Saturday, February 12, 2011


“I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked. I didn't know where she lived. I never followed her. All I ever had to go on was a place and time to see her again. I don't know what we were waiting for. Maybe we thought the world would end.”

--Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947)

With a subtle tip of the fedora, harsh-lit under a streetlamp on a corner that has seen better, happier days, the good work is almost ready to begin. Monday, February 14 (Valentine’s Day to all you sentimental saps), marks the start of the second annual For the Love of Film Preservation Blog-a-thon. This one being a slightly more focused affair in terms of subject matter, the official title is the For the Love of Film (Noir) Film Preservation Blog-a-thon. The 2011 blog-a-thon will focus exclusively on that organic product of post-war disillusionment and cynicism that resulted in so much deeply imagined atmosphere and economic, fleet-of-mind storytelling, the subgenre of subversion and bleak fate and bad luck that became so prevalent it became a full-on genre all its own, known to cinephiles and casual observers alike as film noir.

The fund-raising effort, which gathered plenty of media attention and well-deserved gratitude last year, is being spearheaded again by its founders, both of them the pride of film bloggers everywhere— the talented and lovely Farran Smith Nehme, a.k.a. the Self-Styled Siren and Marilyn Ferdinand, proprietor of the much appreciated Ferdy on Films blog and all-around good egg. (I call her a good egg because she is, but also as a way of oh-so-casually dropping the fact that she recently blessed and approved my personal recipe for poached eggs done courtesy of the office-friendly microwave oven.)

All these two women did with the first Film Preservation Blog-a-thon in 2010 was raise $30,000 in donations and matching funds for the National Film Preservation Foundation, which is dedicated to saving that most endangered of film species, the earliest, most precious and even the most disregarded of silent films. The blog-a-thon itself boasted 108 separate literary contributions from 81 bloggers around the world and received credit for preserving two important short films dating from the first decade of the 20th century (That’s about 100 years ago to you and me.)

So why not an encore, they said? Why not indeed? Everyone knows (or rather, it’s easy to presume that everyone knows) because of the aging process and general instability of nitrate film, combined with the fact that films in the silent era often weren’t considered worth keeping around or taking care of in the fist place, we are still very much in danger of losing a great chunk of film history due to simple ignorance and neglect. The ascendance of what we think of as Film Noir dates approximately from the postwar era-- around 1945-- through around 1960 (though the film often cited as the first major example of the form was released in 1940) and is a much more recent occurrence on the film history timeline. But even so, the simple fact is that prints and negatives from very era of film are being lost every year. Whole films have simply disappeared and will continue to do so without the concerted efforts of folks like Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation, the beneficiary of this year’s online preservation fund-raising effort. As Marilyn wrote in her post announcing this year’s affair, “You might be able to find some obscure noir films on an old VHS tape or recorded off TV, the print scratchy, missing scenes, or studded with commercials. That’s no way to treat a film. There is simply nothing like seeing these films the way they were meant to be seen. By helping the FNF, you will be supporting the important preservation and exhibition work they do, not only for American noir films, but also for those produced all over the world.”

That’s the fact, Jack. To help organize this year’s effort, Farran and Marilyn have put together a very informative Facebook page dedicated to getting the word out about the latest developments and participants in the Film Noir Blog-a-thon. Here you’ll find links to information about the films, the donation locations and much, much more. But that’s what we who are pitching in with our dollars and our dedicated typing fingers are here to do too—get the word out. Last year no one knew exactly in what direction the funds raised would be directed. This year we know.

Back in 1950, Cy Endfield (who would soon face troubles more immediate than disintegrated film stock in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee) directed a terrific, brutal drama entitled The Sound of Fury (a.k.a. Try and Get Me). The film is a loose remake of the same story Fritz Lang told in Fury (1936), this time around starring Lloyd Bridges as a nasty sociopath who manipulates a well-meaning, unemployed schmoe (Frank Lovejoy) into becoming the getaway driver for a series of smash-and-grab robberies that soon escalate into kidnapping. As Marilyn claims, Bridges probably never had a better role, certainly not one more radically opposed to the kind of genial work he became known for in television. But more to the point of the work of the Film Noir Foundation, a nitrate print of the film will be restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, using a reference print from Martin Scorsese’s personal collection as a template from which gaps and missing artifacts of picture and sound can be restored. According to Marilyn, Paramount Pictures, which now owns the film, has agreed to help fund the restoration, but the Film Noir Foundation is going to need all the help it can get in order to come up with the lettuce it’s going to take to finance this deal. Enter Farran, Marilyn and all of us who will be participating over the coming week in the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blog-a-thon.

The process of donating through PayPal couldn’t be easier. Just click on the button on the sidebar of this blog, or here even—each person participating in the event will have a similar easy-to-manipulate donation button on their blog page right next to their essay. Take the time to visit Farran or Marilyn or the FTLOFNB Facebook page for the most updated list of links to contributing bloggers. It’s a list that will be full to bursting with great writing as well as incredible observations about the genre and film history. You are virtually guaranteed to learn something new about this beloved film form by the simple act of visiting these blogs and donating a sliver of your hard-earned dollar toward making sure that future generations will be able to appreciate films like The Sound of Fury and many others, obscure and well-known, films which make up just a small portion of the rich history of the movies.

My own contributions this week (the writing kind) will focus on examples of film noir from the earliest stages of its development up through one of the best late-period examples of the genre, itself rooted in the literary branch of the hard-boiled school of snub-nosed criminal hard knocks crystallized and perfected by late-period writers like Jim Thompson and Richard Stark. I’ll start off with a look at Boris Ingster’s 1940 B-movie Stranger on the Third Floor, a low-budget programmer that is often given credit for sparking the style and tone of film noir itself. Soon-to-be noir icon Elisha Cook Jr. has a featured role, but the advertising was built around the participation of Peter Lorre, already known to audiences as Mr. Moto and a familiar face from films directed by Fritz Lang (M) and Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much). Lorre’s role as the Stranger was meant to evoke comparisons with his queasily sympathetic child molester in M, but even if Ingster’s film didn’t cut nearly as deep as Lang’s it still cemented Lorre and the sinister figure he cut in the shadows as a primal iconographic archetype in the spirit of the evolution of film noir.

And then later in the week I’ll take a look at one of my favorite undervalued films noir from the early ‘70s, John Flynn’s blunt-edged adaptation of Richard Stark’s The Outfit (1973). The movie stars Robert Duvall as Parker in the same basic plot John Boorman adapted from Stark six years earlier in Point Blank, but Flynn eschews Boorman’s post-modern flourishes in favor of a brusque, dusty, blue-collar feel that works wonderfully, even if it is considerably different from both Stark’s impressionistic book and Flynn’s original intent. Flynn’s film of The Outfit has connections to the history of film noir around every darkened corner, and I hope to have some fun (which will be translated to you) sussing those connections out. Then, if time allows, a visual surprise or two.

If you have your own blog and have not yet committed to write for this year’s blog-a-thon, it is not too late. Just register your intent, post the donation link and have at it. If you’re just in it for the good reading, a hearty welcome to you as well. You can still click the “donate” button on whatever blog you’re visiting and participate with your monetary help.

Greg Ferrara has even designed a beautiful trailer for the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blog-a-thon that will stir your senses and get you excited for all the wonderful stuff that awaits in the coming week. Press play, give in and join the fun. It’s the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blog-a-thon all this coming week, February 14-21 at a favorite blog near you. To paraphrase Steve Brodie in Out of the Past, a dame with a rod may be like a guy with a knitting needle, but a blog with a FTLOFN button and a post on Jacques Tourneur or Audrey Totter is like a foggy night where the only things you can see are the darkened street, your own breath rising from your clenched, chapped lips, and all the things that can go wrong racing through your mind one after the other. In other words, a little bit of heaven (and hell) on earth brought to you courtesy of the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blog-a-thon.



Marilyn said...

Dennis - I consider your microwave poached-egg recipe a service to humanity the equal of or better than film preservation. Because some people don't want to watch a movie, but everyone will always need to eat eggs!

Honestly, thanks for this post and for your participation. I'm looking forward to reading your always-fine writing and sharing it with the other readers on the blogthon home page. It's going to be a very fun week!

Duke said...

Dennis, interesting you don't differentiate between the original noir era that most consider ended in 1958 with Well's Touch of Evil, and neo-noir like The Outfit.

Do you see a difference in films like The Outfit that intentionally draw on noir elements in a self-aware style and those earlier movies that didn't? The style they brought to the screen were intended to dramatically point out plot elements rather than copy formulas set out by earlier films as The Outfit does.

Just interested in your opinion.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Duke, I definitely think there's a difference. I believe the movies as self-conscious as Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (great) and Michael Winner's remake of The Big Sleep (um, not at all great), as well as a less self-conscious effort like The Outfit, belong within the same general tradition of film noir. But even The Outfit is self-conscious enough, particularly in its casting, to also function as a reflection of the original movement as much as an extension of it. So yeah, I think I do draw the distinction you expressed in your comment. The problem was that my writing didn't adequately (or at all!) reflect that itself. I'll see if I can go back and rejigger that a bit. Thanks!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Marilyn, I had some eggs last night that were sooooo good that I am almost moved to back your magnanimous and gracious declaration. But I cannot. Jane Greer would never forgive me. And believe me, when I stare into those eyes I care deeply about what she thinks. End of the world indeed!

Duke said...

To me, film noir presented an era in American culture as much as film technique or story. The disillusionment we had after seeing the horrors men were capable of inflicting on each other made it impossible to return to the Capra fantasy, pre-WW2. The films turned bitter, dark, and pessimistic as had much of our population.

Once you get into the 60's those people were being replaced by the baby boomers who didn't know WW2 but were seeing discrimination, Viet Nam, and social injustice. They gave rise to Catch 22 and MASH. The film noir period was over.

So to me, once you get past 1960 you're no longer dealing with film noir. The unique circumstances that spawned them went away, replaced by other social drivers. Movies, if nothing else, are cultural markers that reflect our mindset.

Movies made past 1960 are paying homage to the era, but do not belong there. They cannot. Although the tribute they pay to the style and story of noir can be flattering, it is still a tribute and not the real thing.

For example, Sin City is the greatest (to me) tribute of them all. Every line of dialog, photographic angle, lighting, and character contains the essence of all that made noir what it was. Sin City is a towering achievement in cinema history but I don't consider it to be an entry in the film noir genre.

But that's just me. The film noir universe is big enough for everyone!