Boasting a sold-out opening night at the Castro Theatre (that's 1,400 seats, kids!), the seventh edition of Noir City kicked off with an elegiac clip reel which paid tribute to Evelyn Keyes, Ann Savage, Jules Dassin, and Richard Widmark—noir alumni lost to us in this past year—but, if ever cinema has trumped death, never has the proof been more evident than in the perseverance of their contributions on the silver screen.
With this week's inauguration, it's a new day in America. It's a time for optimism, accountability, fairness and honesty. For the next 10 days of the festival, Noir City promises none of that! Instead, they promise straight doses of darkness, desperation, danger and deceit. As our tour guide through this murderous metropolis, San Francisco's own Eddie Muller—the "Sultan of Cinematic Shadow and Sin", the "Czar of Noir"—greeted his capacity crowd.
Admitting he was choked up from watching the opening clip reels, Muller said he knew they would appreciate the tribute very much. He quoted the adage—"If you live long enough, you're going to see everything"—and added that, having recently turned 50, he has seen things he never thought he would see before. For instance, a plane actually can land on water! Muller used to laugh when they would announce—"In the unlikely event of a water landing…."—convinced the plane would sink. And there's a black man in the white house! And there will be miracles of this order in the Castro Theatre this week, Muller promised. "For instance," he guaranteed, "I can promise you that every day for the next 10 days you will be able to see two smartly-written, beautifully-crafted motion pictures in less time than it takes to sit through The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And you will pay less for the privilege."
Straight off Muller acknowledged his partner in crime Anita Monga—"You know her, you love her, you can't live without her"—crediting her for being the individual responsible for giving birth to the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City Film Festival. Emphasizing its old school aesthetic, Muller specified that the festival has no corporate sponsorship of any kind. The Foundation and the Festival are true grass roots operations. "We're so old school," Muller asserted, "that we believe in the value of pretty pictures and that people will respond to that." Praising Bill Selby for the festival's art design and poster—"I'm sure you will agree that this year's poster is by far the breast … er best … poster we've ever had"—Muller was delighted to announce that Miss Noir City has agreed to pose for photographs with appreciative fans willing to be caught in her deadly embrace.
"San Francisco movie fans are without question the greatest movie fans in the world," Muller proclaimed. "We now do Noir City in Hollywood, Seattle, Washington, D.C., later this year we'll do it in Chicago, we're going to do a road show next year in France, and they are all so envious that we draw audiences like this to this festival. In Los Angeles they are tickled if they draw 300 people. We have filled up a 1,400-seat house here tonight! Thank you!
"Thanks to the fabulous local media, I'm sure that you all know that the theme of this year's festival is newspaper noir. What you might not know is that my father—also Eddie Muller—was a newspaper man. He worked at the San Francisco Examiner for 52 years; it was the only employer he ever had. He started there when he was a copy boy at age 13. William Randolph Hearst was the only person who ever paid his paycheck. Just to really put you in a nostalgic mood, I found one of my dad's old paystubs the other day. Bear in mind, he was a sports writer. He wrote only about boxing, very much like Humphrey Bogart in the film we're going to show later in the series, The Harder We Fall. I found his paystub from about 1970 when his take-home was about $237 a week. And he had a three-story house here in San Francisco on that salary! Damn! If that doesn't make you long for the good ol' days!
"This series is about the newspaper business and newspaper men. If you don't know what that means—and I'm sorry for the sexist terms; but, it is about newspaper men—it is a fine art, something that America sadly is losing; the Internet is pushing that all away. We will no longer see the newspaper business operate as it did in 20th century America. It's very interesting that we managed to choose all of these movies for this festival at a time when the newspaper business is in such dire straits."
Qualifying that Deadline, U.S.A.—the opening night feature that he's been wanting to show for many years—is not technically a noir film, Muller nonetheless recalled watching Deadline, U.S.A. with his father when he was home from work one day. "I actually saw my old man tear up at the end of this movie." Asserting Deadline, U.S.A. is a secret, guilty pleasure among all old school newspaper men, Muller professed to knowing that fellows like Pete Hamill and Bob Greene love this movie. While talking about old school newspaper guys, Muller shouted out to Wendell Jamieson in the audience. Some years back, the Noir City Film Festival made the front of the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times—"Which was fantastic; we were all around the world because of that"—and Jamieson, City Editor at the Times, was responsible. When Jamieson's wife said she wanted to go on a vacation, Jamieson quickly announced, "I know just the place to go!"
Finally, Muller indicated that both films in the opening night double bill were written by newspaper men and added that's why the scripts are so tight when most films today are 20 minutes too long. "These guys had the unerring belief that you had to tell a story fast and punchy."
Cross-published on Twitch.