Film Noir and Living in the Past: “If a man’s life can be lived so long and come out this way”

While reviewing the positive reviews and box office listing at Movie Review Intelligence…

Force of Evil (1948) – Script & direction by Abe Polonsky

“But I’m not going to end up
On the rocks in the river
like my brother…

I wanted to find Leo,
to see him once more.

It was morning by then, dawn,

And naturally
I was feeling very bad there

As I went down there.

I just kept going
down and down there.

It was like going down
to the bottom of the world

To find my brother.

I found my brother’s body
at the bottom there,

Where they had thrown it away
on the rocks by the river,

Like an old, dirty rag
nobody wants.

He was dead,

And I felt
I had killed him.

I turned back
to give myself up to hall,

Because if a man’s life
can be lived so long

And come out this way-
Like rubbish-

Then something was horrible

And had to be ended
one way or another,

And I decided to help.”

While reviewing the positive reviews stats and box office receipts at the US site Movie Review Intelligence I realised the continuing failure of American contemporary cinema in producing quality movies that attract a wide audience. Sure sentimentality and fantasy are well represented and popular, but where is the cinema that challenges the contemporary reality – unemployment, inequality, reactionary politics, war, the environment, the fall-out from the financial crisis? Not from Hollywood.  Cinema if it is to be relevant must confront as well as engage. And where is the film criticism that explores the smaller films and their success or failure as social documents not just as cinema?

Look at these figures for instance. The US box-office for Tree of Life after 6 months is US$13.3M. A bold film yes, a great film yes, an essential film yes. A film that speaks to a broad audience a resounding no. The US box for the independent-produced Margin Call with a 75pct positive rating after two months US$5.2M – a flawed film but at least an attempt to understand the genesis of the financial crisis in human terms. But the critics praise was in filmic terms solely not as an historical document or as social criticism. Where is the film critic interested or qualified to discuss these failings? Nowhere in the mainstream media nor the blogosphere for sure.

You can learn more and find a stronger committed critique of American values and the social and economic structures in the gritty b-dramas of 30s Hollywood and 40s film noir. There is something to be said for living in the past.


One thought on “Film Noir and Living in the Past: “If a man’s life can be lived so long and come out this way””

  1. Heck even Jethro Tull condoned “Living in the Past.” But yeah, there is really no question that the gritty noirs of the 30’s and 40’s was far more cognizant of the social issues than fantasy and action crazed Hollywood, who have only the box office potential in mind. Great Polonsku lead-in there. To some extent Kazan’s ON THE WATERFRONT can also be envisoned with that scenario.

    Anyway, a fabulous post.


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