Cold streets, colder hearts, murder announced with gunshots and screeching tires: These are some of the tenets are of the genre known as film noir.
Still, to Eddie Muller – noir expert and programmer of the Noir City festival coming to Seattle’s SIFF Cinema Egyptian from February 16-22 – clichés don’t always tell the whole story.
“I’ve tried to dispel a long-standing and academically foisted notion that the films are male-dominated and misogynistic,” Muller said. “Maybe the culture was back then, but I can show many examples of noir trying to subvert that.”
Muller caught his first noir movies on TV in his early teens.
“I’d cut school to see anything with city, big, street, or night in the title,” he said.
“The great thing about these movies is that because it was a true artistic movement there are many layers to appreciate. If you want to come see a compelling story, brilliantly crafted, with gorgeous actors in stylish clothes spouting great dialogue—we’ve got you covered. If you want to know the cultural, gender, economic, and political factors that drove the movement ... well, there’s some of that, too. I try to make it entertaining, not like a lecture hall.”
The theme of this year’s festival is Film Noir A to B, 1941 to 1953. It’s advertised as showing “A dozen double bills! Classy As and Trashy Bs!”
Film Noir is a French-coined term about American films from the end of World War Two to the mid 1950s, defined as “a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace.”
Muller has published books on noir, founded the Film Noir Foundation “to rescue and restore movies we couldn’t find,” and he hosts a show on Turner Classic Movies. But he still enjoys putting together and hosting each festival.
“And let’s face it,” he adds, “Seattle has the perfect weather for film noir.”
This year’s collection does include some of the noir classics.
“The Maltese Falcon,” is a cynical, claustrophobic tale of losers and no winner, Humphrey Bogart rolling out his best hard-boiled detective showing February 16.
Another classic, “The Big Sleep,” with Bogart romancing Lauren Bacall, in an atmospheric, witty story so convoluted that even William Faulkner, one of the screenwriters, professed not to understand all of its twists will play Feb. 18.
Joined on that date is “Mildred Pierce,” starring Joan Crawford as a woman determined to have it all, no matter who gets hurt … or worse.
But Muller takes at least as much pleasure in the more obscure titles, some of which he’s help rescue from obscurity or even total destruction.
The festival concludes on one such project: A long-obscure independent production, “The Man Who Cheated Himself,” from 1950, starring Lee J. Cobb, in his only starring role, as a police lieutenant roped into murder after his girlfriend, Jane Wyatt, kills her estranged husband.
“All this is very gratifying,” Muller concludes, “given all you hear in the media these days is about people only going to the movies now for big tent-pole attractions.
“If ‘Noir City’ is the first time some young person is seeing a black-and-white film on the big screen—that’s make me proud. I’m doing my job.”
Other movies scheduled during the film fest include Flesh and Fantasy on Feb. 17, The Blue Dahlia on Feb. 18, Bodyguard on Feb. 20 and The Accused on Feb. 21.
View all the movies at www.SIFF.net.