It has been a while since I’ve posted here on Pulp Curry. This is because I’ve spent the last few weeks travelling in the US. I spent time in New York and Washington DC. I also visited the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, the home of Edgar Allen Poe, David Goodis and, every two years, one of the most interesting literary festivals I have experienced, NoirCon.
NoirCon is not your common or garden-variety festival. No way. And that is a very good thing.
First of all, the focus is firmly on noir, mainly fiction, but also film, poetry or whatever (and that last category, ‘whatever’, encapsulates some pretty bizarre material). I’m not saying there’s not a place for broader events that include a wider range of contributors and crime fiction sub-genres. But it’s also great to sit in a room of people who are, for once, more or less, all on the same page in terms of their love of noir, and not have to feel you have to justify or explain the focus.
Second, although it’s not exactly an exclusive event, neither does it try to be any bigger than need be. I get the feeling that while organiser, Lou Boxer, does his best to come up with new presenters and topics, he’s happy for the event not to get out of control or stray beyond the noir remit.
Third, not everything works. There were some great sessions, some not so great sessions, and some that completely didn’t work. The eclectic mix of events and presenters and the fact that not everything comes off exactly as might be planned, is part of what I liked so much about NoirCon. It gives the event an unpredictable and spontaneous feel and pretty much everyone in the room is down with this and happy to go with the flow.
The highlights for me were as follows:
A screening of the remastered print of the 1951 ‘bad cop’ film noir, The Prowler, starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes. Directed by Joseph Losey and written by blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, who worked under a pseudonym, the film has long been unavailable and was only recently been restored by the US Film Noir Foundation. The screening was followed by a Q&A with head of the Foundation, Eddie Muller, who talked about the film’s background, why he enjoyed interviewing Keyes so much, and gave an impassioned defence of why it is important to preserve films in their original 35mm format.
A terrific panel titled ‘Cheerleaders, Rodeo Clowns, Wrestlers and Sideshow Stars: the Deadly Serious World of B Noir’. This examined some of the strange territory being covered in noir fiction and included two of my favourite US crime writers, Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby, as well as Christa Faust and a writer who I need to read, Dennis Tafoya.
My daddy was a baaaaad man
Ex-Los Angeles police force detective Steve Hodel gave a presentation on the painstaking investigation he has carried out into one of the most infamous murders in US history, the Black Dahlia. He presented chilling evidence that fairly conclusively identified the culprit, his own father. A fascinating story of evil close to home that involved at various points, Man Ray and the surrealists, John Huston, a house built by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and various other rich, white, weird members of Los Angeles bohemian society in the late forties and early fifties. Hodel gave a second presentation a couple of days later that his father was also the man behind the Zodiac killings, which I found far less convincing. But, as I said, not everything works.
An insightful and, at times, hilarious panel on bad behaviour and outright evil in the work of Patricia Highsmith and Flannery O’Connor. I consider myself a Highsmith fan but have never read O’Conner. After listening to the panellists I realised this has to change.
Seventies décor and a full service bar
The NoirCon awards dinner was terrific. Eddie Muller and Japanese writer Fuminori Nakamura got gongs. But more entertaining was the venue, the banquet hall of Philadelphia’s Sheet Metal Workers Local. The seventies décor felt like being in a mash up of the set of the Deer Hunter and The Shining. Former members of the local even tended bar and didn’t rely on their spirit measures when pouring cocktails.
Port Richmond Books and what followed
The final session of NoirCon was held at the largest and one of the best second hand bookshop I’ve even had the pleasure of visiting, Port Richmond Books. Piles of books, many of them disorganised, an entire room of pulp paperback fiction, winding corridors that ended in an abandoned Wurlitzer jukebox covered in more books, what is not to love for the serious second hand book collector? Afterwards, a number of us retired to one of the local watering holes, Donna’s Bar, for beer, pirogues by the plateful and great conversation.
Sir/madam will you please be my friend?
The main highlight of NoirCon was meeting crime writers and bloggers I’d only known previously from social media, as well as a heap of new people. I especially enjoyed meeting Jedidiah Ayres, Scott Adlerberg, Duane Sweircznksi, David James Keaton (who should change his name to his Twitter handle, Spidefrogged, it’s much cooler) and his partner Amy Lueck, Kate Laity, Mark Krajnak, Jen Conley, Jonathon Woods, Kieran Shea, Patti Abbott, Rob Hart, Nik Korpon, the always suave Peter Rozovsky, Philadelphia legend and Edgar Allen Poe specialist, Edward Pettit, Dennis Tafoya, Erik Arneson, Wallace Stroby (who was nice enough to let me interview him for a future issue of Crime Factory), Jeff Wong, Mike Dennis and of course, Lou Boxer.
The good lord willing and the river don’t rise, reckon I might try and make it back to NoirCon in 2016. And this time I might try and present. I think NoirCon folk might be interested in a panel on fifties/sixties Australian pulp fiction…