Tag Archives: noir

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, June 1-12, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that have caught my attention so far this month.

A group of origami artists is suing Sarah Morris claiming that her series of paintings based on origami crease patterns constitute copyright infringement. The suit was launched in U.S. federal court in April, but it received fresh attention this week with an article in the Guardian and posts on a number of IP and art law blogs (The 1709 Blog, Art and Artifice). The Guardian reports that the plaintiffs allege “Morris copied their origami crease patterns, changed the colour scheme and then sold and exhibited the works without obtaining permission and crediting them,” and that she has thereby “‘created confusion’ over the authorship of their designs and damaged their professional reputations.” Morris is expected to base her defense on fair use. Her lawyer is reported to have told the Art Newspaper: “It’s hard to imagine a clearer use of transformative fair use.” Click here to see excerpts from the complaint including several exhibits that set the plaintiffs’ crease patterns alongside Morris’s paintings (as in the illustration above).

Two years ago, the unveiling of a previously unknown collection of paintings, drawings, letters, and ephemera purported to be the work of Frida Kahlo was met with charges that “all of the documents and works in [the collection] are fakes.” Now, the L.A. Times reports that in a decision rendered last year but only reported last week, “a Mexican court has ruled that opponents have failed to prove their claim that the collection is bogus.” This ruling does not establish the authenticity of the collection, but it paved the way for its owners to “[file] ownership papers or the material […] with Mexico’s Public Registry of Copyrights” and to begin to “[consider] exhibition options.”

A California federal judge has decided in favour of photographer Glen E. Friedman in his copyright suit against Thierry Guetta (“Mr. Brainwash”). Guetta argued that his work based on Friedman’s iconic photo of rap group Run DMC did not constitute infringement because Friedman’s photograph was not sufficiently original to merit copyright protection or, alternatively, that he had altered it sufficiently for his work to be considered fair use. The judge rejected both arguments and granted Friedman’s motion for summary judgment. Some commentators have expressed concern that, hot on the heels of the Richard Prince decision, this outcome is a further blow to appropriation art. (Hollywood Reporter, Media Bistro, LA Weekly)

The New York Times reports that last week a U.S. federal appeals court denied the claim of an innocent buyer of a stolen Pissarro print that she ought not to have to forfeit the work. She purchased it twenty-five years ago from a San Antonio art gallery and did not learn until she tried to sell it through Sotheby’s in 2003 that it had been reported stolen thirty years previously from a museum in Aix-les-Bains, France. The U.S. government promptly “seized the print as contraband.” In the wake of the court’s upholding of that action paired with its determination that the buyer could not recover her legal fees, she ruefully observes that her “$100,000 asset [has] turned into a $100,000 liability.”

In the Observer, Rory Mulholland notes the proliferation of protest art on the walls of the rebel-held cities of Libya. He finds the multitude of caricatures of Muammar Gaddafi, “whose many eccentricities make him a perfect target for satire,” to be “the most striking manifestation of the new-found freedom of expression” in those regions. Click here to see a slide show of some of the images that Mulholland captured on film.

Joan Jett and Cherie Currie have filed suit in a New York court in an attempt to stop the release of a tribute album featuring contemporary cover versions of the songs of their 1970s band The Runaways. In the Hollywood Reporter, Eriq Gardner sums up the basis for the suit as follows: “Typically, when cover songs are recorded, mechanical license royalty rates apply. No permission is required. However, in this unusual situation, Jett and Currie are claiming that the project is a violation of their likenesses, and that the record label is using their famous names to market the album.”

Christophe Maillet, owner of a Doors-themed Paris Bar called The Lezard King, has received a letter from the band’s lawyer threatening legal action if he doesn’t change the name of the bar and remove all images of the band from the premises within the next three months. The letter warns: “”The Doors do not want to be seen as having approved of your establishment and also the consumption of alcohol.” Maillet, a life-long Doors fan who personally collected the memorabilia over the past twenty-five years that constitutes the bar’s decor, “doesn’t know what could happen if the legal action goes ahead” but fears that the “worst-case scenario is that they could close the bar.” (Associated Press)

The family of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda maintains that he died of cancer in 1973 at the age of 69. But following allegations that he was, in fact, poisoned at the behest of General Pinochet, a Chilean judge has ordered an investigation into his death. (BBC, NPR)

As part of its coverage of the Hay festival, the Telegraph has published a wonderful series of articles in which writers pay tribute to their “heroes of free speech.” Click on the following writers’ names to learn about theirs: Javier Cercas, Kishwar Desai, Héctor Abad Faciolince, Helena Kennedy, Youssef Rakha, and Elif Shafak.

Katherine A. Power has high praise for Mary Doria Russell’s historical western, Doc: “This extraordinary novel, whose central figure is John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, is both a work of reclamation of the man from his legend as a coldblooded killer and an inspired evocation of a mythic quintessence.” (Salon)

In the Daily Beast, David Goodwillie interviews police detective Edward Conlon about his novel Red on Red. Given Conlon’s line of work and the critical acclaim of his memoir, Blue Blood, it is perhaps unsurprising that his novel is garnering praise for its authentic portrayal of detective work and of police partnerships. “Conlon’s colorful world exists under a gray and pressing sky of authenticity that not even the most research-addicted crime novelists could recreate,” Goodwillie writes. He continues: “At the same time, Red on Red offers Conlon his first opportunity to move past the factual restrictions of non-fiction, and he doesn’t disappoint.” It sounds like it’s well worth a look.

“Where better to set a noir police procedural than in streets awash in uncollected trash, against a backdrop of smoke rising from Vesuvius?” asks Hallie Ephron. She concludes that with These Dark Things, the first installment in a series featuring Captain Natalia Monte of the Naples Carabinieri, Jan Meret Weiss lays claim to that city as decisively as Donna Leon has to Venice. I’ve just finished reading These Dark Things myself and can attest that Natalia Monte is a most intriguing character and that Naples is very vividly evoked⎯a promising start to a new series. (Boston Globe)

Kate Sutherland

The Femmes Fatales of Film Noir

Earlier this week, I attended a most interesting lecture delivered by Kevin Courrier at the Revue Cinema on the femmes fatales of film noir. I was expecting to see and hear lots about my favourites from the classic noirs of the 1940s and 50s. But though Courrier made reference to them, he spent more time tracing their origins in 1920s and 30s European and pre-Code Hollywood films, and then documenting their survival beyond the classic period and into contemporary cinema. I suspect that Courrier took this tack because the emphasis of his previous lectures was on the classic period⎯this week’s lecture, though the first I’d attended, was the third in a five-part series on film noir. In any event, this before-and-after focus proved very thought-provoking, causing me to reevaluate my perceptions of the more contemporary films with which I was familiar, and introducing me to a number of early films that I hadn’t encountered before.

Although I’d seen some of the more recent films from which Courrier showed clips, I’d never really thought of them as noirs. This made me realize that my definition of noir in fiction is much broader than it is in film. With the former, I’m attentive to theme and character as well as style, whereas with film, for me, it’s all about how it looks. If it’s not gritty black and white with plenty of hats and cigarettes, noir doesn’t even occur to me. I recognize that this is a ridiculously narrow view, and I’m glad to have been jolted out of it.

With respect to the early films⎯the silent films and the pre-Code talkies⎯they were mostly new to me. I was intrigued to see demonstrated the extent to which the aesthetic of film noir was inspired by German Expressionist film, and the psychoanalytic themes by European film more broadly. And I was fascinated by the powerfully sexual and independent women featured in them and in the pre-Code Hollywood films. Courrier put forward a convincing case that the femmes fatales of film noir wouldn’t have come into being without those precursors, but that they were also, perhaps paradoxically, a product of censorship. The adoption of the Hays Code in the U.S., which became obligatory and was rigidly enforced as of 1934, meant that women on film could not thereafter be depicted enjoying the same sexual freedoms as before. But the ingenuity required to communicate obliquely what could no longer be presented openly pushed filmmakers to new heights of creativity such that sublimation became a hallmark of noir.

I came away from the lecture keen to further explore the pre-Code era and the transition to noir, armed with a long list of films with which to begin. For your weekend viewing pleasure, I’ve posted clips from some of those films below.

Heretofore, my acquaintance with the work of German filmmaker F.W. Murnau was limited to his masterful Nosferatu (I’m plotting a future post on the copyright litigation that that film provoked between Murnau and the widow of Bram Stoker). Now I can add his 1927 film Sunrise to my list. Here’s a famous scene from it featuring Margaret Livingstone as a mesmerizing femme fatale, along with one of the best depictions ever of the evil temptations of big city life:

This clip from a documentary on sexuality and censorship in early cinema not only provides glimpses of actress Louise Brooks in her most famous role as Lulu in the 1929 German film Pandora’s Box, but also a bit of context on the film industry of the time in the U.S. and Europe, and a strong sense that Brooks was as fascinating a character off screen as on:

Barbara Stanwyk is, of course, a familiar face to any fan of film noir from her starring roles in such classics as Double Indemnity. But her career began pre-Code, and her performance in the 1933 film Baby Face is, according to Courrier, the gateway that hooks many viewers on pre-Code Hollywood films. So perhaps this is the one with which to begin:

Happy viewing!

Kate Sutherland

A Foray into Italian Crime Fiction: Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness


A couple of months ago, when I tweeted a link to an article in the Observer that heralded “a new wave of Italian crime writers,” I quickly received a flurry of replies insisting that, of the writers mentioned therein, Gianrico Carofiglio was the one whose work I must sample without delay. One of my correspondents went so far as to dub Guido Guerrieri, the character at the centre of Carofiglio’s series of legal thrillers, “an Italian Philip Marlowe.”

Intrigued as I was by this description, it initially struck me as unlikely, given how thoroughly a product of 1930s and 40s Los Angeles Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe seems to me to be. But even if Marlowe is rooted in his time and place, noir certainly travels. The success of Akashic Books’ marvelous noir anthologies which serve up hardboiled crime stories from every corner of the globe amply demonstrates that point. It was undoubtedly the noir quality of Carofiglio’s books which my correspondent was lauding and, having now read Involuntary Witness, the first book featuring world-weary criminal defense lawyer Guido Guerrieri, I can echo the recommendation of him as a most intriguing noir antihero.

At the beginning of the book, Guerrieri’s wife leaves him and, despite the fact that he hadn’t seemed particularly invested in his marriage, this provokes something of a breakdown. It’s an existential crisis. Guerrieri hasn’t lost his life’s purpose so much as the illusion that he had a purpose in life. Work provides no counter-balance to his unraveling personal life for, there too, he realizes he has long been deluding himself. He had not become a lawyer out of a passion for justice as he had sometimes tried to convince himself. Rather, he “had become a lawyer by sheer chance, because [he] had found nothing better to do or wasn’t up to looking for it.” He had just been marking time in practice, “waiting for [his] ideas to clarify.” His wife’s departure brings a now unwelcome clarity: “Then the lid blew off and from the pan emerged a lot of things I had never imagined and didn’t want to see. That no one would want to see.”

But in the end, it is his work as a lawyer that brings him back to himself and into the world, when he is engaged to defend Abdou Thiam, a 31-year-old Senegalese pedlar who has been charged with the murder of a 9-year-old Italian boy. Thiam had been seen speaking to the boy on the beach on a number of occasions, and has been found to have a photo of him as well as some children’s books among his possessions. A bar owner has said that he witnessed Thiam walking towards the boy’s grandparents’ home on the day in question, and one of his fellow pedlars has said that he saw Thiam washing his car the day after. This tissue of circumstantial evidence, through the lens of the racism of witnesses, police, lawyers, and judges, is thought to add up to an airtight case. Guerrieri has no faith in his capacity to counter it, and initially advises Thiam to opt for “the shortened procedure” which would rule out an acquittal but perhaps lead to something less than a life sentence. But Thiam protests his innocence and wants to fight for an acquittal. Guerrieri’s growing belief in and sense of responsibility to his client, and the challenge of the trial gradually bring him back to life.

This is not a mystery novel. No attempt is made to get to the bottom of the question of who committed the murder. All of the suspense relates to the outcome of the trial. Following the process from beginning to end offers some fascinating glimpses into the Italian legal system. (The author served for many years as an anti-mafia prosecutor in Bari, the same southern Italian city in which the novel is set, so I’m confident that the depiction of the operation of Italian criminal law is an accurate one.) One facet of the novel that I particularly appreciated that Carofiglio has in common with some of my favourite Scandanavian crime writers is that he eschews the Hollywood version in favour of what seems a more realistic portrayal of the progress of a case through the justice system, adeptly conveying its plodding pace and bureaucratic nature without thereby producing a plodding read.

I was quickly caught up in Guerrieri’s life, and in Thiam’s fate, and found Involuntary Witness overall to be an always interesting, sometimes riveting, and ultimately very satisfying read. Carofiglio has written four novels featuring Guerrieri as the central character, three of which have so far been published in English translation, with the final one due out later this year. I am very much looking forward to continuing on to read the rest.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 7-13, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

Plans to release a trove of unpublished writings by Malcolm X, including journals he kept during 1964 trips to Africa and the Middle East, have been thwarted by a longstanding feud over the estate of his widow, Betty Shabazz, between their six daughters. (NYT)

A recent English translation of “a Russian reworking of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” is proving popular with fans, but Tolkien’s estate is not pleased, deeming it copyright infringement. Publisher David Brawn elaborates: “Online there are lots of infringements which it is extremely difficult to do anything about,” he said. “When you get something as popular as Tolkien, fans want to create new stories. Most are pretty amateurish. Tolkien himself isn’t around so it’s the estate’s view that it’s best to say no to everything. If you let one in, you’d open the floodgates.” (Guardian)

Emma Thompson is seeking a declaration from a New York federal court that her latest film script does not infringe the copyright of a play by Gregory Murphy. Both film and play focus on “a love triangle featuring the 19th century poet and critic John Ruskin.” (Guardian)

Lawyers for Amanda Knox are suing to prevent the airing of a television movie about the murder for which she has been convicted in Italy, arguing that it “could prejudice perception of the case just as the appeal process gets underway.” The victim’s family also wishes to stop the film, fearing that it will make their struggle to put the tragedy behind them more difficult. (Hollywood Reporter, Media Law Prof Blog)

New Orleans “Mardi Gras Indians work to copyright costumes” in a bid “to get a slice of the profits when photos of the towering outfits they have spent the year crafting end up in books and on posters and T-shirts.” (NPR, Clancco)

“A bill introduced [this week] in the Iowa House calls on the University of Iowa to sell its famous Jackson Pollock Mural painting, valued at $140 million, to set up a trust fund for student scholarships.” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, The Art Law Blog)

In a profile of Barry Gifford, best known as the founder of Black Lizard Press and an author of noir thrillers, Allen Barra stresses the originality and versatility of his recent work. (Salon)

Carlo Wolff makes Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X sound irresistible to this aficionado of international crime fiction. He lists “murder, philosophy, forensics, and a culture of repression” among its ingredients, and pronounces it a compelling noir novel “that ratchets up tension to the end, providing excitement and insight into the psychology of modern Japan along the way.” (Boston Globe)

Jennet Conant describes Douglas Waller’s Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS & Modern American Espionage as “an entertaining history” and notes: “Waller is more concerned with the politics of personality, and the legacy of Donovan’s complex, larger-than-life character. As he amply shows, Donovan was a combination of bold innovator and imprudent rule bender, which made him not only a remarkable wartime leader but also an extraordinary figure in American history.” (NYT)

Fancy tracking the Socratic method back to its source? Steve Donoghue trumpets Bettany Hughes’ The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life as “a beguiling book” and “history, and historical reconstruction, exactly as it should be written.” He concludes: “The Socrates Hughes creates is ultimately a towering yet intensely human figure. He lives and speaks again in these pages: It’s a singular accomplishment.” (Washington Post)

* The image above is a reproduction of Jackson Pollock’s Mural (1943, oil on canvas, 8′ 1 1/4″ x 19′ 10″), owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, January 31-February 6, 2011

Below is a roundup of links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

Penguin is reported to be delaying publication of an English translation of Zhang Ling’s award-winning Chinese novel Gold Mountain Blues “until it is satisfied that the author hasn’t been poaching from the works of Canada’s Chinese Canadian literary elite.” Chinese bloggers have alleged plagiarism of the work of such authors as Denise Chong, Wayson Choy, and Sky Lee; Zhang categorically denies the allegations. (Toronto Star)

A class-action suit for consumer fraud has been filed against Jimmy Carter and his publisher Simon & Schuster claiming that his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, “was falsely marketed as an accurate account of peace negotiations in the Middle East.” The fraud case arising from James Frey’s mostly fabricated memoir, A Million Little Pieces, is cited as a precedent. Simon & Schuster reject any parallel, pronouncing the suit to be “frivolous, without merit,” and “a chilling attack on free speech.” (NYT, The Faculty Lounge)

H.B. Fenn, Canada’s largest book distributor, has filed for bankruptcy protection in “the latest example of what has become ceaseless turmoil in Canada’s most vulnerable cultural industry.” Critics decry government inaction. Kim McArthur, of McArthur & Company Publishing, asks: “Why are they screaming about some Australians wanting to buy a potash company when there’s not a peep about the thing they’re meant to be protecting – Canadian publishers and Canadian authors?” (Globe & Mail)

A study commissioned by NBC Universal finds that music piracy is on the decline. Matt Rosoff draws the conclusion that, not only are people not buying, they “don’t care about music enough” to steal it either. (SFGate)

Artist Jeff Koons has “backed down in an intellectual property dispute over balloon dog-shaped bookends” manufactured by Toronto company Imm-Living and sold by San Francisco gallery Park Life. (NYT)

A U.S. District Court Judge has dismissed “a lawsuit accusing Christie’s auction house of failing to recognize a valuable drawing by Leonardo da Vinci and selling it for a fraction of its true worth.” (Reuters, Clancco)

Producers of The Hurt Locker seek to have a war veteran’s defamation suit against the film dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP statute as an attempt to stifle free speech. (Reuters)

Kirk Makin reports on “the latest in a series of court rulings” in a family battle over the estate of millionaire John Kaptyn, “written last week by an irate judge who compared the Kaptyns to Charles Dickens’s feuding Jarndyce clan, from the novel Bleak House.” (Globe & Mail)

One of fifteen unpublished Dashiell Hammett stories, only recently unearthed by editor Andrew Gulli in a Texas archive, is to be published in The Strand this month. Apparently not all of the stories are in Hammett’s classic hard-boiled style though, which makes the find all the more exciting to some. “We have discovered that he was a far more versatile writer than he ever gets credit for,” Gulli said. (The Guardian)

A joint investigative report titled Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America highlights the gulf between the reality of forensic investigation, and representations of it in detective novels and on television crime dramas. (NPR, Law & Humanities Blog)

Susannah Meadows has effusive praise for The Death Instinct, Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld’s “tremendous follow-up to his 2006 novel, The Interpretation of Murder.” (NYT)

David Orr’s perusal of Poetry of the Law: From Chaucer to the Present, a new anthology edited by David Kader and Michael Stanford, prompts a broad-ranging and thought-provoking consideration of law, literature, and interdisciplinarity. (Poetry Magazine)

Nancy F. Koehn pronounces Ben Tarnoff’s Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters a “rollicking good read” that “shows how three con men were able to thrive in America’s early days because of a weak central government, an often-chaotic banking system, a turbulent economy and an entrepreneurial populace.” (NYT)

Roger Hutchinson finds John Macleod’s None Dare Oppose: The Laird, the Beast and the People of Lewis to be “an absorbing account of malice and mischief in the 19th-century Hebrides.” (Scotsman)

Emily Temple displays and discusses “a series of cohesive covers for Schocken’s (part of Pantheon) backlist of Kafka books” designed by Peter Mendelsund which “will begin appearing on paperbacks early this summer.” I’ve posted a few of my favourites above. (Flavorwire)