WEIRDLAND: Femme Fatales in Noir and Rock & Roll

Friday, April 28, 2017

Femme Fatales in Noir and Rock & Roll

Nico - Femme Fatale: "Here she comes, you better watch your step/She's going to break your heart in two, it's true/It's not hard to realize/Just look into her false colored eyes/She builds you up to just put you down, what a clown/'Cause everybody knows/She's a femme fatale." —"The Velvet Underground & Nico" (1967)

The Big Sleep unintentionally subverts its own downbeat noir fantasy by having the dick and the potential film fatale get together. She isn’t a siren beckoning him to his doom like Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon, or like Carmen would have been if he gave in to her advances; Vivian is his peer and every bit as acid-tongued in her retorts as Bogie. It is a bizarre courtship by way of insults, Bogart’s aloofness, Bacall’s disaffection, and Hawks’ rapid fire, dry humor. The Big Sleep is about a tough detective, yet it is not marketed or built upon a lonely cynic like Bogart’s Sam Spade, but around a two-hour flirtation between Bogart and Bacall. Bullets, booze, and bloody corpses amount to foreplay. By the time the movie opened, the most masculine of movie stars who, as Chandler memorably said, “looked tough without holding a gun,” is also considered even more idealized to be holding his off-screen wife’s hand. The war was over and the film noir movement it helped birth with a new streak of urbane American cynicism was just beginning. Yet already, a post-war mainstream contentedness was sneaking in too. Source:

“The streets are fields that never die,” from “The Crystal Ship” was a captivating image;  “Before you slip into unconsciousness”—that could be sleep, it could be an overdose, inflicted by the singer or the person he’s addressing, or a suicide pact. Jim Morrison raises his voice, his volume, only once, near the end; his voice never more modest, never more full. He was never a soul singer—the reserve of someone thinking everything through kept him from that—but here he gave himself up to the notes and melody. “Sometimes I make up words so I can remember the melody I hear,” Morrison once said; you can hear that happening here. Inside this soft, deeply elegant song, what Raymond Chandler called the big sleep, what Ross Macdonald called the chill, lingered, lay back on a bed with its lips parted. Already in 1968 the Doors were performing not freedom but its disappearance. This is what is terrifying: the notion that the Sixties was a place, even as it was created, people know they can never really inhabit, and never escape. 

Jim Morrison, a confused guy, enters this arena because it’s where the action is, and he becomes a new person, someone he doesn’t recognize. A few years later, on stage, he performs as a double: the old person watching the new one, just like any fan in the crowd. In New York, The Factory, the mood changes as the band (The Velvet Underground) refuses to let the music (Heroin) build in any conventional manner, refuses to even hint at a change, a break, a release. Everywhere in the room there is a sense of anticipation and dread. People know what roles they are expected to play—the amused scene-maker, the would-be groupie, the hipster, the fan, the skeptic, the insider—but those roles are beginning to break down. The camera fixes on single faces in the crowd, isolating them, and there’s a coldness in the faces, as if they’re watching a snuff movie: as if they know they aren’t going to like what comes next, but can’t turn away. In this long sequence, nothing is stressed, nothing is glamorized. —"The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years" (2013) by Greil Marcus

A motif regularly mobilised in Stone’s films, particularly in The Doors: the ‘non-conformist’ raging against the tyranny and hypocrisy of the ‘establishment’ and the blank conformity that sustains it. The Doors narrative splits its women into Pam Courson’s angel (Meg Ryan) and Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan) and Nico’s (Kristina Fulton) femme fatales. Susan Mackey-Kallis has argued that Stone’s films are an attempt to counter and make sense of the bewildering fragmentation and social chaos of postmodern America. Stone can be seen, like his protagonists, as a metonymic figure, and the rhetorical tropes that his image has come to signify: paranoia most obviously, but also martyrdom, victimisation, suffering, betrayal, sacrifice, and trauma. Sally Robinson argued that such rhetoric is key to the discourses of mythopoesis and masculine angst emergent in the 1970s. Robinson’s insights are particularly useful in examining how men are caught between two competing truths, masculinity and male experience; male power is secured by inexpressivity, even as inexpressivity damages the male psyche and body. 

In Oliver Stone’s own words, overtly hinting a quasi-Freudian worldview: "Death and women are two unknowns to males. Because of that, women assume this mysterious power over our psyche, and death is the same way, it’s the other unknown, and it terrifies us. And I think death and sex are intertwined, death and love, death and women. And that intertwining is partly the demon that motivates me. I think that sometimes you want to locate that demon and purify it, and at other times you should never expose that demon."

Stone’s films can be read as both symptomatically masochistic dramas and as restorative tales of remasculinization. Thus, the flaws of the archetypal metonymic son are those of the contemporary United States as a whole, the state of the nation embodied by his embattled protagonists. As such, the melancholic’s self-accusations function as a strategically distorted moral-political-spiritual critique of the nation, a romanticized view of the melancholic as the misunderstood and self-abnegating but truthful ‘moralist’ critic of society. ‘It is not that Stone is un-American,’ notes John Orr (2000), ‘it's more that he is too American.’ Mark Kermode notes Stone's films present contemporary American culture as a bewildering and disorienting polyvocal nightmare. —"Paranoid Histories and Locker-Room Fables: Oliver Stone Kicking Against the (dead) Pricks" (2013) by Martin Fradley

Jim Morrison appeared hypnotized listening to Nico fronting The Velvet Underground's concert at The Trip on West Hollywood,  May 1967. According to The Doors On the Road (1997) by Greg Shaw, Jim Morrison’s band –who had yet to release a record– are soon being considered as a replacement for Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, in light of the animosity between Zappa and The Velvet Underground members. “We were to be the opening act,” confirmed The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek: “We were very excited. New York and LA underground go head to head, so to speak. It would have been momentous. What a double bill! But the cops closed the club. Too much weirdness.” In July 1967 Morrison met Nico again at the Monterey Pop Festival, where Nico attended with her date, Brian Jones. The Doors were now riding high, selling more records per week than the Velvets would manage in their entire career together.

Jim Morrison had a crush on Nico and suggested she should get a record deal with The Doors' label Elektra. He loved her platinum-blonde hair and her thick Berlin accent. Because of her crystal beauty and her metallic accent, others made fun, said she didn’t have a heart like other women. But Nico now gave her heart to Jim Morrison. When Nico dyed her platinum-white hair red –like Morrison’s girlfriend Pamela Courson’s– he burst into tears. “He was the first man I was in love with,” Nico would later lament. It wasn’t until August 1967, just as Morrison’s affair with Nico was reaching its nadir, that The Doors returned to LA and the Sunset Sound studio, to begin work on Strange Days. When it came time to record the album’s pivotal track, When The Music’s Over, Morrison insisted the whole track be played live in the studio. The band acquiesced, then sat there for more than 12 hours waiting for him to show up. He never did. Instead, he phoned the studio at 3am and spoke to Krieger. “We’re in trouble here,” he told the guitarist. Morrison and his girlfriend Pam Courson were tripping on strong acid and wanted Krieger to drive them to nearby Griffith Park where they could “cool out”. —Classic Rock magazine, #132 

Danny Fields: "I've never had any respect for Oliver Stone, but after seeing his version of the Morrison/Nico meeting in the Doors movie - 'Hello, I am Nico, would you like to go to bed with me?' - the reality of it couldn't have been more different. I met Morrison at the Elektra office in L.A. and he followed me back to the Castle in his rented car. Morrison walked into the kitchen and Nico was there and they stood and circled each other. Then they stared at the floor and didn't say a word to each other. They were both too poetic to say anything. It was a very boring, poetic, silent thing that was going on between them.They formed a mystical bond immediately - I think Morrison pulled Nico's hair and then he proceeded to get extremely drunk and I fed him whatever was left of my drugs that Edie Sedgwick hadn't stolen."

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