Thursday, December 31, 2009

RABIA (2009)

Sebastián Cordero's third film Rabia is a romantic thriller about José María (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), a construction worker on the run for killing his foreman who hides in the mansion where his girlfriend Rosa (Martina García) works as a housekeeper. Rabia had its World Premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema program at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, where Diana Sanchez wrote in her program capsule: "Rabia is an incisive commentary on the frustration of Latin Americans living in Spain. Victims of racism and paternalism, they must endure humiliation in order to keep their jobs, send money home and attain a better future. Often robbed of dignity, many are forced to live like José María—hidden, the unwanted other in Spanish daily life." Rabia now boasts its US premiere at the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Cordero adapted his script for Rabia from the eponymous novel by Argentine writer Sergio Bizzio (whose short story
"Cinismo" was the basis for the 2007 film XXY). In his Director's Statement, Cordero explained: "The 'rage' in Rabia alludes to José María's growing fury at being denied something basic: respect, love, a family. He rebels by hiding, becoming invisible. José María thinks this is his only option, but his situation is contradictory and hopeless, because ultimately he doesn't want to disappear."

I am in complete agreement, however, with Howard Feinstein at Screen Daily who observed that, unfortunately, even with Guillermo Del Toro's imprimatur, Rabia comes off as a "thin thriller". Feinstein pointedly criticized that Rabia's "promotion as a commentary on the ill treatment of Latin American immigrants working in Spain is a ruse that goes nowhere." Final analysis? "The rats living with José Maria in the attic are more energized."

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Friday, December 25, 2009

LISTS 2009—My 10 Favorite Interviews

I always count my blessings this time of year, especially because I consider intelligent conversation one of the greatest gifts life offers the discriminating adult. It still amazes me somewhat that I get the chance to talk to so many of the incredible luminaries behind and in front of the lens that create the films that affect me so much in the dark. Here are my 10 favorites for 2009.

Adam Sekuler and the folks at Northwest Film Forum walked their talk and helped distribute Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool throughout the U.S. this year. The highlight of that distribution strategy was a retrospective held in Seattle at Northwest Film Forum where each of Alonso's films were shown with the director in attendance to finesse each of his projects. Lisandro is a highly likeable and accessible individual and it was such a pleasure to spend days with him talking about his movies in an informal setting. The fact that he's going to take a hiatus before launching into his next film made this opportunity to ask him a few more questions all the more poignant.

Susan Oxtoby at the Pacific Film Archive has been a great friend to me this year, offering interviews that I might not have sought out myself. I was highly flattered when she asked me to speak with avant-garde filmmaker Robert Beavers on the occasion of Beavers' rarely-screened film cycle Winged Distance Sightless Measure. As someone who knows very little about avant-garde cinema, this was a great opportunity to take a look at one of the most accomplished and lyric filmmakers within that tradition. Not only did I learn more about avant-garde cinema but walked away feeling that I had befriended a great soul and a consummate artist. Over the space of two weeks, I asked several questions, and cobbled these together with a languorous dinner conversation, compiling parts one and two of our conversation.

Turner Classic Movies has likewise been most fair to me over the years. This year they offered me the opportunity to speak with one of Hollywood's elder statesmen, Ernie Borgnine, whose enthusiasm was boundless as we reminisced on the stars of Hollywood's yesteryear.

Kirby Dick has always been a hardhitting documentarian with an unflappable sense of integrity. I admire his work very much. Outrage—his fierce documentary on closeted public officials causing harm to their brethren—spoke to my personal experience and it was a great honor to thank him for his efforts and to be invited to contribute to the film's DVD release.

I've teased Aaron Hillis about his tongue-in-cheek lament that he has interviewed all his favorite auteurs, sometimes twice, if not three times. Who's left? Such a concern, eh? I'm happy to say that there are still so many auteurs left for me to talk to even on a first go-round, and Bruno Dumont was this year's auteurial privilege. Handsome, stern, and deliciously provocative, I'm grateful to Danny Kasman at The Auteurs for optioning my conversation with Dumont.

The Wind Journeys was predictably chosen as Colombia's Oscar® submission this year; but, the Oscar I would have preferred would have been Oscar "Papeto" Ruiz Navia, who along with his actors Rodrigo Vélez and Arnobio Salazar Rivas sat down at the Toronto International to speak with me about Crab Trap, one of those quiet movies that has stayed with me throughout the year. Oscar was about as adorable as a director can get; a big kid making small movies of large dimension.

In another life—had I only applied myself—I might have been like Chon Noriega. One of the minds I most respect in Chicano studies, along with Amalia Mesa-Bains, I was delighted when Turner Classic Movies invited Noriega to host their annual "Race and Hollywood" series, which this year focused on Latino images in Hollywood film. They made a dream come true in finally providing the opportunity for me to converse with one of my admitted mentors.

As mentioned previously, Susan Oxtoby at Pacific Film Archive has been one of my champions this year, offering not only the chance to speak with Robert Beavers, but also the immensely articulate James Quandt, programmer for Cinematheque Ontario, who was in the Bay Area celebrating Nagisa Oshima. With informed candor, our conversation was one of the richest and most influential this year, parts one and two.

Speaking of auteurs, I have long wanted to talk to Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues and—on the occasion of the North American premiere of To Die Like A Man at the Toronto International—I was given that opportunity, along with his actor Alexander David. His is queer artistry at its most visionary. He has a deep husky laugh that I could listen to for hours.

Finally, this was the year that Dina Iordanova invited me to contribute an essay to their ongoing Film Festival Yearbook series. With diasporic cinema and diasporic channels as a form of distribution serving as a guideline, I pursued conversations with several Bay Area programmers whose efforts have addressed their diasporic constituencies; but, my favorites were with Nancy Fishman for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (timely, since she has since moved on), Ivan Jagirdar and Anuj Vaidya for 3rd I, and Chi-hui Yang for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Not only did these conversations provide insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of their respective festivals, but emphasized a collaborative ethos in the Bay Area among our community-based film festivals. Along with the theme of diasporic cinema, they indulged my interest in the spectacular dimension of their festivals, as well as the problematic issue of press tiering in the Bay Area (which is for a later entry).

Here's to 2010 and the conversations to come!

PSIFF10—To Die Like A Man (2009)

"There are no secrets; only shame."—Tonia.

After competing in the Un Certain Regard section at
Cannes, To Die Like A Man (Morrer como um homem, 2009) had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and is being featured in the World Cinema Now sidebar at the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF).

David Hudson gathered the decidedly mixed reviews from Cannes for
The Daily @ IFC (Melissa Anderson, Artforum; Matt Bochenski, Little White Lies; Leslie Felperin, Variety; Jonathan Romney, Screen). He followed through and posted reviews from the New York Film Festival (NYFF) on The Auteurs Daily (Andrew Chan, Reverse Shot; Vadim Rizov, The Greencine Daily; Ed Gonzalez, Slant; David Fear, Time Out New York; Manohla Dargis, The New York Times).

In his Cannes dispatch to The Auteurs, Daniel Kasman opined it would be a "major injustice" if To Die Like A Man would fail to be scheduled at festivals with the frequency of Broken Embraces. Such has not proven to be the case, however. Toronto, New York, Vancouver, Vienna and AFI have all featured the film after Cannes, and now Palm Springs has scheduled it in their World Cinema Now sidebar. "With its vitality and its composure," Kasman summarized at Cannes, "this is the kind of movie that Pedro Almodóvar should be making." Also at The Auteurs, from NYFF Glenn Kenney confirmed that mileage varies with regard to the film and from November's Viennale Gabe Klinger dispatched: "The combination of folkloric elements and the contemporary situation of a transsexual give the film its distinctive force and elevate Tonia and Rosário from potentially sad figures into glorious depictions, each as richly and lovingly carved out as a religious icon in Caravaggio. Both the Baby Dee and fado songs are presented in their integrity, which just goes to show the viewer how serious Rodrigues is in his intent. A lesser filmmaker would have chopped the scenes by a third, thus only giving a fleeting or touristic view rather than allowing for the possibility to feel as though one had lived through this story." When he caught the film at NYFF, Village Voice's J. Hoberman extolled To Die Like A Man was "a deep and fabulously sad fable, as well as an example of lyrical, playful, unpredictable filmmaking." At Culture Catch, Brandon Judell quoted Sigmund Freud: "Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, in contrast to men who are incapable of pure love and must at all times mix love and hate in their object relations"; a psychological theme he feels is threaded throughout Rodrigues's films. "But often when least expected, Rodrigues opts for the highly comic and then the surreal, creating what might just be the trippiest film released this year, with several of the most delicious transvestites around being truly absurd. Who knew? Drag and Death, a match made in heaven."

Myself, I caught the film in Toronto where—day after day of catching one adequate film after another—To Die Like A Man stood out as a uniquely energized and distinct vision, strange and special. I had to agree with Jason Anderson at Toronto's Eye Weekly that To Die Like A Man is a "searing melodrama with moments of great formal audacity."

My reactions are not for the spoiler-wary! In his most recent vision, Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues has staged some uneasy equations. The film begins with a close-up of a soldier's face applying camouflage paint. You hear the voice of another soldier—who you will later learn is Zé Maria (Chandra Malatitch), the son of drag queen Tonia (Fernando Santos)—complimenting his friend on how he looks, adding some finishing touches to his lids and cheeks. The parallel to how women apply their daily war paint is obvious and these militarized men are tainted by a suggestion of femininity. They break away from their patrol to wander AWOL in the night. Zé Maria leans his feminized friend against a tree, pushes down his pants and spitfucks him hard. At this point, you realize this is not your father's war movie. Their lust satiated, the two soldiers continue exploring this dark enchanted forest of the night that they have entered. They come across a house brightly lit in the darkness wherein two men dressed as women are singing at the piano. The sodomized soldier suggests candidly to Zé Maria that perhaps his father knows these two? Zé Maria hardens, mutters, "My father is dead" and shoots his friend in the chest. Rarely has a spit-stiff dick and a rifle penetrated flesh with such enraged and internalized homophobia.

This violent act initiates To Die Like A Man's portrait of transgendered Tonia, a veteran drag queen in Lisbon circles whose life has begun to unravel. The drag queens are getting younger and more competitive. Audiences want a different style of performance. Her son Zé Maria has become a deserter and a murderer and her boyfriend Rosario (Alexander David) is pressuring her to have a sex change operation. Her silicone breast implants have poisoned her body and she is dying of cancer. Sometimes it's just not worth waking up in the morning. In order to forgive and be forgiven for the slights endured over a long life as a drag queen performer, Tonia devolves her body back into a male form and seeks reconciliation with her estranged son, even if it be by way of dementia.

Rodrigues is expected to attend the PSIFF screening. This is true value added as he is a wholly engaging personality who I had the good fortune to interview in Toronto. Of related interest is Johnny Ray Huston's Cinema Scope essay "Double 'O' Heaven: The Vertigo Pop and Phantom Desires of João Pedro Rodrigues", which provided me some of my first working language to appreciate this Portuguese maverick's films more fully. (Reviewed at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival; 09/09.)

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Thursday, December 24, 2009


As reported earlier on The Evening Class, in 2007 the Global Film Initiative provided completion funding for Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras' feature debut Huacho (Facebook page, in Spanish). In 2008 Almendras won the Sundance / NHK International Filmmaker Award. Huacho sceened in the Critics Week at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, had its North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and is now seeing its US premiere at the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF).

David Hudson gathered the reviews from Cannes for the IFC Daily (Jordan Mintzer, Variety; Jonathan Romney, Screen; interviews, Cineuropa), and then followed through at The Auteurs Daily with reviews from Toronto (Mike D'Angelo, Not Coming To A Theater Near You; Bernard Besserglik, The Hollywood Reporter; and my own for Twitch).

"An apt title for the film, huacho means 'bastard' or 'having no father',"
Diana Sanchez wrote in her program capsule for Toronto, "but can also mean 'abandoned.' " Huacho observes how four members of a southern Chilean peasant family are left behind by a modern way of life that does not include them.

Within the simple structure of a long summer day's cycle, Almendras' quasi-documentary tracks its four protagonists through overlapping narrative threads that achieve a threadbare honesty and intimacy. As much a portrait of their struggles to make do on limited means, Huacho skillfully captures the ignobility of work in the modern age. Grandma Clemira makes and sells cheese by the roadside to passing motorists who force her to sell her wares at less than what it costs her to make them. Her husband Cornelio has become too old to work in the fields and suffers for not being able to provide for his family, remembering better days when he could. Cornelio's memories only annoy the young boy Manuel who longs for material things that will help him fit in with a clique of well-do-do classmates who ostracize him by calling him "peasant." Manuel's mother Alejandra is raising him without a father and works as a cook at minimum wage. To get necessary money for the family to pay off its utility bill, she's forced to pawn off her only nice dress. Sadness and frustration pervade all their lives, with scant relief in sight.

Manuel's teacher writes on the chalkboard: "One day or another we will all be happy." But what he's referencing is death, not opportunity. The film achieves added poignancy for being dedicated to Juan Pablo Rebella who—Sanchez informed me—took his own life, unable to express the pain he felt in everyday existence. Huacho holds a gentle mirror up to that desperate pain, reflecting loyalty to family and perseverance against odds, let alone one filmmaker's homage to another. (Reviewed at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival; 09/12/09.)

01/03/10 UPDATE: In his Senses of Cinema Toronto dispatch, Dan Sallitt considered Huacho to be "the best debut feature at TIFF" and a film that "does all the little things right."

Sallitt writes: "Striking an interesting political balance, Fernández Almendras is faithful to his perceived view of the family's persistence, stoicism and acceptance of difficulties, yet gently shapes the narrative to highlight each member's struggle with hardship and class inequity. The film's symmetrical structure, more effective for being understated, jumps out with pleasing directness at the ending."

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Sunday, December 20, 2009


"You know, just because you're a blonde type doesn't mean you can't suddenly do serious parts."—Cleo Moore.

Noir City knows that bad girls drive San Franciscans wild! Doesn't matter if you're straight, gay, male or female, or anywhere inbetween, above or below: we love our women blonde, buxom, breathtaking and baaaaad! So to satisfy our (ahem!) peninsular obsessions, this year's edition of Noir City revives their immensely popular "Bad Girls of Film Noir" with a double-bill highlighting
Cleo Moore: One Girl's Confession (1953) and Women's Prison (1955).

Noir City caught my attention immediately by describing Moore as a curvaceous vixen "who carved a niche for herself as the Poor Man's Marilyn Monroe in a series of tawdry (but oh so enjoyable) sex-driven potboilers." Hal Erickson concurs at All Movie Guide: "Bleach-blonde leading lady Cleo Moore can be described as Marilyn Monroe without the class. Though very likely a nice person in real life, Moore specialized in playing vulgar, conniving trollops; one could practically smell the cheap perfume whenever she swiveled onscreen. After an uncharacteristic film debut as a serial heroine in 1948's Congo Bill, Moore became the favorite leading lady of actor/director Hugo Haas, who churned out picture after picture in which he played an older man ruined by Moore's seductive charms. Retiring from filmmaking in 1957, Cleo Moore entered politics, making an unsuccessful bid for the governor's chair in her home state of Louisiana."

"Cleo" was born Cleouna Moore on Halloween 1928 in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana and raised by her contractor father Murphy Moore in nearby Gonzales, Louisiana, where she graduated from high school in 1941. In 1944 at the age of 15 she eloped with Palmer Long, the youngest son of the assassinated Governor of Louisiana, Huey Pierce Long. Their marriage only lasted six weeks but later provided her ample publicity fodder for her tongue-in-cheek gubernatorial bid for the state of Louisiana.

In 1946 she moved with her family to Southern California and began a successful building construction enterprise with her father. In May 1949 she was heralded as "Miss Plastic Art", posing in a costume made entirely of plastic, from the orchid in her hair down to the tips of her gloves, illustrating the variety of plastic arts to be displayed at the California Hobby Show, held at Shrine Convention Hall, May 27.

An ardent boxing fan, Moore was allegedly "discovered" in 1950 by an RKO talent scout while attending a fight at the Hollywood Legion Stadium. She began attracting press through pin-up and modeling work: severing a tire chain to open up a new Pep Boys store in Van Nuys, California and posing in the sensuous "Riviera Peasant Blouse". Her nights on the town with various men began to provide copy for Hollywood columnists.

Her actual film debut, however, was in the double role of Ruth Carver and Queen Lureen, the white ruler of a forbidden valley in Africa, in the 15-chapter 1948 movie serial Congo Bill produced by Columbia's Sam Katzman. She then worked for Warner Bros. in 1950 and for RKO Radio Pictures in 1950–52 before signing with Columbia Pictures in 1952. She first gained attention as the doomed gun moll Myrna Bowers in Nicholas Ray's film noir On Dangerous Ground (1951).

Moore began starring in films in 1952. Her films include One Girl's Confession (1953), Women's Prison (1955),
Hold Back Tomorrow (1955), Over-Exposed (1956) and Hit and Run (1957). She often starred in films directed by actor/director Hugo Haas and appeared opposite John Agar, Richard Crenna, Vince Edwards, and Robert Ryan among other actors.

During this period Moore was one of several buxom blondes to achieve notability following Marilyn Monroe's major breakthrough, the others including Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Diana Dors, Sheree North, and Barbara Nichols. In the mid 1950s Columbia considered starring Moore in a film biography on Jean Harlow's life but the project never got off the ground. There's no doubt she would have been perfectly suited for the role as her screen persona—like Harlow's—was that of an ambitious and predatory blonde out to get everything she can out of life and out of a man. One magazine article defined her film noir bad girl persona as "ruthless" and "amoral" and wryly quipped that in such movies the bad girl "usually ended up dead or in jail, or worse, reformed."

Moore made headlines with several publicity stunts, notably a scandalous five minute kiss with Jack Eigen on live Chicago television in February 1954. Eigen was a well-known radio disc jockey and TV veteran for ABC affiliate WBKB. Moore was on his show to promote her latest film Bait (1954) and the topic of movie censorship and the imposed limits on film kisses surfaced. He suggested that they "go for the record" on live TV as an alleged experiment to test the reaction of his TV audience. Though they sat in separate chairs and the kiss was mild, Eigen was fired after protests from hundreds of women viewers charged him with "vulgarity, coarseness, and bad taste." Eigen said at the time: "I have no guilty conscience. I have been happily married for 18 years, and my wife knew what I planned for the program. If she had thought there was anything unladylike or rude about it, she would have told me." Moore added that the kiss "certainly was not intended to be offensive. I am sorry that this all came about because I wouldn't want anyone to lose his job." Notwithstanding, Moore milked the incident for publicity until gossip columnist Louella Parsons declared "enough already" in her Modern Screen column, gently chiding Moore by stating she was "too pretty, too talented, and too smart" to allow her publicists to continually push the Jack Eigan kissing scandal. But perhaps not. In 1955 she and a New Orleans newspaper reporter repeated the stunt, claiming a new record with a 6.5 minute kiss.

"Whatever she lacked in acting talent, she made up for with her talent for outlandish publicity stunts, ala Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren" claims Java's Bachelor Pad who—along with the Eigen scandal—emphasized Moore's famous feud with fellow (and more famous) pin-up and movie star Anita Ekberg. "The Swedish Ekberg made the comment that American women were immature and childish," Java writes, so "Moore went on a media crusade (mostly to help her own career) to prove that American women could measure up, in every sense." Java's Bachelor Bad has replicated a rather amazing article "The Great Glamazon Gambit" published in the August 1961 issue of Modern Man (Vol. 11, No. 12). This "curves 'n quotes contest" is a must-read!

One of my favorite quotes by Cleo: "I made a number of pictures, strictly C-pictures that were done on small budgets with a crackerjack director and actor who's now dead, Hugo Haas. Anything I learned about the fine art of acting I learned from Hugo. We made one film called Thy Neighbor's Wife [1953] in which I got flogged at the public whipping post for adultery. I did my best acting in that film, I guess." True to form, when asked who were the most interesting men they knew, Moore responded, "Brando, Holden, and newspaper reporters who want to interview me." Ekberg: "Any man with a by-line, magazine or newspaper."

Moore was named the honorary city siren of Tarzana, California in 1954 and crowned "Miss Billboard" in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1955. Admittedly, these were the various worthless beauty titles starlets received to obtain publicity. "I've found that before you become a star you have to spend a few years being Miss Ping Pong," she once commented.

The positive side of being consigned to bit parts in low-budget films was that Moore had plenty of time to pursue personal interests. As reported in Films of the Golden Age: "She began a successful building construction enterprise with her father Murphy Moore and developed her skills as an artist. A portrait she did of Jack Benny was unveiled when the comedian was inaugurated as Abot of the Friars Club in 1954 and she also reportedly did incidental art for the poster of one of her films, Thy Neighbor's Wife."

In the Summer of 1955 she went on a 60-city tour to ballyhoo Women's Prison. In Houston, the red-blooded Texans nearly tore her clothes off when a dozen boys, aged 16 or 17, wanted to be kissed by her and pulled a ruffle off her blouse as a souvenir. Of related interest, Moore noted this had become a problem when she traveled. "Ever since that Jack Eigen kiss incident, people don't ask me for my autograph any more. They want a lip print for their autograph books. I'm a sport; I go along. So I end up using about ten tubes of lipstick a day. I've even had to buy a darker kind than I prefer to wear in order to make a better print."

In 1960, Moore announced her intention to run for governor of Louisiana. "I was married to Huey Long's son for six weeks," she explained, "and while that doesn't make me an authority on politics, I know a lot about Louisiana. Matter of fact, I'm related to 50 per cent of the people down there. I'm sure I stand a good chance of getting elected." Elsewhere, she stated that she wanted to become "a political Florence Nightingale" and that any great politician had to be a great actor. If elected, she promised more rights for women, but asserted that all her right-hand men would be men. Although this was a mere publicity stunt, and Moore never actually ran for governor, it became so firmly implanted in her press copy that the New York Times stated it as fact in her obituary, as does Hal Erickson at All Movie Guide.

Moore had three sisters: Mari, Voni, and Jonnie. Mari followed in her footsteps and briefly pursued acting under the name of Mara Lea. She had a bit part in One Girl's Confession and a minor role alongside her sister Cleo in Hit and Run.

Moore found success as a businesswoman and real estate developer after her screen career ended in the late 1950s. She embarked on a million-dollar sports center in the San Fernando Valley and ran a profitable petticoat factory. "They have 100 machines going and can't fill the orders," she boasted to reporters. In 1961 she married real estate mogul Herbert Heftler, who she met while making an industrial film (her last professional work as an actress), giving birth to a daughter two years later. In October 1973, at the early age of 48, Cleo Moore died as Cleouna M. Heftler from a heart attack in Inglewood, California.

There are a few notable online fan sites for Moore. One of the most enjoyable is an entry at Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen where a narrative timeline has been assembled from gossip pieces published in various Hollywood screen magazines, which I acknowledge as the source for most of the above biography. Angel Fire likewise has several pages devoted to Moore, including a publicity profile written by Al Hortwits, Director of Publicity at Columbia Studios, wherein he describes her as "a canary blonde." There's also a condensed version of an article on Moore that appeared in Films of the Golden Age, which valiantly defended her against accusations of being a "Marilyn Monroe wannabe." The article asserts: "This is an unfair characterization particularly in Cleo's case as she entered films the same year as Marilyn and even beat the more famous blonde into the pages of LIFE magazine by almost a year. She never mimicked Marilyn in any of her films, never copied any of her cheesecake poses or wore similar dresses." The article adds: "Unlike many of her contemporaries, Cleo felt no hostility toward Marilyn. In fact, she once named Marilyn one of her three favorite movie stars, along with Marlon Brando and Joan Crawford." Angel Fire has also replicated Moore's wire service obituary.

Brian's Drive-in Theatre (one of my all-time favorite sites) fills in the gaps in her early RKO career: "By 1950, she had become a starlet at RKO Studios, which installed her in several film noir classics, such as This Side of the Law and Gambling House. She also appeared in two 1950 short-feature westerns with Tim Holt: Dynamite Pass and Rio Grande Patrol."

In coming weeks The Evening Class will be offering several photo galleries of Cleo Moore, but, until then, Brian's Drive-in Theatre, Java's Bachelor Pad and Fanpix have substantial offerings.

Of related interest: Noir City Index.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009


"Comedy is the summit of logic."—Jacques Tati

The comic logic of
Jacques Tati will be displayed on both sides of the Bay in coming months via conjoined retrospectives at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive (PFA) and San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA).

Following a set of successful film screenings at the
Cinémathèque Française and fresh on the heels of a retrospective mounted at New York's MOMA, PFA sprints ahead with its series "Playtime: The Modern Comedy of Jacques Tati" curated by Susan Oxtoby. As Juliet Clark specifies in her introductory notes: "Tati has been described as the cinema's foremost antimodern modernist; his precisely arranged images and inventive soundtracks underline the alienation and oddity of everyday twentieth-century life." The PFA series runs as follows:

Thursday, January 14, 2010, 7:00PM
M. Hulot's Holiday / Les vacances de M. Hulot (France, 1953)—This cinematic postcard from a seaside summer resort is "the most important comic work in world cinema since the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields ... an event in the history of sound film."—André Bazin. With short Watch Your Left. (108 mins). Newly Restored Print.

Friday, January 15, 2010, 7:00PM
Playtime (France, 1967)—Tati's vision of sixties Paris is "perhaps the most madly modernistic work of anti-modernism in the history of cinema."—New Yorker. "One of the ten greatest films of all time."—Jonathan Rosenbaum. With short Night Class. (153 mins). New Print.

Saturday, January 16, 2010, 6:30PM
Jour de fête (France, 1949)—Tati's first feature is a charming portrait of a rural village, where the bumbling local postman is inspired to American-style efficiency by a newsreel in a traveling fair. "Everyone loves Jour de fête."—New Yorker. With the 18-minute short The School for Postmen / L'ecole des facteurs (1947). (108 mins). New Color Print.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 7:00PM
Mon oncle (France, 1958)—The wonders of an ultramodern house come in for classic Tati mockery. "Slapstick heaven."—New Yorker. (116 mins).

Saturday, January 23, 2010, 5:30PM
Playtime (France, 1967). With short Night Class. See January 15. (153 mins)

Sunday, January 24, 2010, 4:30PM
Traffic (France, 1971)—A comic-apocalyptic vision of mechanized modernity in which humankind indulges in a perpetual love-hate relationship with its favorite pet, the automobile. (100 mins). New Print.

Thursday, January 28, 2010, 7:00PM
Parade (France, 1974)—Tati returns to his music-hall roots, performing some of his most famous routines, in this rarely screened circus film. (75 mins).

Saturday, January 30, 2010, 5:30PM
M. Hulot's Holiday / Les vacances de M. Hulot (France, 1953)—With short Watch Your Left. See January 14. (108 mins).

The YBCA series "Jacques Tati: Genius of French Comedy" runs concurrently at YBCA, with the added attraction of the US premiere of The Magnificent Tati, a compelling brand-new documentary by Michael House that explores Tati's career from his roots in the Parisian music-halls of the '30s to his rise and ultimate fall from grace after the release of his masterpiece Playtime. An eclectic range of interviewees (including admirers Mike Mills, Frank Black and Sylain Chomet) pay testament to his genius, and a wealth of clips make this an essential accompaniment to the retrospective. The YBCA series runs as follows:

Thursday, January 21, 2010, 7:30PM
Jour de fête (France, 1949)—YBCA presents the rare, color version restored by Tati's daughter and cinematographer, preceded by the short The School for Postmen / L'ecole des facteurs (1947, 18 min).

Sunday, January 24, 2010, 2:00PM
The Magnificent Tati by Michael House (US, 2009, 60 min, digital video). Director in attendance.

Thursday, January 28, 2010, 7:30PM
M. Hulot's Holiday / Les vacances de M. Hulot (France, 1953, 90 min.)—Preceded by the short Soigne ton gauche by René Clément (1936, 20 min).

Sunday, January 31, 2010, 2:00PM
Mon oncle (France, 1958, 116 min.)—English language version. (Please note: though of excellent quality, Mon Oncle is not a brand-new print).

Thursday, February 4, 2010, 7:30PM
Traffic (France, 1971, 100 min.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010, 7:30PM
Playtime (France, 1967, 123 min.)—Followed by the short Cours du soir (1967, 30 min).

12/23/09 UPDATE: At Hell on Frisco Bay, Brian Darr details further screenings of the Tati films in the Bay Area and highlights his own favorites.

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Friday, December 18, 2009


For cinephiles, this is certainly the season to rejoice because—as we near the winter solstice and the return of the light—our favorite local institutions are announcing their upcoming calendars. Not that Noir City requires much light, however. In fact, one might argue this is one particular film festival that downright thrives on the dark.

Returning to San Francisco's majestic Castro Theatre for ten days, January 22–31, 2010, the theme for this eighth incarnation of the world's most popular noir film series is part and parcel of classic noir: "Lust and Larceny." (Superman—at least his unshaven Red Kryptonite doppelganger—would be proud of such double Ls!)

Within the theme of Lust and Larceny, Noir City 8 will include double features showcasing the work of screenwriter Bill Bowers, directors Robert Siodmak and Robert Parrish, actors John Garfield, Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, and skating star Belita.

More guest stars are expected when Noir City 8 presents the first public screening of the Film Noir Foundation's latest preservation project: a completely restored version of the fabulous 1951 noir Cry Danger, starring Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, and Dick Erdman.

Other Highlights include Sony Home Entertainment's co-presentation of "Bad Girls Night" to celebrate its upcoming DVD box set Bad Girls of Film Noir. Grover Crisp, Sony's Vice President of Asset Management and Film Restoration, will attend—along with a bevy of bad girls. So many fans turn out for the bad girl movies that Noir City has decided to make it a regular part of the annual program.

The festival's always popular "San Francisco Night" returns with two fresh entries: Red Light (1949) and Walk a Crooked Mile (1948), both set in the city by the Bay—as is Escape in the Fog (1945), a rare Budd Boetticher-directed B film playing on the festival's final day.

Friday, January 22 (Double Bill Bowers)

7:30, Pitfall (1948) Dir. André De Toth, archival 35mm print—This independently produced gem is the most realistic exploration of adultery produced in 1940s Hollywood. Bored suburbanite Dick Powell drifts into a dalliance with hard-luck model Lizabeth Scott, only to find his life and family threatened by an obsessive private eye and a jealous ex-con. Director de Toth had the gifted Bill Bowers rewrite the script. The result is truly believable noir—a wrenching tale of repressed lust and suburban ennui. Restored print courtesy the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Not available on DVD.

9:30, Larceny (1948) Dir. George Sherman, brand new 35mm print—John Payne and Dan Duryea play dandy grifters bent on bilking a wealthy war widow (Joan Caulfield). Both are tangled up with saucy Shelley Winters, who's more dangerous than a loaded .38. The cast has a field day firing Bowers's one-liners faster than speeding bullets. We screened this riotously entertaining, little-known gem in 16mm at Noir City 4, and now it’s back for an encore . . . in a BRAND NEW 35mm print courtesy Universal Pictures. Not available on DVD.

Saturday, January 23, Matinée (Robert Siodmak Tribute)

1:00 & 4:20, Fly-By-Night (1942) Dir. Robert Siodmak—An entertaining "cheapie" about an in-his-cups writer (Chester Morris) who pitches his skeptical publisher an ingenious "locked room" mystery ... only to have the crime come true. The law jumps right on his trail as the prime suspect! Martin (Detour) Goldsmith's script is particularly amusing for its backhanded take on crime writing. Not available on DVD.

2:30, Deported (1950) Dir. Robert Siodmak—For one of his last Hollywood assignments, the great Siodmak (Phantom Lady, Criss Cross) ventured to Italy—with Oscar-winning director of photography William Daniels—to film this thinly veiled tale of mobster Lucky Luciano's enforced return to his roots. Jeff Chandler plays "Vic Smith" in this ultra-rarity, the hardest to find of Siodmak's American films. Luciano, a big fan of Siodmak's classic noir The Killers, reportedly demanded a cameo role in the film! Not available on DVD.

Saturday, January 23, Evening
(Bowers & Parrish: The Big Combo)

7:30, Cry Danger (1951) Dir. Robert Parrish, newly restored—One of the most wicked and witty revenge yarns of the original film noir era. When we showed it in 2007 we had to screen star Dick Powell's personal 16mm print; no 35mm copies existed. We're thrilled to "re-premiere" this terrific film—Parrish's debut as a director—in a brand-new restoration, courtesy the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It costars the ravishing Rhonda Fleming and the redoubtable Richard Erdman, one of the great wisecrackers of all time. Thanks to all the Noir City supporters and Film Noir Foundation donors who made this restoration possible! Not available on DVD.

9:30, The Mob (1951) Dir. Robert Parrish—On the heels of their Cry Danger success, Bowers and Parrish were contracted by Columbia Pictures to craft a hard-hitting crime picture for Oscar-winner Broderick (Born Yesterday) Crawford. The tale of an undercover cop (Crawford) infiltrating a waterfront labor racket was a huge hit and a forerunner to 1950s crime exposes, subsequently overshadowed by the higher-pedigreed On the Waterfront (1954). The Mob stands as a terrific film in its own right, featuring early work from actors Charles Bronson, Neville Brand, and Ernest Borgnine. Not available on DVD.

Sunday, January 24 (Marilyn Noir)

1:00, 5:10, 9:30, Niagra (1953) Dir. Henry Hathaway—"Niagara Falls and Marilyn Monroe—The Two Most Electrifying Sights in the World!" screamed the studio's ads for this sexually charged Technicolor noir. Monroe is a too-hot-to-handle wife who enflames her husband's jealousy during a vacation at the famous falls ... with murderous results. Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and one of the world's majestic natural wonders all play second fiddle to Marilyn, whose larger-than-life allure still leaps off the screen 56 years after this film was originally released.

2:50, 7:15, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) Dir. John Huston—The gold standard of "caper" films. John Huston brings a neorealist feel to his version of W. R. Burnett's classic crime novel, and a remarkable cast vividly brings to life the book's rogues' gallery of crooked characters. It stars Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen and a trio of the finest supporting performances ever from Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, and Marc Lawrence. Huston also gets credit for being the first to exploit the extraordinary on-screen sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe; this was the film that launched her meteoric rise to stardom.

Monday, January 25 (Belita, Ice Queen of Noir)

7:30, Suspense (1946) Dir. Frank Tuttle—The most lavish, expensive ($1 million!) production ever created by Monogram Pictures was tailored to the talents of young British ice skating sensation Belita, whose brief Hollywood career coincided with the rise of film noir, making her literally the genre's "Ice Queen." Barry Sullivan is her costar in this James M. Cain-styled story of lust and murder, set against the backdrop of a skating revue, which provided the star with several show-stopping routines. Quirky, crazy, and totally unique! Not available on DVD.

9:30, The Gangster (1947) Dir. Gordon Wiles—Based on Daniel Fuchs's novel Low Company. One of the most peculiar noirs of the 1940s stars Barry Sullivan in a riveting performance as a small-time hood who suffers a mental breakdown as his big plans begin to crumble. Beautiful Belita is the slumming society girlfriend who only fuels his paranoia. Director Wiles, normally a production designer and art director, creates an arresting visual corollary for the character's disintegrating psyche. Ultra rare! See it on the big screen while you can! Not available on DVD.

Tuesday, January 26 (John Garfield Tribute)

7:30, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Dir. Tay Garnett—"Their Love Was a Flame That Destroyed!" James M. Cain's 1934 novel—essentially the blueprint for noir—was so hot, and so wrong, it took MGM 12 years to figure out how to put it on the screen, heat intact. It helped to have Lana Turner and John Garfield playing the sex-starved, ill-fated lovers who plot murder. A huge hit in 1946, it remains one of the most revered films in the genre, and the progenitor of a thousand "erotic thrillers" to follow.

9:45, He Ran All the Way (1951) Dir. John Berry—Garfield gives perhaps his most desperate, impassioned performance in this, his final film. Facing nothing but a dead-end life, small-time hood Nick Robey (Garfield) pulls a simple stick-up ... but when he shoots a cop, his life spins out of control. Hiding out, he meets a neighborhood girl (Shelley Winters) who brings him home to meet the family ... whom he holds hostage while plotting his escape. A bitter, blistering film created by a cadre of talents all on the verge of losing their Hollywood careers to the blacklist. Not available on DVD.

Wednesday, January 27 (Bad Girls of Film Noir)

7:30, One Girl's Confession (1953) Dir. Hugo Haas—In the 1950s, actor Hugo Haas became a B-movie auteur, writing, directing, and starring in a series of pulpy tales of amour fou in which a pathetic man (usually Haas himself) is tempted and tormented by a voluptuous vixen. In this edition of Haas's ongoing saga of sadomasochism, the vixen is curvaceous Cleo Moore, who carved a niche for herself as the Poor Man's Marilyn Monroe in a series of tawdry (but oh so enjoyable) sex-driven potboilers. Not available on DVD … yet!

9:15, Women's Prison (1955) Lewis Seiler—All right, it's not really noir, but who can resist a good ol' sleazy women-behind-bars saga, especially one with dishy dames like Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, and Audrey Totter getting (wo)manhandled by a jealously berserk warden played by Ida Lupino? The setup: The state has built men's and women's prisons side by side, with only a wall keeping the genders apart. Pretty soon, more than license plates are being pounded out. A cellblock of terrific actresses have a field day tearing apart the scenery, and each other. Not available on DVD … yet!

Thursday, January 28 (San Francisco Noir)

7:30, Red Light (1949) Dir. Roy Del Ruth—Witness the resurrection of this incredibly rare, visually stunning "Biblical Noir." San Francisco truck company owner Johnny Torno (George Raft) seeks revenge on the killers of his priest brother, who left a clue to the culprit's identity in a missing bible. It's rife with religious symbolism, packed with indelible supporting players, and features sensational cinematography by Bert (Crime Wave) Glennon and a great score by Dimitri Tiomkin. It took a lot of digging to unearth this 35-millimeter print, so don't miss it! Not available on DVD.

9:15, Walk A Crooked Mile (1948) Dir. Gordon Douglas—When a security leak at an atomic energy plant threatens the safety of the free world, an FBI agent (Dennis O'Keefe) and a Scotland Yard inspector (Louis Hayward) track the spy ring to (where else?) Commie-infested San Francisco. Hint to the feds: Look for the big, shifty guy (Raymond Burr) with the Lenin look-alike goatee. This time capsule of escalating Cold War paranoia is rendered in the once-voguish "semidocumentary" style, providing terrific glimpses of 1948 San Francisco. Not available on DVD.

Friday, January 29 (Richard Widmark Remembered)

7:30, Slattery's Hurricane (1949) Dir. André de Toth—The rarest film of Richard Widmark's early rise to stardom is an uncommonly adult story of infidelity and drug smuggling. Will Slattery (Widmark) is a cynical fighter pilot facing possible court-martial, flying suspicious cargo around the Caribbean. Disasters, both human and natural, result when an old flame (Linda Darnell) comes between Slattery and his loyal gal (Veronica Lake), who has secrets of her own. It's a unique film featuring fresh, innovative direction by the great Andre de Toth. Not available on DVD.

9:30, Pickup On South Street (1953) Dir. Samuel Fuller—Widmark delivers his signature performance in this exceptionally fast and hardboiled tale of a New York pickpocket caught between the commies and the feds, playing both ends against the middle for his own gain. It is perhaps Fuller's most perfectly realized film, featuring Oscar-nominated support from Thelma Ritter and a memorable turn by Jean Peters as a blowsy, brazen B girl. Fuller, a former New York crime reporter, magically turns Fox back lots and studio sets into a vivid depiction of his beloved Big Apple.

Saturday January 30, Matinée (Larceny & Lust)

1:00, 4:30, Inside Job (1946) Dir. Jean Yarbrough—This terse programmer is notable as the final credit of writer-director Tod Browning (Freaks), although he'd written the story years before it was made. Some of his distinctive traits are evident in the tale of newlywed ex-cons (Ann Rutherford and Alan Curtis) forced into a mobster's plan to rob a downtown department store. It's a B movie through and through, but one with clever business peppering a plot that consistently zigs when you expect it to zag. Featuring the stalwart Preston Foster as the dapper gangster. Not available on DVD.

2:25, To Be Announced
Saturday, January 30, Evening
(The Glorious Gloria Grahame)

7:30, Human Desire (1954) Dir. Fritz Lang—You can't really call this a redo of The Postman Always Rings Twice because it's based on Emile Zola's 1890 novel La Bete Humaine. But then, tales of tortured lovers tempted to commit murder are timeless, aren't they? Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame rekindle their flame from Lang's 1953 smash The Big Heat, and Broderick Crawford plays the loutish cuckold they want to be rid of. Do we need to note that things don't go according to plan? Burnett Guffey supplies the wonderfully atmospheric cinematography. Not available on DVD.

9:30, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) Dir. Robert Wise—Legendary actor-musician-humanitarian Harry Belafonte starred in and produced this incendiary crime classic. He plays jazz musician Johnny Ingram, whose gambling debts lead him to take part in a bank job with surly racist Earle Slater (Robert Ryan, in a performance both ferocious and sad). The film also features a landmark score by jazz greats John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, bolstering the tight and tense direction of the great Robert Wise. Unfortunatley, due to an unexpected development beyond everyone's control, Harry Belafonte cannot appear at this year's Noir City festival as originally intended. Mr. Belafonte sends his deepest regrets and fondest regards to the film fans of San Francisco, with whom he was so eager to have shared this special 50th anniversary screening of Odds Against Tomorrow.

Sunday January 31 (Getaway Day)

1:00, 4:50, 7:00, Escape in the Fog (1945) Dir. Budd Boetticher—An army nurse (Nina Foch) is terrified by a fog-shrouded dream in which she witnesses a trio of men committing murder on the Golden Gate Bridge. Good thing it's all a dream ... until the victim asks her out on a date! Settle in with some popcorn for lots of old-fashioned B-movie skullduggery. Director Boetticher, who'd go on to direct some of the greatest Westerns ever, rides briskly over plot holes, camouflaging lapses in logic with loads of atmosphere, and makes the most of star Nina Foch's distinctive appeal. Not available on DVD.

2:25, 8:30, A Place in the Sun (1951) Dir. George Stevens—This sublime adaptation of Theodore Drieser's An American Tragedy is noir to the core, despite the gloss and glamour Paramount ladled on to make it a huge hit. A blue-collar social climber (Montgomery Clift) falls for a gorgeous society debutante (Elizabeth Taylor, at the peak of her beauty), but his plain, prole, and pregnant girlfriend (Shelley Winters) stands in the way of his personal American Dream. It won Oscars for best costumes, score, editing, cinematography, screenplay, and direction, yet somehow lost best picture to An American in Paris.

Of related interest: Noir City Index.

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