Noir Journal 57 features a guest post by noir woodcut artist Loren Kantor from L.A. as well as a sampling of his work and links to his site.
Loren Kantor on His Noir Woodcuts
I was first exposed to film noir as a child through the Warner Brothers cartoons. There was a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1946 called Racketeer Rabbit that featured animated gangsters based on Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre. I used to mimic the cartoon voice of Edward G. without knowing who he was or where he came from. My father was a film editor at Columbia Pictures and in the early 70's he borrowed 16mm film prints and screened them in our living room for the neighborhood. This is how I saw my first true film noir, DOA. From the moment Edmond O'Brien walked into the police station to report his own murder I was hooked. There was something twisted and mysterious about the film, an edge I couldn't find in the boring Hardy Boys books I was reading.
On Saturday nights, my dad took me, my brother, and my sister to a revival film theater in Hollywood across from Fairfax High School. We watched vintage silent comedies (Chaplin & Keaton) and old Republic Serials (Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel). My favorite movies were the detective classics like Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep. I became obsessed with Bogart and I often stayed up late watching Bogie on tv.
During my college days at UCLA, I took a film noir class and immersed myself in the classics: Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Laura. I fell in love with the stark black and white photography, the sinister shadows, the cynical heroes and enticing femme fatales. My favorite film noir was Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. Police detective Glenn Ford takes on a syndicate boss and his evil henchman Lee Marvin. When Glenn Ford's wife is killed by a car bomb intended for him, you realize you've entered a film world that does not play by "happily ever after" rules. Lee Marvin's character takes pleasure in burning women with cigarette butts and throwing hot coffee in his girlfriend's face. The movie is ruthless and intense and the hero is only able to carry out justice after resigning from the police force and living by his own moral code.
The heyday of film noir (post-WWII through the mid 50's) equated with an America that was emerging from a decade of depression and four years of war. People were ready to be happy again and with the advent of inexpensive houses, cars and appliances, America was a fantasyland of possibility. But beneath the surface there were rising tensions of racism, anti-Communist paranoia, and fear of the nuclear age. Film noir allowed writers and directors to explore the dichotomy of the period; the dark shadows beneath the bright lights; the collusion between police departments and organized crime; the commonality between violent thugs and successful businessman. Noir showed the audience that the old America filled with honor and truth was not to be trusted. The system was corrupt and only those who forged their own way following their own moral code could emerge with their soul intact.
I think this was my attraction to film noir. Protagonists such as Bogart and Robert Mitchum embodied the rugged individualism I admired. I was always more of a loner and I never trusted groupthink. I was born the year JFK was killed and I remember when Nixon resigned. I guess I was raised in a period of cynicism and noir movies seemed to resonate with my outlook.
My interest in woodcuts began in the mid-1980's. I attended a German Expressionist art show at LA County Museum and I encountered the woodcut prints and paintings of George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. I was mesmerized. I loved the stark lines and bold imagery. I was also blown away by the dark subject matter. Characters expressed emotional angst and images focused on the violent and unpleasant aspects of society. I was writing screenplays in those days and I never envisioned attempting woodcut carving myself. But the images remained in my subconscious and whenever I saw a woodcut print I felt a sense of excitement.
I became an Assistant Director and worked on films, commercials and tv shows through the 80's & 90's. In the early 90's, I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco where I became a freelance writer and videomaker. I lived near the San Francisco Mission District which housed small art galleries on every block. I came across a new generation of woodcut & linocut artists, most of whom were Latino. Again, I was enthralled.
I moved back to LA, met my future wife, and got married. Several years ago, my wife surprised me with a woodcutting set for my birthday. I checked out a few online tutorial videos and I dove in, head first. The carving process was difficult at first. I cut myself often, the blocks were ragtag and I felt like a kindergartner with his first set of finger paints. But before long I got the hang of it.
The idea to carve images from Classic Movies and Noir Films came about because we needed art for our walls at home. I realized the stark imagery of black & white films was a perfect match for the carved lines of a woodcut. The roots of film noir cinematography came from German Expressionist movies so this provided a nice link to the woodcuts.
I'll soon be carving a series of femme fatales (Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and Rita Hayworth) as well as woodcuts based on the film noir posters of Director Jules Dassin (Rififi, The Naked City, Thieves Highway, and Brute Force).
Film Noir continues to inspire me. Hopefully film preservationists will continue to unearth new gems that I have yet to experience. I can't wait.
Loren Kantor is a screenwriter and woodcut artist based in Los Angeles. He loves classic movies and old Los Angeles. His woodcuts are featured on his blog woodcuttingfool.blogspot.com
WOODCUT LINKS (from my blog)