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Noir On The Boulevard Kicks Off With ‘The Maltese Falcon’

Digital Gym Cinema series explores the hard-boiled literary roots of film noir

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) tangles with Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in his film debut) in John Huston's "The Maltese Falcon."

GUEST:

Beth Accomando. KPBS arts reporter and Film Geeks SD programmer

Femme fatales, private dicks, gumshoes, and Mickey Finns ... welcome to the world of film noir. Starting this Sunday at Digital Gym Cinema you can enjoy classic noir every month courtesy of Film Geeks SD.

Film noir is a term French critics came up with to describe a style of filmmaking that developed during and after World War II. It had its roots in the hard-boiled crime fiction of writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain.

What is film noir?

People still argue over the exact definition and whether it is a style or a genre. But classic noir is usually defined as films made between 1941 and late 1950s. It’s marked by a visual style rich in shadows, cigarette smoke, and dimly lit streets. The term literally means black film and the darkness comes not just from the visual style but from the dark motives of the characters. It is a world full of deceit, double crosses and greed with iconic figures like the femme fatale and the gumshoe

The noir style was heavily influenced by the émigré filmmakers working in Hollywood who wanted to tackle something new and darker after all the propaganda war films that Hollywood had been making.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: RKO Pictures

Robert Mitchum plays a former private detective whose past comes back in the shape of Jane Greer's lethal femme fatale in "Out of the Past."

As one of the volunteer programmers of Film Geeks SD, I like to think of myself as a film activist group trying to bring more diverse programming to San Diego. Late last year we took a poll of our Facebook followers about what kind of year-long film programming they'd like to see in 2018. Film noir narrowly beat out Italian genre cinema so we came up with Noir on the Boulevard, a year of classic and neo-noir films. Because noir has its roots in hard-boiled fiction we focused on films that were based on books.

The series kicks off with what is recognized as the film that launched the noir movement, "The Maltese Falcon," which is based on a book by Dashiell Hammett.

This is a classic that just never gets old. In fact the online tickets are already sold out for this Sunday’s show at the Digital Gym Cinema. The film marked John Huston’s first feature directing gig as well as Sydney Greenstreet's film acting debut. But it is Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade who is so memorable. Bogart epitomized the anti-hero who wasn’t about to be duped by the femme fatale played by Mary Astor. This is the film where he famously informs her that he won't "play the sap" for her.

Contemporary or neo-noir

Classic noir such as "The Maltese Falcon" and "Double Indemnity" screen one Sunday a month at 1 p.m., and then every other month we host a contemporary noir on Mondays at 7:30 p.m.

'Brick' Trailer

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'Brick' novella by Rian Johnson

'Brick' novella by Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson wrote "Brick" first as a novella and then as a screenplay. He has both available for free download on his website or you can read his novella here.

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To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

We showcase "Brick," the directorial debut of Rian Johnson who just directed "The Last Jedi," on Jan. 29. The goal in including these more recent films noir was to show the lasting impact of those films from the 1940s. Johnson wrote "Brick" first as a novella and then adapted it to a screenplay with dialogue influenced by Dashiell Hammett and slang from that era of hard-boiled crime fiction.

Here's a typical line of dialogue from Brendan (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt): "Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you."

The film was set at a contemporary high school but the teens all talked like Hammett's characters from the '40s.

In addition to "Brick," the series will also highlight five more contemporary films noir: Robert Altman's adaptation of Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye;" Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway; Joel and Ethan Coen's feature film debut "Blood Simple" starring Frances McDormand; Lawrence Kasdan's "Body Heat" with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner; and John Dahl's "The Last Seduction" starring Linda Fiorentino and Peter Berg.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: United Artists

Lobby card for the film noir "Pitfall" starring Lizabeth Scott, an actress who should have received more recognition.

Noir on the Boulevard highlights

The series not only mixes classic and contemporary noir but also well known and more obscure gems. "The Maltese Falcon," "Double Indemnity," "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Touch of Evil" are probably familiar to many filmgoers. But "The Fallen Sparrow" and "The Fallen Angel," both based on books by female writers, do not play as often and especially not on the big screen. "Pitfall," starring the under-appreciated femme fatale Lizabeth Scott, is also a lesser known noir that deserves to be seen.

The series will also bring in guests to introduce films. Victoria Mature, daughter of actor Victor Mature, will introduce her father's film "I Wake Up Screaming" on Feb. 25 and TCM Noir Alley host Eddie Muller will host the March 11 screening of "This Gun For Hire."

Each month we also highlight the book that the classic noir is based on and ask people to read it before coming to the film. Check out the Noir Book of the Month Club.

Noir on the Boulevard kicks off at 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 28 at Digital Gym Cinema with "The Maltese Falcon" and is followed at 7:30 p.m. on Monday with the neo-noir "Brick."

Check out Cinema Junkie Podcast 134 with Eddie Muller talking about his Noir City Film Festival that opens Friday in San Francisco and about noir in general.

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