Noir City 2017

Selections from the heist-themed Film Noir festival.

The Noir City film festival returned to the Castro Theater. This year’s theme: heists and bank robberies.

The Film Noir genre is characterized by:

  • realism and grit
  • hopelessness, disillusionment, and alienation
  • narrative driven by psyche, not action
  • one avoidable, fated mistake sets the character on the path to ruin

The films I enjoyed:

Rififi (1955, France; trailer)

The thirty-minute jewelry store robbery scene sets the standard for all later films: devoid of dialogue and music, but filled with tension and sweat.

The characters in Rififi and other movies smoke to pass the time during the heist. I would be sad to see someone named Tony “le Stéphanois” check his cell phone in an updated version.

The Killing (1956, USA; trailer)

A nonlinear story that shows the heist from the perspective of each thief.

Some film noir have a happy ending that was clearly not in the original script. The Killing is not that kind of noir.

Stanley Kubrick’s first major film.

The Ladykillers (1955, UK; clip)

A gang executes a perfect caper but kill each other as they avoid murdering the landlady.

Comedy; starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

Blue Collar (1978, USA; trailer)

I will remember three things about this movie:

  • the empathy it invoked
  • the circumstances which force them to turn on each other: “They pit the lifers against the new boys, the old against the young, the black against the white.”
  • the inventive mechanic in the opening credits: the song pauses to reveal the underlying clanks of the auto plant

Richard Pryor stars in a dramatic role.

Straight Time (1978, USA; trailer)

Dustin Hoffman is released from prison and fails to turn his life around. A reflection on the role of pride in the seemingly-avoidable but fated noir downfall.

Asphalt Jungle (1950, USA; trailer)

The prototype for all later noir heists.

The film features memorable characters, including Marilyn Monroe’s break-out role and a brutish, unrelenting Sterling Hayden.

Cruel Gun Story (1964, Japan)

Jô Shishido’s gangster is the epitome of cool:

  • popped collars
  • sunglasses inside
  • no sunglasses outside
  • an alternatively rugged and comical face from the cheek augmentation surgery the actor undertook to boost his tough-guy profile

Everyone dies badly.