With a haunting voice, retro-glam sexiness, and material both subtle and raw, Juliette Beavan of 8mm melds a femme fatale’s sophistication with flinty rock energy. From the first searing notes, often punctuated by smoke and shadow, the songs draw you in like a Hitchcock thriller; lyrics linger in your head well beyond the show’s end. This part of “Crawl,” for instance, is hard to forget: “or maybe there’s another/ trick, another spell/ and I could change you/ and I’d draw you to me/ pull you to me, crawl to me./ draw you to me/ pull you to me/ call you to me/crawl to me.”
Her bandmates include her husband Sean Beavan (guitar, vocals) and Jon Nicholson (drums). They describe their sound as “trip-hop influenced pop-rock.” First-rate musicians, the guys are the perfect complement to Juliette’s vocals and keyboard.
“That’s right, blame it on the girl,” she might tease them between songs, before adjusting her mic or straightening a cord. A New Orleans native, she’s fond of bringing beads, candy and banter to toss to the eager crowd, many of whom clutch cameras the way people used to flick lighters as preface to an encore.
Together since 2004, 8mm has an impressive resume that includes four albums and several tours (the US, Canada, the UK and Chile). Sean Beavan, who hails from Cleveland, formerly worked with bands such as Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and God Lives Underwater. He and Juliette write the songs; their work has been featured in the 2005 film “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” as well as in a number of TV shows, including “One Tree Hill,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Moonlight,” “Dirt,” Road Rules,” and “The Real World: Sydney.”
You can see 8mm for yourself Friday, June 3, at the Roxy Theatre, with the Kidney Thieves, Cage 9, The Shakers and DJ High Voltage. The show starts at 8 p.m. and 8mm goes on at 9 p.m.
I caught up with Juliette recently to chat about the band’s penchant for noir.
Mr E Man: The band’s name is a film reference, your shows are richly atmospheric and your songs often deal with mystery, secrets, betrayal and hidden desire, much as a film noir would. Can you talk about how the aesthetic of film noir in general has been an influence for you?
Juliette Beavan: Yes, a reference to the film stock, because for us, 8mm film brings to mind smoky back rooms of 1930s Berlin, the first stag films, the early home movies … in other words, secrets, memories, longings (secret and professed) and decadence … all the things we try to bring to our music. They also happen to be things that are part and parcel to any good film noir. In addition, the look, the sleek styling, elegant and dangerous players, well, that sounds like a band to us!
FNB: Any femmes fatales that stand out for you? JB: Hahaha, are you gonna ask any questions with short answers? Where to start … Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Anne Baxter, Nora Zehetner in “Brick” does a wonderful job, not to mention (I know they’re not femmes fatales, but I would be remiss to leave the men out) Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives Bogey a run for his money in that film. And for the men, of course, there is the one and only Humphrey Bogart.
FNB: Of ’40s and ’50s singers or bands, who are your top favorites? JB: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Bing Crosby, to name a few.
FNB: Do you essentially get into character when you perform, especially Juliette as the frontwoman? JB: In a sense, yes, and it varies from song to song, because each one is a different story, character, sort of mini movie for us. I’m a storyteller not a character (like a GaGa or Madonna), so the approach is a little different. It only takes a note or two for me “see it” in my head again, to step into “her” shoes … from there it’s just natural.
You kind of have to use your whole body to tell the story, and the story becomes my own for that time.
FNB: Raymond Chandler said a good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. Do you think that’s true for writing songs and music? JB: Certainly at times … what Sean plays makes me see stories, so I suppose you could say that is a bit of a distilling process to bring the story down into its key emotional components for a 3 minute song. However, there are other times when you get a “cosmic FedEx” (a term we’re stealing from Scott Russo of Unwritten Law). That’s where the song comes to you almost writing itself and you have to grab and get it down before it moves on. You know, the muse will find another host if you aren’t paying attention.
Strangers on a Train/1951/Warner Bros. Pictures/101 min.
A friend of mine once went on a second date with a guy who showed up wearing saddle shoes. Let’s just say there wasn’t a third date. If only he’d seen 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” Alfred Hitchcock understood the importance of footwear and it shows in this stellar film.
He starts the story by contrasting the shiny, two-toned spats of Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) with the sensible black dress shoes of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) as each emerges from a Diamond cab. We follow these parallel footsteps as they board the same train, hence the title.
These brief shots contain the crux of the film: Model citizens often hide hard-core badness and the most unsavory renegades and reprobates can surprise you with a virtue or two (especially if we count charm and fashion sense as virtues).
Despite their differences, Bruno and Guy both have monkeys on their backs. Bruno is a spiffy playboy with psychopathic tendencies. Besides drinking and gambling, he spends his time hatching schemes for space travel and blowing up the White House. Even though Bruno has his wealthy and wacky mother (Marion Lorne) wrapped around his little finger, his father (Jonathan Hale) isn’t so flexible. In fact, he keeps threatening to have Bruno “taken care of, if necessary, put under restraint.”
Guy is a pro tennis player who wants to marry his dream girl Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), daughter of Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll). Hitch’s daughter Patricia plays Anne’s little sister, Barbara. Unluckily for Guy, he’s already married to venal and unfaithful Miriam (Kasey Rogers, credited as Laura Elliott).
So, during their train trip, Bruno strikes up a conversation with Guy, telling him: “I certainly admire people who do things.” Over drinks, smokes and a lamb-chop lunch, Bruno proposes a daring, if absurd, solution to both of their glitches: If Bruno murders Miriam, that would leave Guy free to marry Anne. In exchange, Guy would bump off Mr. Anthony. Guy laughs it off, but Bruno takes it as mutual pledge and proceeds to carry out his part of the deal, trailing Miriam to a carnival and murdering her.
When he hears the news, Guy’s shocked, but if he tells the police, Bruno will claim that Guy was an accomplice. Besides, he had motive. As the police investigate, Bruno pressures Guy to fulfill his part of the plan.
Guy resists, but Bruno won’t back down and turns into a bit of a stalker. Bruno also has an ace in the hole: he nabbed Guy’s engraved cigarette lighter when Guy left it behind after their lunch on the train. Guy may lack Bruno’s warped brilliance but he pushes back when cornered and he’s determined to set things right.
If you don’t love “Strangers on the Train,” I’ll be shocked. It’s a gloriously suspenseful story, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay, but most of that was trashed and rewritten by Czenzi Ormonde, with uncredited help from Ben Hecht. (Whitfield Cook adapted.) Hitch and Chandler apparently had a hate/hate relationship. More
If you get a chuckle out of Patty and Selma Bouvier of “The Simpsons,” the Laramie-puffing, big-haired sisters with terrible taste in men, you’ll enjoy the raspy-voiced alcoholic widow Jessie Florian of 1975’s “Farewell, My Lovely.” Actress Sylvia Miles earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of this sad and seedy lady.
Miles is just one of many superb performers in this movie, notably Robert Mitchum as private investigator Philip Marlowe and Charlotte Rampling, a judge’s wife, bored to tears in their May/December relationship.
Having starred in many stand-out noirs as a younger actor (“Out of the Past,” “Angel Face” are two of the finest noirs ever made), Mitchum once again lends his sexy, sleepy indolence to the part of a burned-out and baleful detective at the end of his career.
Directed by Dick Richards and written by David Zelag Goodman, “Farewell” is based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, published in 1940. Director Edward Dmytryk brought the book to the screen in 1944 as “Murder, My Sweet,” a seminal noir starring Dick Powell and Claire Trevor. (The title was changed because Powell, a song and dance man, was playing off-type and studio execs didn’t want audiences to think it was a musical. It was also filmed in 1942 as “The Falcon Takes Over.”)
“Murder My Sweet,” with its sordid criminals and Expressionist sensibility, was a triumph for Dmytryk and his team. Even so, the film only skimmed the surface of Chandler’s darkness; by 1975, topics like prostitution and racism, in addition to garden-variety crime, could be addressed on the big screen.
The movie opens with DavidShire’s luscious score and shots of 1940s Los Angeles at night, bathed in neon light. There we see Mitchum in a dumpy hotel room (you were expecting the Four Seasons?) reflecting over the past few months — rotten weather and rubbing elbows with lowlifes and deadbeats. Weary of “ducking police” and apparently needing to confess, he calls Det. Lt. Nulty (John Ireland), who agrees to come to the hotel. While waiting for Nulty to arrive, Marlowe begins a second flashback, in which Nulty is a participant, and we get to the meat of the story.
On a boring bread-and-butter case, Marlowe bumps into Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran), long on brawn, short on brains and just out of jail. Moose wants Marlowe to find his girlfriend, a one-time showgirl named Velma, whom he describes as “cute as lace pants.”
The pair head to Florian’s nightclub in search of clues. Nothing turns up, though, and the frustrated Malloy kills a guy with his bare hands. Back to the slammer for the ungentle giant? Well, since the victim is black, the cops aren’t going to do much about it. Next stop for Marlowe: A visit to Jessie Florian’s, with a big bottle of cheap booze in hand. Upon seeing Marlowe, Jessie dons her best bathrobe and turns on the charm.
Meanwhile, a very different client, the posh and effeminate Lindsay Marriott (John O’Leary) hires Marlowe to be a bodyguard during an attempt to retrieve a stolen jade necklace. You’d think the fact that Marriott shows up in a disco suit much like John Travolta’s in “Saturday Night Fever” might put Marlowe off. Instead, the job opens the door to a circle of unsavory mover/shaker types.
There’s elderly and insipid Judge Baxter Wilson Grayle (a cameo role for Jim Thompson, a famed noir writer of the ’50s); his much younger wife Helen (Charlotte Rampling), ravishing, shrewd, brash and, like Jesse Florian, very fond of strong cocktails; the mannish madame of a high-class whorehouse Frances Amthor (Kate Murtagh); and the suave but slippery Laird Brunette (Anthony Zerbe). As Brunette puts it: “All I do is run towns, elect judges and mayors, corrupt police, peddle dope, ice old ladies with pearls.” More
Raymond Chandler once described a noir hero as a knight in tarnished armor. Robert Mitchum, playing Philip Marlowe, illustrates the point in “Farewell, My Lovely” from 1975. Sylvia Miles and Charlotte Rampling also deliver excellent performances.
She’s got a plan, she just needs a man. And that’s a welcome challenge for a femme fatale, especially one with an ankle bracelet.
In Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, “Double Indemnity,” from 1944 Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) wants out of her marriage to rich, grumpy oldster, Mr.Dietrichson(Tom Powers). Poor Phyllis doesn’t get much love from Dietrichson’s adult daughter, Lola (Jean Heather) either. Fresh-faced and feisty, Lola is hung up on her temperamental boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr).
For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubby disappear is so much more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer. A smart insurance man is even better. Along comes Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) trying to sell a policy, just as Phyllis finishes a session of sunbathing, wearing an ankle bracelet and not much more. That’s about as much bait as Walter needs.
They flirt, fall for each other and eventually arrange to bump off Mr. Dietrichson, making it look like he fell from a train. It’s a one-in-a-million way to go with a huge payoff from a double-indemnity insurance policy issued by Walter’s company. After that, they play it cool and wait for the check. They’ve planned it like a military campaign, so they’re in the clear until Walter starts to suspect that he’s not the only guy who’s been drooling at Phyllis’ ankles.
Besides his lust for the blonde (and their chemistry truly sizzles), Walter’s real love is the platonic father/son relationship he has with his boss at the insurance company, Barton Keyes, sharp, cynical and married to his job, played brilliantly by Edward G. Robinson.
Critic Richard Schickel says “Double Indemnity” is the first true noir. I disagree – what about 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “Stranger on the Third Floor” from 1940? Or even Fritz Lang‘s “M” from Germany in 1931? But the point is “Double Indemnity” was the standard against which every subsequent noir was measured. It’s a glorious treat visually. John Seitz’s luscious lighting and captivating use of shadow bring to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s observation: “There are no less than 80 shades of black.” The score by Miklos Rozsa works perfectly with the visuals to build and sustain atmosphere.
The performances (Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson) are tremendous. Though Stanwyck was nominated for the best actress Oscar and “Double Indemnity” was also nominated in six other categories (picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, sound recording and score), MacMurray and Robinson were not in the running and the film didn’t win any Oscars. In retrospect, their work in this movie is some of the best acting of the decade. MacMurray (who might be most familiar as the father in TV’s “My Three Sons”) is such a natural as the easily tempted yet very likeable Neff, it’s surprising now to learn that the role was a major departure from his usual nice-guy parts.
As James Pallot of “The Movie Guide” writes: “Robinson … beautifully gives the film its heart. His speech about death statistics, rattled off at top speed, is one of the film’s highlights.” When Keyes realizes that Walter has betrayed him, it’s heartbreaking in a way that few other noirs are.
Wilder co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler, based on the taut little novel by James M. Cain, published in 1936. (The novel was inspired by the real-life 1927 Snyder-Gray case.) In the book “Double Indemnity,” smitten Walter says of Phyllis’ physical charms, “I wasn’t the only one that knew about that shape. She knew about it herself, plenty.”
The dark, witty script follows the book pretty closely, but Chandler’s contributions are key. For example, check out this bit of simmering dialogue:
Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.
Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?
Phyllis: I’d say around 90.
Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter: Suppose it doesn’t take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.
Walter: That tears it…
Now it seems egregious that Wilder (1906-2002) and “Double Indemnity” were snubbed at the Oscars. Born in what is now Poland, Wilder escaped the Nazis, but his mother and other family members perished in a concentration camp. He knew firsthand the dark, sometimes horrific, side of life and that knowledge imbued his work with an unparalleled richness and depth. He was also hilarious. If I could have martinis with any film noir director, living or dead, it would be Billy.
I’ve seen interview footage of him where he punctuated his conversation with deep and frequent laughter. And I’ve heard stories about him playing practical jokes – apparently he when he lost the 1944 best director Oscar to Leo McCarey (who won for “Going My Way” starring Bing Crosby) Billy stuck out his foot and tripped McCarey as he walked down the aisle to pick it up. Maybe if I get that fantasy date with the spirit of Billy, I’ll bring Dick Schickel along too. He might benefit from a girly martini and tagging along with Billy and me.
So, suppose you do yourself a favor and watch “Double Indemnity” the first chance you get. You won’t be sorry.
A hands-down noir favorite. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are adulterous lovers who plot to get rid of Stanwyck’s husband in a seamless “accident” and pounce on his insurance policy. Knock-out performances and marvelous direction from Billy Wilder. Based on a James M. Cain novel, the script, by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, crackles with wit and innuendo.