Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Local Night Life: Noir City at the Castro and the San Francisco Symphony's Film Series


The 2016 film noir season was officially launched with San Francisco's Noir City XIV, January 22 - 31, at the city's Castro Theatre. The 10-day festival, presented by the Film Noir Foundation, is traditionally the first in a series of Noir City events to follow in Hollywood, Austin, Portland (Oregon), Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Kansas City.

This year's festival theme, "The Art of Darkness," offered a selection of films "in which artists are at the core of every story." Thus, many films on the program were more noir-tinged than they were straight-up film noir, and included Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), based on the Oscar Wilde novel, multiple Oscar winner The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), the Powell/Pressburger masterpiece The Red Shoes (1948) and Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 art house sensation Blow-Up. Asserted Film Noir Foundation founder and festival host Eddie Muller, "I offer no apologies to the [film noir] purists."

I'm no purist, but if I'm going to a film noir festival, I want to see film noir. For me, the two most appealing films on the schedule were Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945) and Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place (1950), two genre classics. In the end, we went with In a Lonely Place mostly because finding parking in San Francisco's busy Castro district would be less challenging on a Monday night than a Friday, when Scarlet Street would be shown. 

Parking turned out to be no problem at all thanks to perfect timing and/or amazing luck, so we arrived at the theater well ahead of show time; a very good thing since the 1,400-seat venue would soon be packed. Meanwhile, an organist played the the Castro's new, custom-designed replacement for its legendary Wurlitzer and complimentary gin-on-the-rocks was being served up on the mezzanine level. Soon enough Eddie Muller took the stage to introduce In a Lonely Place, his "favorite Hollywood film of all-time."

Bogart and Grahame, In a Lonely Place
In a Lonely Place was adapted from Dorothy B. Hughes's superb 1947 crime novel about a serial killer on the loose in post-World War II Los Angeles. The film's final screenplay by Andrew Solt, with much input from Nick Ray and producer Robert Lord, transformed Hughes's edgy psychological thriller into the bleak tale of a near-has-been Hollywood screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) who may or may not have committed a murder. Complicating his predicament is his new neighbor, a dishy blonde (Gloria Grahame) who kindly provides him with an alibi and an intense romantic entanglement. Their tortured love affair becomes central to the narrative, is the film's most compelling feature and, according to Nick Ray, was a personal reflection on his own relationship with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Gloria Grahame.

Gloria Grahame. Oscar winner (The Bad and the Beautiful/1952) and noir goddess (see also The Big Heat/1953), her screen presence is a heady mix of sexuality and fragility. She brings such emotional authenticity to her best performances that they often, and notably in In a Lonely Place, stand out for their modernity in contrast to the more traditional/theatrical acting style of her co-stars. In a Lonely Place is acclaimed for Ray's direction, for its gritty depiction of Hollywood insiders and for the maturity of its portrayal of human relationships, but there would be so much less to admire without the ravishing Grahame.

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The San Francisco's 2015/2016 film series continues this Friday and Saturday, February 12 and 13, with Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo (1958). This is not the first time Vertigo has been screened at Davies Hall accompanied by the symphony's performance of Bernard Herrmann's exquisite score, but it is the first time Kim Novak, the film's leading lady, will appear there in person for a pre-concert conversation. Click here for more information.

Kim Novak in Vertigo

11 comments:

  1. Gloria Grahame, "noir goddess", indeed - she oozes noir. "In a Lonely Place" is such an edgy, idiosyncratic movie; a great choice for the festival. Kim Novak has achieved immortality for her role in "Vertigo" (for which she was perfect) - a truly timeless classic that will be watched and studied long after all of us are gone. There are lots of stars in lots of great movies, but "Vertigo" is in the stratosphere, in a class of its own. Sounds like you had a wonderful time, Eve.

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    1. Thank you, MB. It's interesting what stands out when you see a movie on the big screen after many smaller screen viewings. With "In a Lonely Place," it was that Gloria Grahame is what makes the picture. Will be seeing "Vertigo" at the symphony this Friday night, thanks to the SFS press office. Can't wait.

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  2. How glorious to see this film on the big screen in such a venue! I love seeng classic films on the big screen (who doesn't?) because oftentimes it's like watching the film again for the first time.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on Vertigo!

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    1. I totally agree with you, Ruth, that seeing a familiar classic on the big screen so often brings a new experience of the film. I'll soon be seeing Hitchcock's "Rebecca" in a theater (the gorgeous Oakland Paramount) for the first time. Should be amazing.

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  3. What a great time you must be having, with all those wonderful people out there in the dark. I recently watched "In a Lonely Place" though on a smaller screen, and I ached for Gloria Grahame's character. Bogart's character reminded me of the real life of actor Lawrence Tierney, a downward spiral of alcohol and violence. Thanks for sharing your experience so I can enjoy it vicariously.

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    1. I really am having a great time, Christian, and hope to be down at the TCM festival this year and your festival in Coronado next year for more great times with "all those wonderful people out there in the dark." And you. Hope we can get together again.

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  4. Lady Eve - sounds like you are having a wonderful crime - I mean time! As someone who struggles with the definition of noir, it sometimes confuses he to see how it shifts from time to time. If Disney films start getting included I give up!

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    1. When I saw "The Red Shoes" and "The Bad and the Beautiful" on this year's program, my reaction was "wha-at?" Who knows, "Snow White" may be on the schedule, with the wicked queen billed as a classic noir dame, next year.

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  5. I don't see how Blow Up could be included in a film noir festival. It seems like a real stretch. I am a big admirer of Blow Up so don't misunderstand. In a Lonely Place is a great choice to go see on the big screen, though Scarlet Street is brilliant also. I am aware of your love for Vertigo and am sure you will enjoy it

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    1. Not sure why the festival went so far afield from basic noir this year and am very curious about what will be scheduled at future evets.

      Vertigo at the symphony was fantastic. And our seats could not have been better. Quite a night.

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  6. This is a great venue. I was here for a party and there was so much food and it was all done so well! The decor and food both were amazing. Personally, I think the space at venues in Atlanta is laid out really well and the size of the venue keeps pulling great parties.

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