For the month of January, Alexander Coleman, from Coleman’s Corner in Cinema will be the guest of Dark City Dame at Noirish City, where he will be talking noir and selecting noirs for review on his blog.
This event will be a fitting lead-up to the Noir City 7 Film Noir Series in San Francisco from January 23 to February 1, which will have a newspaper theme – visit the Noir City site for full details. Alexander will don fedora and trench-coat to report direct from Noir City for Dark City Dame.
I have come across a blog, A Film Canon, by a Mr Billy Stevenson, where you will find very original capsule reviews of many classic movies, including quite a number of films of interest to readers of FilmsNoir.Net:
Tomorrow evening the University of Maryland will host a debate headlined The Un-Americaness of Film Noir. The background provided by the University is certainly interesting:
Jonathan Auerbach’s book in progress Dark Borders offers a political reading of American film noir as a Cold War genre centrally concerned with redefining citizenship. It begins with questions of affect and aesthetics–the strange tone of disenfranchisement or non-belonging that haunts so many of these mid-century crime movies. Freud’s notion of the unheimliche links the uncanny mood of these important films with fears that “Un-Americans” and un-American values might overtake or undermine the homeland. These anxieties surface during a series of wartime and post war emergency measures, beginning with the anti-sedition Smith Act (1940), the Mexican migrant worker Bracero Program (1942), the domestic internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry (1942), and the HUAC hearings in 1947 that sought to criminalize native-born communists (the CPUSA). This talk will be discussing one key scene in the anti-communist film The Red Scare (1949) in conjunction with a little-known but very striking movie (arguably the first film noir) Stranger on The Third Floor (1940), starring Peter Lorre, that imagines the rule of fascist law in the USA and that conceives of madness as a foreign country.
Check out this page for links to all the articles on film noir published by the Bright Lights Film Journal, and these articles from their latest issue: a profile on noir regular Dana Andrews, and a review of Louis Malle’s 1958 noir Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour le Chafaud).
Michael Shepler, cultural coordinator for PoliticalAffairs.net, has written an interesting article on noir westerns, Sagebrush Noir: The Western as ‘Social Problem’ Film. Schleper traces the origins of film noir from German expression through to the 50’s, and cites some Hollywood films of the 30s that are not usually referred to in discussions of film noir:
There were some pioneer American noirs such as Rowland Brown’s Beast of the City and Mamoulian’s City Streets and even a few embryonic westerns such as Wyler’s exceedingly grim version of the much filmed ‘Three Godfathers’ story, ‘Hell’s Heroes’ , shot in 1930.
He then goes on to review four western movies which he labels ‘Sagebrush Noirs’: Raoul Walsh’s Pursued (1947), Robert Wise’s Blood on the Moon (1948), and two early westerns by Anthony Mann, The Furies (1950) and Devil’s Doorway (1950). Other films noted by Shepler include Ramrod, Springfield Rifle, and Day of the Outlaw by Andre de Toth; Jubal, 3:10 to Yuma, Cowboy and The Hanging Tree by Delmer Daves; Budd Boetticher’s Randolph Scott westerns 7 Men From Now (1957) and Comanche Station (1960); Little Big Horn (1950) by Charles Marquis Warren; Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James and Forty Guns; and two low budget Anthony Quinn films, The Man From Del Rio and The Ride Back which, were associated with Robert Aldrich’s ‘Associates and Robert Aldrich’ studio and produced during the same period as Kiss Me Deadly.
Thanks to Dark Cty Dame for advance details of the program for NOIR CITY 7, the 2009 San Francisco Film Noir Festival, to be held January 23–February 1, 2009, at the Castro Theatre, and which will have a newspaper theme:
Friday, January 23
Deadline USA (1952)
Scandal Sheet (1952)
Saturday, January 24
Chicago Deadline (1949)
Blind Spot (1947) Evening show (with Arlene Dahl):
Slightly Scarlet (1956)
Wicked as They Come (1956)
Sunday, January 25
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Cry of the Hunted (1953)
Monday, January 26
Alias Nick Beal (1949)
Night Editor (1946)
Tuesday, January 27
The Harder They Fall (1956)
Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949)
Wednesday, January 28
While the City Sleeps (1956)
Thursday, January 29
The Big Clock (1948)
Strange Triangle (1946)
Friday, January 30
The Unsuspected (1947)
Saturday, January 31 Matinee:
Two O’Clock Courage (1945)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) Evening show:
One False Move (1992)
Sunday, February 1
Shock Corridor (1963)
The Killers (1946) (newly restored)
Many thanks to the ubiqutious Dark City Dame for bringing a compelling resource to my attention.
Dr William Marling, Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, has on the detnovel.com film noir portal gathered an impressive collection of his essays on noir and its origins in German expressionism and hard-boiled fiction of the 20s and 30s.
In his introductory essay he reminded me that German expressionism as manifested in films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was not only about chiaroscuro lighting, but also that (my emphasis):
Expressionist movie-makers liked to employ extreme camera angles, tight close-ups, very slow dissolves, fast cutting and fast motion – anything that emphasized subjectivity.
The Parallax View: Smart Words About Cinema blog has today published a brilliant review of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958): Touch of Evil: Crossing the Line by Robert C. Cumbow. This essay is the best on this problematic film that I have read.
I was particularly struck by Cumbow’s analysis of the famous opening take:
“In establishing this matrix of border crossings, Touch of Evil’s celebrated opening shot… [in order] …To see why the opening shot is cinematically, stylistically, and thematically necessary, we need only consider how the opening sequence would seem if the opening were not a single take, but a series of briefer shots edited together. The sequence’s – and the film’s – whole concept of time and space would be irretrievably damaged. For if there were cuts between the time a shadowy figure puts the bomb into the car and the time it explodes, we would not know how long the bomb had been ticking, or how long it took the car to get from that parking garage to the border. Nor would we know how far it was from one place to another. And an understanding of the geography of that border town is as crucial to Touch of Evil as is its treatment of the time frame within which the events occur.”
Concidentally, this morning I started re-reading V.F. Perkins’ book, Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies (Penguin, London, 1972), and on reading Cumbow’s essay later in the day, I immediately recalled this telling passage from the book where Perkins discusses the long take in the context of Andre Bazin’s critique of montage as the basis of film theory: “Directors like jean Renoir, Orson Welles, and William Wyler had to a large extent renounced editing effects in order to explore the dramatic possibilities of an uninterrupted continuity in pace and time.“.
The tension of the long fluid opening shot in Touch of Evil would perhaps also have been lost if the shot was broken-up by editing.
When researching my previous post on The Seventh Victim (1943), I came across the site The Val Lewton Screenplay Collection, which has many of the scripts produced by Lewton and other interesting Lewton resources.
A reminder too that on Amazon you can get the Val Lewton Horror Collection DVD Box Set with nine movies: Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Ship, The Seventh Victim, and Shadows in the Dark for only US$37.49 new and from US$29.99 used.
The Big Sleep “The movie had everything going for it. But when one watches it, one finds that it is exceedingly difficult to read. The camera work is anything but polished. Cuts exist where they shouldn’t, and directional shots are at times awkward and superfluous. Hawks did not shoot the film as one expects film noir stuff to be shot. There are certainly the token shadows and curling smoke, not to mention some low shots and close-ups. But that Expressionistic element borrowed from German cinema in the previous decades is near-absent. While there are shadows, characters are not generally dwarfed by them. The contrast is rather minimal – this is less a “black-and-white” film than a “gray” film.”
Chinatown “Polanski photographed the film largely in POV shots. The number of over-the-shoulder perspectives we get (almost all over Nicholson’s shoulder) becomes nearly claustrophobic. This sort of effect connects ChinatownThe Big Sleep or Huston’s The Maltese Falcon. with the old detective noirs, such as Hawks’ The Big Sleep or Huston’s The Maltese Falcon.”
“From the film’s earliest scenes, one of the main characters is Bannin’s walking stick, which doubles as a protruding blade at Bannin’s pressing of a button. That the stick/blade is phallic goes without saying: it wields Bannin’s power, it extends, and its blade signifies castration of the other. Bannin calls it his ‘friend’, and proclaims, ‘It speaks when I wish it to speak, it is silent when I wish it to be silent.’ Johnny quickly identifies himself with the stick/blade: ‘You have no idea how faithful and obedient I can be.'”
Mildred Pierce “It turns out that this film was released in 1945 just as the troops were returning home from the war. It also turns out that the film overtly attempted to reinstate masculine authority after a period of women running many of the businesses in the country.”
Force of Evil “Because at the end of the film, the greatest force of evil is not any one individual but the whole rotten system. Sure, it’s a racket; sure it’s a criminal enterprise. But writer/director Abraham Polonsky goes out of his way to establish the Combine as not so different from major banks and corporations – characters continually repeat, ‘it’s business!’ when confronted with the charge of gangsterism.”
In a Lonely Place “The movie opens with a rearview mirror reflection of Dixon Steele’s wounded eyes, held in relief against the almost abstract high beams and street lights of a Hollywood boulevard. Hollywood is that lonely place – as is any place were sensitive souls gather to use and abuse one another.”
Kiss of Death “Kiss of Death was shot entirely on location in New York. And indeed this is no idle boast; the movie is deeply enriched by the lived-in sense its, well, lived-in locations provide. The oppressive claustrophobia of an elevator as a desperate criminal tries to escape from a robbery in a busy building. The steep, narrow, and crowded architecture of Nettie’s (Coleen Gray) apartment as she welcomes Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) home from prison.”