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Looking For Noir In San Diego

Poster for the Noir City film festival in San Francisco.

Above: Poster for the Noir City film festival in San Francisco.

Can a sunny locale play host to some of the darkest forms of art? Sure can. Just ask Los Angeles, whose shadows have long fascinated writers of all types. It's inspired many of the world's most well-known crime novels and movies, including several classics of the noir genre.

What about San Diego? We've got our share of shadows too. But our history in the world of noir -- at least the fictional one -- is pretty brief. In the chronicles of noir, we're no L.A. or New York or San Francisco.

Maybe you can help change that.

This weekend, I'm heading to the annual Noir City film festival in San Francisco, the largest celebration of film noir in the country. I'll join hundreds of others at the grand Castro Theater to enjoy the best crime films that the darkest minds of mid-century Hollywood could create. And I'll be thinking of locales back in San Diego that would be perfect for a film noir.

Which remote corners of Balboa Park ooze with menace when the sun goes down? If a scorned woman walks into the ocean to never return like Joan Crawford in "Humoresque," where does she do it?If an adulterous couple plans a murder -- think Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity" -- where do they plot over drinks and cold blood?

In the comments below, tell me where you'd film a noir movie in San Diego and I'll report back after the festival about my favorite dark and seedy spots in San Diego.

And consider this perspective from Eddie "Czar of Noir" Muller, the emcee of the Noir City festival, who answered a query from me this week: "What's great about San Diego is that it gives the illusion of being a paradise while in fact you're cornered: ocean to the west, a foreign country to the south. If you're trying to get away from something, you're out of running room."

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Avatar for user 'Maureen  Cavanaugh'

Maureen Cavanaugh, KPBS Staff | January 23, 2011 at 12:11 p.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

Parts of Raymond Chandler's last novel The Long Goodbye is set in San Diego, and all of his unfinished work Payback is, so we know one of the great Noir writers saw something dark and menacing under San Diego's sunny skies.
I would suggest The Hotel Del and Santa Fe station as evocative daytime locations. Then at night, the shadows and animals of the San Diego Zoo, or the lonely border field state park, where the fence meets the sea.
I can also see the road to Julian, and a little cabin along the way as a Noir-setting, like the cabin in Out of the Past where Robert Mitchum and Janet Greer meet up and murder.
Old Town might make a good location for a murder plot to hatch. I like the San Diego Museum of Modern Art in La Jolla for a scene where the hero crashes an elegant reception. And for a final chase and shoot out, the backstage and basement of Symphony hall has enough dark halls, multi-leveled corridors and steep metal staircases to delight any Noir director.

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Avatar for user 'Jocelyn  Maggard'

Jocelyn Maggard | January 24, 2011 at 12:50 p.m. ― 6 years, 2 months ago

A few years ago I took a California Literature class, in which we read Raymond Chandler's, "The Big Sleep." We talked about some of the reason's California in general makes a great place for Noir fiction. "The Big Sleep" is set in L.A., but like L.A. San Diego also has a port, and we discussed that ports make a great setting for this genre. Firs off, there is a lot of movement in the population. People tend to settle more in rural areas rather than bustling cities. The movement and the bustle allows for crime because people can slip under the radar. Also, ports bring in drugs, and other illegal paraphernalia. Second, the topography, as mentioned in Maureen's post above is a good setting as well. The hills and winding roads allow for more privacy than flat areas. Even though houses are closer together than in the back woods, one may be out of their neighbor's sight based on the way his or her house is situated. As much as Southern California has a sunny and fun dispostion, it still hasd the ability to be a dark and seedy setting.

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