Friday, May 10, 2013

Laura (1944)

WHO: This was Otto Preminger's breakthrough as a producer and director.

WHAT: Most movie lovers have seen Laura. But there's seeing a movie and seeing it. I had popped in a VHS of Laura many years ago when I was first starting to deliberately acquaint myself with film noir, and I enjoyed it and forgot about it, for the longest time thinking of it as an acceptable but probably somewhat overrated example of the genre.

Seeing it last year at the Noir City festival, however, I realized how much I'd misremembered it. Seeing on a small screen, the only elements I'd really remembered were its genteel New York milieu and some vague sense of it as a whodunit. It took watching it from a seat in a low row of the Castro Theatre to sear the film's deep cynicism, its undercurrent of physical and emotional violence, and its remarkable mise-en-scène into my skull. It was like seeing it for the first time and recognizing just why it, along with Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet, played such a role in establishing fatalistic, even disturbing films as a major part of almost every Hollywood studio's production slate in the mid-to-late 1940s. I don't want to say much else, in case you haven't really seen Laura in a long time either, and might be able to take part in its pleasures tonight unsullied by too many expectations.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Show starts at 8:00.

WHY: There are three classic noir films screening in three different Frisco Bay theatres tonight, all made at the Twentieth Century Fox studio. I Wake Up Screaming is the first of thirty titles of varying degrees of rarity, set to screen over the next two weeks at the Roxie; check out Dennis Harvey's excellent preview for more details on the film and the series. Niagara is, in my book, a somewhat better film, an unusual technicolor noir featuring Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and of course Marilyn Monroe. It screens on a Stanford Theatre double-bill also including the color and cinemascope noir A Kiss Before Dying (which is not from Fox, nor have I seen it before).

But Laura is not only the most famous but the best film of the three, in my book. It kicks off the summer season of screenings at the only cinema around that makes the Castro seem a bit humdrum by comparison. The Paramount only occasionally shows movies, so when they play something I've never seen on the big screen, or something good enough to see multiple times, I try to go. Laura qualifies in the latter category, while The Graduate (which plays June 21) and Being There (July 19) qualify under the former. It might be worth seeing Godzilla on that screen, depending on the version being shown (crossing my fingers for an original Japanese-language print) August 9, and just because I've seen North By Northwest on that giant screen before doesn't mean I won't be tempted again August 23rd.

HOW: Laura screens in a 35mm print along with vintage newsreel, cartoon, and trailer(s).

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