Noir for the Next Generation
by Lisa Diana Shapiro
My new project, Samantha Spade, Ace Detective, has given me a mission.
When I was a kid, it was my mother’s rule that I was not allowed to watch any movies made after 1960. In her estimation, the only good movies were either black and white, MGM musicals, or Gone with the Wind.
So I knew nothing of Star Wars or E.T., but I could quote Humphrey Bogart at length. Then I read Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books, and that pretty much sealed my fate - the girl too geeky to ever get a date.
When I grew up I discovered that there were plenty of other geeks who knew references like, “You know how to whistle” and I eventually caught up on all the films I had missed growing up. But I never lost my love of those old black-and-white detective movies.
Recently I was commissioned to write a new musical for Off-Broadway’s TADA! Youth Theater. I had worked with them before, writing book and lyrics for the tremendously successful family musical Princess Phooey (music by Eric Rockwell).
This time, I pitched them a film noir spoof. I thought, this will be fun - I’ll call it “The Maltball Falcon,” it will have obscure references to Sam Spade and Miles Archer, a sultry blonde with legs up to here, a tough-talking detective with all the answers.
I sat down with my 13-year-old niece to do some research, watching The Big Sleep (who could be cooler than Lauren Bacall?). I was writing a song that would use all the hard-boiled slang from the period - you know, jake and hoosegow and palooka. I asked my niece to let me know what words she didn’t understand.
Ten minutes into the movie, she told me she didn’t understand a thing that was going on. Not only did she not understand the slang, they talked too fast and she couldn’t follow the story at all.
Noir was a foreign language to her.
I realized at that moment that I couldn’t write a spoof. You can’t make fun of something if your audience doesn’t know what you’re making fun of. I realized that I had a bigger mission instead - not to spoof it, but to re-create it. I had to re-imagine noir for the next generation.
Samantha Spade, Ace Detective was born. Samantha’s a lonely kid, cripplingly shy, obsessed with old movies - but in her imagination, she is Samantha Spade, Ace Detective, tracking down clues and catching villains on the rain-washed streets of her black-and-white fantasy world.
The project grew. In order to reboot the genre for this generation, I needed a much bigger audience - I needed . . . the Internet. And I needed to make a film.
I wrote a short film based on a song from the show - “Slingin’ the Slang,” the very song I was working on that day I sat down to watch The Big Sleep. The music is by the divine Georgia Stitt.
We’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund the film, and it will ultimately be the centerpiece of a website loaded with mysteries to solve, blogs from characters, recommendations of great books and movies - all designed to save the future of noir fiction and film - and create more little geeks who will grow up to use their creative powers for good and not evil.
Log on and get involved. TADA! Youth Theater is a non-profit, so donations to the Kickstarter are tax-deductible!
I gotta dangle now - the gumshoe’s waiting for me, and everything’s gonna be jake.
For more about Lisa and to get updates on the project, follow on Twitter @SamSpadeMystery