El Aura (2005)
Written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky
Produced by Ariel Saúl, Victor Hadida, Cecilia Bossi
Music by Dario Eskenazi
Cinematography by Checco Varese
Edited by Alejandro Carrillo Penovi, Fernando Pardo
IFC DVD (2:18)
One of the things I appreciate most about film festivals and shows like TCM’s Noir Alley is the presenter’s ability to convey how film noir developed organically from events happening in the culture at the time those films were made. Those who excel at such presentations help audiences understand how post-WWII fears and anxieties greatly contributed to a sense of cynicism in films produced in the 1940s and 50s. Add to that the variations of what we once accepted as well-defined male and female roles in our society, the threat of communism, the problems of veterans returning home to a different world, and much more. Without these presenters as guides, it’s often difficult to navigate our own history while trying to understand the stories behind the stories, much less the experiences of filmmakers working in other countries. I explored some of this with El ángel desnudo (1946), the first movie discussed in the book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir by David George and Gizella Meneses. Today, I’ll look at El Aura, a more recent Argentine noir which draws heavily from its cultural background.
Walk East on Beacon! (1952)
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Produced by Louis de Rochemont
Screenplay by Laurence Heath and Emmett Murphy
Based on a Reader’s Digest article by J. Edgar Hoover
Music by Louis Applebaum
Edited by Angelo Ross
Cinematography by Joseph C. Brun
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD (1:38)
The House on 92nd Street (1945) was the first of the semi-documentary crime pictures that made audiences feel they were right there on the cutting edge of law enforcement’s efforts in tracking down and capturing the bad guys. Produced by Louis de Rochemont and directed by Henry Hathaway,The House on 92nd Street was based on a real case and was shot (as much as possible) on actual locations. Other such films followed a similar template. In the case of The House on 92nd Street, it was the FBI hunting down Nazi spies; with Walk East on Beacon!, it was Communist spies. (Hereafter, I’m losing the exclamation point from the title. It’s just too difficult to sustain that much excitement about an instruction in walking…)
My movie-watching in May dipped a little from April, watching only 32 films, six of them on FilmStruck. Yet I made pretty good progress on two of my long-term projects, seeing eight films from Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list and seven from Michael F. Keaney’s Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era, 1940-1959. I also knocked out two of the films discussed in the book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir. As always, films I particularly liked are in bold with links to reviews.
So Dark the Night (1946)
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Produced by Ted Richmond
Screenplay by Dwight V. Babcock, Martin Berkeley
Based on a story by Aubrey Wisberg
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography by Burnett Guffey
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD (1:11)
It’s quite refreshing to see a character actor land a leading role once in awhile. Hungarian actor Steven Geray appeared in many film noir and noir-stained titles during his career including The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), Spellbound (1945), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Blind Spot (1947), The Dark Past (1948), In a Lonely Place (1950), Woman on the Run (1950), and my personal favorite as Uncle Pio in Gilda (1946). Geray (who made over 40 films in Europe before immigrating to America in the early 1940s) usually played a foreigner in his American films, sometimes friendly, sometimes not. As far as I can tell, So Dark the Night is his only lead role. It’s a film that isn’t talked about much (possibly because it contains no major American actors), but should be. It’s a little film that begins in a rather benign way, but transitions to a very dark place by the time we reach the end.
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
Directed by Hector Babenco
Produced by Francisco Ramalho Jr. and David Weisman
Written by Leonard Schrader
Based on the novel by Manuel Puig
Cinematography by Rodolfo Sánchez
Edited by Mauro Alice
Music by Nando Carneiro, John Neschling, Wally Badarou
ICRA DVD (2:01)
The chapter for Kiss of the Spider Woman in Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir requires you to wrap your head around several different concepts. First of all, the authors consider not only the 1985 film by Hector Babenco, but also the 1976 Manuel Puig novel and the award-winning 1993 musical. Things get even more strange when you realize that the film (the prime focus of the chapter) doesn’t specifically take place in Argentina, nor was it an Argentine production. Finally, the locales differ significantly: Puig’s novel clearly takes place in a Buenos Aires penitentiary; the film, in an unnamed prison whose signs and street scenes suggest São Paulo, Brazil; the musical, in an unidentified Caribbean country. Having read the novel and watched the film, my comments will focus primarily on the movie.
If you’re new to my monthly Film Noir Releases posts, welcome! My goal is to cover all the first-time releases to Blu-ray and DVD, usually passing over reissues unless there’s a good reason to include them. (I also tend to leave out more recent films from the last several years.) Unless otherwise noted, the following are all North American Region A Blu-ray discs. I often use the terms “film noir” and “neo-noir” rather loosely, so while you may quibble with some of my choices, I hope these are films you’ll at least consider. As always, if you know of any film noir or neo-noir films I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
As was the case last month, many of June’s must-have film noir releases come from Europe. I know many of you are resistant to purchase a region-free Blu-ray player, but I’ve had at least four people contact me this year about such players. Three of them have made purchases (I think the fourth will take the plunge soon) and have been very satisfied. With all of these great European (especially UK) releases cropping up each month, it’s hard to resist having a player that gives you access to such wonderful films.
Enough of my pitch! Although June is a light month for new releases, we still have plenty of temptations, including several films making their Blu-ray debut. Let’s take a look:
Before an examination of Argentine noir, David George and Gizella Meneses, the authors of the new book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir (Lexington Books, ISBN 9781498511865), open with a brief overview of classic film noir and neo-noir. For most people picking up this book (which is probably not a casual purchase, with a retail price of $90), the authors’ brief summary of noir will serve as a refresher. After this introductory chapter, George and Meneses examine how film noir developed specifically in Argentina. If your Argentine history isn’t quite up to speed, no worries: you’ll learn about the Juan Perón era (as president from 1946 to 1955) and the country’s years of instability, Perón’s later exile and return to power, the influence of crime fiction in Latin America, and what Paul Schrader refers to as the “rips and tears in the social fabric” of the country (p. 24). All of this is presented in a way that makes you want to read more, especially considering how these events were reflected in the movies of the era. Although its wartime and postwar history is different from that of the United States, Argentina was prime real estate for the construction and development of film noir.