How Noir Saved Me
How I became a fan of Noir is an interesting story – at least, it was for me! I hope you find it interesting. Because my passion for Noir arose at a time when I was going through the worst crisis in my life. Without going into the horrid details, let me simply say that discovering Noir had everything to do with setting me free.
Free from what?
Depression & Anxiety
Depression is a state of mind that is being recognized today, just about everywhere in the world, as a mental health issue that needs to be addressed; it’s no longer a whispered secret, as so many of us suffer from it. For some, it’s a temporary aberration, for others it’s something that has become so much a part of their life, it can feel like a second skin,
one you can’t shed.
Cure Depression Naturally?
During this time, I was undergoing hypnosis and attending therapy sessions, and learning to meditate. After finding out I had ADHD, my entire world flipped over. It took a while to readjust myself to the reality. I could no longer act the way I used to. No more running around in circles burning up energy and getting exhausted. I had to change if I was going to survive, if I wanted to become a human being.
I heard people say you could cure depression without drugs. It wasn’t going to be that easy. I took medication, but I also turned to things that made me feel better. Things that quieted the mind. I started with coloring books.
For those who have ADHD, welcome to the club. I was driven to distraction. (And yes, that also happens to be the title of great book on ADHD, which I read through myself, from cover to cover, and found very useful. ) Believe me, I know what it’s like.
But there are solutions. One thing I learned through an ADHD coach that really hit at the very nub of the problem: stimulus. People with this condition, who aren’t on medication, who haven’t had the chance to talk to a therapist, often find themselves in a bind, unable to untangle themselves from the knots they’ve created in their lives over time. Stimulus can be provided by medication, by meditation, and by affirmations and powerful self-talk. And believe it or not, by movies. In my case, it was Noir.
The Big Combo
It began with a single movie I’d caught on U-tube, by accident. Something wild seized at my heart as I watched the opening credits: it was the music. Composed by David Raksin, the score immediately grabbed me in a way that’s hard to describe. At the moment I heard those opening bars, played over an arial shot of New York in grainy black and white, I cried. It was The Big Combo.
That’s right, I admit it. I cried. I don’t know why, but for some crazy reason I was unable to explain, this opening scene of The Big Combo turned me instantly into a Noir fan. The wailing saxophone chorus, the gritty images of steam billowing up from the Con-Ed stacks, and the dim glitter of fat automobiles creeping along perfectly straight avenues of light as the camera drifted across a black and white city over the opening credits, got my attention.
I hadn’t really planned on being a fan of anything. But I had found little satisfaction with contemporary movies, and something about the subtle wailing sounds of the tune moved me beyond anything I had experienced before. To me, this was catharsis. It drained a lot of pain from my mind and body. From that point on, I pursued Noir wherever I could. I became especially fond of Noir Alley, on Turner Classic Movies, which aired some hard-hitting films, and still does.
Wasn’t it Aristotle who first talked about catharsis in tragedy?
In his groundbreaking Poetics, the first known historical thesis on the elements of drama, Aristotle stressed that a spectacle, or performance, that elicits pity or fear in the audience, results in a catharsis of the emotions, in which these feelings are purged. With that definition in mind, I no longer find my experience so unusual. Looking back at it now, it goes a long way to explaining what happened.
I was in a state of non-feeling, for the most part. It’s a state of mind that is consistent with depression, essentially. In a depressed state, a person’s demeanor is blank, her ability to think, or even to feel, is seriously impaired. I know, I’ve been there.
Drama as Catharsis
Any drama – any performance in media from street performance art, through theater to film – will illicit some kind of a reaction from the spectator. The medium appeals to our sense. Whether what’s up there on stage or onscreen is a life changing drama or a spiffy new comedy, or a film based around adventure (Die Hard, etc.), you as a spectator will have some kind of reaction (unless you are either dead or so depressed, you simply are unable to react at all).
Tragedy vs. Popular Fiction
It’s true that perhaps the age of great tragedies is over, and perhaps that’s due, at least partly, to the amount of tragedy we are exposed to in our daily lives, just through watching television and the Internet. It’s also true that as great as Greek tragedies and Shakespeare’s are, we can’t always function on that “higher” level because it requires special skills that most of us aren’t equipped for by education. Shakespeare’s language can prove an insurmountable obstacle to understanding, something I’ve experienced myself. In order to study Shakespeare, one must keep a dictionary handy. Elizabethan language is almost like another language, altogether, for most people. We have trouble identifying with the characters because we don’t live in those times.
But we do understand the people we see in modern tales because they are like us and speak the same language (more or less). And the depth of the interpretation of the spectacle is entirely in the spectator’s mind, as long as there is subtext. Subtext is like a quiet stream beneath the narrative, operating in the subconscious; it carries the theme without its ever being stated at all. Watching The Big Combo, without knowing anything about it, I was sucked into the mood in a moment of recognition: like seeing something you’ve always known was there, but you could never define it. And then suddenly there it is, you’ve actually found it!
Without belaboring the point, I came to understand who I was: it was at least a start to something like a new life. Up until then, I’d gone through one hell after another. I needed something that would help define my passion. What excited me? Up until now, partly due to ADHD, my focus was easily distracted; I had never found the one thing that I could get passionate about. And when my life finally hit a crisis, discovering this mysterious connection with a movie I’d never seen, or even heard of, changed my life.
How’s that? Well, I became interested in Noir, started watching more and more of the films in that genre, largely by watching TCM’s Noir Alley, every Saturday night or Sunday morning. It got me interested in setting up this website. It was very therapeutic, and I guess if anyone else feels this way, they’ll probably be able to understand this kind of osmosis.
So, everything worked out okay in the end. I’m here helping people understand about Noir and how it influenced my life, how it changed my life, with a little bit of help from friends.
Please enjoy the site; I welcome comments. And please click on the short video, which contains the music score from The Big Combo. It might help you to understand the experience.