Monday, October 15, 2007

The noir guide to housekeeping

Another find at the thrift shop: "Family Meals and Hospitality". It's got recipes in it, but it's not really a cookbook; it's a home economics textbook from the 50s.

Once again, it was the photos that sucked me in, though these are all in black and white. I looked at the copyright page to find the year of publication; the book I have is a third edition, published in 1956. It didn't seem quite right, somehow - there's rather a dark, depressing look to these photos, not the sort of sunny, hopeful look I associate with the late 50s. The FIRST edition was published in 1951, and that seems better; not long after the war. Things were good and getting better, but rationing and bad news were only a few years in the past.

It didn't help that I got this book the very day after I finally watched one of Fritz Lang's American films, namely the 1945 Scarlet Street. I was already in a bit of a noirish mood, when I opened the book to a section on how to carve meat, and saw...

Now, I know he's not wearing a flowered apron like Edward G. Robinson, but the way he's wielding that giant knife, as well as the foreboding shadow on the blank wall behind him, make me think that this scene somehow involves a bare lightbulb, a nagging wife, and a bathtub.

If the next picture didn't date from 1951, I'd swear it was photoshopped.

I don't care what the caption says (courtesy of The Sealtest Consumer Service - ha!) - in the 50s, people drank BOOZE, and lots of it. Those people should be holding highballs. The furnishings are pretty spartan - the giant TV probably cost 6 months' salary, and now, like Pharoah's treasury, the room has only got one chair in it, so people have to stand or sit on the floor. Maybe these are just elderly teenagers - the milk and cookies and the pile of books would indicate that, and I think that might be a Shakespeare play on the TV; it looks like Elizabeth I, at any rate. Sure looks like a swinging party.

Here's the last one:

There's just something wrong with this picture. It's a merry outdoor barbecue feast, isn't it? Never mind the fact that the woman is baring her teeth at the man in a tense grimace, and he's bent over as if to spring, with his left hand reaching for a gun in his pocket. I finally figured out the problem - it's the background. As they're barbecuing, I thought they must be outside, but the wall behind them is papered, with a recurring plant pattern printed on brick! You can't put wallpaper outside, but then, you can't barbecue inside, so now I'm all confused. The woman's dress doesn't help - those clashing angles and shadows could have come out of a Fritz Lang film; I think she's trying to hide by blending chameleon-like into the busy wall.

That's one big serious steak they're grilling there, though.


Blogger C. Andiron said...

This, and the Beardlove post reminds me of a theory I have: irony, absurdity and alienation are keys to a film being 'timeless', such as Dr. Strangelove or the 1961 version of Little Shop of Horrors.

The irony creates a distance between the POV of the film and the time when the films were made, so watching them I can sympathize with the director about the subject matter, and feel that we have some common ground. The director is like a contemporary pointing to it and saying, "Isn't this absurd?"

11:41 pm  

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