Monday, January 28, 2013

Jason goes to NOIR CITY--Day 3

Last Sunday night (actually, all day, but I saw the evening show because I was volunteering at Niles during the day) was a double feature of Hollywood Noir. Starting with an absolute classic...

SUNSET BLVD. (1950): If we want to get really technical, the title of the film is revealed in the opening shot of the curb showing the street name. Since the street name is abbreviated on the curb, the correct title is SUNSET BLVD. (the abbreviation and the period are part of the title.)

But I digress. The important thing is this is an absolutely brilliant movie. I had seen it a couple of times before, but only on home video. Not only was this the first time I've seen it on the big screen, it's the first time I've seen it since becoming a silent film fan and knowing at least something of Gloria Swanson's silent film career. And it turns out that knowing Swanson's silent film work...is kinda cool, but not necessary. In fact, Norma Desmond is such an over-the-top character that Swanson disappears in the role. Yes, it's cool to see Swanson's actual publicity pictures populate the house as old photos of Norma Desmond. What's cooler is immediately recognizing her butler Max is Erich Von Stronheim, who actually did direct Swanson. It's cool to know when she's doing a Chaplin impersonation she's not just impersonating that famous little tramp we've all seen on stage, she's impersonating a personal friend and colleague (Chaplin actually auditioned--and rejected--her for a role in his first Essanay short HIS NEW JOB (1915), but she shows up in a minor role anyway.) It's cool that when she talks about a friend who was a stunt double for Pearl White, I know that Pearl White was the star of the PERILS OF PAULINE serials. And it was especially cool to see it all with an audience that (for the most part) knew all that as well. My favorite moment was when Buster Keaton appears on screen for just a few seconds (as one of her old friends who comes by to play bridge. He has exactly two line--"Pass." and "Pass." Of course, he never smiles.) The audiences sighed (knowing his sad decline after his heyday) and then burst into applause. Eddie Muller said after the movie that both films of the night might have gotten their best screenings ever, and I might just have to agree.

On a side note, this was the premiere (well, actually the second public screening, the 3:00 show was the premiere) of the brand new 4K digital restoration of the film, and it looked absolutely fantastic. I know plenty of film purists who would have paroxysms over the idea of such a classic film being shown digitally. And believe me, I've seen plenty of crummy looking digital projections. But this was amazing. I know I was watching digital, but several times I caught myself marveling at the visible grain of the film. I'm sure people with more fine-tuned eyes can still insist that film is "warmer" or "richer" or "lusher." For me, the only difference was that there weren't any scratches, dirt, or other minor film artifacts. I think it's time to stop just talking about "film vs. digital" and start talking about "good film vs. bad (damaged, etc.) film vs. good digital vs. bad (low-res, poorly projected, etc.) digital." There's no doubt in my mind I would've rather seen this good (great...excellent...practically perfect) digital projection than a bad film projection.

You might have noticed I haven't given a synopsis of the film at all. That's intentional. You shouldn't read about it, you should just go see.

Then the second film of the night was a wonderfully weird supernatural thriller REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947): Just before midnight on New Year's Eve of 1946 (about to start 1947) Sheila Page (Joan Leslie) shoots her husband Barney (Louis Hayward) dead. The reasons aren't explained (although they become clear soon enough) but she freaks out, runs away, and goes to find her producer (she's a Broadway star) John Friday (Tom Conway.) On her way, she makes a wish just at the stroke of midnight that she could go back and live the last year differently. And her wish comes true, but the time she gets to Friday's door it's New Year's Eve of 1945/46. And so begins a very noir-ish year with Fate as the heavy. A love triangle, some manipulative bitches, a drunk husband, and an awesome twist ending. Loved it.

Total Running Time: 201 minutes
My Total Minutes: 311,892
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