A Prelude to: Going Back to the Sources

I’ve long admired film noir, as have many others. So I decided to go to the original sources, very often an instructional idea, and read the novels and stories on which many film noir movies are based. Doing that confirmed what I had suspected earlier…that Hollywood…studio system Hollywood certainly, sanitizes film noir content. It turns what is not middle-class content into something blander to appeal to a larger audience…the middle class is Hollywood’s prime audience…has been for a very long time…so any social perspective that’s different from that most probably needs to be altered. This is true of 1930’s through 1960’s movies especially.

Film noir source literature can be brutal. It can be ugly. It can be racist and reflect the common prejudices and phobias of the day. But you should be kept informed about what viciousness might lie in the foundations of your beloved classics.

That’s why I cringe with suspicion when I read the words “new edition” on a classic work of sociology, for example. I wonder: What have the new editors excised out? What did they have to “clean up?” That’s why I love to go to a source of old books, like The Strand in New York, and find an original edition of such basic works. Reading the original book in an edition close to when it first came out may reveal moral ugliness that the new editors have excised away by “updating” the book. I say…leave the dirty laundry in…I want to see what it was.

Why? Because it still might be there…hidden…like an old underground stream under the streets of Manhattan…still flowing in the dirt and the muck. Mine is decidedly a minority viewpoint. Most editors of such revised works feel that the public needs to be protected from themselves. Maybe they are right, but I don’t want to be “protected from myself” in this fashion. I want to look the devil in the eye.

Besides you don’t make the public stronger by shielding them from depravity; you make them weaker. At some point in your life surely, you decide you don’t want to be treated like a child. Books of science need updating. Books of literature need to be preserved. But it gets dicey when a book is both.