27 April 2006

About Haiku and Why Film Noir Films of the 40s and 50s Were Often Better Than the Comparable Crap of the 70s and Later

Was that post title long enough?

Bill continues (posts today so far, here, here, here, here, and here) with the Haikuness for Thing. I applaud his efforts, and I'm impressed that commenters have so far respected his restrictions (maybe out of fear of deletion).

What has this to do with classic film noir versus crime pictures of the 70s and later?

It's the concept that the best artists sometimes create their best work under constraint rather than when working with freedom.

Because of the Hays Code, all crime had to be punished by the end of the film back in the heyday of noir. The three general principles (as listed in Wiki)

The Production Code enumerated three "General Principles":

  1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
  2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
  3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Did that mean predictable stories without dramatic tension? Hell no.
Did it mean that they didn't give you bad guys you could root for? Hell no.
Did it mean the 'good' guys were worth rooting for every time? Hell no.

The best films of that time (Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, DOA, The Big Clock, Cape Fear) found ways to play against those moral code imposed limits and still entertain.

By the late 60s and 70s with the explosion of the anti-hero, all that was turned on its head. Now the law enforcers were always bad or incompetent (usually with one iconoclastic law man who finds himself constrained by bureaucrats), the criminals always sympathetic, the hippie chick always naked at some point, and usually they ended these films in some pointless way (Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, the perfect examples).

Then in the 80s and 90s were the screwed up remakes of classic noir pictures (Cape Fear, No Way Out, DOA, to name a few) showed how not to make noir (though some good noirish films came out at that time, too (Blood Simple, Bound, The Last Seduction, Kill Me Again).

Constraint can lead to better art, whether imposed by outside forces, or by the artist themselves.

As a libertarian of course I prefer that any constraint placed on artists be self-imposed, and I can appreciate an unrestrained exercise in excess (Battle Royale, anyone?), but enjoy the aesthetic value of a different era when artists had to be sly to be subversive.

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