Updated: Mar 25, 2020
This eighteenth Noir City Festival, here again at San Francisco’s Castro theater would be reason enough for a ten-day celebration. The theater itself is all bona fide movie palace from the roaring years. Its Wurlitzer rises from the pit for performances before the night’s program and there are talented dance and cabaret numbers onstage to create the right mood.
Each film is introduced and given its back story by Eddie Muller. If you know his weekly Noir Alley slot on TCM, you’ll know exactly what to expect. But think about it - for one more week at the Castro you can buy a ticket and let him enlighten you before each curtain up, live at the mike! (If you're not in the area, best check out the satellite festivals listed below.)
And there’s more. Noir City 18 also happens to be, after a six-year break, the second time the festival’s been devoted entirely to International film noir. I make that twenty-two glorious black and white movies with subtitles. Plus two exceptions I’ll explain later.
Now, this makes me a very happy festival-goer, because I admit, I have something of a bee in my bonnet about film noir being an international phenomenon. Why on earth wouldn’t it be? After all, the generation that crafted those movies - the men and women who wrote them, performed them, dressed, lit, produced and directed them - had been formed through experiences that crossed borders too: picking up the pieces from the Great War; the hunger and Depression years; another World War, Cold War and Korea. All these left their mark on lives worldwide. And importantly for film noir, they'd left their mark on those audiences flocking to cinemas everywhere in the 40s and early 50s, for the last hurrah of the studios.
Imagining film noir as a uniquely Hollywood idiom was always improbable, however magnificent many of those movies are. Besides, how much more exciting to find out what that famously ill-starred generation was putting on screen elsewhere in those years? If, until very recently, they were hardly known, it’s been our loss. So, here we are. With two movies each evening, plus weekend matinees, from Argentina, France, South Korea and Italy so far. Still to come are Czechoslovakia, Japan, West Germany, Mexico, Sweden and Poland.
If you’re doubtful about subtitles, don’t be. My varifocals can sometimes give me a problem with them, but not at the Castro. Against a screen that’s meant to be seen from the top of the gallery, they work beautifully and don’t mess with the image.
And tonight? We've got two British films noirs. One with a truck-driving Victor Mature, the other with a gangland Peter Sellers (yes, really), and both new to me. You'll find full details on the Noir City site. And you'll find me there in the intervals signing copies of Shamus Dust!
NOIR CITY: Seattle: Feb 14-20, 2020
NOIR CITY: Hollywood: Mar 6-15, 2020
NOIR CITY: Austin: May 15-17, 2020
NOIR CITY: Boston: Jun 12-14, 2020
NOIR CITY: Chicago: dates TBD
NOIR CITY: Detroit: Sep 18-20, 2020
NOIR CITY: D.C.: dates TBD