The Big Combo by Joseph H. Lewis, 1955, signed also by legendary cinematrographer John Alton
Films noirs ooze with danger, a heavy atmosphere of hidden truths and half-stifled crime. They offer thrill, adventure, omen, but also style with a big S. Some are more disquieting than others, some more haunting than others. Some impose themselves thanks to the luminous presence of an Angel of Mercy.
Upon the dark shadows of a film noir cut the figures of bright butterflies of the night, possibly blondes, often dressed in white...*
Gene Tierney in Laura by Otto Preminger, 1944
To play upon the illusory game of appearances, femme fatales are endowed with child-like faces, angelic traits, porcelain skins. Only the scent of a heady flower potted nearby that we can't smell but guess at can betray their true nature and ambivalence. To suggest the back-alleys and sombre detours of a cavalcade through a city at night, a hint of putridity and stagnant water is welcome. The city is draining itself of crime, but not quite there yet. Rotting flowers can suggest moral corruption and neglect. Steam escaping from the subterranean world below the city hints at hell and is a metaphor for smoke screens, lies and deception.
There are many films noirs, but the ones you remember vividly offer an indelible mix of symbolic darkness and light illustrating the eternal fight of good and evil. In neo film noirs, the black light has been replaced by a blue light, a choice apparent in the upcoming short for Encounter by Calvin Klein.
This is the reason why a perfume composition is intrinsically destined to becoming a film noir scent when pushed to its limits. A perfume can be moody, changing, shifting with light and darkness. When this plasticity is fully captured, hints of poison added, and dark long shadows cast upon it, it becomes a perfume suggestive of the fearful aura of film noirs, which in its turn is a return to the biblical tale of the fall landing in the gutters of an urban man-made world, a reenactment of the myth of Eve and the unsettling danger that women represent.
Some film noir viewing suggestions:
The Blue Dahlia
The Postman always Rings Twice, the 1946 version.
Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud
La Mariée était en Noir
Arsenic and Old Lace - a humorous film noir -- we smell heliotrope or violet with a hint of anise
The Big Combo
Some perfume suggestions to accompany the program:
Black Dahlia by Givenchy edp
Black Orchid by Tom Ford
Ange ou Démon by Givenchy edp - a bad girl, authentic bitch scent, at one level
Rose de Nuit by Serge Lutens
Douce Amère by Serge Lutens - wistful wormwood
De Profundis by Serge Lutens
Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens
Nuit de Tubéreuse by L'Artisan Parfumeur
Fumerie Turque by Serge Lutens - for a city of fogs and spiritual smoke at dusk
Habanita by Molinard - the relaunch is closer to the "thick" vintage version
Fleur de Cassie by Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums - a very 40s perfume
L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain - as moody as it can get
Après L'Ondée by Guerlain
Prada Absolue - a sly carnal floral
Narcisse Noir by Caron - it was even featured in Sunset Boulevard
Notes of choice:
Durian - never featured to my knowledge, waiting for its fearless creator