Did you ever read a Jim Thompson novel? Everyone is doomed in them. Paranoid, fevered, striving for things they don’t need and will never get. On the rare instance they do get them, they spoil their chance at escape or redemption. It’s not the sunniest view of the world.
I haven’t read Thompson in many years. I don’t read much crime fiction these days. But there was a time when I inhaled Chandler, Hammett, McDonald, Highsmith, and Thompson. Couldn’t get enough. Now I mostly scratch that itch with movies. Usually old ones. I think maybe our contemporary technology kills off a lot of the poetry of the heist and murder plots. All anybody has to do is pick up their smartphone and the crime is solved.
Alain Corneau’s Série Noire is the best film adaptation of a Jim Thompson book I know of. Like all the better ones, it’s unfaithful to its source material. Set in the woebegone outskirts of Paris in a thoroughly burned-out 70s, it oozes desperate hopelessness. Everyone is on the make, ready to claw each other’s eyes out over table scraps. It’s so squalid.
Why do I love this movie so much?
Our hero, Franck Poupet, thinks all his problems are solved when he happens on a rich old woman keeping her young niece hostage, making her have sex with strangers as payment for odd jobs around her crumbling manse. He’ll kill the woman, take her money, and disappear into the sunset with the girl. Doesn’t quite work out that way, but Franck is so addled he doesn’t seem surprised or disappointed.
I turned this movie on the other night and it made me want to draw. Something about the lighting and the degree of disorder was inspiring. Drawing freezeframes off TV was a fun hobby I started in early lockdown. I haven’t drawn from many movies from the 80s or later. Something is missing in those.
What would the people in Série Noire do with a cell phone? Would they be any less miserable?
As dark as Série Noire gets, it’s got a magical ending. A rare one that sticks in my memory; I usually forget plot points even from favorite movies and books. Franck has lost all his money, killed three people, but he twirls his girl around and around under streetlamp light. The cops will be coming to take him away, no doubt. But for this brief moment he’s ecstatic.
Franck’s a manic-depressive loser, so you know a low is coming soon after this high, but the screen goes black before we see him crash.
[My collage show continues at least two more weeks. Here are some photos my friend Noah took when he visited. I plan to be there Saturday and Sunday afternoons and by appointment other days, so drop a line if you want to meet up and see it.]