Sunday, January 24, 2016

Humoresque (1946)

Screen capture from Warner DVD.
WHO: Joan Crawford and John Garfield star in this.

WHAT: Another film I've yet to see and am excited to. Here's what Noir City festival honcho Eddie Muller had to say about this film when I interviewed him last week (but couldn't fit into my Keyframe article):
I could argue that Humoresque is Joan Crawford's best performance. What interests me about it is it's not Joan being Joan. She plays a very different character, very vulnerable, and trying to be a big woman and kind of failing and breaking down. It's really dramatic. She's just great in it and I think I said in my notes something along the lines of that it's one of those Hollywood movies where you can see every calculated thing in it, just how archly melodramatic the whole thing is, and it doesn't matter. It's almost like its incredible theatricality is what makes it so emotionally affecting. It really is a powerful film. And to see Hollywood go all out in a film about classical music in both of those movies, it's like Hollywood treating classical music like there's no higher art form in the world. And to see the special effects, and how they make John Garfield a musician with very complicated effects that aren't in the camera. These are physical effects that are just extraordinary. Garfield is a multi-armed character when he's playing, you know: one arm belongs to somebody and another arm belongs to somebody else. Unbelievable. You honestly can't tell.
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre, with showtimes scheduled at 3:50 and 8:45.

WHY: There's a tendency, when viewing films in pairs, as the hardcore denizens of Noir City do this week thanks to its double-feature format, to compare one film against the other as if they're in competition. I do the same thing myself sometimes, as when I say things like "Rear Window is a better movie than The Public Eye, but I preferred seeing the latter Friday night because its 35mm print looked a lot better than the Rear Window DCP did." It's more fruitful to consider the ways a pair of films can build upon each other, deepening both viewing experiences, as the colliding of two films about ethically questionable Manhattan photographers did for the opening of the Noir City festival.

Last night's pairing of pitch-black noirs from Argentina and Sweden, Fernando Ayala's The Bitter Stems and Hasse Ekman's Girl With Hyacinths, is another example. These films were clearly not just chosen to be together because they're both extremely pessimistic, because they both tangentially fit into this year's "Art of Darkness" Noir City theme, or because they're both featured in recent or upcoming (New York City) MoMA retrospectives. All of the above is true, but is overshadowed by the films' fundamental connection despite being made six years and over eight thousand miles apart from each other: both films are obsessed with their nation's neutrality during World War II. This is something I'd enjoy writing about in much greater depth (after a second viewing of each film, too, ideally). But for now I'm just going to avoid talking about which of the two films is "better" than the other, as I overheard many do as I left the Castro last night, and focus on the ways each film strengthens the other in my memory as I think about them a day later.

On the heels of that, it seems funny to comment on today's double-bill of musician-themed melodramas featured on the cover of the gorgeous program book available only to Castro attendees this week (and a reason alone for noir-loving shut-ins to buy at least one ticket to the festival). I believe it's the first time Noir City has paired a Joan Crawford film (Humoresque) with a Bette Davis one (Deception) on the same double-bill. Going way back to the second Noir City festival in 2004, there were three "Crawford vs. Stanwyck" double-bills that year (this year Barbara Stanwyck appears separately, in tomorrow night's The Two Mrs. Carrolls), but the famous history of the Davis/Crawford rivalry really invites the audience to make today's pairing into a competition (perhaps especially so on a day when spandex-clad gladiators compete for a trip to Frisco Bay next week). Just a reminder that this might not always such a productive way to view movies, as one can be appreciated without having to be "better" than the other one...

HOW: Today's films are both screening in 35mm; according to the aforementioned program book, all upcoming Noir City screenings are expected to employ 35mm prints except for The Picture of Dorian Gray, which screens from a Blu-Ray, and Corridor of Mirrors, The Red Shoes, and Blow Up, which screen from DCP.


  1. Great post! This is my first Noir City SF (I've been to the one in DC) and am loving it. Really enjoyed the Davis/Crawford match-up tonight (even despite the technical problems during HUMORESQUE).

  2. Thanks for the comment, Andy! I wish that the technical snafus hadn't appeared right during the montage sequence- perhaps the highlight of the movie for me. But I don't mind these occasional blips as part of the price of showing rare 35mm prints. Have you found a favorite spot in the Castro to watch from?