Saturday, January 30, 2016

Scarlet Street (1945)

WHO: Fritz Lang directed this, and Edward G. Robinson starred in it.

WHAT: A remake of Jean Renoir's 1931 masterpiece La Chienne, about an amateur artist who finds himself taken advantage of by a conspiracy of small-time criminals, Scarlet Street has a darker ending than Renoir's original, and is frequently cited as an important piece of the mid-1940s film noir cycle.  As "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller wrote in the conclusion of his two-part Keyframe article on the film, it marked a key moment in Lang's career. Quoting from Muller's article:
Starting with Scarlet StreetLang claimed that all his films “wanted to show that the average citizen is not very much better than a criminal.” We must always be on guard from ourselves, and our deepest desires. Lang’s early films displayed a dark fascination with the vagaries of fate. After Scarlet Street that changed.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens at the Castro Theatre today only at 4:15 PM.

WHY: I didn't have time to ask Muller about Scarlet Street when I interviewed him recently, so I won't be publishing more outtakes from our conversation here, but I did want to highlight this film as a true film noir masterpiece that completely fits this year's Noir City "Art of Darkness" theme. In fact when I first heard the theme announced this was the first film that came to mind as an obvious program choice (even though it has screened at a prior Noir City festival, back in 2007). Since I've not seen Specter of the Rose yet, I can also say that it may be your last chance to see a true film noir masterpiece at this year's festival, as while tonight's other presentation, The Red Shoes is an incredible, very dark film, and a perfect fit in this year's artist-centric program, it's still a far cry from film noir. Meanwhile tomorrow's Peeping Tom/Blow Up pairing, while also arguable masterpieces, treads into the territory of the noir-influenced sixties art film, out of film noir itself. That's okay. They're a great way to close the program by shepherding the audience out of the chiaroscuro world we've inhabited for the past week or so.

Last year's Noir City wrapped up with a sixties double-bill as well, a The Honeymoon Killers and Seconds pairing that seemed to blow every mind in the theatre. Seconds makes its way back to Frisco a year later as the closer for the Roxie's February 5-7 "Mad Men Weekend" featuring film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz introducing four excellent movies that influenced that recent TV hit's aesthetic. The program includes another previous Noir City closing film, The Sweet Smell of Success, as well as Billy Wilder's The partment and Frank Perry's bizarre, amazing The Swimmer. Though the Roxie indicates these all as digital presentations, the Film On Film Foundation seems to have other information about Seconds being shown on 35mm, though as I recall that site originally listed its Noir City screening last year as being in that format, which was not borne out at the actual showing. Other upcoming 35mm Roxie showings include two pre-Valentine's showings of John Waters's Polyester (in Odorama!), and, on February 25, Too Late, the experimental 2015 neo-noir closing Indiefest this year.

Meanwhile, I picked up a paper copy of the new Castro schedule and was able to see the back page, which lists the formats of each film screening (along with succinct and usually-enticing program descriptions) before the information appears on the theatre's website. My previous posting that rounded-up the upcoming programs there would have been more effusive had I seen it in time. lmost everything I'd hoped to be screened on 35mm will be, including every single one of the films shot by departed cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Obviously I will be skipping the live Oscar broadcast in order to watch a 35mm print of Heaven's Gate February 28- I've been waiting many years for such a screening (I've never seen this film before at all). Might as well make it a marathon that day, too, with its double-bill-mate America America being shown on 35mm as well. (I feel a bit stupid for not having immediately recognized that the Zsigmond films all partner with a film shot by another recently-deceased master DP,  Haskell Wexler- all his films show on 35mm as well. Maybe because I've seen fewer of them; Bound For Glory will also be a first for me). I also got word on the pre-code Wednesday formats: all the screenings will be 35mm except for Safe in Hell and The Bitter Tea of General Yen, which makes me very excited indeed. Especially for the back half of the opening program: Two Seconds, starring Scarlet Street protagonist Edward G. Robinson.

HOW: Scarlet Street screens today as part of an all-35mm triple-bill also including John Brahm's excellent Hitchcock remake The Lodger and Edgar G. Ulmer's Bluebeard. 

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