Today marks the start of the twelfth annual “Noir City,” a ten-day exhibition of my all-time favorite movie genre, film noir. The festival (which I affectionately call “NoirFest,”) is held at the amazing old-time movie palace in San Francisco, The Castro Theatre. If you’ve never seen the inside of this place, it’s worth a visit even if you don’t stop to watch a film. (Yes, in case you’re wondering, it does actually have a piano that comes up through the floor.) Parking is scarce, as you might imagine, but it’s only a twenty-minute walk from BART – up a very steep hill. I have yet to watch a movie at The Castro without being drenched in sweat. I’m not sure whether that makes the experience better or worse. Maybe it depends on the genre.
The festival is great fun, but perhaps not always quite what you would expect. Film noir being what it is, you might think the audience would be serious, perhaps even a little glum as they ruminate over the crimes of bitter men and the misdeeds of the unconscionable women they love. Not so. Laughter abounds when the dialogue is particularly witty, clever, or racy. Applause breaks out when actors and actresses barely remembered today appear on-screen. Audience members may stand when Film Noir Foundation’s founder and president Eddie Muller is introduced. He deserves the ovation. This man has been personally responsible for leading the charge in the cause to save film noir from extinction, and with an astonishing amount of success. I wonder if he knew, when he conceived this project, how many of us there were out there, just waiting for someone to come along and give us what we’ve always wanted – a chance to experience the movies we love from a generation gone long before us.
What has continually amazed me is that in every year before this one they’ve managed to find a special guest from the era to make a personal appearance. What a thrill it must have been for these little old ladies, most of whom were B-film stars seven decades ago, to find themselves once again on stage, the recipients of undying admiration and affection from a throng of enthusiastic admirers! I see that this year, however, there’s to be no special guest at the Saturday night premiere. This makes me very sad. Film noir may live on, but the men and women of noir do not…
The focus this year is on foreign noir. Purists will tell you that noir is an American genre, which, for a host of reasons I won’t get into here, is arguably true. However, there’s no doubt that the dark perspective and jaded worldview that characterize film noir proper also appear in other movies made around the world at the time. Indeed, this makes a great deal of sense; since noir was born in the World War II era, and, in my mind, was in many ways linked to the mood engendered by the war, one would expect its themes to permeate international cinema as well. I’m actually looking forward to comparing some of their creations to some of ours.
Noir City runs from January 24th through February 2nd. Hope to see you there!