Every morning I rise at about five AM, don my sweats, hook up my iPhone’s music function and take a brisk three-mile walk.
The streets of Los Angeles at this time of the morning are wet, slick from all the lawn sprinklers that explode with a fearsome hiss in the middle of the night. There is very little traffic: mostly construction trucks heading to work sites, and wheezing vans driving on the wrong side of the street delivering newspapers with a metronomic thunk, thunk, thunk.
Quite often there’s a low hanging fog; lights from lamp posts and porches are heavily diffused.
Film Noir, a genre that flourished in the late 40’s and early fifties posited a Los Angeles that is dark and dangerous; a place where crime and double crosses are the norm. In masterpieces such as Double Indemnity, (1944), Gun Crazy (1950) The Big Combo (1955), and The Killing (1956 ), annihilation of the body and soul is predestined.
This morning, as B.B. King informed me that “The Thrill is Gone,” I reached Castle Heights and stopped in my tracks. There, near a street lamp, a man and woman were locked in a passionate embrace. I could only see their silhouettes.
Droplets of fog caused the light to shimmer eerily.
I stood there, riven by the sight. Somehow, it seemed wrong to interrupt by walking past.
The couple stayed like this for a few seconds, then the man climbed into a Jaguar, started up the engine and slid away. The woman watched her lover drive north, then she folded her trim frame into a gleaming black Lexus, made a U turn—the tires made a soft whoosh—and headed south.
Goodness gracious, I said to myself as a dozen possible characters and plots ripped through my feverish, screenwriter’s imagination.
Movie critics tell us that Film Noir was born out of the ashes of World War II, from the anxiety of America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, the fear of nuclear destruction. But I believe that this haunting and influential genre was just as much the result of Hollywood screenwriters, directors and cinematographers who, unable to sleep, walked the haunting streets of Los Angeles at five in the morning.