Monday, August 3, 2015

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

(SLWB - May 09, 2012)

Directors Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (uncredited), written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. Starring  Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand James Gandolfini, Tony Shaloub, Katherine Borowitz, Jon Polito, Scarlett Johansson, and Michael Badalucco.

A tongue-in-cheek low key Neo Noir shot in Black and White that nicely captures some of the spirit of the classic noir period.  However during the Classic Noir period the Noir styled cinematography seamlessly blended into the background but here in this film it feels a bit too obvious in calling attention to itself in spots. Its pallet is overall shades of gray and where it does dip into the high contrast noir, it shows. Its almost as if the directors consciously remembered they were making a noir and insert darker shots here and there. Its a minor quibble.

Most of the film is this (Thornton & Polito)

and this in pallet (Thornton & McDormond)

occasionally going stylistically darker like the two shots below

Classic composition

Scarlet Johannson

Storyline from IMDb:
1949, Santa Rosa, California. A laconic, chain-smoking barber with fallen arches tells a story of a man trying to escape a humdrum life. It's a tale of suspected adultery, blackmail, foul play, death, Sacramento city slickers, racial slurs, invented war heroics, shaved legs, a gamine piano player, aliens, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Ed Crane cuts hair in his in-law's shop; his wife drinks and may be having an affair with her boss, Big Dave, who has $10,000 to invest in a second department store. Ed gets wind of a chance to make money in dry cleaning. Blackmail and investment are his opportunity to be more than a man no one notices. Settle in the chair and listen.

Originally titled at one time "The Barber" then jokingly "Pansies Don't Float" the film replicates early 1950's suburbia in a bleak noir tale with twists and turns feeling very much like a studio back lot film.  Its a lot of fun an doesn't shy away from fedoras or cigarette smoking.

I'll repeat a post from IMDb about the cigarette smoking culture.

hobartz (Sun Jan 29 2012 04:53:04)
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Ah, the social psychology of smoking. Fascinating subject.
In the 1940's the vast majority of adult Americans smoked. My mother was in her teens and twenties during that decade and was a stubborn exception. She was something of a curiosity and was constantly asked why she didn't smoke. She gave all the (now familiar) reasons that to her seemed obvious: health, expense, smell, fire hazard, etc.. A typical response from other women was, "but what do you do with your hands?" The typical response from men was something along the lines of "what a tedious killjoy you are".
Smoking was seen as healthful, an affirmation of maturity, and above all "stylish", the '40's notion of anything today termed "cool". Many social expressions were involved in the intricacies of the physical act of smoking. A whole culture of expression existed around the acts of retrieving a cigarette, preparing it for lighting, lighting it, inhaling the first puff, exhaling the smoke, holding the cigarette, tapping ash, repeated puffs, and finally stubbing, crushing, dropping, stamping out the butt. By the 1940's cigarette smoking was not only a personal act but also a social and cultural act.
Cigarettes of the 1940's were nearly all unfiltered so the smoker "dry-lipped" the end of the cigarette while smoking it. Slightly exaggerating the dry lipping made the person look tough, sort of like Humphrey Bogart's contentious and slightly contemptuous demeanor. Often a flake of tobacco would stick to the lip that would have to be plucked off and flicked away. This, too, was considered stylish among males, but not so much among females.
Along these lines, one of the reasons for developing filtered cigarettes was so that women could purse out their lips instead of tucking them in as the cigarette was held between the lips. Women preferred to look pouty with full lips rather than thin-lipped tough. Another reason women adopted filtered cigarettes was due to their "sensitive throats". With smoking, women's voices became gravelly and deepened from soprano to alto, from alto to tenor and even to baritone. So partly for these reasons filtered cigarettes were considered effeminate until the 1950's issue of the first US Surgeon General's report about the ill-effects of tobacco smoking. Only then did tobacco companies begin generalized marketing of filters as a health feature of their products.
It's not hard to imagine a time in the future when social anthropologists will be explaining in historical documentaries the phenomenon of smoking during the 20th century. Won't it be a hoot when people turn to one another after seeing such a documentary and say, "wow... I wonder how crazy a society has to be to have something as weird as THAT get so fully implanted in it!?" Based simply on the fact that the thread op posted the question about so much smoking, I'd say that day may be closer than we think. And that's a good thing.

It fits in nicely with the domestic melodrama variant noirs 8/10


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