Friday, April 10, 2015

Me Elsewhere: Scotch, Guarded

A justly neglected musical about a highland rogue. Rudolph Valentino. Stan Laurel. The Three Stooges. And a one-time toast of Broadway whose name proved one letter too difficult. What do these have in common? They all factor into the history of one of the trio of Scotch cocktails spotlighted in my latest Down the Hatch column at Eat Drink Films.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Me Elsewhere: Brandy, You’re A Fine Drink

Another month brings another Down the Hatch column at Eat Drink Films. I focus on apricot brandy, a staple ingredient in vintage cocktails undergoing a resurrection thanks in part to a quality product now available at a good price. With three drink recipes so you can play along at home! (As it happens, Punch magazine takes up the same subject this week, spotlighting the same brand. Great minds again thinking alike.)

As usual the entire issue of EDF is worth reading, especially filmmaker Philip Kaufman’s reminiscence of working with the late Leonard Nimoy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Me Elsewhere: At Home And On The Road

A whole lot’s going on, and I do my bit to keep you updated …

First, the Noir City 2014 Annual is now for sale at Amazon. There’s a finite number of these beauties in circulation, so score a copy while they’re hot. This is the finest book the Film Noir Foundation has released to date, boasting a veritable all-star roster including Christa Faust, Jake Hinkson, Eddie Muller, Imogen Sara Smith, Wallace Stroby, and Duane Swierczynski. I’m in there, too, somewhere in the back. The proceeds go to the FNF, so what are you waiting for?

And in other Noir City news, the line-up for the Los Angeles festival has been announced.

Left Coast Crime is in Portland this year, and Rosemarie and I will not only be attending but making our panel debut as Renee Patrick. We’ll be appearing on the panel “That Was My Idea: Collaborating with a Co-Author,” on Friday, March 13th from 10:15 – 11:00 a.m. along with Charlotte Elkins, Sarah Lovett, and moderator Lee Goldberg. Design for Dying is still a year away from publication, but we will have business cards. Collect them all! (NOTE: Only one type of business card is currently available. No substitutions.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Me Elsewhere: Lowdown on a Dustup

Last month, spirits writer Eric Felten raised an intriguing question – with all the inventiveness of the modern cocktail renaissance, how come there are no new classics? – ruffling a few feathers in the process. In my latest Down the Hatch column at Eat Drink Films, I offer a kinda-sorta rebuttal, taking issue with elements of Mr. Felten’s argument and suggesting what I think are a trio of worthy nominees for the pantheon. Check it out, and while you’re there read the rest of this week’s issue, brimming over with Valentine’s Day goodness.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Miscellaneous: California? Sweet!

Rosemarie and I are already hard at work on the second book in the classic Hollywood mystery series featuring Edith Head we’re writing under the name Renee Patrick. (Design for Dying, book number one, comes out from Macmillan’s Tor/Forge Books in April 2016. People are camping out already! Not for our book. They’re just, you know, camping out.) The time had come, we’d decided, for some field research. Say a trip to Los Angeles, followed by a jaunt up the coast for the opening weekend of the thirteenth Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco.

It’s a time-honored Hollywood tradition: if your journey begins with the sighting of a star, then fortune will smile upon you. We sit down for our first breakfast and who should be at the next table but Commander Adama himself, Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos. (Who am I kidding? He’ll always be Lieutenant Castillo to me.) Already we were in clover.

Our initial post-Olmos stop was a key reason for making the trip now: we wanted to see the mammoth Hollywood Costume exhibit before it closes. Presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, it’s a stunning show, with dramatic staging of over 150 movie costumes; Marlene Dietrich in Morocco lights a cigarette for Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct) as L.A. Confidential’s Lynn Bracken looks on. Our heroine Edith Head is well represented, with her iconic green suit worn by Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on display. The immersive section on costume design as collaboration features a dazzling “conversation” among Edie, Hitch and Tippi Hedren about the clothes in The Birds. The craft of the costume designer is explored in detail in this decades-spanning exhibit. (Later we were fortunate to spend time with its curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the acclaimed costume designer of Raiders of the Lost Ark – and even more impressively, the person responsible for the wardrobe in longtime Chez K favorite ¡Three Amigos! Given those credentials I’m amazed I was able to ask any questions, but somehow I managed.)

Hollywood Costume runs through March 2, which roughly coincides with the closing date of Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950 at the Skirball Cultural Center. This exhibition focuses on the role of filmmakers who fled Nazi Germany in the production of the glittering comedies and dark dramas of the Golden Age of Hollywood. More costumes are included in this show, which also merits a visit.

The primary purpose for our expedition was to set foot on Edith’s old domain: Paramount Pictures, the studio where she spent the majority of her career. To our delight, Paramount’s archivists welcomed us with open arms – “Edith would have loved being in a mystery novel,” we were told – and gave us a full tour. The high point was undoubtedly the costume archive, 80% of which consisted of Edith Head originals. To be in the same room as, say, Barbara Stanwyck’s beaded bolero jacket from The Lady Eve and inspect it in detail was enough to induce lightheadedness.

Paramount's Bronson Gate
Edith willed her estate to the Academy, so our final destination was the Margaret Herrick Library to look at her papers. It’s impossible to convey the thrill of holding a letter on Alfred Hitchcock’s personal stationery – signed ‘Hitch,’ naturally – in your hands. I’d heard that furniture from Edith’s house had been placed in the Herrick’s Special Collections reading room, so before leaving I asked which pieces were hers. “That table you’ve been sitting at all day, for one,” the librarian said. Truly the power of Olmos was strong.

Some time at Noir City San Francisco was mandatory, given the Seattle iteration of the festival is on hiatus pending a move to the Cinerama. This year’s theme is marriage, with your humble correspondent penning the companion article in the latest issue of the Film Noir Foundation’s magazine. Rosemarie and I christened the opening weekend at Trick Dog, recently named one of the fifty best bars in the world – love that Chinese menu; try the #2 – then strolled to the Castro for the premiere of a new 35mm restoration of an old favorite. In 1950’s Woman on the Run, Ann Sheridan’s estranged husband witnesses a mob killing and goes on the lam. When slick newspaperman Dennis O’Keefe encourages her to track her wayward spouse down, Ann discovers new facets to her old man and falls for him all over again. Shot in San Francisco, the movie played like gangbusters to a capacity crowd, with master of ceremonies Eddie Muller cagily adding a then-and-now featurette spotlighting the locations.

This is the the jacket we saw. Up close.
Up next, the first in a mini-tribute to actress Joan Fontaine. Born to be Bad (1950) casts several actors against type. Usual cad Zachary Scott is a decent if obscenely wealthy man, Robert Ryan shines as a cocky writer (“Seen the view? It’s better with me in it”), and Mel Ferrer does his best George Sanders as a cynical social climbing painter. They all flutter around Christabel Caine, and alas our Joan was a bit long in the tooth to play a scheming ingénue, leaving a void at the film’s center. Still, director Nicholas Ray keeps the melodrama at a steady boil and it was fun to see the original ending deemed too scandalous for release.

The experience left me wanting Fontaine at her best, and one of my rules is never pass up Hitchcock on the big screen, so that meant a Saturday matinee of her Oscar-winning turn in Suspicion (1941). We skipped Joan in the sturdy 1953 issue film The Bigamist – a boy’s gotta eat – and returned to the Castro for a signing of the Noir City 2014 Annual, featuring work by yours truly, FNF honcho Muller, our Los Angeles sightseeing companion Christa Faust, Duane Swierczynski, Wallace Stroby, Jake Hinkson and plenty more. Look for it at Amazon soon. Joanie was back and at her bitchy best in the find of the festival: 1947’s Ivy, an Edwardian chiller with Fontaine as a fortune hunter with a husband, a lover, and her eyes on an even bigger prize. She’s in her element here, Ivy’s discreet villainy perfectly tailored to her sensibilities. More Edwardian noir followed with Robert Siodmak’s The Suspect (1944), an elegant and heartbreaking gloss on the infamous Dr. Crippen case boasting a magnificent Charles Laughton performance.

Christa Faust, ace designer Michael Kronenberg, yours truly, and Edwardian gent Eddie Muller at the Castro book signing
Sunday’s double-bill spotlighted suspense from that maker of sudsers supreme, Douglas Sirk. The script for Shockproof (1949) was watered down considerably from writer Samuel Fuller’s original version; no doubt two-fisted Sam’s take on the story of parole officer Cornel Wilde falling for one of his charges (Patricia Knight) and into a heap of trouble would have been considerably meaner. A minor film, but on this viewing I was able to appreciate how Sirk’s supple direction preserved the remaining Fuller touches. Sleep, My Love (1948) is gossamer in the Gaslight mode, with Claudette Colbert being manipulated by husband Don Ameche into thinking she’s down to her last few marbles so he can run off with Hazel Brooks, as gorgeous as she is surly. Claudette’s only hope is the relentless charm offensive mounted by Robert Cummings. Oh for the days when a movie’s main characters could be an imperiled socialite and a globe-trotting adventurer. Sleep is Sirk at his best, a film that’s all surface pleasures and no less an achievement because of them. It was the perfect ending to our California swing.

Noir City runs through this Sunday at the Castro. May the blessings of Edward James Olmos be with you all.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Extra, Extra!: Noir City

The winter 2015 issue of Noir City, house rag of the Film Noir Foundation, is out now. Let me warn you in advance: I am all over this bad boy.

Firstly, I’m responsible for the cover story, a long-overdue reappraisal of the films of Alan Rudolph. That striking image is drawn from Rudolph’s Remember My Name, a reimagining of the classic “women’s films” of the 1940s that is one of the most neglected movies of the 1970s. It’s now in the nascent stages of a renaissance thanks to a recent screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Geraldine Chaplin’s performance receiving the accolades it deserves. Rudolph’s signature contribution to noir is the one-of-a-kind riff on the form Trouble in Mind, filmed in Seattle and celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015. But noir is a thread that runs through much of Rudolph’s filmography:

Rudolph relentlessly toys with the form, combining its component parts to tell idiosyncratically fanciful, open-hearted stories. “Fanciful” and “open-hearted” aren’t words customarily associated with noir, and therein lies Rudolph’s singular talent. The French, as they so often do, have a word for it: gleaning, the practice of picking over a field that has been harvested and finding enough viable material to survive. Alan Rudolph is an unparalleled gleaner of film noir, digging into terrain often dismissed as played out and discovering fertile pockets, appropriating images, techniques and moods for his own purposes.

Accompanying the survey of Alan Rudolph’s films is a wide-ranging interview with the man himself. Rumors abound that this interview was arranged when a Noir City correspondent gatecrashed an academic conference while wearing a lanyard from an unrelated event so he could brace Mr. Rudolph; I will not dignify those scurrilous tales with a response. The interview was conducted via email, Rudolph using my questions as a jumping-off point to construct something off-kilter, insightful and uniquely his own –

When people say a certain movie is real they mean it’s told as if real. It’s still a representation, a dream. I see no singular defined reality in the entire film experience. On either side of the screen. Film is its own reality, a living thing. Whether you’re the director or in the audience of a dark palace, your personal experience is the reality of that film. A film doesn’t exist if no one is there to see it. Ask the tree in the forest about that.

I’m enormously happy with how this piece came out.

Also in this issue: ‘Til Death Do Us Part, my overview of marriage in film noir. It’s intended as something of a companion piece to the 13th Noir City Film Festival, which focuses on the darker side of the matrimonial bond. Several of the movies unspooling at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre from January 16-25 are referenced, but the subject is so broad I could have gone on forever. NOTE: On Saturday, January 17, I’ll be at the Castro along with ace designer Michael Kronenberg, the one and only Christa Faust, and a host of other contributors to sign copies of the Noir City Annual.

But wait! There’s more! Like my usual cocktails-and-crime column, as well as a review of the new book Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History, an illustrated tour of Tinseltown tippling.

I assure you, though, it’s not just me in this issue. Behold this stellar line-up:

- Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Lawrence Block (A Walk Among the Tombstones) lists his five favorite noir films

- Crime novelist Terrill Lee Lankford on the neo-noir classic Cutter’s Way

- Usual Noir City suspect Jake Hinkson on Wicked Woman and the off-screen union of star Beverly Michaels and director/co-writer Russell Rouse

- Imogen Sara Smith considers Gone Girl in the context of bad marriage noir

- FNF honcho Eddie Muller on the rescue of 1950’s Woman on the Run, the restoration of the film premiering at this year’s Noir City

And still there’s more! I’m telling you, people, it’s a bonanza.

How do you lay claim to this bounty? Go to the Film Noir Foundation, make your contribution to preserving America’s noir heritage, and the boodle gets dumped in your in-box no questions asked. What are you waiting for?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Me Elsewhere: A is for Apple

My latest Down the Hatch column is up now at Eat Drink Films. This month the focus is on that all-American “cyder spirit” applejack. I write about three cocktails suitable for the winter months, admitting that the standard-bearer for applejack drinks is not among my favorites and nominating two overlooked ones for this season’s imbibing. Be sure to read the entire issue, packed as usual with goodness. As a bonus, here’s the first time I heard about applejack, from The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.