Lucky number 13. Talk about the fate of film noir!
2023 edition of Noir City Chicago, annual celebration of bad streets and what the French call “”bad luck,” brings together a week of cinematic crime, passion, punishment and extreme shadows for the screening of 18 films, mostly 35mm films, at the Music Box Theatre.
However, there is some controversy regarding the film noir genre. is is a kind of. Presented by the Music Box and Film Noir Foundation, the 13th annual festival showcases a range of category-challenging works, including a singular noir Western (“Blood on the Moon,” 1948, with Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes and Robert Preston). covers. a semi-documentary neorealism shot, a seminal example of Hollywood shooting in Chicago (“Call Northside 777” with James Stewart in 1948), and the lesser-known “Chicago Deadline” (again 1948, a huge black year). This movie features a drama starring Alan Ladd and Donna Reed, filmed partially in Chicago, about a newspaper reporter and a party girl whose collapse turns into a promising replica.
If you like film noir, you probably know and love Eddie Muller. Noir City festivals now held in many cities have become a mainstay, and they are working hand-in-hand with their mission to host the weekend “Noir Alley” show at Turner Classic Movies. His Film Noir Foundation isn’t just fandom; With the foundation’s curatorial guidance and advocacy, a substantial list of noir films, many of which are in danger of extinction, has been restored and screened worldwide.
Muller is performing nine screenings on Music Box this weekend, including Bogart and Bacall in “Key Largo”; Orson Welles’ sensuous thriller “The Lady From Shanghai,” starring Welles and Rita Hayworth; and “Call Northside 777.” Muller’s foundation team and fellow writer Alan K. Rode does the rest. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Eddie, I love your three-word description of film noir: “suffering because of style.” So is film noir a genre, right?
A: I’ve decided to describe it as Hollywood’s only organic artistic movement. That’s how I look too. There is no reason why these films should look, feel and sound this way, other than the artists themselves who made it. Just as Impressionism was a movement and Expressionism was a movement, noir was a cinematic movement.
Question: You put it this way in an interview: “Credit the French film critic Nino Frank for inventing ‘film noir’ as early as 1946. But believe me, no one in Hollywood in the 1940s thought he was making film noir. “
A: Nobody in Hollywood called it “film noir” back then. Organically, all of a sudden in the early 1940s crime movies, even some war movies and Westerns, many different movies worked in this particular visual style. It’s an artistic movement that took off in the early ’40s and faded away in the mid-1950s. By then, Hollywood was supposed to draw audiences back to theaters with the advent of television. Everything was widescreen and Technicolor; The entire black look and feel was basically pulled from movie screens and ended up, in most cases, on television in the 50s and early 60s.
Q: With the shadows, silhouettes, and striking compositions of so many films noir, thanks to masters of dark light like John Alton, would you say this is largely a cinematographer’s move?
A: I think it’s important to consider the contribution of all participating artists. From a writing standpoint, by the 1940s you could actually create movies in which the main characters were more or less the villains. “Double Compensation.” “Suspicious.” Our hero plans to commit murder. We cannot ignore the contribution of the authors; what people love is the dialogues in film noir and it’s the language of film noir that keeps it popular; the rigid language of such stories.
Question: Can we talk about the two Chicago noirs in this year’s Noir City roster?
A: “Call Northside 777” was a huge hit in its time. And although “Chicago Deadline” won the Mystery Writers of America award for best picture that year, it wasn’t. It’s been largely forgotten and I’m glad we were able to revive it. We show you what could be the only 35mm print in existence. I’ve always been amazed that Alan Ladd was an overlooked movie star of the time (best known today for “Shane”). The 1949 Alan Ladd version of “The Great Gatsby” is played like a film noir, unlike other versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel that are told on the big screen. IT it smells from noir.
Question: What do you get in Chicago noir that you don’t get in New York or Los Angeles noir?
A: Interesting question. When someone asks how to compare New York and LA noirs, I have the opposite answer: In New York noirs, the camera tilts up and down; Cameras move side to side in LA noirs. And in San Francisco, noirs are ubiquitous because of the hills.
Chicago really can’t escape its gang world image and the shadow of Al Capone. None of the Chicago noirs we show are gang movies per se. But “Call Northside 777” reverts to a crime committed at the height of Prohibition. And there are underworld forces pulling Donna Reed down in “Chicago Deadline.”
In Europe, at the height of noir, any movie set in Chicago, if it didn’t have the word “Chicago” in the title, they would put it there! Thus, the title of the movie “The Narrow Margin” (1952), which started with a train leaving Chicago, became “The Path of the Chicago Express” or something like that.
Q: I’m sure “Chicago Deadline” will be new to most people. This year’s Noir City roster includes several well-known games: “Key Largo”, “The Big Clock”, “The Lady From Shanghai.” There are so many vying for “the title with the most film noir feel” this year. For me it’s a link between “Night Walked”, “Walking Alone”, “City Scream” and “The Naked City”.
A: My programming strategy for “Noir City” has evolved over the years. Showing off was once necessary for me: look at these rare things! After a while you realize: Ah, I guess that’s why a third of the hall is full (laughs). So you have to balance some things. Showing a well-known title is a good strategy. There are plenty of people aged 25-30 who haven’t seen Rita Hayworth or Humphrey Bogart on the big screen.
Question: What was the first film noir you saw as a kid?
A: The first road actually recorded was the “Thieves’ Highway”, 1949 by Jules Dassin. It was set in San Francisco, where I grew up. When I saw the city that no longer exists as it was in 1949, I was so intrigued that I was fascinated to see how films have become the work of their time while preserving what was once there. People are reacting to the anthropology of the cinematic experience. I have fanatical fans in Chicago who, when they see the new cast and realize there’s a Chicago movie in it, will send me great lists of locations showing what scene they shot.
Movies are the collective memory of culture. We are as close to time travel as possible.
“Noir City Chicago” August 25-31 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.; $9-12 for individual screenings, $85-100 for the entire festival, musicboxtheatre.com
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.