26 Sep Vampire Noir
This is the first in a series of blog posts, published each Monday until the release of Certain Dark Things. I’ll be discussing Mexican films, the barrios of Mexico City, and the folklore which inspired the novel.
Certain Dark Things, out this October, is a story about a vampire on the run from rival narcos. It’s inspired by my love of Mexican noir films. First off, one of the peculiarities of noir films in Mexico is the development of the cine de rumberas. Like luchador films, this element is considered a uniquely Mexican thing. Rumbera films are movies about cabaret singers and dancers with the noir elements separated by musical numbers, with some melodrama to give it more flavour. Famous “rumberas” included María Antonieta Pons, Meche Barba, Ninón Sevilla and Rosa Carmina. Although there are no rumberas in Certain Dark Things (lord knows I should include some in another book), I had a picture of Sevilla pinned near me when I was writing the book, a reminder of her performance as the alluring femme fatale in Sensualidad.
The other important element of the Mexican noir was its concern with… economics. Like Museum of Modern Art curator Dave Kehr explains:
“American noir is largely a product of war trauma; Mexican noir of economic trauma…instead of lonely, guilt-ridden men with persecution complexes, you have a lot of strivers—con men, athletes, politicians—who are desperate to better themselves in the corrupt, rapidly industrializing economy.”
Domingo, the street kid who meets a vampire called Atl, makes a living picking trash. Ana, a cop investigating the vampire presence in Mexico City, faces a corrupt, macho society. How to pay the bills as a single mother is one of Ana’s huge concerns. The vampires view people as disposable commodities, much like the border zone where employees in maquilas are nothing but numbers. Talk about money, about class, abounds throughout the book.
And there’s a love story, too, between all the killing and gunshots, just like in the movies.
As Kehr says, in the Mexican noir:
“There’s also a greater emphasis on romantic subplots, which often feature strong, morally centered women who are trying to save their flawed companions from their errors of judgment (the femmes fatales who drift through those elaborate nightclub sets, soulless, stylized beauties who are often compared to sculptures or paintings) or more immediate physical threats from the police or rival hustlers.”
Seedy, ripe with danger, that was the Mexican noir, but it was also aflame with a passion. These were the films of Arturo de Córdova, who stares longingly at a statue of María Félix (Félix was the other actress whose photo was pinned by my tiny desk) and watches the word “desire” installed on a large perfume ad. Or the flicks of Ninón Sevilla, dancing temptress at the cabaret, who attempts to go good more than once, and fails.
The titles of Sevilla’s films are evocative by themselves. She is, by turns, Aventurera (Adventurous), Sensualidad (Sensuous), Pecadora (Sinner), and finally, Perdida. This last title can be translated as “lost,” but a woman who is “perdida,” is also a whore, a fallen woman.
There’s a love story in Certain Dark Things, but it’s a love story filtered through the lens of the noir, something Domingo is slow to grasp. Atl, like Sevilla, is lost. Perdida. And not all the women in noirs are ever found.