by Gabe Meline
The Noir City Film Festival opened this past weekend at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, and how else to kick things off but by showing a short compilation on the historic theater's screen of classic noir scenes edited by 20-year-old SRJC student Serena Bramble from Santa Rosa?
Yes, that's Massive Attack's "Angel," juxtaposing nicely with scenes of murder, double-crossings and larceny. The crowd at the Castro loved it. Big ups, Serena!
Noir City is an incredible festival, and I'm not just saying that because last year's theme was newspapers (read about it here). It's because it does what any great film festival should do: inspire. After renting nothing but pre-1965 movies for a solid ten years, I still wasn't sold on film noir. One-note and blasé, I surmised. The festival changed my stance, and especially the passionate, smart and wry introductions to each movie by festival founder Eddie Muller. Consider that all proceeds go directly to the restoration of lost films, it's truly a labor of love for the guy. And the love is contagious.
I went to last Sunday's Marilyn Monroe double feature for two Monroe pictures I'd never seen: Niagara and The Asphalt Jungle. Coincidentally, I'd re-watched the ho-hum How to Marry a Millionaire just last week, and the difference was immeasurable. Monroe's performance in Niagara is everything her legend is built on—sex, guile and manipulation—aided by the thundering, ominous falls themselves and a compelling script cobbled from the Double Indemnity workbook. Throw in some Hitchcockian camera angles at the top of a bell tower and a swell performance by Joseph Cotten, and you've got a film that blows away Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by miles.
There's still time to catch some true gems the festival has to offer this year. Might I recommend Pickup on South Street, an evocative Samuel Fuller vehicle for the usually typecast Thelma Ritter to shine in an outstanding role. Other well-knowns include A Place in the Sun and Odds Against Tomorrow, with a slew of other treasures never released on DVD. Do yourself a favor and check the festival schedule. Pick a double feature, drive down to one of the country's most beautiful theaters, and experience the thrill of film noir with a crowd of smart, savvy film fans. You won't regret it.