Tuesday, February 4, 2014

the Noir City wrap-up!

 That is indeed a pass well-utilized. Even with a two-night break bisecting the festival (and a sidelining due to illness that cut into the noir watching Saturday) I wound up using this thing eight of the ten total days of the festival. After a nice break, we're ready to pick up where the first half of our Noir City coverage left off. DIG IT!:

--A few years back Eddie Muller and the folks at the Film Noir Foundation took a trip to Argentina to explore some vaults there. They were guided on this trip by Fernando Martín Peña, the Argentinean historian who, among other accomplishments, found, restored and released the complete Metropolis that made the rounds a few years back. Though Noir City ran the Argentinean film of Richard Wright's Native Son last year, this year the fruits of Muller's trip were on serious display, with three restorations of little- (if ever-) seen in the US Argentinean noirs. All three were certainly worthwhile, with Hardly A Criminal offering a solid tale of alienation and poverty from Hugo Fregonese (who would later light out for Hollywood and Europe), and The Black Vampire offering a smart, female centered spin on Fritz Lang's M. But Never Open That Door, a diptych of stories spun from the work of noirmeister Cornell Woolrich, was my favorite, with gorgeous cinematography by Pablo Tabernero and a beautiful, extended silent sequence that anticipated the famous, half-hour silent heist from Rififi, which played the following night.

--Parenthetically, the introduction to The Black Vampire offered a strong reassurance from Peña that Argentina's archives were FAR from exhausted - can't wait to see what Peña, Muller, and co. offer next!

 --I wound up missing both Clouzot offerings Noir City had to offer (indeed, on arrival Saturday I was chided by a friend for seeing the only movie in DCP, rather than any of the four movies shown on 35mm film offered that day). But there was no way in hell I was missing a screening of a Melville I'd never seen, format be damned! Two Men in Manhattan was released in 1959, by many accounts AFTER the end of the "real" film noir years (indeed, it's the youngest movie shown at Noir City this time around). But it's very affectionate towards the movies that came before it, and Melville clearly relished the opportunity to be a filmmaker and an actor on those beloved, storied locations. Though Melville himself and Pierre Grasset (as journalists tracking a missing diplomat, for different reasons) were outsiders in some way to the black and white world surrounding them, they were clearly comfortably citizens of CINEMA, and it was a real joy watching navigating a New York now lost.

--I don't think I'd ever attended a screening on Noir City's final day, and perhaps against my better judgment (I was nowhere near 100% recovered), I stuck through all three movies offered. As a counterpoint to some of the earthier, deadly serious offerings earlier in the series, the three movies screened Sunday offered more fanciful takes on the post-war world of noir, with three Hollywood takes on stories set in Far East locations.

--Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture led the action off, and though it may be a glorious and gorgeous mess, it remains a mess. Some insanely quotable dialogue from befezzed Victor Mature made it worthwhile.

--Though more serious in intent than the fun spectacle before it, John Brahm's Singapore is still a more-than-diverting romantic thriller, with veteran serviceman Fred MacMurray returning to that island nation in search of some stashed pearls, and finding his long-lost beloved (Ava Gardner) with a new husband, and without memory of their time together. Though seen by some (Noir City not the least) as a knock-off of Casablanca, for my money it's a more moving proposition. Brahm specializes in movies with relatively gonzoid energies played absolutely straight, and MacMurray and Gardner play their shattered romance in total earnest.

--And an old favorite wound up closing off this international iteration of Noir City, and what a joy it was to see Macao in 35mm. It's a patchwork made by numerous directors (the aforementioned von Sternberg pretty much ousted from the project by star Robert Mitchum, with relief director Nicholas Ray not quite bringing it to the finish line) and writers (with even Mitchum stepping in to tweak a couple of scenes). But all of its crazy quilt pieces somehow cohere, and Macao offers an abundance of pleasures, from Mitchum's cool (always in evidence, no matter how desperate his circumstances or how dirty his suit) to William Bendix's goofball-with-an-agenda-maybe to Gloria Grahame's beautiful background smoulder to Jane Russell's show-stopping performance of "One For The Road." It's a difficult film to dislike, and its star power, no-man's-land setting, noir tinges and ultimately upbeat energy made it a perfect closer for the festival.

And though I'm still nursing myself back to health (and noting the disorientation expressed by local film historian Brian Darr, who made it to ALL 27 MOVIES OFFERED BY NOIR CITY), I find myself anticipating next year's Noir City 13, wondering what that super-charged number will portend....

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