The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

The Denouement of Neo-Noir

Austin Dispatches

No. 81

July 7, 2005

"Sin City” marks the end of neo-noir. After the hypertrophied, hyperstylized presentation in the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino-directed film, neo-noir is finished creatively.1  

By neo-noir, I mean a revived extension of noir tradition, either “revisionist” or “formulaic,” since about 1960.
2  This distinguishes it from original or classic noir, across media, from the early ‘20s to the late ‘50s.3  A French critic re-defined “noir” as an esthetic term in 1946,4  but it only achieved widespread use in the early 1970s,5  coinciding with a swell of neo-noir releases.6  I thought neo-noir might be finished in the late ‘90s, but that was from a glut of product, overexposure, and misuse of the term.7  Instead, only now, with “Sin City,” has neo-noir reached a comprehensive creative apotheosis, similar to classic noir around 1958-59.8  Rodriguez and Frank Miller, creator of the source material, liberally borrowed numerous noir elements, then distilled them into a nearly undiluted simulacrum of the noir esthetic,9  as genre, tone, mood and style.10  Nothing more seems possible within its expansive limits. Although that won’t stop further product from release – including a planned sequel to “Sin City” – at least for a while.11

Big Pussy Goes to Therapy, or Cultural Canapés From the Back of the Freezer

Less recently, I used to spend up to 16 hours a day seeking work. Why, it seems like only yesterday I was having conversations with recruiters like Dudley Rittersporn of Acme Consulting (names changed to protect the writer from lawsuits).  

One day about six years ago, Rittersporn called me at work about a possible tech writing job in Phoenix. He sounded pissed as he asked about my experience in computer aspects like information mapping (copying information from one program onto another program, like Word to Excel) and SGML (standard general markup language, what I used on legacy systems at newspapers to transmit graphics). Of course, he could've saved himself the questions by actually looking at my resume, which he had, and which I reminded him of. He might also have troubled himself to learn what he was asking me about.

Then he asked me what I earned, and what I wanted to earn. I told him.

"You want to raise your salary by $10,000 a year?" he asked, aghast.



"Why? Because I'm interesting in improving my financial situation in life."

"Are you working right now?"


"So you're not looking for work?"

"I am looking for work."

"You're working right now and looking for new work?"

He asked when my contract ended. Year's end, far as I knew.

"So why are you looking for work?"

"Because I don't want to do a job search in the dead of winter when I'm unemployed and everybody's brains are still shut down from the holidays."

Rittersporn said he'd get back to me. I stewed the rest of the day.

And I was right. He didn't get back to me. Instead, he referred me to Lola Herf of Acme’s sister company. She called the next day and said the sister company was desperate and needed me to interview with American Express at 2 p.m.

I said, "I'm at work and I can't just take off in the middle of the afternoon to go to a job interview, especially on such short notice. Second, I've already been submitted by another company."

Prospective clients hate "double submittal" on potential contractors.

"Oh," said Herf, who gave me a parting we'll-keep-your-name-on-file.12
Anyway, nowadays, I might spend two hours, thanks to cybernation. Instead, I can use the time for better pursuits – like writing Austin Dispatches. Or, thanks to residential stability and Internet access, trawling through the cultural output from my young adulthood that I missed at the time.

For starters, I finally saw the distaff auteured “Walking and Talking.”13  I missed this when it was released, back when I was watching at least a film a week in the theaters and interesting off-Hollywood productions were coming out with about the same frequency.14  The women’s behavior was so realistic – the self-defeating impulses, the chronic dissatisfaction, the whipsaw indecisiveness, the unrealistic expectations, the outbursts of angst – that I checked the credits to see if anybody I knew contributed to the film. Like the barnburner.15  As the credits ended, I wondered why I bother to date, or try to.  As distinct from my actual dealings with women, which also make me wonder why I bother.  The men in the movie aren’t much better, because they’re all a bunch of neurotic wusses. This includes a minor role played by Vincent Pastore, three years before his role as “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on “The Sopranos,”16  and long before his appearance on television hawking Gladware sandwich bags (“These bags prevent blood and other bodily fluids from leaking all over the place between the time you whacked some jamoke and you make him disappear for good.”).17

I also used the Internet to develop a belated familiarity with Stereolab’s music.18  I read of it sometime in the late ‘90s, definitely heard it sometime in the last several years, but I didn’t consciously process their output until now.19  The band’s work is some of warmest, peppiest indie music I’ve heard.20  To my taste, they peaked around the late ‘90s, including an album I like all the way through, a rare achievement for pop acts.21  

On the Make, On the Prowl, On the Town

June 22: An expatriate businessman I know invited me to check out Graham Central Station, a new nightclub at Grand Avenue Parkway and Vision Drive in Pflugerville. I think he had a minor, peripheral role in the project. It’s six clubs in one, all catering to the most popular trends in American entertainment. Because, as we all know, you haven’t had the true nightclub experience until you’ve heard country and Top 40 hits at jet aircraft volumes while being offering watered-down, marked-up brand-name beer from scantily clad cowgirls. One bar copies the “Coyote Ugly” experience.22  What if you just want to order a drink at the bar? (“Hey, get your stiletto heel out of my martini.”) Obviously, we were bored and left cold by the whole shebang, and even wondering aloud, personal tastes aside, whether it’ll actually be a success.

June 24: I got lost driving around between shows at the Nutty Brown Café and Ruta Maya, because I used Convict Hill Road as an alternate route and wound up in San Leanna for the first time.23  But because I was serene, the traffic sparse, and the radio’s song selection suitable, my de facto cruising through the shady southside suburbs turned out to be the best part of the evening. Still, I had to generate the fun by myself, my solitude simultaneously a source of saudade24 and satisfaction.

The sad thing is that Tucker Max, who was in Austin the same evening,25  probably had a better time, even though he likely wound up publicly: a) drunk; b) nude; c) vomiting; d) defecating; or some combination thereof, plus being caught by the police. (On a previous visit to Austin, he and his buddies destroyed a couple of toilets in the Embassy Suites hotel. So Embassy bans Max from its properties worldwide.)26   

June 28: I took advantage of a free networking social at Manuel's,27  co-sponsored by the American Marketing Association and Austin Women in Communication, as an opportunity to hit up people for job leads, eat free happy hour food, and flirt with a lot of attractive businesswomen.

One busty blonde gave me a card that read “The Pampered Chef.”

“So how does that work?” I asked. “You’re getting a massage while fixing dinner?”

She laughed. No, instead she’s a local saleswoman for a Chicago-based kitchen supplies company.

Later, someone else asked if anybody actually works in a field for which he obtained a degree, and if not, why we got that advice in high school?

“That’s because that’s how it worked then for the people who gave you that advice. They intended to go into education, and they did.” I said. Many nods of agreement ensued among the assembled multitude.

July 2: Late into the night at The Copa, especially crowded, I found myself face to face with an attractive barback.28 “Now why aren’t you asking some pretty woman to dance?”

“Would you care to dance?”

Her eyes sparkled as she laughed. “I can’t dance, I have to work.”

“Well – ”

“You should ask someone. You’re too good to waste,” she said, looking me up and down.

I tried to ask what she was doing afterwards, but she vanished into the crowd before I could utter a second syllable.

Given the chance to discuss this with her over coffee at some all-night joint,29 I could’ve explained how many women block such overtures. With practice, one can read their body language and facial expressions. If the woman is: she’s looking to make excuses and it’s not worth the trouble. We haven’t even covered the boyfriend situation. In fact, one woman I asked to dance that evening, wordlessly yet expressively declined with deep regret, because she made the mistake of coming in with her boyfriend.

I made up for my rejections the next night at Dallas Night Club.  I danced with a bevy of beauties, including Ellen “Queen of Sky” Simonetti,30  and drove home in the early morning smelling like the perfume section of a department store.

Austin Death Watch

The University of Texas is trying to seize Players burger joint for a parking lot, either by underpaying the owners, or using eminent domain authority to get the property without paying for it.31  Of course, UT’s behavior is now sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court.32  

The City of Austin held a ribbon-cutting completion ceremony June 21 for the rebuilt stretch of East 51st Street between Cameron and Manor roads. So why are the orange barrels and warning signs still up? Are city workers too lazy to pick up after themselves?33

Local head shop chain Planet K placed a large ad on p. 5 of the July 1 Chronicle with text from the introduction to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's Ninth and Tenth amendments. Presumably, the company used the rest of the documents for rolling papers. Then again, the Supreme Court uses the same documents for toilet paper.

Neighborhood News

Within the past year, BookPros has changed its name, expanded from literary publicity into book production, and moved from Northcross Mall to 2100 Kramer Lane.34

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1 Hirsch, Foster. Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir. New York City: Limelight Editions, 1999: 319-320; Savlov, Marc. “Sin City.” (Review). AC 1 Apr. 2005: 90; Skousen, Todd. “The New Noir.” Liberty June 2005: 45.
2 Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, rev. 3rd ed. Ed. Alain Silver et al. Woodstock, N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 1992: Appendix E; Martin, Richard, Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The Legacy of Film Noir in Contemporary American Cinema. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, 1997: 25-27, 90-92.
3 The Big Book of Noir. Ed. Lee Server, Ed Gorman, and Martin H. Greenberg. New York City: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998; Christopher, Nicholas. Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City. The New York City: The Free Press, 1997: 13, 229; Dickos, Andrew. Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir. Lexington, Ky.: UP of Kentucky, 2002: 9-11, 96-99; Naremore, James. More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts. Berkeley, Calif.: U of California P, 1998: 9, 46-52; Martin, op. cit., 34-44.
4 Christopher, op. cit., 13; Naremore, op. cit., 281n13; Martin, op. cit., 2.
5 Martin, op. cit., 48, 66-68; Naremore, op. cit., 32-34.
6 Hirsch, op. cit., 18; Naremore, op. cit., 34-38.
7 Ansen, David, and Tara Weingarten. “The Neo-Noir ‘90s.” Newsweek 27 Oct. 1997: 68; Christopher, op. cit., 236; Martin, op. cit., 4-5; Hirsch, op. cit., 5; Naremore, op. cit., 38-39, 196-197, 255-257; Sharrett, Christopher. “The Endurance of Film Noir.” USA Today Magazine July 1998: 79
8 Hirsch, op. cit., 15-16.
9 Blonsky, Marshall. American Mythologies. New York City: Oxford UP, 1992: 47-48; Dickos, op. cit., 6-8, 62-70, 172-191; Hirsch, op. cit., 319-320; Martin, op. cit., 28-29; Naremore, op. cit., 167-168, 191-193; Rainer, Peter. "Neo-Noir." Esquire Gentleman Spring 1995: 48-49.
10 Dickos, op. cit., 1-5; Dimendberg, Edward. Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2004: 11; Naremore, op. cit., 9.
11 “Quint.” “Rodriguez Confirms A DAME TO KILL FOR for SIN CITY 2!!!” 23 May 2005 Ain’t It Cool News <>.
12 Eisler, Dan. “Dumb Motherfucker of the Month Award.” E-mail to Frank Rossi, 14 Sep. 1999.
13 Biskind, Peter. Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2004: 222.
14 Biskind, op. cit., 185-256; Wiener, Tom. The Off-Hollywood Film Guide: The Definitive Guide to Independent and Foreign Films on Video and DVD. New York City: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002.
15 EAD No. 6 (July 1999). Eisler. “Dumb Motherfucker of the Month Award,” op. cit.; Eisler. “Strictly Lightweight.” E-mail to Rossi, 21 Aug. 1999; Rossi. “Emotionally High-Maintenance Dame.” E-mail to Eisler, 24 June 1999.
16 AD No. 50n29 (May 14, 2003).
17 Chase, David et al. “The Happy Wanderer.” The Sopranos: Selected Scripts From Three Seasons. New York City: Warner Books, 2002: 137.
18 Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. “Stereolab.” All Music Guide to Electronica: The Definitive Guide to Electronic Music. Ed. Vladimir Bogdanov et al. Ann Arbor, Mich.: All Music Guide/Backbeat Books, 2001: 487-488.
19 AD No. 44n3 (Dec. 10, 2002); AD No. 48.
20 Gerson, Emily. “Indie Musice For Those With No Plans.” AS 9 June 2005: B6.
21 Stereolab. Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night. Elektra 62409, 1999.
22 Coyote Ugly. Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Touchstone Pictures, 2000.
23 “Club Listings: Friday.” AC 24 June 2005: 94.
24 Mercer, Michelle. Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter. New York City: Tarcher/Penguin: 2004: 164; The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World. Ed. Roz Hopkins. Footscray, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 2004: 59.
25 Max, Tucker. “Traveling.” 20 June 2005. <>.
26 Belligerence and Debauchery: The Tucker Max Stories. Morrisville, N.C.: Lulu Press, 2003.
27 Rice, Dale. “Near or Far North, Manuel’s Maintains Legendary Quality.” XL 5 Aug. 1999: 36.
28 The Official Harvard Student Agencies Bartending Course, 3rd ed. New York City: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999: 164.
29 Salamon, Jeff. “Culinary Nightcaps.” XL 4 Sep. 2003: 6+.
30 AD No. 77n7 (Mar. 3, 2005).
31 AD No. 65 (May 22, 2004); Mottola, Daniel. “UT a Players-Hata?”AC 1 July 2005: 22.
32 Kelo vs. New London, 04-108, 23 June 2005.
33 Lee, Adrienne. “Officials Celebrate 51st Street Reconstruction.” DT 23 June 2005: 6A.
34 Outon, Chantal. “BookPros Turns the Page on Phenix & Phenix.” ABJ 24 June 2005: A3.