An Evening of Evil
Richard Hell hosts a film noir double feature
To paraphrase Richard Hell, blood comes in spurts. In Robert Aldrich's 1955 ultra-noir Kiss Me Deadly, it comes repeatedly, all over the place and totally in your face, accompanied by the staccato report of a snub-nosed .38, a scream offscreen, a dangling doll's fluttering feet, and via the bloodied knuckles of thuggish, private dick Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker). Death and dying and a louche, misogynistic kind of despair encircle everyone and everything in Aldrich's crackerjack car-crash ode to Mickey Spillane's gritty little source novel. It's the best of all possible film noirs and, along with Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, one of the last.
Late of NYC's legendary first-wave punk outfits Television, the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the author, poet, and cineaste-cum-scoundrel Hell will host a double feature at the Alamo Drafthouse's ongoing series Cinema Club, and he's bringing longtime friends Eros and Thanatos along for the ride. Cinematically speaking, that is.
"We went through a long list of films," says Hell, "and Kiss Me Deadly was always one of the movies I had in mind. We finally settled on Touch of Evil for the other one, but the second movie that I was most interested in getting was The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis."
Seriously? Only Richard Hell would dare to program one of the darkest film noirs in cinema history with the antic, Techni-candy-colored fizz of Lewis' wild-eyed comic masterpiece. But it was not to be, thanks to the lack of a suitably unweathered print in Paramount's vaults.
"People have such a scorn for Jerry Lewis," Hell says, "but that movie almost always makes believers out of the skeptics, you know?"
We know. It's one of our favorites, too. But double billing it with Kiss Me Deadly might've resulted in permanent emotional schizophrenia for the audience, so the last minute addition of Welles' equally bleak and thoroughly sadomasochistic hate bomb of a film is altogether apropos in light of Aldrich's lead-in.
"They're both kind of ultimates, in their own ways, of noir filmmaking," says Hell, "so it'll be fun to compare the two and play them off each other."
Indeed. Both films positively reek of humanity gone rancid, spoiled meat, flyblown and death-kissed. Welles, in particular, cast by himself as sleazy, corrupt border town cop Hank Quinlan, oozes a veritable musk of evil throughout the restored classic's grueling, drooling 112 minutes.
"C'mon, read my future for me," the morbidly obese, drunken Quinlan famously asks fortune teller Tanya (Marlene Dietrich).
Her reply? "You haven't got any. Your future is all used up."
Oh, snap! Death becomes him.
Speaking of, "I'm pure evil this week," Hell confides. "I'm up on a mountain in Vermont staying at a house while my friend is in Europe. It's all guns and corruption and evil for me this week."
Fun times and a pitch-perfect personal pathway to noir-lightenment, no? Oh, yeah. Does Hell remember the first time he saw Kiss Me Deadly? It is, after all, one of those films that, once seen, cannot be forgotten.
"I can't remember the first time I saw it," Hell admits, "but I programmed it in this little series I curated in New York in 2004. I was invited by the Howl! Festival to put together a collection of some of my favorite films. The festival was just relentlessly cheerful, you know? It was all about celebrating the East Village and how everyone there was one big community with everybody smiling at each other. That kind of turned me off, so I called my series 'Scowl!' and made it about antisocial films.
"To me, noir is the most interesting type of filmmaking, and these are the two most interesting film noirs. So, you know, seeing both these films on the big screen, as the directors intended, that's gonna be some really dark fun."
Richard Hell will present back-to-back Cinema Club screenings on Sunday, May 27, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Kiss Me Deadly screens at 7:15pm; Touch of Evil screens at 10:15pm. See www.drafthouse.com for ticket info.