Noir City film festival shakes up the Music Box Theatre

Movie fans will meet beautiful dames with flirty eyes and murder on their minds and fast-talking guys with lust in their eyes as they enter the world of film noir during the 8th annual Noir City: Chicago 8 film festival at the Music Box Theatre starting Friday, Aug. 19, and running through Aug. 25. Photo still from The Big Combo (1955) illustrating typical visual traits found in film noir. Photo still from The Big Combo (1955) illustrating typical visual traits found in film noir. The festival, which will feature 19 films, and kicks off with the Coen Brothers' Miller’s Crossing (1990), is made possible through a partnership between the Music Box and the Film Noir Foundation. Started in 2005 by founder and president, Eddie Muller, the Film Noir Foundation began after the success of its first festival in San Francisco (home to the largest Noir City film festival). The foundation sees noir as a classic American cinematic movement that has cultural and artistic value for movie-goers. In addition to the festival, the foundation also publishes a quarterly e-publication, Noir City, to further emphasize the importance of film noir. Film noir, which is French for black film, was a term coined by the French movie critic Nino Frank in 1946 to describe American movies that Frank observed dealt with dark subject matters. While the term may be French, Muller points out that noir has its roots in 1930s American crime stories written by Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain due to their “hard-boiled attitude and vernacular language.” The original film movement, which lasted between 1944 and 1952, may conjure images of dark alleys, smoke-filled bars, low-key lighting, tough-as-nails detectives and femme fatales that lure men into committing murder. It “represented the apex of American style,” says Muller “which today’s audiences clearly savor.” That is evident in the many examples of modern film noir seen today. The most popular examples of modern film noir may be in films made by the Coen Brothers. The influence of classic film noir is seen in movies such as The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996). There is also David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001) and David Mamet films such as The Spanish Prisoner (1997) and Heist (2001). Of course these films may not have existed were it not for the classic Hollywood films that came before them, which will be featured at this year’s festival. The movies being screened are a combination of well-known titles such as Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster; Meet Danny Wilson (1951) with Frank Sinatra; and Young Man with a Horn (1950) directed by Michael Curtiz, best known for Casablanca (1942)  and starring Kirk Douglas. Plus lesser-known titles such as the Argentinian Los Tallos Amargos (The Bitter Stems, 1956), which the foundation helped restore, and Deep Valley (1947) with Ida Lupino. Several additional titles being screened are not currently available on DVD in the U.S., making the festival one of the few chances movie fans will get to see them, including Destiny (1944) screening on Aug. 21, Flesh and Fury (1952) screening on Aug. 21 and Aug. 25, Outside the Wall (1950) screening on Aug. 22 and Shakedown (1950) screening Aug. 22. The appeal of film noir has not faded away, as seen not only by recent modern examples but as the foundation notes their Noir Ciry film festival is now held in many cities around the country including Seattle, Detroit, Austin and Washington D.C. Noir films are continuously being released on DVD and Blu-ray. This November Kino Lorber will be releasing six new titles on Blu-ray. And now, movie fans in Chicago, not familiar with film noir, will be able to see what makes many of these films so influential and why film noir continues to excite fans. Visit the Music Box Theatre website here for a complete schedule of the Noir City film festival as well as tickets. For more information on the Film Noir Foundation, visit their website here.
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Alex Udvary