Zola as prefiguring film noir – now there’s a thought. And if you think his writing is limited to depressing catalogues of social realities, remember, he can be damn funny too, in a dark, satiric way:
He was a man of superb stature, with the white, pensive face of a great statesman, and since he was a marvelously good listener, with a deep gaze and a majestic calm in his expression, it was possible to believe that he was engaged in a prodigious inner labor of comprehension and deduction. Of course, his mind was completely empty. Yet he had a disturbing effect on people, who had no idea whether they were dealing with a superior man or an imbecile. [One of the fellows madly on the make, in The Kill]
And the city as one giant bubbling pot of money and flesh: what does The Naked City have that Zola lacks?
Meanwhile, the Saccards’ fortune seemed to have reached its apogee. It blazed like a gigantic bonfire in the middle of Paris. It was the hour when the hounds were ardently devouring their share of the spoils [La curée, translated as The Kill] …The appetites that had been unleashed at last found contentment in the impudence of triumph, in the din of crumbling neighborhoods, and fortunes built in six months. The city had become a orgy of millions and women. Vice, come from on high, flowed through the gutters, spread across ornamental basins, and spurted skyward in public fountains, only to fall again upon the roofs in a fine driving rain. And at night, when one crossed the bridges, the Seine seemed to carry off all the refuse of the sleeping city: crumbs fallen from tables, lace bows left lying on divans, hairpieces forgotten in cabs, banknotes slipped out of bodices – everything that brutal desire and immediate gratification of instinct shattered and soiled and then tossed into the street. Then in the capital’s feverish sleep, better even than its breathless daylight quest, one sensed the mental derangement, the gilded voluptuous nightmare of a city driven mad by its gold and its flesh. Violins sang until midnight. The windows went dark, and shadows fell upon the city. It was a like a colossal alcove in which the last candle had been blown out, the last vestige of modesty extinguished. In the depths of the darkness, there was now only a great gurgle of frenetic and weary love, while the Tuileries, at the water’s edge, reached out its arms as if to embrace the vast blackness.
Not quite a new story for Paris.