When first looking over the Noir City schedule, you might come away disappointed, not in the selection of titles, but in the number of films shown per day. With the exception of Saturdays, Noir City features two films a day, generally showing around 7:15pm and 9:00pm or thereabout. (The two Sunday films are repeated later in the day.) But remember, you’re in San Francisco, one of the most fascinating cities on the planet, so go explore it! In the two years I’ve attended Noir City, I have also gone on a wine tour, an “Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco” walking tour, visited the Museum of Modern Art, Alcatraz, a Japanese garden, John’s Grill, ran a 5K, spent time in Chinatown, and much more.
I’ve previously discussed the first and second day of the festival, but the remainder of the schedule for me (I was only able to stay through Tuesday, five days total) was also stellar, featuring Jules Dassin’s heist masterpiece Rififi (1955), the 1960 French gangster film Classe tous risques (The Big Risk) starring Lino Ventura, Stanley Kubrick’s amazing The Killing (1956), and Japan’s visceral Cruel Gun Story (1964). My last day at Noir City offered a double feature of British crime with Alexander Mackendrick’s hilarious The Ladykillers (1955) – of which Eddie Muller said, “Keep calm and laugh your ass off” – and Basil Dearden’s The League of Gentlemen (1960), featuring one of my favorite British actors, Jack Hawkins. All of these films were presented digitally and most are readily available either on DVD/Blu-ray or streaming, so I’m not going to go into any detail about the films here, other to say that you should see them all (and if at all possible, at the closest upcoming Noir City festival).
Although I was not able to attend the complete festival, I was able to watch three of the films I missed while the festival was still going on. (I even worked it out so that I was watching the Argentine film El Aura (2005) at the same time it was being shown at Noir City. Call me a nerd, I don’t care!) I do plan to post a full review in the next few days of the final film at Noir City 15, Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria (2015), which as far as I know is the most contemporary feature film ever shown at a Noir City festival.
What I want to talk about next: the Noir City people.
As many readers of this blog know, one of my greatest joys is co-hosting our Great Movies series at the Severna Park Library with my co-worker Julia. Every first Thursday in our large meeting room, we introduce a classic film, screen it, and have a discussion about it afterwards. In just one year we have developed a dedicated community of film lovers who are passionate about watching and discussing great films.
This is a microcosm of what Noir City does on a much larger scale. I don’t know the numbers, but I would imagine most of the people who attend Noir City are hardcore film noir fans. In talking with people after various screenings, I’ve learned that some folks come for only one or two movies while others stay for the entire festival. Some simply love classic films, but others are noir fanatics.
Make no mistake, these people know their stuff. I’ve only been seriously into film noir for a few years, but all around Noir City you’ll find men and women who are walking encyclopedias of noir. They’re not practicing one-upmanship, but simply sharing their love of film noir with others. What makes the festival so wonderful is the fact that if you have a question – even the most arcane question – about film noir, someone is going to have the answer.
That also means that these audiences have seen lots of films and have the ability to recognize – even laugh – at scenes that noir neophytes may not understand. Sure, everyone laughs when Sterling Hayden says to Jean Hagen in The Asphalt Jungle, “Why don’t you quit cryin’ and get me some bourbon?” but don’t be surprised to hear the audience also laughing when some poor slob walks off a cliff following a femme fatale or becomes the fall guy for the “team” after a heist. It’s not easy to surprise a Noir City audience, but at the same time, they truly appreciate a well-made film.
My intent is not to name-drop, but I have to tell you about some of the wonderful people I met at Noir City. I previously mentioned my Maryland friend Haggai, whom I hope to hang out with at Noir City DC in October, but I also met lots of great people on the Noir City staff and the Film Noir Foundation. Director of Communications Anne Hockens is a delight and answered many of my questions online before Noir City 15. I must also mention that Anne has single-handedly gotten me addicted to the television show Columbo. (These things happen at Noir City… What can you do?) I truly believe graphic designer Bill Selby (who designs the Noir City posters, including the one above) must be a long-lost brother as he not only loves film noir but also has excellent taste in comics. (Bill, I hope to see you again soon!)
Unfortunately my friend and graphic designer Michael Kronenberg was unable to make it to Noir City 15, but I hope to see him again in the near future. (You can see Michael’s excellent work by subscribing to the Noir City E-magazine pictured above.)
Speaking of the Noir City E-mag, I also got to meet my favorite writer on all things film noir, Imogen Sara Smith, who writes for the magazine and has also written the books In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City (2011) and Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy (2013). Imogen also recorded an excellent commentary track for the recent Kino release of Boomerang (1947), which you should definitely check out.
And of course there’s the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller, who is incredibly knowledgable, approachable and friendly. If you haven’t read any of his books or listened to any of his movie commentaries, get to work! Reading and listening to Muller is like attending Film Noir University. But I think the best way to experience Muller is by listening to his introductions at Noir City festivals. Yet I warn you, his enthusiasm and passion for film noir are contagious.
We all know the Internet is largely responsible for bringing people of similar interests together no matter where they live, and while that’s a great thing, there’s really nothing like the relationships that develop between people who share the same passion and are lucky enough to meet in person. Noir City does that and does it well. As I mentioned in a Twitter post, these are my people and if you love film noir, they’re your people, too. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Join us at a Noir City festival near you. You might just feel the same way.
Photos: The Los Angeles Review of Books, Noir City, Goodreads, Blu-ray.com