Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jason goes to Not Necessarily Noir II--BLOW OUT and BRAINSTORM

A couple more Not Necessarily Noir films at the Roxie last night. But first, since the series title begs the question, let's consider whether they really can be classified as film noir. I will use my favorite definition, from the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller. To paraphrase, at the last Noir City he declared that noir doesn't have to be American, Black and White, or even about criminals. It just has to be about people who know they're doing the wrong thing but choose to do it anyway.

By that standard, THE KILLERS was certainly noir. PLAY MISTY FOR ME is...borderline. Evelyn certainly did the wrong thing, but if she was crazy did she really know it was wrong? More importantly, is the movie really about her, or about Dave Garver, who arguably did nothing wrong? I'll score that (if anyone cares) as "not noir."

Now on to BLOW OUT (1981). A Brian De Palma classic, in his full-on sleazy Hitchcock mode. John Travolta plays a movie sound engineer who is an "ear-witness" to a car accident, where he jumps into the water and saves a woman. Thing is, he was sure (and has it on tape) that there were two bangs in the blow out. First a gun shot, then the tire blew out. But no one believes him, the official report is that it was a freak accident. And oh yeah, Governor Ryan, the leading presidential candidate died in that accident, and nobody seems to care about investigating further (as an aside, it was pretty silly that the news reports showed polls that Governor Ryan leading the unnamed "President" by a wide margin.) But Travolta conducts his own investigation--trying to protect the girl and get the video footage from a slovenly Dennis Franz who just "happened" to be testing some high speed film that night and caught the crash on film. Oh yeah, and he goes up against a diabolical John Lithgow. And, without any spoilers, I just have to say I loved, loved, loved the ending.

Is it noir? Maybe half. There are definitely people (mostly John Lithgow, but also some unknown powers behind him) knowingly doing bad. But it's not really his character's story. Certainly there are enough noir elements to qualify.


And then BRAINSTORM (1965) stormed my brain. Jim Grayam (Jeff Hunter) finds a car on the railroad tracks with a woman (Anne Francis) passed out in the front seat. He saves her, and then finds out she's Lorrie Benson. That's a bit awkward, because her husband Cort Benson (Dana Andrews) is his employer--he's a scientist working on the moon shot. When he delivers her home, her husband is grateful but she screams about how it had taken her 6 months to work up the nerve, and calls her husband a sadist. But the next time Jim sees Lorrie, she's all perky and slightly drunk. She drags him off to a party where in spite of himself he A) has fun, and B) falls for her. That's a big problem because Mr. Benson is a man of means and, as it turns out, sadistic enough to try to drive him crazy. But Jim finally hatches a plan--kill Benson, but pretend to be insane so he'll get away with it. But is there a difference between pretending to be insane and actually being insane? Beautifully twisted!

Is it noir? Oh, most definitely.

On little comment, the Roxie tried and tried but could not get Warner Brothers to release their archive film print of BRAINSTORM. So they played it on digital, which was...okay. I could see a few digital artifacts, but nothing too distracting. I'm not a hard-liner, I love film but I'm not afraid of digital. I've certainly seen worse than this, and mostly have trained myself to ignore it. And a clean, high resolution, artifact free digital print vs. a grainy, scratched, deteriorated film--I'd prefer digital. But in this case I was left just slightly wishing for a film print.

Total Running Time: 221 minutes
My Total Minutes: 254,805
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