January 23, 2011
“I’ve been following you…”
My city, San Francisco, is Noir City.
I LIVE THERE, HERE, IN NOIR CITY.
And in Noir City, when a man in a long black overcoat sneaks up behind you, grasps your shoulders and whispers in your ear, “I’ve been following you…” your hackles rise, your cockles cock, your muscles tense, your solar plexes, your homeland security threat level goes red. You get the idea.
Poetic license, they call it. Or, as this author calls it, lying. Whenever it serves the license-holder, namely me. But my purpose here is innocent enough, however sinister the elaboration.
A MAN DID
take me by the shoulders tonight in Noir City, at Noir City, on opening night of Noir City, the 9th annual festival by that name at the Castro Theater.
That be Czar Muller on the floor
AFTER TWO UNHINGED-IN-THE-HEAD THRILLERS
from this year’s theme, “Who’s Crazy Now?” featuring wide-eyed kooks Elisha Cook, Jr. and Peter Lorre, one’s blood pressure might indeed rise at being approached from behind, especially when it turns out to be by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller, President of the Film Noir Foundation and host of 24 films in 10 days at my home away from home. But his purpose was hardly sinister.
Elisha Cook, Jr. in “The Maltese Falcon,” Peter Lorre in “M”
I DID QUOTE HIM DIRECTLY,
just not completely. That’s what ellipses are for.
said he, behind me, meaning my return to the long-neglected Ax Files, giving my shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “Same to you!” (huggage) I said, meaning to the Castro.
“I’VE BEEN FOLLOWING,”
he went on, not whispering but just plain saying it, “your exploits,” meaning via this selfsame column, or perhaps it was escapades, I can’t recall over my “usual,” a whiskey sour with two cherries (one sweet and fresh, to start with, one, alcohol-soaked, to end with), here at Daly’s Dive, my Friday hang at Market and Gough (look for Buck Tavern). The Dive is the best thing to happen to Noir City since Eddie Muller. What makes more sense after a double dose of noir at the Castro than a double dose of whiskey at the Dive?
“GOD, THE YEARS GO BY,
don’t they,” I observe. “Noir City 9! You’re way famous now!” And then, as would be the case on opening night, someone interrupted us, as the Czar is much in demand in that City called Noir. “See you tomorrow,” I leave him. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, till closing night on January 30th.
“IF YOU HAVE TO WRITE,”
Mr. Soon-to-be Killed in “Stranger on the Third Floor” tells our hero, “use a pencil.” His neighbor is complaining to our hero about his typing past 10:00 p.m., and our hero is a bit of a hothead who won’t be told what to do, so we are not surprised to find him accused of murdering Mr. Did-Indeed-Get-Killed.
WELL I AM WRITING
with my translucent orange COLORADO pen, acquired in Denver, because I would feel stupid asking if a bar has WIFI, which I later do anyway, and am told by the “barkeep,” as I insist on calling Chris (“Oh barkeep!”), perhaps to his annoyance, it’s on the way. I would feel stupid behind a laptop at the stroke of midnight in a social setting anyway, but if I want to hang there as a regular rather than somewhere else, I’m going to eventually need the web. In the meantime, I have to write, to capture these thoughts before they burn off like Noir City fog, so I’m using a pen/cil.
WHEN DESIRE TURNS DEADLY,
there’s no place to hide. Oddly, a VHS tape of a film named “Wicked City” is sitting on the bar at the Dive, as if to prolong Noir Night No. 1. In this city, however, if someone comes up behind you, it’s likely to be the Japanese animated Black Guard secret police that protect the boundary between the human and demon worlds.
tonight the opening feature was “High Wall,” directed by Curtis Bernhardt, starring Margaret Tallichet, a radiant star with a radiant smile, and the wife of legendary director William Wyler. In the audience at the Castro was none other than their daughter Judy, who had not seen the film since a private showing by a collector in the 1970’s—a screening to which she brought her parents, the star and Mr. Wyler, to the surprise of the organizer. They’d come up to SF from LA and the check Wyler had written for $10.50 for all to attend the event was never cashed. It instead ended up framed on the collector’s wall.
Czar of Noir Eddie Muller and Judy Wyler Sheldon
THESE ARE THE KINDS OF LITTLE TREATS
Czar Muller offers up throughout the series. For opening night, the festival once again got off to a heart-racing start with the brilliant Serena Bramble’s equally brilliant montage of San Francisco noir highlights, “San Francisco is the Scene of a Perfect Crime,” ending with the titles, “Our City…Noir City” (also featured at Bouchercon by the Bay World Mystery Convention last fall). I hope she doesn’t make us wait too long for her first feature, as editor or director. Someone snap this gal up, or give her a whole bunch of money.
Her “The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir” was an instant smashola at Noir City 8. I post these for those who’ve never experienced noir, don’t “get” noir or think “meh,” to whet your appetites, in hopes you will head over to the Castro this week and avail yourself of the ultimate big screen noir was meant to be seen on.
THIS IS MY CHURCH
says Muller of the Castro, or movie theaters in general, or Noir City wherever it may manifest itself, perhaps, after attending a memorial service earlier that day for Joe Gores, author of The Maltese Falcon prequel, Spade and Archer, during which the pastor did not, in his 40-minute eulogy, mention that Mr. Gores had been a writer. Muller can’t think of anything more disrespectful, and as one who lives and breathes words, nor can I. The festival is dedicated to Mr. Gores.
SCREENED AT SATURDAY’S MATINÉE
along with “Gaslight” (I think I’ve never hated a villain more than Charles Boyer as (spoiler!) the sanctimonious murdering thieving liar Gregory Anton) and “Stranger on the Third Floor,” was a short piece on the collaboration between the Noir Film Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which, due in part to funding from NFF dues, festival tickets and donations, works to restore and preserve films such as “The Prowler” (soon to be issued on DVD), “Cry Danger” and the opening feature “High Wall.” Thank you Noir Film Foundation, UCLA, and noirheads like myself who still like to sit in a dark movie palace among others of our kind, partaking of noir’s past, present and future.
just transfer everything to digital? Easier to edit, of course, but, says UCLA director Jan Christopher Horack, “Digital lies; film doesn’t,” a sentiment that warms Eddie’s heart, as if it justifies his entire life. I suppose it would be like a high-resolution scan and glicée print of the Mona Lisa. Certainly it preserves the record, but it’s not like looking at the painting itself, now, is it? “Imagine Beethoven’s symphonies only on CD,” says Muller in the program, “never to be played again in concert halls.” He, for one, can’t stand by and let that happen.
“OH DADDY THAT’S A BIG ORGAN!”
says someone behind me of the Castro “Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra” organ (that’s a big unit!) made by the Ralph Wurlitzer Co. of Cincinnati. I’ve been coming here, what, fifteen years, never knowing the organ and I share the name Jones. Cool! The crowd for the evening double bill begins to gather and cackle behind me.
YES, I AM TYPING
on my laptop in a sold-out 1400-capacity movie theater, because there was a 90-minute gap between the matinee and the evening feature and I use it to write this column. It’s date night, and any guy who will take a gal to Noir City of a Saturday night is A-OK with me. The very word “festival” attracts a certain kind of attendee to any film, and I usually avoid them, festivals that is, because of the aura of self-importance and knowing applause such audiences exude. In this day and age, there is no only or last chance to see any contemporary film and in most cases I’d rather skip the crowd.
NOIRHEADS, THOUGH, ARE MY KIND OF CROWD.
If you’re a film buff and especially a noir buff, there’s no cheaper entertainment deal in town, no better bang for your buck, than a $100 passport to the whole Noir festival and its celebrations. $100/24 movies = $2.40 a film. How do they even pull that off? The place is packed, that’s how. At the box office or online, it’s $10 for any night’s two features. I paid $12 to see some “enhanced” version of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Sheesh! And they weren’t pouring complimentary glasses of ’95-’97 vintage $125-a-bottle Marilyn Merlot.
WHAT CAN I SAY?
I’m a fan. Eddie introduced me to some of my now-favorite films, and over nine years now, save the time I skipped it at the far-too-small and far-too-faraway Balboa Theater, after longtime Castro programmer Anita Monga was fired, and the time I had a sympathy hysterectomy with my cat Zahra, I’ve seen well over a hundred films. If ever I leave Noir City (San Francisco, that is), Noir City is the one event I’d hurry back for. This year I will never forget Marilyn Monroe’s heartbreaking immense vulnerability in “Don’t Bother to Knock,” and if you make it to Castro St. this week, you too will see something I promise you will never forget. Something like…
You’ve only got three minutes to live…
you leave your own cares at the door and experience how low-down dirty rotten someone else’s life can be. There but for the grace of God go you. Phew!
The Czar makes a stylin’ entrance at the Balboa
A special short attention reprise from the
Film your murders like love scenes, and film your love scenes like murders. - Alfred Hitchcock
copyright Alexandra Jones 2011