators didn’t like the ‘slag’. Only twits like Owen Jones would think otherwise.
We could have done with Jeremy Kyle’s security as the bickering clods chased each other through the commuters. Some laughed, though what would have been one-sided violence very nearly erupted. I would have sat this one out, having already had permanent eye surgery after one intervention – perhaps handicapped by two bottles of vodka. (Top tip, skilled martial artists always look at their opponents).
To return to somewhat idealized criminality, this excellent beautifully shot movie finishes with the protagonists facing the consequences of their actions while us senior delinquents count our blessings, waking up in our own beds, freer than imprisoned existentialists. We still have a life sentence of depression but there is remission – especially through art, the deeper and darker the better.
The famous night time walk, waiting for her lover to return from the murder, unaware he is trapped. Miles Davis at his bluesy best.
next time – sex, suicide and Satie. The Fire Within. Louis Malle pt 2
Ted ‘Get Carter’ Lewis back in print from Syndicate books. New introductions. Classy covers. http://www.syndicatebooks.com/