The Big Sleep

There’s a film channel on Freeview called TCM which shows a random selection of movies. Recently I noticed that they were scheduled to show The Bog Sleep and The Maltese Falcon so set the box to record both.  I was a big fan of film noir back in the 80s and early 90s, watched both these films and others, especially those with Humphrey Bogart in them. I read some of Raymond Chandler’s novels. This week there was a night when everyone was out and I settled down to watch The Big Sleep.

Bogart plays a private detective Phillip Marlowe hired by General Sternwood to settle a problem with some gambling debts one of his daughters (Lauren Bacall) has accrued. Carmen (Bacall) wants to stop him. She suspects that what her father really wants is to find Sean Regan, who vanished in mysterious circumstances a month earlier. From there on in the plot thickens to involve a bookseller, some blackmail regarding indecent photos of the younger Sternwood daughter, a very flirtatious scene in the bookshop and implied sex, a casino belonging to Eddie Mars, several visits to a house where the body of the bookseller Joe Geiger is found, a beating for Bogart, some resolution of plot issues, Bogart and Bacall suddenly falling in love and the death of Eddie Mars, shot by his own men when Bogie tricks him into going outside. All good film noir stuff.

The film was made during the war- there are a few wartime moments such as a female taxi driver and poster of FDR- but its release was delayed until 1946 so the studios could rush release all the war films they’d made. It was criticised on release for being difficult to follow and confusing. Marlowe sometimes makes deductions that aren’t shared with the audience. The death of chauffeur Owen Taylor is unexplained. It’s not especially confusing but there is a lot of back and forth, people going to and from places rapidly. There’s little character development, it is all plot. And it does look old- really old. But Bogart and Bacall are superb, the lighting is dramatic, there’s a grittiness about it that appeals and script is witty and fresh. Everyone, Bogart especially, smokes constantly.

A couple of pop culture things leapt out. Firstly the line ‘now wait a minute, you better talk to my mother’, taken by Coldcut, who have been posted here several times this week now, and used in their 1987 remix of Eric B and Rakim’s Paid In Full. Paid In Full (Seven Minutes of Madness Mix) was a pioneering example of the art of the remix, a record that gave Eric and Rakim a hit, spliced in vocals from a recent hit from Ofra Haza and introduced the world to the much used ‘This is a journey into sound…’ sample.

Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness Mix)

When Marlowe (Bogart) visits Eddie Mars’ casino Vivian (Bacall) is singing (backed by The Williams Brothers including Andy). The song is And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, a jazz song written by Stan Kenton. One of the lines she sings refers to a girl being ‘a sad tomato’- the lines go ‘she’s a sad tomato/she’s a busted valentine’.

In 1994 Michael Stipe would use the same line in R.E.M.’s Crush With Eyeliner, a line that has always jumped out at me as being such an odd expression. I’ve no idea if Stipe got it from The Big Sleep or from a different version of the song but it seems reasonable to assume he watched the film late night on tour in a hotel room. Stipe follows it with ‘she’s three miles of bad road’.

Finally, as this picture shows, the younger of the two Sternwood girls must have been one of the inspirations for the look Ridley Scott gave Sean Young in Blade Runner (Martha Vickers, second right).

Desert Wind

This came out in 1993, Desert Wind by Banco de Gaia. Around 1992/93 the dance music scene splintered into multiple paths and sub- genres. There was a whole scene built around ambient dub spliced with world music, trance with tribal rhythms and vocal samples borrowed from Middle Eastern records, which probably started out with a crossover between The Orb and bands from the festival circuit.

Banco de Gaia were a one man operation at first, Toby Marks from South London, and this track was the first released in its own right (he’d put out tracks on various compilations before). A year later Banco’s first album followed,  Maya, and then Last Train To Llhasa in 1995 (and others since). Desert Wind is a joy, opening with chanting and the voice of  Ofra Haza, then drums, dubby bass and layers of keys and synths. It should hopefully inspire you to dig further.

Desert Wind

Im Nin’alu

Ofra Haza’s Im Nin’alu (a version of a 17th century Hebrew poem) was a genuine crossover hit, one of the first songs from what used to be called World Music to be bought in large quantities by western audiences. Im Nin’alu is also a widely sampled record that played a significant role in the development of the American hip hop scene and the birth of UK house music.

Ofra Haza first recorded her version in 1984 although she had performed it on an Israeli TV show back in 1978. Eric B and Rakim sampled the famous vocal part for their 1987 song Paid In Full. In 1988 a reworked version, inspired by Eric B and Rakim’s, crossed over in various countries, not least West Germany where it was number one for nine weeks. Following that MARRS may or may not have re-sampled it for their groundbreaking number one record in August 1987, Pump Up The Volume. Public Enemy used it in 1991 on Can’t Truss It, but it’s fair to say it was possibly a little overplayed by then. Ofra re-recorded it in 1997 and 2008 but it’s this version, snapped up by the remixers and producers of 1988, that is the keeper.

Im Nin’alu (Played In Full Mix)