Film Noir: Reflecting on the Golden Age of Hollywood

“Where the streets are paved with gold/ where the kitties never grow old/ in Hollywood…” Brian Sacawa laments the lost art of old-school hollywood glamour.

Recently, I found myself catching up with two bona fide Hollywood classics - “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief”. Classic cinema is striking, especially when viewed through a modern lens that has been tempered by CGI, fast-paced action, endless superhero franchises and sex that leaves nothing to the imagination.

What happened to simplicity? What happened to slow plot development and, along with it, suspense? And how about the art of suggestion and innuendo? Have we become too impatient for such things? Are we worried that if it’s not spelled out in big, bright, pink neon letters in 140 characters or less that we won’t grasp the meaning? Such is the state society finds itself, I suppose.

Beyond these admittedly modern cultural curiosities and problems - because that’s what they are - there are the stars. You’ll forgive me for saying this, but they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Recall the perfectly coy, flirty and smart exchanges between Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The delivery. The affectation. The wit. Their poise, their ease, and pardon the pun, their grace, seems like a relic of days gone by.

And, of course, there is the clothing. In fact, in many of these films the costumes are just as much a character as the stars themselves. Find me a woman who hasn’t tried to emulate Grace Kelly’s rolled-up black Capri pants, halter neck beach top with black-edged drawstring tie, calf-length skirt, white straw wide-brimmed hat, high-wedge sole sandals and large white beach tote, for example?

How do such things become so iconic? Is it the actor wearing them? Is it the design or designer? Is it just something so timeless and classic that’s hard to put a finger on? I know gentlemen who have sought out the exact keyhole sunglasses Cary Grant wore in “North By Northwest” or his striped shirt from “To Catch a Thief.” Let’s not forget about what Steve McQueen did to the Persol 714.

I tried to think of the last time a piece of clothing from a film made some kind of transcendent impact. And the only thing I could come up with was the satin, gold scorpion-embroidered jacket worn by Ryan Gosling in “Drive”. Iconic? Yes. Transcendent? Well, the jury’s out, though it is currently trending. Could a perfectly tailored grey flannel suit have the same effect these days? I doubt it.

But that doesn’t get me down. Even if the Golden Age of Hollywood is just pure nostalgia at this point, it doesn’t mean we can’t still embrace the best parts of it to make our lives more interesting.


October 2016


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