Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Me Elsewhere: Noir at the Bar Seattle

Coming up tomorrow night. A swanky venue! A sterling line-up! And booze!

Warning: photo not to scale.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Extra, Extra! Noir City!

Over the weekend, the Summer 2016 issue of the Film Noir Foundation’s house rag hit in-boxes. And I’ll tell you right now, I’ve never been prouder of any edition of this magazine. The reason is the cover story, my interview with Academy Award nominated director Stephen Frears.

I gave the assignment to myself, not even running it past FNF founder and Noir City honcho Eddie Muller at first for fear the interview wouldn’t come together. My bailiwick as managing editor at the magazine is contemporary noir. It occurred to me that there are plenty of current filmmakers who have contributed mightily to noir – and that we need to talk to them about that work while we have the opportunity. We’re not going to get to sit down with, say, Robert Siodmak or Robert Wise, but we could corral their successors and discuss noir’s evolution. And, at the risk of sounding morbid, we were obligated to do so now, as last week’s untimely passing of writer/director Curtis Hanson at the age of 71 reminds us. (What I wouldn’t have given to talk to Hanson, not only about his masterwork L.A. Confidential but so many other dark gems on his resume like The Silent Partner, The Bedroom Window and Bad Influence.)

Why start with Stephen Frears? Three reasons. He has unassailable credentials, with The Hit (1984) and The Grifters (1990) enshrined in the neo-noir pantheon. He had a new film in release, which in purely practical terms meant he’d be more likely to be accessible. Incidentally, that new film, Florence Foster Jenkins, is delightful. Meryl Streep is understandably the focus of all the attention, but it also boasts the best performance of Hugh Grant’s career.

But my main motive was personal. Frears is one of my favorite filmmakers, his name on a movie a guaranteed incentive for me to watch it. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen The Snapper (1993), while High Fidelity (2000) is a kind of touchstone for me. If I were drafting one of those best-films-of-the-21st-century-so-far lists for the BBC, 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things would most definitely be on it.

Somehow, the stars aligned and I found myself on the phone with the man himself. Frears seemed amused at the prospect of being viewed as a noir filmmaker and agreed to stroll down Memory Lane with me, reminiscing about his debut feature Gumshoe (1971) and chiding me about not thinking of Dangerous Liaisons (1988) as film noir. He answered my questions with the low-key, self-effacing humor that seems the exclusive province of the English.

Eddie then took things to the next level by announcing Frears as the recipient of the Film Noir Foundation’s first annual Modern Master Award, “given to an artist whose work has displayed an appreciation for the thematic and artistic traditions of classic noir, as well as an eagerness to extend those traditions in fresh and unexpected directions.” Our plan is to present the award to Frears in person at the Noir City film festival in either San Francisco or Los Angeles – provided he can tear himself away from his latest project. And we’re already discussing who the next recipient might be.

But that’s only scratching the surface of what’s in this issue. There’s Eddie’s spellbinding article on the making of The Murderers Are Among Us (1946), the first of the “rubble films” shot amidst the ruins of post-war Europe. Imogen Sara Smith offers a pair of related articles on British World War II noir and an appreciation of Carol Reed’s neglected The Man Between (1953). Jake Hinkson considers the career of Detour author Martin Goldsmith. Steve Kronenberg salutes the great cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. Nigel Collins, longtime editor of boxing magazine The Ring, serves up a surprising list of his 5 favorite noir titles. And the inimitable Johnny Shaw takes us on a tour of South Korean crime cinema, specifically The Yellow Sea.

Plus there’s the usual bounty of news, reviews and features, including my Cocktails & Crime column and my take on four films that screened at the Seattle International Film Festival. All of it beautifully laid out by ace designer Michael Kronenberg.

To get your copy, donate to the Film Noir Foundation. You’ll also be entered into a contest to win the brand new Kino-Lorber Blu-rays of Deadline U.S.A. and 99 River Street, with commentary tracks by Eddie Muller, and the Warner Archive DVD of James Ellroy favorite Stakeout on Dope Street.

If you want a taste of what’s in the magazine, my piece from last issue on Tequila Sunrise, a movie that had way too much influence on me, is now on the FNF website.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Movies: Noir City Seattle Returns

So I’m not as good as my word. So you’re getting a post-mortem. What could be better suited to a noir film festival?

After a hiatus of almost two and a half years, Noir City blew back into Seattle – and a new and better home at SIFF’s Egyptian Theater. Happily, the return engagement on Capitol Hill was a success, with solid crowds every night for a week. The theme this go-round was Film Noir from A to B: double-bills that moved chronologically through the 1940s, pairing prestige pictures with shorter, grittier productions to recreate the moviegoing experience of the era. (There was one exception to the structure and it mattered a great deal to me, but we’ll get to that.) Rosemarie and I made it to fifteen of the eighteen films screened, with time out for work and conspiring global domination with the festival’s master of ceremonies Eddie Muller. A recap follows.

New to Me

I saw three of the films for the first time, and as you’d expect, they were the B’s:

Dr. Broadway (1942). What was intended as the launching pad for a new franchise ended up as a series of one film. Still, it did provide noir legend Anthony Mann (Raw Deal, T-Men) with his first directorial assignment. This Runyonesque romp gained an unexpected topicality – the titular Times Square sawbones is named Tim Kane – and had potential, given the doc’s client base of gangsters and glamour gals. J. Carrol Naish makes his usual fine villain as a tailor cutting more than cloth in his bid to claim a crime boss’ fortune. Too bad the film stars the charisma-challenged Macdonald Carey, and his leading lady Jean Phillips triggered brain freeze every time she appeared onscreen; she was better known as Ginger Rogers’ stand-in, and is such a dead ringer for the dancer I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t actually her.

The Guilty (1947). This Film Noir Foundation restoration is based on the Cornell Woolrich story “Two Men in a Furnished Room.” As Eddie said, that also accurately describes the budget. But those bargain basement appointments allow director John Reinhardt to hew closely to Woolrich’s singularly bleak, doom-laden vision. Former Nancy Drew and future Lassie producer Bonita Granville plays identical twins – one helpmeet, one harlot – who take up with a pair of shiftless roomies. When the good girl is murdered, suspicion abounds. The movie is no lost masterpiece but it’s undeniably haunting, the Poverty Row production values giving it the hermetic feel of a nightmare. At least one relationship is genuinely unseemly, and a detective’s description of Granville #1’s demise while star Don Castle, who could be out-acted by a cigar store Indian, gazes down at her off-screen corpse remains authentically disturbing.

Southside 1-1000 (1950). Doubts were raised during the opening of the closing film, a semi-documentary crimebusters saga from Gun Crazy producers the King Brothers. (Summary of John Ireland’s interminable voiceover: counterfeiting is bad.) But once treasury agent Don DeFore – a Noir City favorite thanks to his turn in Too Late for Tears, now available on DVD! – arrives in Los Angeles and starts throwing cash around in a bid to build his bona fides as a Boston hoodlum, all is well. Great location photography in this movie directed by Boris Ingster, who also helmed the opening night B title Stranger on the Third Floor, bringing us all full circle.

Edith Head Night!

All the way from Japan!
Eddie deviated from the A/B set-up for our benefit, scheduling two top-tier titles last Tuesday boasting costumes by Edith Head. (Not to mention also having producer Hal Wallis and stars Burt Lancaster and Wendell Corey in common.) Rosemarie and I were lucky enough to co-host the evening with him, and signed copies of Design for Dying provided by Phinney Books. I can tell you that having Eddie Muller tells a packed house, “Don’t be a chump! Buy the book!” moves a lot of units. Our lovely friend Etsuko Tamazawa, who travels all the way from Japan to attend Noir City fests up and down the West Coast, brought us an astonishing gift: a Design for Dying sake barrel complete with inscribed cups, which were on the table as we signed books.

As for the movies, Desert Fury (1947) remains a delirious Technicolor fantasy, an overheated melodrama with only the vaguest ties to noir. And who cares, when it features a gay subtext that soon becomes text and a Lizabeth Scott sulking montage demanding multiple wardrobe changes that shows Edith Head at the height of her powers? I’m thrilled we introduced many people to Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), a dizzying piece of construction from writer Lucille Fletcher and director Anatole Litvak that is a truly underrated masterpiece of suspense.

The Professor and Mary Ann (aka And The Rest)

I always forget how effective Victor Mature is playing a big city sharpie in 1941’s I Wake Up Screaming – and still wish his co-star Laird Cregar had lived long enough to play Nero Wolfe ... Woman on the Run (1950), also now on DVD, gets better every time I see it ... Edith Head’s costumes for Veronica Lake in This Gun for Hire (1942) didn’t disappoint, but I tip my hat to the milliners responsible for the essential-to-the-plot hats in Phantom Lady (1944), starring local gal Ella Raines ... Dead Reckoning (1947) always seemed like middling Bogart to me, but it played great this time, while the big screen did no favors for the synthetic The Dark Corner (1946) ... The way Max Ophuls uses the wind in The Reckless Moment (1949) ... Night Editor (1946) is essentially the first Joe Eszterhas movie. And I already can’t wait for next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Me Elsewhere: Noir City Seattle

The last time Noir City was in Seattle, Rosemarie and I ended up filling in for the irreplaceable Eddie Muller on the final night, hosting a quartet of French noir films.

Then the festival pulled up stumps and abandoned the Emerald City for over a year. Are these events connected? The jury remains out.

But I’m pleased to report Noir City makes its triumphant return this weekend, at a brand new venue in the Egyptian Theater. Eighteen movies in seven days and not a dud in the bunch. Rosemarie and I reviewed the entire fight card with esteemed journalist and fellow game show combatant Tony Kay for City Arts magazine.

The big night for us is obviously Tuesday, July 26, when a pair of Edith Head films take to the silver screen. The deeply deranged Desert Fury and the sinfully suspenseful Sorry, Wrong Number. With Eddie providing context, and color commentary from yours truly and the missus. We’ll also be signing copies of Design for Dying, thanks to an assist from Phinney Books.

I can’t promise diligent recapping of every feature – there’s a lot going on around Chez K these days – but I’ll try to surface with a report or two.

In the meantime, swing by Dru’s Book Musings to read our ‘Day in the Life’ post and have a chance to win a signed copy of Design for Dying.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Extra, Extra! Noir City!

The Spring 2016 issue of the Film Noir Foundation’s house rag hit the streets earlier this week, bringing its usual bounty of top-notch scribblings.

Front and center this time out is a remarkable piece from new contributor John Wranovics, detailing the amazing true story of the U.S intelligence community’s role in the birth of Italian neo-realism. Our stalwarts are well-represented: Jake Hinkson looks at Rudolph Maté and his singular directorial achievement D.O.A.; Imogen Sara Smith considers Douglas Sirk’s dark side; Steve Kronenberg salutes the silken menace of George Macready; Brian Light revisits Peeping Tom, still disturbing after all these years; and Kelly Vance sizes up the latest from Arturo Ripstein, the lucha noir Bleak Street.

I’m not sitting this one out. In addition to my Cocktails & Crime column, I take on the duty of our Prime Cuts feature and confess my long-standing love for Robert Towne’s other L.A.-set noir, Tequila Sunrise.

Want in on the action? Donate to the Film Noir Foundation for a copy and an opportunity to win the new Flicker Alley DVDs of two FNF restorations, Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run. None other than Leonard Maltin raved about them. Get thee to thy wallet post haste.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Books: Three for the Road

Thanks to a Design for Dying book tour that lasted much of May, I almost broke my Showgirls oath to post at least once a month. Here I am under the wire to recommend a troika of titles that kept me company while I was on the road.

Underground Airlines, Ben H. Winters. Late last year I devoured the entirety of Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy, genre-bending marvels that claimed both Edgar and Philip K. Dick awards. Even those books didn’t prepare me for Winters’ latest, due out on July 5 and destined to be a hot button topic for the rest of the summer. Airlines takes place in an alternate America where the Civil War never occurred, a twenty-first century where slavery remains legal in four states. Victor is a young black man who has made a devil’s bargain with a shadowy government agency to act as bounty hunter, tracking down fugitives from the South. Winters’ world-building is astonishing, creating a wholly believable society mere degrees from our own. But it’s Victor’s raw and potent story that carries us through this distorted and disturbing mirror image.

West of Eden: An American Place, by Jean Stein. Given the Lillian Frost/Edith Head series any book on Old Hollywood is going to command my attention, but this one-of-a-kind oral history is told from the inside. Stein recounts the sagas of five different Los Angeles families, including the Dohenys, who inspired There Will Be Blood and haunted Raymond Chandler; the Warners; and Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick. The section on Jane Garland, the troubled daughter of a fortune-hunting mother who paid assorted California dreamers to keep her company, is like a real-life Ross Macdonald tale. Stein then turns her gaze toward her own clan; her father Jules founded MCA and played a pivotal role in building modern show business. A compulsively readable book about the price of privilege under the sun.

The Only Rule Is It Has To Work, by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller. It’s a dream come true for a pair of hardcore baseball statheads: the chance to operate an actual team, albeit one in the independent leagues several rickety rungs below the minors. But in order to apply sabermetrics to the Sonoma Stompers, Lindbergh and Miller will have to win over rookies and lifers alike, plus learn some things about themselves and their beliefs. I heartily recommend this book to any baseball fan – it goes down much easier if you already know what wRC+ means – but don’t go in expecting a dry treatise heavy on objective analytics. This is powerful, moving stuff about theory and practice, dreams and reality, and the struggle to make tomorrow different from today.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Me Elsewhere: On The Road

Once again, my alter ego Renee Patrick has all the scoop while I’m left with scraps. She can tell you my schedule at Malice Domestic plus the first round of stops on the Design for Dying book tour, as well as the ingredients in a Renee Patrick cocktail, an original created at the Zig Zag Café. If you’re interested, that is.