The mark of Cain

Inspired by Jim’s post from the other week, I picked up the EC Archives Crime SuspenStories Vol. 1. This volume contains the first six issues of the series, four of which feature stories indebted to James M. Cain. Road to Perdition author Max Allen Collins provides the forward to the volume as well as endnotes to each issue. He talks about interviewing EC author/artist Johnny Craig:

“Not being a truly literary person,” he told me in 1983, “I am not sure I ever heard of James M. Cain, though I surely must have.”

The influences for these stories were B movies and radio dramas, like what we’ve been watching and listening to in Noir106, more than their pulp predecessors. Some scenes come directly from Cain’s tales, others re-situate his model of the femme fatale. Here are a few snapshots:

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Here is a character reminiscent of Cora from The Postman Always Rings Twice

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Another Postman-inspired scene

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The opening panel gives nods to both Postman and Double Indemnity.

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The gender is switched, but otherwise derived from Postman

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Another lust-murder in the plotting…

Both Jim and I had been thinking about a EC-themed ds106. It fits in with both Noir106 and the ds106Zone, but it also connected to Hardboiled and even True Crime, although that’s a stretch.

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Guardian of the galaxy

Groom wrote about his favorite Groom art, which included Sharla’s revisioning of I Am Legend. But since I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend, I had to interpret it differently. At first I was going to use the Groot character in place of Will Smith, but I didn’t want to steal any of Sharla’s thunder by using the same poster. My next thought was to apply Groom to one of the Groots floating around online.

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Or I could take it back to the beginning with the original Groot.

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What I should do is find a way to animate it, but that seems like it will take work.

With the first image, I payed with the layer blending mode until I found one that brought in some of the color from the background layer. The image has a grayish cast anyway, so it fits pretty well. The second image came in the Index color mode rather than RGB, so when I pasted Jim’s face on it, it didn’t make a new layer – apparently Index color doesn’t work that way. Luckily the grays match, more or less. I changed it to RGB then, and did a lot of copying and pasting to change a couple Ts to Ms and to get the punctuation in the right spots. I had to look for a custom font for the big name below the title. I scrolled through Dafont until I found Marsh Thing Regular, and I used their generator to make the name, then took a screen shot and brought that into Photoshop. I changed the letters from black to white and applied a 4 point stroke, in black, to them to get the outline. I had to copy and paste parts of the hands to bring them in front of the letters. It was kinda a lot of work, but Groot is worth it.

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Tales from DS106

Jim wrote a bit about sharing comic books with his kids and talked about making an animated GIF out of one of the covers

I want to have the dude who is buried alive slamming on the coffin, need to talk to MBS about the best way to do this.

So I thought I’d give it a try. Making the arms pound didn’t seem like it would be too difficult – it’s just a matter of lassoing them and copying and pasting into a different layer. The one in the foreground I did in two parts, forearm and upper arm, and the other arm I did as a third layer. I used the move and rotate functions to shift the arm positions a little, and made my two animations frames – one as is and one with the arms moved. I decided his head should move as well, so I did a copy-paste-rotate job on that too. I copied some of the coffin behind his head and used it to cover up the background layer, so you wouldn’t see both when it moves. This is the hard thing about animating comic book covers – fixing the background bits. I didn’t do it with the hands because I was hoping the double image would contribute to the illusion of rapid beating. I was wrong though, so I had to work on it some more. Then I decided to follow John Johnston’s suggestion about the three hosts in the circles. After doing that, I couldn’t leave “Crypt” in the title. The problem there was finding the right typeface. I’ve seen one with wedge-shaped characters that I might be able to modify, but I don’t have it on my laptop. So instead I looked for a Tales from the Crypt font online and used what I found. It’s not even close, but it doesn’t really have to match anything so it sort of works.

talesfromds106

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Call me Jack

We had another great ds106radio listen and tweet session last night, this time with The Adventures of Philip Marlowe – Red Wind and a Mystery Playhouse tale of Jack the Ripper. I didn’t really preview either of these before I scheduled them, so I’m glad they went as well as they did.

As always, the sound made the stories. Even with the crackly recording, the voices, the music and the sound effects were what made the productions work. Many people commented on these points:

I think we’ll see, or hear, rather, the payoff from these listening sessions in the radio projects. Everybody is analyzing these examples as they’re starting to plan their productions, and developing an appreciation for the power of sound. During the Red Wind portion of the broadcast, a number of people commented on Chandler’s use of language. His work in fiction and film set a standard for hardboiled and noir. Like Mickey Spillane, he pushes the lingo to a point that sounds like parody from our perspective, but it only sounds that way because it’s so distinctive.

I was able to locate Chandler’s text for Red Wind online, for anyone who might be interested. The Jack the Ripper tale was an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly – Jack the Ripper, which I remembered from comic books and Star Trek. I didn’t hear Bloch credited in the production though.

I enjoyed both productions so much I may need to listen to more. Both The Adventures of Philip Marlowe and Mystery Playhouse() are in the Internet Archive, so maybe they’ll find their way onto Noir106 Radio next week.

Our participants last night were:

@miaboleis
@smstagner
@kels_roach
@SLHendo93
@Plamkeen
@StJada13
@eriee27
@kendall_parker2
@jcpds106
@CallhimCWALK
@BrianneComden34
@LandonEpp8
@ahowlan2
@janellegelino
@nay_nay09
@GeoffBerryman
@NeliaWhite
@mkhands106
@brian2burns
@martino_brianna
@mburtis
@junegirl013
@mrosengrant12

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Big Mama

For our third listen-along session this week, we heard the Lux Radio Theater production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. This was a little different from our earlier shows. Except for Moon Grafitti, all the others originated in written literature, although The Butterfly was the only one that didn’t adapt a film production.

This was problematic because the visual language of film doesn’t translate so well to the language of radio. I didn’t notice it so much because I’ve seen the movie often enough to know it thoroughly and to picture what was going on. Some of the listeners, on the other hand, would get the male leads confused because they had only voices to go by.

The worst part was the ending, which completely fell flat. Some people wondered what happened and some didn’t seem aware that it had ended. As Talky Tina noted, the ending of the film is very dramatic:

but the drama is all in the visual – the lighting, the framing, the editing and the pacing, the expressions – none of which came through on the radio.

"Marcel Duchamp Mona Lisa LHOOQ". Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marcel_Duchamp_Mona_Lisa_LHOOQ.jpg

“Marcel Duchamp Mona Lisa LHOOQ”. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marcel_Duchamp_Mona_Lisa_LHOOQ.jpg

I guess the production was doomed from the start. To make it work, they would have had to do a drastic rewrite of the ending, an act which would have gone over about as well as a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

The participants for the evening were:

@codingcrows
@spencer_cscott
@sgrubbs_2
@smstagner
@ChelseaIrizarry
@delovelyames
@cloehr10
@bchristi_1361
@heyits_leanna
@a_seay55
@Cuyler_Matteson
@SavannaTRMA
@poealias7
@sak_us
@EllenOBrien6
@Cheyanne291992

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No wire hangers

We had a great live tweeting session last night with Mildred Pierce on DS106radio. Everyone seemed to be involved and enjoying it. A few things stood out to me.

The first, as we have seen (heard actually) consistently in these sessions, was the impact of sound. Simple background sounds create a sense of place. There’s something poetic about how a little crowd noise and some clinking glasses paint a picture of a restaurant. Sounds define action as well, like in the scene where Bert stormed out of the restaurant away from Monty and Mildred. All we heard of Bert’s reaction was breaking glass, but that was all we needed in the context of the scene.

One thing that was different about this production was that it seemed rushed, or abbreviated. When we listened to The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity the stories felt complete even though they were significantly shorter than the films. Last night’s program was missing the depth of Cain’s story or the build-up of Curtiz’s film.

Instead of the soap commercials we heard in earlier broadcasts, this time we heard pro-US infomercials, which seemed bizarre. The show aired in June, 1954, which was after the Korean conflict, but the Cold War was still going strong.

Apparently propaganda works. Some students want to jump on the bandwagon:

This is in reference to The Vignelli Canon from last week(http://noir106.us/weekly-assignments/week-5-the-design-of-noir/), where the designer/author makes a disparaging comment

The United States uses a basic letter size (8 1/2 x 11”) of ugly proportions, and results in complete chaos with an endless amount of paper sizes. It is a by-product of the culture of free enterprise, competition and waste. Just another example of the misinterpretations of freedom.

cc2012 Donald Ogg https://www.flickr.com/photos/oggd/6816425565

cc2012 Donald Ogg https://www.flickr.com/photos/oggd/6816425565

The European standard is based on the Golden Ratio which has proportions based in nature, which are somehow naturally appealing. Having studied design long ago, I can see that appeal, but I don’t know why it works. Squares and circles are easy to understand. The golden rectangle is based on both, so that probably has something to do with it. I found a short article from The Atlantic which points out some of the design problems with the 8.5 x 11 size. I also found something from the American Forest and Paper Association through the Wayback Machine that explains the origins of the size. This supports Vignelli’s point that the standard is based on economics rather than aesthetics. Most of us don’t see that as a problem because we’re inundated with the 8.5 x 11 size. It makes our environment a little bit uglier, but we get used to it or we accept it as the way it is. Not that that is a good thing.

We had a good crowd tweeting along. The participants were:

@JuLaszakovits
@3lilangls
@tyowell29
@anthrorose
@jimgroom
@SHargis6
@laurenfalkens
@kkroehl
@BrendaLevoy
@JackFEaton
@spencer_cscott
@EmilyBostaph
@PBoyle5912
@MissMoon79
@bhenryteam

and on Monday, for Strangers on a Train, we had:

@Gyeore_Lee
@mburtis
@spencer_cscott
@_KayBee27_
@ayee_layton8
@stephwhite_umw
@BrendaLevoy

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Dispatch from the Dark: Design

Wow, the sound came out bad on that one! I should have done it over, but I ran out of time. I mention The Non-Designer’s Design Book as another source for learning about design. Vignelli was writing to designers in his Canon, as an expert to novices. Williams is a writer offering advice to people who have to do design but don’t really want to be designers. So take it for what it’s worth.

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Ready set design

Blade Runner has some fascinating set design. It seems like most science fiction up to that time either presented a clean futuristic utopia or a primitive post-apocalyptic dystopia. In Blade Runner, it’s dirty, chaotic, run-down and overcrowded. The shiny and new exists alongside the old and decrepit, like in the real world. If we just look at the opening scene, we see a large city at night, with towering plumes of flame coming out of I don’t know what. There’s spaceship-type hover cars going into some massive building.

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Inside, it’s normal office space. The smoking man and the ceiling fan actually make it look dated to me. It could easily come from the 40s, except for the computer screen. But that makes it look dated too. It’s interesting how they thought transportation would advance, but video displays wouldn’t.

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The Voight-Kampff testing machine looks steampunk to me, although steampunk wasn’t a thing back then. Perhaps Blade Runner’s mix of the archaic and futuristic helped inspire steampunk.

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The set design raises issues of what is lasting and what is fleeting, nature and artifice – issues that are explored in the script. That’s design thinking at work – the decisions made in set design weren’t made for appearance or atmosphere but rather to support the message of the movie.

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Wanted: Kidnapper

Someone’s gotta get this guy. Someone who knows the true value of a dutch oven.

old paper or parchment

I grabbed his picture from the video with MPEG Streamclip and trimmed out the background in Photoshop. I googled for the border and the background layer, but I didn’t keep track of where I found them – bad on my part, but I’m sure whoever put them out there is glad to contribute to the cause. I finally found an excuse to use that Rosewood typeface. I’m not sure it’s good for anything else but faux Old West documents. It’s pretty weak, design-wise, but we gotta get the word out fast!

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Evil editing

The story on Touch of Evil is that the movie studio took Welles’ film, re-edited it and re-shot some scenes. When Welles saw what they had done, he wrote a letter, 58 pages long, explaining what needed to be done to fix the damage. In the 90s, suoerstar sound designer/film editor Walter Murch (whose name sounds like something out of a noir story) restored the film as best he could to Welles’ specifications in the letter.

The opening sequences show dramatic differences. Both drop the viewer right into the action, without any explanation. This seems to be a noir/hardboiled thing. The studio edit presents a fairly standard opening, with theme music and credits. A lot of people seemed to prefer this version, perhaps because it meets our expectations of the beginning of a movie better than the restored cut. Henry Mancini’s music brings a sense of drama to it, but it’s artificial in an obvious way. On one hand, it influences the viewer’s emotions, and on the other it creates a kind of barrier between the view and the action. That barrier is reinforced by the credits, which siphon a large amount of our attention away from the scene. In a way, it sets us up to be lazy. It says the movie will tell us how to feel and what we need to know.

The restored version gives a wealth of sonic detail to situate us in the scene. Right from the opening, where someone’s hand sets the timer, we hear the minute detail of the ratcheting noise as the dial is turned. It’ a small thing, but it’s amplified in a subtle way to grab our attention. Jim has talked in the past about how some movies teach us how to watch them. I think that’s happening here in the opening scene. The sound is chaotic, but all the little detail tell us where we are in relation to things. It’s very subtle, but we hear the sound of cross traffic a split second before it shows up on the screen. That draws us in. It tells us there’s things going on that we’re not seeing yet. It’s training us to pay close attention to details, and to think about them, perhaps subconsciously, because all the details matter.

I think the reason so many people preferred the traditional opening is because the scene is taken out of context. I’m looking at it in hindsight, in relation to the movie as a whole, whereas others are probably coming at it fresh. The movie is well worth watching, particularly for its masterful use of light and shadow, editing and sound. The Simpson Library has it on DVD.

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