My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
‘Til then I walk alone…
Green Day – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
The origins of this post lie in a book I found in a used bookstore a few months back: The Cinematic City edited by David B Clarke (Routledge 1997). This is an academic book with a collection of essays on the “relationship between city and cinema”, which contains some fascinating essays on the noir city. The central thesis is that the modern metropolis is so large and diverse, that inhabitants’ experience of the modern city is alienated. This experience of modernity has shaped the cinema’s portrayal of the city as a place, and the cinematic city is a place as real as the physical entity it represents.
Having never been to the US, I realised that through my love of film noir, I ‘know’ the cities as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco as a virtual stranger, and that even for those living in these cities, they experience their city as strangers:
Whereas the social and physical spaces of pre-modem society formed an intimately related, lived totality, modernity brought about their colonization by a thoroughly abstract space, which ensured their fragmentation and disjuncture. A world that was once perceived ‘as a living whole’, so to speak, could no longer be experienced as whole or complete… The ambivalence of the stranger thus represented the ambivalence of the modem world. Time and space were no longer stable, solid and foundational. Hence, the experience of modernity equated… [with ] the world as experienced by the stranger, and the experience of a world populated by strangers — a world in which a universal strangehood was coming to predominate . It was within such a world that the virtual presence of the cinema was to find its place (Clarke page 4)… In the arena of the noir city, protagonists must confront both the strangeness of others and the strange otherness within – as film noir’s scenarios of disorientation and dislocation challenge their ability to chart an identity (F Krutnik page 89).