Introduction: Chasing The Noir Dragon
Eric Renderking Fisk
How my first experience with The Maltese Falcon sparked my addiction and obsession with classic films and Film Noir.
Here's the definition of "Chasing The Dragon" from Urban Dictionary -
"This term is a bit more complicated than merely "smoking opium". It starts when you have your first high, the world is peaceful, everything is perfect, you're numb, but in the best way possible. But, soon, it starts wearing off. Fast. Your mind races, you're pulled out of your dream world. You crave the drug more and more, wanting to feel the same way as you did on your first high. You go to the dealer and buy the same amount you had the first time, and smoke. Still feels good, but not as good as first time. You go and buy more. Closer, but not quite there. You're stuck, you don't know what to do. You want to go back to that little dream world and stay forever, but your body is already developing a tolerance. You panic. You use all your money to buy more and more and more, but still, not the same as that first time. You realize that you have no more money, so you start selling your things, pawning whatever could get you that next bag. Still, nothing compared to what you had on that first, magical time. So, you're broke and own nothing. But you don't care, all you care about is getting back to the first high. You start stealing, doing "favors", whatever gets you the money for the attempt. Your life becomes a living hell, all in search of a repeat of the first high. That's chasing the dragon."
Now, I'm not saying that watching Film Noir is the same as Opioid addiction. It's not nearly the same since I'm not spending all my money on Film Noir, I'm not selling things to get more "Film Noir,' and I'm not doing sexual acts for Film Noir. I'm not an addict with my life going out of control.
But I'll admit this, I'm still chasing the original high I got from watching "The Maltese Falcon." To this day there has never been a better example of "Film Noir," other than that brilliant movie.
Let me set the stage for you for a moment; it's the mid-80s and movie rentals were a huge deal because if you wanted to see a movie it had to be on cable or public TV. If you missed it, you might never get the chance to see it again.
It's hard to imagine that there was a time when video cassettes were a big deal, actually owning a copy of a movie meant that you really loved that film since early on in the home video phenomenon they were really expensive. $30 in the Eighties was like $100 in the 2010's.
And if you found a movie that you really loved in the video rental aisle, it was a rush. It's as close to striking a jackpot or finding gold, especially if you were a movie fiend.
I also have to interject here that I have no real family legacy to speak of. I have no real family traditions other than what I started with my wife and boys. I have hardly any contact with my father's side of the family and with the exception of two or three relatives on my mother's side I'm a bit ostracized by my mother's side for being 'weird.' I have few memories of what it's like to belong to a family with the exception of some experiences that brought me to starting The Fedora Chronicles and gathering up friends with similar interests.
So it's no exaggeration that "The Maltese Falcon" is a part of my "family" legacy. One of my fondest memories is watching it for the first time with my Uncle Bobby on a rainy Saturday, then talking about it.
"Wow, that's what it's like to be a real man."
"There's something about black and white movies, nothing else like it."
"Just when you think you got it and you've won... it's gone or it was never there in the first place..."
I might be paraphrasing a little bit, but I can still hear my uncle saying those words.
And it was the most positive attention any man gave me in ages. Those few minutes were special because they were so rare. Imagine the coolest dude you could imagine asking YOU what YOU thought of a movie, especially when nobody hardly ever talked to you except when yelling at you for something you did or didn't do.
Then you start to understand the impact of The Maltese Falcon and other Bogart movies we watched that afternoon, the specialness of home video at the time and the special attention.
That's the "dragon" I've been chasing.
I can go on and explain to you why "The Maltese Falcon" is so special like other people have here on this tribute section on The Fedora Chronicles... but why bother when others have been doing such a great job?
But since you asked, here's the abbreviated version.
Many folks will argue that “The Maltese Falcon’’ is the first, true example of “Film Noir.” It set a standard that so many others have tried to step up to and emulate starting with an excellent plot, then incredible set design, lighting and cinematography, editing, and finally, of course, the acting and directing.
But when pressed, it’s Bogart and the way he chews up the scenery and commands every scene that he’s in. Even when Sam Spade is on the ropes and knocked out, Humphrey Bogart is in charge of the action and ever frame.
You know that in every scene and every conflict whether it’s with his partner, Miles Archer, Archer’s new widow, the habitual liar Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the police who wonder if Spade is ‘in on it,’ or Kasper Gutman, Humphery Bogart’s Sam Spade is in control of the situation. Especially when first confronted by Joel Cairo who had a handgun and Spade didn’t.
There was this one scene when Sam Spade throws a glass while arguing with “Gutman” about the current state of affair with “The Falcon” up to that moment, we’re left wondering a second later if whether or not he actually lost control or if it was part of the act.
Throughout most of this movie, Sam Spade exercises a level of control. During the movie’s final confrontation between Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Bogart’s Spade is in total control of his facilities and is able to put everything before his desire for her after everything she’s done and what they might mean to each other.
Sure, he might love her – or merely lust after her – but the facts of the events and what she did is more important than the immediate urges. Knowing everything we know about Brigid O'Shaughnessy, it’s a mere matter of time before she betrays Sam, too.
There are times when you have to put your emotions aside and not let your heart or other parts of your anatomy do the heavy thinking for your brain.
When you’re 14 years old, that element of character is captivating and should be something to strive for. It’s an example to be shown to young males at that age, let them know that you can be scared but not show it and be dominated by your fear. Let kids know that it’s OK to have feelings but not be ruled by them.
It’s OK to live in a noir world, a dark and corrupt world, so long as you don’t let it break you. Don’t be a force of nature, make nature a force of you.
Thus, this is “the dragon noir” I’ve been chasing. I’ve been trying real hard over the past three decades trying to recapture the same feeling that I had when watching The Maltese Falcon. I’ve been searching for the same movie that made me feel the way I did after it was finished, the sense that this is is the kind of man I want to be.
There are many reasons why “The Maltese Falcon” is the best, and maybe a reason why this first Film Noir is the best because none other has come close. But I doubt that there are many reasons why that are this personal.
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