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Listen: Film Noir

on June 01, 2010, 1:15pm

“This is a good example of a movement, like film noir,” my college professor would often say as his eyes lit up. The guy who taught my film history class was all about the movement popularized in the ’40s and ’50s as film noir. For those of you who aren’t total film nerds like myself, film noir is a style of film, usually shot in black and white with low-key lighting, depicting some sort of story that usually involves a mysterious crime, some deceptive sex, or if you’re lucky…both. My professor’s favorite example (and most modern) was American Beauty, but classics include though aren’t limited to The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, and Chinatown. Crime, sex, Kevin Spacey, insurance fraud, Roman Polanski, mysteries, nuclear families, and Jack Nicholson altogether make this type of film intriguing and artistically superior (in some ways). Therefore, a band by the same name has to appreciate a higher art form within their tunes.

The Canadian hipsters known as Film Noir sure can construct a remarkable record. The result? I Had a Happy Childhood. There’s not much else to their whereabouts, other than that they’re Canadian. (It doesn’t help that their whole website is in French, and Google Translator did a pretty half-assed job.) However, from what can be gathered, they formed in a bar in 2005, they seem to drink a lot of vodka, and describe themselves as Tom Waits meets Radiohead. Cool. Though, Tom Waits meets Radiohead, maybe not. Instead, think of The Strokes or Lou Reed, hanging out together for an afternoon – which shouldn’t be too hard given that Julian Casablancas shares a tone or two with Mr. Reed.

But on to Film Noir…

I Had a Happy Childhood starts out with a simple 1, 2, 3 count-off into a standard snare march that calls forth, “By the Bay”, which, in all honesty, actually sounds like a…. walk along the bay. Wow, who would have thought, huh? As the singers reel off about “where the mighty have fallen,” guitar work rings in with high notes that bring forth some honest lyrical introspection. “The Road” arrives next, trucking on with some bell-like guitar lines. Once the drums pick up, however, the whole thing recalls the likes of Elefant, and the solos in the verse feel as though Trey Anastasio went indie.

photofilmnoirsmall Listen: Film NoirAnother track, “In a Courtroom”, stays true to the band’s name. This is how a film noir movie should sound. One can see the steam rising off the mean streets of Anywhere, U.S.A., where a hard-boiled detective coaxes some sexually appealing spider woman, with the two of them both smoking cigarettes, of course. The guitar is so mysterious and the drums never get above mid-tempo, giving the song a sort of calm-cool feel to it. This detective knows what’s going on. The same goes for “The Farmer”, only there’s horns and circus organs. Yeah, this song literally sounds like 1959. The singer even mentions smoking, bourbon, a farmer dying, and being all alone. How about that for subtlety?

The thing is, though, film noir was about taking some dirty and disgusting story and making it into something beautiful. All the stories in film noir involve sex, crime, cigarettes, drinking, being a scumbag, asking questions, tracking down answers, and slapping around women (occasionally), but they were told in a cinematic fashion that can still dazzle a young mind, even 60 to 70 years later. And that’s what is still going on. The members of Film Noir are indeed taking stories of grit, honesty, darkness, and ugliness, making them into beautiful and poetic songs that are more than just pulp. It’s a high form of art, just like the movement that gave them their name.

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