By Graham Wynd
What is noir? You can Google the term and come up with a bunch of answers, but as librarians will ask you, are you sure you have the right one? I always say I’m a ‘duck test’ sort of person — an out-dated Americanism for recognising ‘communists’ viz. if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck (though Senator McCarthy might have been wise to have looked into more stringent methods).
Most people who like the genre of noir will point to the films with their bleak cityscapes, inky shadows and sudden gun shots. Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart frown with worry, Lauren Bacall and Gloria Grahame show their gams, while Farley Granger looks lost. In novels, Patricia Highsmith’s slippery Tom Rippley worms his way into people’s lives while keeping his intentions hidden, or Dashiell Hammet sends the Continental Op to a seedy location and the blood spills red down the walls.
When I think of ‘noir’ I tend to think of women who don’t see the options and men who make bad choices. The very gendered split of that thought is what led me to thinking about Drag Noir and how people might play with that divide. In the noir world, people invest in the gender divisions because it brings them some certainty in an uncertain and dangerous world.
Buddhists say desire is the beginning of suffering: noir is all about the suffering. And the desire — whether it’s for money or sex or something less certain. Fred MacMurray lusting for Barbara Stanwyck: we know the Double Indemnity story so well. But what about Lily Dillon in Jim Thompson’s The Grifters? Especially as embodied by Anjelica Huston in Frears’ film, she’s hungry and restless as a shark, but nothing really fills it for long. Sometimes there’s a hunger that can’t be fed.
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
Till one day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag ’em down…
Yeah, that’s noir.
Extricate is out now: buy it Amazon.
A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub.