Walk Away From the Light
Cinema Club showcases overlooked noirs
Cry Danger. The Prowler. Even the titles drip with menace. These are classic noir films from the Fifties – prototypical examples of "otherwise average people doing dreadful things out of desperation" – but chances are, you've never heard of them. Eddie Muller wants to do something about that.
A film scholar and former journalist, Muller founded the Film Noir Foundation (www.filmnoirfoundation.org), a nonprofit dedicated to education and preservation efforts (its advisory board includes James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane). Next week, Muller will present newly restored prints of Cry Danger and The Prowler at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz as part of the Drafthouse's ongoing Cinema Club, a classic film series that pairs underseen movies with experts in the field.
Austin Chronicle: So why have these two films fallen to the wayside, and why are they worth resurrecting?
Eddie Muller: They're worth resurrecting because they're great films. You would think, if a film's great, it's not going to disappear off the cultural radar screen. But what I've discovered is that it happens to independently produced and financed films. You know, all the talk these days of independent filmmaking – a lot of people might mistakenly assume that's something relatively new. It's been happening since the very beginning of cinema. ...
It really has a lot to do with merger mania and big entities buying vast film libraries, and in the back and forth things just slip through the cracks because they don't belong to a major studio. The Film Noir Foundation does a lot of work with the major studios trying to enlighten them as to great films that they may have in their vaults and that they're unaware of.
When it comes to restorations like The Prowler and Cry Danger, those are titles that we feel – they're orphans. They have no one supporting them or looking out for their well being. ... So they're orphans and they need a foster parent, and that's where the Film Noir Foundation comes in.
AC: It's a real ticking-clock situation, with the degradation of film prints.
EM: The art form is relatively new. Ages ago, centuries ago, people understood what was required to preserve a painting. They're only finding out now what the actual shelf life of a film under normal storage circumstances is.
AC: You're obviously hugely passionate as both a film scholar and preservationist. Can you pinpoint when the spark first happened for you and film noir?
EM: I have traced it back to Thieves' Highway. Whether that's actually the film or not, I don't really know. But it makes sense to me, 'cause it's set in San Francisco [where Muller lives]. I do remember seeing that at a very, very impressionable age on television. And I think that's what made me look for other films like that – you know, set in the big city, at night, all the minimalist psychodrama that you get out of film noir. Not that I described it that way at 14.
The other reason, I believe, is because my father was a newspaper man, and I was born very late in his life, and he was a much older man when I was in my teens, and I really felt that the movies were what gave me an insight into the era in which he was in his prime.
The whole mid-20th century America world – which is when I think America was at its absolute zenith – to me, when I really intellectualize it, that's what I think appealed to me about film noir. America was at its peak in the immediate postwar years. They had saved the world! ... But what's so interesting about film noir is that it represents the beginning of the end. It's in those films that you see a depiction of America losing its innocence. ... In the 1960s, everything that the country represented in the first half of the century is subverted, and the country is totally different.
The Prowler screens Sunday, July 11, at 7pm, and Cry Danger screens Monday, July 12, at 7pm, with Eddie Muller in attendance at both screenings. Tickets available at www.originalalamo.com.
Marc Savlov, Fri., June 1, 2007
Kate X Messer, Fri., Jan. 13, 2006
Andy Campbell, Fri., March 15, 2013
Amy Smith, Fri., March 15, 2013
Leah Churner, Fri., March 15, 2013
Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 15, 2013
Patrick Courtney, Fri., March 15, 2013
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