That's Noir, Baby. Film Noir!


If there is a current topic better suited than the news biz to the hard-boiled, cinematic stylings of Film noir, then I know it not.

Like this beloved B-movie genre, so, too, is the (once-beloved) newspaper industry black-and-white ... and bruised ... all over. The majority of American newsrooms, sadly, are In a Lonely Place, indeed.

But it ain’t been lonely over at The Castro Theatre during the week-long run of Deadline: Noir City, The 7th Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival (through Sun., Feb. 1).

Even with long lines peopled by Fedora-ed fans and a slightly stale whiff of newsroom guts and glory wafting about the theater, single tickets remain for the next three days of film.

Founded by film fanatic and native San Franciscan Eddie Muller (aka, the Czar of Noir), Noir City 7 (programmed by that meticulous moll of movies, Anita Monga) kicked-off last week with a deadly, double-dose starring Deadline: USA and Scandal Sheet.

And for those who toil, or have ever toiled, at the old The San Francisco Chronicle or the old San Francisco Examiner, Deadline: USA's eerie, parallel dynamicsregarding the sell-off of a major daily newspaper were spine-tingling.

No one says it better than Bogie (Deadline’s darkly heroic Managing Editor), who, when faced with the demise of his daily broadsheet, lashes out: “The death of a newspaper is not discreet!”

Part of his inspiration for this year’s theme, Muller said, emanated from his father, the late Edward Vojkovich, a die-hard newspaperman whose colorful career earned him the title, Mr. Boxing.

“My dad was employed by the (old) San Francisco Examiner for 52 years. It was the only employer he ever had,” explained Muller. “He started there as a copy boy at 13 and then became the boxing writer. William Randolph Hearst was the only person who ever signed his paycheck.”

Father and son once caught Deadline: USA at home on TV. Sometime around the early, dreaded JOA days that tightly tethered the fortunes and futures of the old SF Chronicle and the old SF Examiner -- a decades-long death rattle that, eventually, would prove a precipitous venture for one publication and a real-life Kiss Me Deadly demise for the other.

Deadline: USA was my dad’s all-time favorite movie,” Muller told the audience. “I looked over and I actually saw my old man tear up at the end of this movie.”

The festival benefits the Film Noir Foundation (founded by Muller) which locates, protects and preserves rare and noir-riffic films from an ignominious life in the back of a studio vault. Or, the bottom of the ash can.

“The San Francisco Film Noir Festival, has, in six short years become a phenomenon: the best-attended, noir-specific film festival in the world,” writes Muller, in the snappy Noir City Sentinel Festival Program and Newspaper -- which alone is worth the price of the affordable admission.

The Festival always honors an exceptional Noir guy or doll. This year? Arlene Dahl rocked the house. The still fiery red-head (and mother of hunky Lorenzo Lamas) garnered standing “Os” during her on-stage convo with Muller and wild applause throughout her big screen double-header of Wicked As They Come and Slightly Scarlet.

Dahl has said that she considered her film career merely as “an interim” to the rest of her life which included a successful stint as doyenne of a cosmetics empire.

We wondered if her steamy roles that screened at the Castro were slightly shocking to a woman who appeared so demure and dainty in person?

“I was waiting all my life to play those dames!” said Dahl, with a dash of sass. “Every woman has two sides to her: the goody-goody and the naughty side.”

NY Times City Editor Wendell Jamieson and his wife, author Helene Stapinski

Also in the house opening night? NY Times City Editor Wendell Jamieson and his wife, author Helene Stapinski.

Muller credited Jamieson with giving Noir City a global boost two years ago. The reporter-author discovered the festival online, traveled to SF for the opening and cranked out a “labor of love” story which graced the cover of the Times’ Arts & Leisure section.

This year, when Helene mentioned to her husband that she wanted to go on vacation somewhere in January, Jamieson excitedly announced, “I know just the place to go!”

Though Jamieson looks as if he only recently graduated college, he’s a 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry and penned a particularly poignant piece in Muller’s program about his experience during the sale of the now defunct New York Newsday.

“The newspaper wake scene in Deadline is hard to watch, since we held a similar tribute at my old paper,” said Jamieson. “Of course, I am hoping newspapers survive! I imagine most of the major dailies such as the Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post will. But it’s a little hard now to see how you're going to fix a broken business.”

The festival closes Sunday with a big bang: the excloo premiere of a new 35-mm print of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers and “the nastiest, most acid-tounged indictment of the power of the press ever-produced”: The Sweet Smell of Success.

Speaking of the good ol’ days on opening night, Muller teasingly apologized to the sold-out (and, in EssEff, potentially overly-PC) crowd regarding his use of the term, “newspapermen.” But he was not apologetic for his passion about the once-great state of print.

“This series is about the newspaper business and newspapermen. If you don't know what that means—and I'm sorry for the sexist terms—but, it is about newspaper men, it is a fine art, something that America sadly is losing; the Internet is pushing that all away,” Muller declared, passionately. “We will no longer see the newspaper business operate as it did in 20th century America.”

When credits roll on Noir City 7, Muller will have racked up another successful year in preserving these often obscure cinematic gems of the '40s and '50s.

“Movies,” says Muller, “from a time when America lost its innocence."

Short of drafting Muller as Executive Editor of AnyPaper U.S.A. and harnessing his passion for print, you, too, can do your part in keeping a newspaper alive for ... at least ... another day.

As the sun cracks through the blinds Monday, stumble out into the misty morning and drop your two bits (and then some) into the nearest newsstand and ... read all about it.

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