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Film Noir Foundation founder/president Eddie Muller is always on the case. Just a week before the second annual Noir City DC film festival was set to begin, Washington City Paper tracked him down in France at the Grand Lyon Film Festival where he was presenting on the art of noir. Muller found a few minutes to email us about festival favorites, his ongoing efforts to unearth buried classics, and the bleak fatalism of a proper noir protagonist.
CP: Talk a little bit about the selection process for compiling the films for Noir City DC. What are you especially excited to screen?
Muller: We’ve found that it’s useful to book established classics with lesser known rarities. So while I’m always thrilled to present such critically recognized films as Out of the Past, Gun Crazy, and The Killers, my greatest satisfaction comes in being able to find, and screen, unjustly neglected gems like Alias Nick Beal, Shakedown, and Wicked as They Come.
CP: How difficult is it to track down lesser known films? Are there any favorites you’ve been hunting down but still haven’t come across?
Muller: Tracking down some of these films has almost become my full time job. I’m in France right now hoping to discover some films in the archives not available in the states. It’s the independently produced films made back in the original noir era (1944-1960) that are most in danger of disappearing. Right now we are restoring a terrific 1950 film called Cry Danger that was the only film ever produced by Olympic Pictures. Even though it had big stars Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming, it’s become an orphan because it was not produced by a major studio. A film we uncovered several years ago, Woman on the Run, I just screened here at the Lyon Film Festival and it is being hailed by the French cinephiles as a major rediscovery. I had to show a digital copy that I made from the only known 35mm print, which was lost in a fire at the studio vault where it was found. I’m hoping that we’ll find another print in an overseas archive somewhere.
CP: To what do you attribute the genre’s lasting appeal?
Muller: The incredible style of the films which we cannot recreate today without being ironic. The scripts are so punchy and witty, the direction so lean and energetic. The films are the height of Hollywood style, yet they seem unpretentious compared to what passes for “style” today.
CP: What is your take on contemporary interpretations of noir such as HBO’s “Bored to Death”and Rian Johnson’s Brick?
Muller: I haven’t seen “Bored to Death,” but I imagine it’s a “post-modern” parody of the genre since that’s really all writers and directors can do with the genre now. I liked Brick, mainly because it gave its teenagers the language of those great hardboiled novels. A conceit, to be sure, but it was nice to see kids enjoying a film filled with full-blown dialogue that didn’t talk down to them. I was prepared to hate it, but actually found it smart and amusing.
CP: Ultimate protagonist: Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe?
Muller: I love them both, but to me neither are the ultimate noir detective. That would have to be Jeff Markham/Bailey, played by Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past. In true noir, the detective doesn’t make it back to the office. It doesn’t end well.
Noir City DC will run from October 24th to November 3rd at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. www.afi.com/silver