Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Noir and Guitar: One Vigilant Vixen

And here we are at the closing day of, and my final contribution to, The Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films terrific For the Love of Film (Noir) Film Preservation Blogathon. If you go to their respective sites, you'll see that they are knocked out with submissions from writers both lauded and loaded, and as of this writing have already raised over $5000 toward the restoration of THE SOUND OF FURY starring Lloyd Bridges, just from the pocket change of shlumpfs like you and me.

So, the Blogathon may be over, but the love, the appreciation, and the art form keeps on going. Thus I'm posting today in postscript.

While I've been musing on the past in my previous entries, today, we're looking at the present and future. Presently, the Noir still has a compelling draw, as witnessed by the success of this Blogathon and the participants it has attracted. Outside of our little borough, however, it's still a bit of a fight. It's peculiar how we have arguably the most film-literate generation walking the streets and yet so many have never had chance, or even openly eschew the opportunity, to watch classic B&W filmmaking. The studios are no longer putting as much historical love into making them available to the public: where at the dawn of DVD we were spoiled by carefully crafted box sets of favorites and discoveries, catalog titles are no longer a priority and have mostly been relegated to the no-frills frontier of Manufacture-On-Demand releases. TV airings are extremely sparse: if you don't have Turner Classic Movies, you'll have a harder time finding a noir on TV than you would a prison screw who isn't on the take.

And meanwhile in my particular focus, the music video, on the surface, times seem as harsh as the setting of a noir. With the democratization of YouTube, videos are at once everywhere and nowhere, so while they are still made, they're not the must-see attraction they once were - no "MTV Exclusives," no theatrical runs, no multi-million-dollar budgets - so everyone, professional and potzer alike, are fighting for the same scraps of your attention like dogs on a meat truck. A band like OK GO can still get famous for an innovative video, and even build a following on a small budget, but more often than not, YouTube superstars become nostalgia acts as fast as you can say "Chocolate Rain." Nevertheless, good, creative types still explore the possibilities and make three minutes of Heaven, and many of them can even go on to solid success in longer-form work. And if there's an honest pair of dice in this crap game, the following lady just might be next in line.

Victoria Lane is a committed actress, a fearless promoter, a mordant writer, and as Jason Robards once observed about Stella Stevens, the ladiest damned lady I've ever known. Taking the professional subtitle of "Retro Hollywood Starlet," she has been one of a fiercely dedicated group of artists keeping the archetypes of Noir alive and relevant, through modeling spreads and live events. I've been privileged to know her for almost a decade, and to contribute from time to time to her projects.

Recently, the groundbreaking and resilient '80's band Duran Duran announced that they would hold a contest for fans to make their own videos for their new album ALL YOU NEED IS NOW, with winners receiving a cash prize and their videos collected on a DVD tied-in to the physical CD release of the currently download-only album. Victoria has submitted an entry for the song "Before the Rain." Considering Duran Duran's roots in the New Romantic movement, their frequent collaborations with the previously mentioned Noir-enthusiast Russell Mulcahy, and Victoria's love and understanding of the genre, frankly, this is a perfect marriage. As such, I asked Victoria to talk about her background and the production, as an example of how Noir can and will continue to fascinate new generations.

What was your first encounter with film noir?
I grew up watching old black and white Hollywood movies. I am not exactly sure when I first encountered the noir genre specifically, though. I just know that I was well versed in genres and noir was one of them. I was drawn to the early days of Hollywood for a variety of reasons, particularly the elegance of black and white film. Painting with light and the use of shadow were tools I understood very early as an artistic language.

That first noir film I happened upon was a movie starring Veronica Lake. Now that I look back, it’s a bit of twisted foreshadowing that I latched onto her. Many of the things she was accused of or criticized for have haunted me as well, though I’d kill to have had a higher profile career than I have thus far enjoyed. Minus the drinking. I have my vices and have had a wild period that makes Lindsey Lohan look like an amateur but I am nowhere near the tragic alcoholic Veronica Lake was legendary for becoming.

What are the elements that attracted you to it? Were you an instant fan, or did it take time to become your favorite genre?
There was always a little something wrong with me (or right with me, depending upon your perspective). From a remarkably early age, I was able to ferret out the bad guy in a movie before he revealed himself. I was attracted to the dark side. At first it was a sort of innocent type of romance. The thrill of going toe to toe with evil and walking away in tact.
But as I lived, experienced, loved, hated, and saw humanity for what it was, I started to have a burgeoning affinity for darker genres, particularly film noir. The concept of people being forced into extreme situations and engaged in mortal as well as moral combat all at once appeals to me. I understand how a perfectly good person can fall down hard. I fully condone adventuring through one’s vices and partaking in ‘sin.‘ And I like the idea of redemption, though not the sort you’ll find in a church. Having the strength to be you, both dark and light, is very attractive to me. All of that is found in film noir from the writing to the production value.

Up until now, what have you done to elevate its profile?.
I like to refer to myself as a living film noir vixen. It isn’t entirely a compliment in my mind. I am quite literally at that scary point in my life where I am standing at the end of my fading youth after a fast lane life of easy money and big dreams that amounted to so much stardust easily blown away by the faintest breeze. I took it on as a sort of theme from the way I dress to the creative projects I select.
I’ve recently posed in some beautiful images by photographer Mark Berry, done a night of Naked Noir for Dr. Sketchy’s LA and produced a little short set to Duran Duran’s recently released "Before The Rain" with the hopes of perhaps winning a contest to help fund a larger project set to execute this year.

What were the circumstances that led you to make your music video for "Before the Rain"?
That was a perfect storm. I have always wanted to be a Duran Duran video vixen. But by the time I had the self possession to do such a thing, Duran Duran was no longer dominating MTV.
Also, I have been trying to do my first film noir for years now. I had a basic plot and a very lush world carefully constructed. I had the beginnings of a script too. But between the Writer’s Strike and the economy, I had to sacrifice that whole thing to focus on surviving.
In December of last year Duran Duran released their latest album. It was one of the darker months of my adult life. The album was a bit of bright spot that shot like a laser beam through the darkness and woke up something deep inside of me. A week or two later, the band Twittered about a video contest. It was one of those moments where I felt like the Universe was talking to me and giving me the chance to fly if I had the guts to jump off a cliff. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to do it.
And so I decided to make two of my dreams come true. I made myself a Duran Duran video vixen (on a very limited stage, of course) and I co-produced a little noir movie with Todd Liebman.

(It has been brought to my attention that the embedded video is not showing up on some browsers, particularly Internet Explorer. If you can't see it above, you can click here to watch at the Genero.tv site.)

Why did you pick this song? Did the film noir concept come first, or did the song inspire the concept?
I picked the song for a few reasons. It was the only near gothic track on the album. And, given the clear hits other people were responding to, I expected it to be largely ignored by other filmmakers.
The song is not a frivolous pop hit. It’s a very dark, exquisite piece of poetry with a distinct pulse. The story we imagined came after listening to the song repeatedly. Granted, the story we came up with and what we were able to film in three days with a very limited budget as well as all the inevitable flaking of others were completely different, which still vexes me. But part of the whole process of making a film is realizing it is a living being that takes new directions. Being able to handle that is just as important as meticulous planning.

Describe the production. Was it a difficult shoot?
Filmmaking is challenging. It is not for the faint of heart nor the stubbornly rigid. Every single day was full of setbacks from locations falling through to people simply not showing up or expecting to be paid insane amounts of money. Indie film is a concept lost on a lot of people here in Los Angeles. When they hear "movie," they think of studio budgets that can shut down swathes of the city. I think we spent a total of $400. And no one was paid for their time. It was all contributed.
Todd and I had to do everything ourselves. Even on a four minute film that is a lot of work, particularly for Todd who was his own crew. It was very odd for me at times to be an actor in the movie but also the line producer keeping everything on schedule. It took some very intense compartmentalizing on my part.
I think the hardest bit for me was having to let go of the original concept and accept what we could get done. When we were shooting, we had a particular deadline looming set by the contest which was later changed. We weren’t aware of the additional two weeks added in the final days.
Also a total bitch? Loading that damn gun clip. Repeatedly. Putting bullets into a clip is not easy. You need some serious hand strength. (The clip was real. But the actual gun was not.)

Do you feel you have more to explore within the noir genre, either in short form or perhaps a full feature film?
I am not even close to finished with the genre. I am still going to produce the feature length noir. The current working title is “Pain Doll.” After seeing what we can do in three days, I am convinced this is what I am supposed to be doing. It’s not a bad first stab at filmmaking and even earned us a few investors as well as a real music video gig.

So what's next?
Next, I finish cleaning up “Pain Doll,” get some financing and kill myself to get it in the can. I’d like to do some live shows, maybe finally get back to singing in some of the lurid little jazz clubs popping up all over LA and pose for more fine art photography. Predictably, I am busy writing the ‘Great American Novel.’ I may eventually finish it up and put it on some dead trees before that becomes a thing of the past. I want to hold at least one book I wrote all by myself in my hands before I die. In fact, I’d like to be buried clutching it to my chest with a look of satisfaction painted on my dead face.

I would say clutching a work of art involving Victoria Lane would bring a look of satisfaction to anyone's face.

If you enjoyed Victoria's video for "Before the Rain," please go to Genero.tv and vote your appreciation for it. While it is not clear whether internet votes will determine the winners of the contest (the band will be picking favorites too), it will certainly help draw more interest and visibility to the vixen.

And, you can still donate to the THE SOUND OF FURY preservation fund by clicking on the custom banner below.

My enormous thanks to Farran and Marilyn for hosting the Blogathon, to Victoria for taking time to talk about Noir, and all you lovely little people in the dark for reading these posts...hopefully not in the dark, it's bad for your eyes!

1 comment:

  1. Hello!
    This is my first-time leaving a comment on your blog...Since I just "discovered" your blog...duh!
    Well, let me start by saying that your intro(duction) captured my attention immediately!
    The interview held my attention...(What a very nice video too!...I knew that "trouble" was coming after viewing...The booze, The Gun and The Clips!)
    Yes, I will vote and I'am in the process Of donating to Eddie Muller's Film Noir Foundation.
    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee ;-D