Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"There was a lot of cigarette smoke, rain and booze"

Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode are on a mission -- to prevent our film-noir heritage from fading away.

Muller is founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation; Rode is on the board of directors. Every year they produce and host the Noir City Film Festival in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The 12th annual festival at the Egyptian Theatre, "Lust & Larceny," opens Friday and continues through April 18. None of the films in the festival, which was co-programmed by the American Cinematheque's Gwen Deglise and Grant Moninger, are available on DVD.

"The type of movie fan that goes down to the Egyptian Theatre is not the same type of person who is going to go in to see 'Double Indemnity' and 'Out of the Past,' because they have seen that," says Rode. "We really believe the obscure films are what draw people into the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood."

Even though the official film-noir period was relatively brief -- 1941 through 1958 -- there were hundreds of films made in the genre during that time. Not only is film noir part of our culture, says Rode, "it is part of our history of the mid-20th century.

"When people went off to war and came back, the country left its adolescence and became adults. Watching 'Andy Hardy' and 'The Thin Man' movies after World War II didn't cut it for audiences because of the life experiences of people."

So heroes became anti-heroes; leading ladies turned into femme fatales who were not above murder to get what they wanted. The films were shot at night, on location. There was a lot of cigarette smoke, rain, booze and fedoras. Humphrey Bogart, Lawrence Tierney, Dick Powell and Richard Conte were among the kings of noir, with Barbara Stanwyck, Claire Trevor, Janis Carter, Cleo Moore and Joan Crawford the queens.

Unfortunately, a lot of these noir greats are disappearing from view. Both Rode and Muller hope the festival will lead the studios to restore, make prints and eventually release these films on DVD.

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