Noir City always launches off with the deepthroated disembodied voice of Master of Ceremonies William Arney setting the mood over the sound system, putting a little muscle into the usual admonitions regarding cellulars and blackberries: "You have been warned." You get the feeling that if you violate these basic rules of movie watching etiquette, two trenchcoat-clad henchmen will escort you into the alley to rough you up a bit and whip you—if not with a pistol—then with your own cellular.
He introduces Eddie Muller as a "hometown denizen" and the "Czar of Noir", a mantle Eddie attests to wearing proudly even as he claims it would be "ridiculously remiss" if he didn't give credit to San Francisco's rich filmgoing history and its noir-savvy audiences. "This is how cool Noir City is," Muller boasts, "Bill Arney lives in the apartment where Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon."
He recalls growing up right over the hill from the Castro Theatre and going to Film Noir Monday at the York Theatre when Anita Monga programmed that theater; he caught The Glass Key at the Richelieu; saw In A Lonely Place for the first time 30 years ago in the Castro Theatre; sampled Elliot Levine's programming of film noir classics at the Roxie Cinema. So, yes, Eddie Muller proudly accepts the mantle of "Czar of Noir" with the full understanding that he is carrying on a longstanding tradition of film noir exhibition in San Francisco.
"One of the things that this festival is all about," Eddie added, "is creating [a] bridge between our fabulous cultural history and tradition and modern audiences who would not otherwise have the chance to see these films in a theater on a big screen the way they were meant to be seen."
Explaining that Noir City is presented under the auspices of the Film Noir Foundation, a nonprofit corporation created specifically to rescue and restore America's noir heritage, Muller then offered an example of why the Film Noir Foundation needs to exist: "When I [determined] that Joan Leslie was available and would come up to participate in the festival, I knew it was our chance to show Repeat Performance, which is one of the rarest films of the era, an Eagle-Lion film from 1947. I really wanted to show this film. It was really hard to find. In fact, it was impossible to find in 35mm. We will be screening a 16mm print tonight. When I say that our job is to rescue and restore America's noir heritage, sadly what I'm saying is—in many cases—it needs to be rescued from the people who own it. There are, in fact, rights holders to Repeat Performance who were kind enough to send us a print of the film that arrived this week and was unprojectable; would not make it through the projector. This gives you an idea of what we do here. I want you to give a big round of applause to a gentleman who stepped into the breach. A week and a half ago he contacted me by email and said, 'Should you need a back-up print of Repeat Performance, I have one coming to me. I bought it through a collector in Ohio.' Needless to say, this gentleman lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Imagine my surprise when a day later a second resident of the San Francisco Bay Area stepped forward with the very same offer! I think this is the film noir capital of the world! [These two gentlemen] saved our opening night!"
"To all of you kids," Muller added, "if there are any kids in the audience who are 20 years old or younger, who are saying, 'What's the big deal, man? Showing films on a big screen? I download 'em into my phone.' You know what? I'm proud to say that I'm one of a dying breed. I would actually rather come to a movie theater with other human beings and watch a film on a big screen. It is a noir world out there and I am aware of the fact that sooner or later we will lose. We will lose that war. It will all be digital. Mr. Lucas will have his way. There will be no film cans shipped anywhere anymore. It's all going to be digitized and downloaded by a satellite. Okay, fine, I can live with it; but, you know what? In the meantime, we're going to go out in a blaze of glory! We're going to have a lot of fun. We're going to ship cans around. We're going to watch movies the way they're supposed to be seen on this gigantic screen with a bunch of other like-minded people and it's going to be great and I expect to see you all here for the next 10 days!"
The raucous audience applause expressed agreement.
Cross-published on Twitch.