Having missed the Egyptian's 70mm presentation of both 2001 and Vertigo last week, I'm going to make the trek out to the Aero on the 23rd to catch Vertigo. My last vacation to San Francisco was heavily influenced by the film; we checked out a few of the landmarks that pop up throughout the winding plot. Anyhow, back to 70mm: A few years back I took my son to a Sleeping Beauty 70mm screening and was blown away. During the 80's I caught quite a few of the major blockbusters (E.T., Raiders, Return of the Jedi etc.) but I most remember the Cinema 21 showing of Lawrence of Arabia back in '89. I remember it was '89 because they played "So Alive" by Love and Rockets during the intermission and I hate that song. Even at 14 I could appreciate what the 70mm projection did for Lawrence of Arabia and I'm sure you'll agree if you too choose to run out to Santa Monica next weekend and catch the sceening of either Lawrence or the Hitchcock classic. While you're at it, tomorrow night they're showing an amazing Noir double as part of their Jules Dassin tribute-- Thieves' Highway and Night and the City!
I tend to view film noirs as fantasies dealing with realistic themes. As such, they don't have to be versimilitudinous representations of the way people would act in a realworld parallel (for the narratives are rarely plausible), but be symbollically suggestive of our moral situation. If Robert Mitchum or Burt Lancaster falls in love to the point of a sick obsession within 2 minutes of screen time, that's okay; it just adds to the dreamy quality of the film, while still conveying something real. What doesn't work within the oneiric narrative is Desperate's hero, Steve (Steve Brodie), and villain, Walt (Raymond Burr), consistently acting in such a dunderheaded fashion that their actions convey nothing but ill-thought out plot mechanics.
On the eve of his and Anne's (Audrey Long) 6-month anniversary, independent trucker Steve gets a job offer from an old friend, Walt. Tried and true Steve doesn't find out until he gets to the loading dock that the job is transporting stolen merchandise. He, of course, refuses, only to be persuaded at gun point. The cops show up for a shootout, allowing Steve to escape in his truck after punching out the hood who's currently in the driver's seat. Walt's brother, Al (Larry Nunn), isn't so lucky, getting knocked out and arrested. Now on the lam, Steve commits the first in a long line of convenient errors which get him where the scenarists need him to be. He leaves the hood's gun on his lap with the hood unconscious in the passenger seat. The crook wakes up, grabs the gun and forces Steve to take him to Walt's hideout. Although pure nonsense, Mann and his cinematographer, George Diskant, at least aesthetically justify these contrivances with the film's noirish set piece, where Walt and his cronies beat the tar out of Steve in a masterful chiaroscuro rendering:
The most wonderful thing about life seems to be that we hardly tap our potential for self-destruction.
-- John Cheever
-- John Cheever
Over the past few weeks, I've been attending some of the features being shown at the American Cinematheque's 11th Annual Film Noir Festival. My next few blog entries will be about what I saw. First up, two films by two of my favorite directors that center on the basic stupidity of their protagonists to get all the pieces to fit into their respective jury-rigged plots.
Independent journalist Tom Garrett (a well-lubricated Dana Andrews) goes along with a harebrained scheme to prove the injustice of the death penalty as devised by his future father-in-law, the liberal newspaper editor Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer). More gonzo than Hunter S. Thompson, Tom will plant enough evidence to get himself convicted for an unsolved, brutal murder. Since women are prone to hysteria, the two men decide it best not to tell Tom's fiance, Susan Spencer (Joan Fontaine, the missing link between Grace Kelly and Madame). It's not difficult to see where this one's going: on the way to the courthouse when the jury is to hand in its verdict, Austin gets into a fatal car crash, with all the exculpatory photographic evidence burning up (cars were real fire hazards in those days).
OK, I'm late with this one. I've already attended three double features and I have tickets to two more. You've still got a week's worth of programming left, so get on it! Ann Rutherford gave an amazing interview last week, absolutely sharp as a tack and a total charmer. The Fritz Lang double on Sunday was amazing-- Ida Lupino was smoking hot in the first feature While The City Sleeps. Opening night was amazing... 3 hours of Jane Greer. This week I'll be at the Deadline USA/ Chicago Deadline & Walk Softly Stranger/ Chicago Syndicate doubles. My hopes are high as Abbe Lane is in Chicago Syndicate. 1955 may have been a September year for film noir, but it was a peak year for Abbe. Check out the rest of the festival lineup at the Egyptian Theater site.
So, this year's festival is winding down. This is the final full week of programming; there is one more double next Thursday, including an amazing Richard Widmark classic. Anyone not familiar with Mr. Widmark's career take note, this showing of Night and the City is a great starting off point. Anyone familiar with his work should come out and pay respects as he passed on March 24th after a lengthy illness...
Last Friday my young Sylvian got a nice earful from unannounced guest speaker James Elroy. My wife Esther spotted his mug when were eating across the street at Musso & Frank, so we kinda figured he was in the area for Hell's Five Hours & The Night Holds Terror, but we didn't know he'd do a number before the 1st feature. The always lovely Coleen Grey (who starred in Hell's Five Hours) spoke between the films; she's quite a charmer. Fortunately she wasn't chastised by Kenneth Anger this time around. Previously at a showing of Nightmare Alley, Mr. Anger abruptly corrected her from the audience about some detail or another, leaving her a bit befuddled.