Saturday, February 3, 2018

Noir City Festival: Film Noir from A to B at SIFF Cinema: Feb 16 - 22

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation are back in Seattle following last year's Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry and the festival's return to the city in 2016, after their brief hiatus in 2015. The 16th iteration, Noir City 2018: Film Noir from A to B double bill format presents 9 "A" and "B" double bills, spanning the breadth of the original Film Noir era, 1941 to 1953. The total of 18 classic noirs are presented as a pairing a top tier studio "A" with a shorter, low budget "B" film second feature. All but one of the films in this year's Noir City will be screened on celluloid, many these bold 35mm prints courtesy of their collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The work of UCLA's Preservation Society and their annual touring Festival of Preservation offering one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The work of the restorationists at the archive feature prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling". In a notable year for The Film Noir Foundation, Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with a new programming franchise hosted by the Czar of Noir with the launch of his Sunday morning Noir Alley showcase. The platform allowing for wider exposure beyond the festival format, exploring the genre from every angle as he introduces a different noir classic each week. As a childhood devotee of Silver Age comics and the art of Jim Steranko, 2017 also saw Muller in a dream role on the printed page, further enshrining, "Noir Alley in the Pages of DC Comics". Arriving in Hollywood from across the sea, French director Julien Duvivier escaped the war at home by bringing his incredible style to offbeat studio films of the early '40s, exemplified by this anthology of supernatural tales. With a solid cast including Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Charles Boyer, Robert Cummings and Thomas Mitchel, "Flesh and Fantasy" watches as a legitimate prototype to Serling's "The Twilight Zone". Included here, "Destiny" was intended as the opening segment of the anthology, on it's strength Universal Studio cleaved off and released it the film as a 65 minute stand-alone feature. Brought together for the night, Noir City presents the four chapters of Duvivier's work in a rare screening as one complete program.

Other highlights from this year's festival program include Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 observation on the susceptibility of American small town life to the encroachment of a malevolent evil. Anchored by Joseph Cotten's mesmerizing performance, "Shadow of a Doubt" may be the director's ultimate expression of the ease with which a horror infects the banal simplicity of everyday life. In another rarity, never released on home video and long thought lost, "I Walk Alone" features Burt Lancaster as a Prohibition-era bootlegger who gets out of prison to find that his former partner is enjoying the spoils of their criminal enterprise. Revived in a new digital restoration courtesy of Paramount Pictures, can the torch singer between the two men, played by Lizabeth Scott, keep Kirk Douglas and Lancaster from their imminent and deadly feud?  Also presented in a new 35mm restoration courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Felix E. Feist's "The Man Who Cheated Himself", observes a veteran San Francisco homicide cop as he spirals into a moral morass when his married socialite lover "inadvertently" bumps off her husband. Utilizing its San Francisco locations to maximum impact, including a memorable climax at Fort Point, Feist spins a classic thriller in the James M. Cain mold. The only original screenplay penned by the legendary detective story writer Raymond Chandler, "The Blue Dahlia", made for the most famous pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and a massive hit for Paramount, and in another Chandler vehicle, Howard Hawks sets up Humphrey Bogart to spar with Lauren Bacall, in one of the greatest lead parings ever to grace the screen. Infamously circuitous and twisting, "The Big Sleep" still takes significant unknotting, even when tackled by the astute and expertise of Roger Ebert in his Great Movies column. Other classic noir sourced of literary material, Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade character, perfectly portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, makes for pure gold in this search first for a missing person, and then for it's titular, "Maltese Falcon". A highlight of its director's filmography, Michael Curtiz' "Mildred Pierce", is a vehicle for the ferocious and career defining role from Joan Crawford as a hard-working housewife caught in monetary troubles as a consequence of a blackmail plot involving her daughter. Generational work ethic, class, entitlement and privilege are explored in this James M. Cain adaptation to even greater success than Todd Haines quality effort of 2011.