Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cue Noir - Chronicle of an Eventful Weekend

Lots of stuff to talk about. Let's start with Friday night.

Joe Biden was on Bill Maher, and has apparantly already announced his candidacy for president in '08. Futhermore, he's saying all the right things. He has plans. He has ideas. He seems to have been listening to the advice of good people. He's learned from Howard Dean's campaign. At this point, I would call Biden and Feingold the two frontrunners. Let us please not hand that status to Ms. Clinton, who has little going for her beyond her celebrity. But most of all, let's let the candidates come to us, rather than rallying behind one this early.

Fuckin' Affleck was on Maher too, and gets special kudos for calling conservative journalist Bill Sammon on blatant bullshit multiple times. After Sammon tried to paint DeLay's stepping down as some kind of victory ("Tom DeLay was the fundraising poster boy for the democrats--they want him there!"), Affleck countered "He's a Republican who is running a criminal enterprise out of his office, don't blame the Democrats for pointing it out!"

And my favorite L.A. radio show, Spaceways, was seriously ON Friday night. I wish they had a playlist up so I could remember what I heard.

Saturday morning, I had an hour or two to kill in a busy schedule, so I went out to the free BBQ at the Autry event. I probably should have gone later (I was there from about 11 to noon), because there was little BBQ to be had that early. I did have a BBQ lamb burrito and a pulled pork sandwich from two of the vendors, neither very good. Mostly, I walked around, smelling what the competitors were cooking and listening to the band playing traditional cowboy songs on the stage. I stopped for a while to talk to the 4Q team, made up of 4 SoCal foodbloggers (BBQ Junky, You Gonna Eat That?, The Survival Gourmet and Soul Fusion Kitchen). It was fun meeting them, and I did get to taste the ends chopped off of Professor Salt's ribs (which apparantly took 4th place--well-deserved, from what I tasted). Next year, I'll plan better.

Sunday night, I went to The Egyptian to see the film noir Angel's Flight. For readers not from L.A., this requires a little background.

Bunker Hill is an old neighborhood that forms the western border of Downtown Los Angeles. It's a geographically unusual neighborhood, formed on the slope and top of a steep hill, with tunnels running major streets (including Sunset Blvd., I think) through the hill below. The most unique feature of this neighborhood was Angel's Flight, a pair of wooden cable cars that transported residents up and down the side of the hill. In the late 60's, this neighborhood was largely demolished, and Angel's Flight with it, to make way for high-rise office buildings. So the Angel's Flight has long been one of the key icons for Los Angeles history, architecture, preservation and restoration buffs.

Introducing the film, the organizer began with this story:

In the years that I've been writing about film noir and programming noir festivals, the one question that I get asked more than any other is, believe it or not [I don't--CO], 'How many films can you name that feature the Angel's Flight in them?' Well, there's a few, there's Act of Violence, there's Criss Cross, and then I always say, 'there's one film called Angel's Flight, that was filmed entirely on location in Bunker Hill, but that's a lost film, so we'll never be able to see it.'

He went on to talk about Huell Howseler doing a segment on the restoration of the Angel's Flight (more background for non-Californians: Howseler is an old gay man with a southern accent who has various shows on local public TV stations wherein he visits interesting places around California and makes them seem boring), and he happened to interview one of the people standing around, who said "my uncle wrote a movie about the Angel's Flight. It's a sort of film noir," which prompted Huell to ask "What's a film noir?" and somehow ended up with Huell programming a film noir festival (I couldn't figure out if this was at a theater or just on public TV) featuring Angel's Flight, A Touch of Evil and The Killers.

The movie is from 1965, incredibly low-budget, and features an awful lead performance by William Thourlby, the original Marlboro man, who apparantly financed the film to try and launch his own career. The idea of this film playing beside A Touch of Evil and The Killers as an example of noir style is pretty funny. That said, it has a tight, eccentric sript, makes excellent use of the geography of the hill, and features a pretty cool jazz torch ballad theme. There's also a great bit part by a young Rue McClanahan, as a combative drunk, and she just tears it the fuck up!

The best part is probably the performance by Indus Arthur as a psycho stripper and serial killer. She wears a stark hairdo reminiscent of Mia Wallace (only blonde) and displays a strange intensity. The host later commented on her strip club dance, which he called "the sleaziest strip club scene in any film noir." Her character also paints strange portraits which reminded me somehow of Dan Clowes' work.

The film ends rather abruptly, and when asked about this after the screening, screenwriter Dean Romano explained that the cops had shut down the permitless shoot before they could get the last shot. In all, Romano's stories about the filming were at least as interesting as the film itself, particularly his explanation of how he had hunted down a copy in the early 80's, and found one in a film lab that was getting ready to throw it out. He had inserted a dedication to Indus Arthur, who died at age 40 of cancer, and was performing in the theater two weeks before her death, with nobody outside her mother knowing she had cancer; and to Ann Richards--not the former Texas governor, but the singer who performed the theme song, and had taken her own life.

More on Bunker Hill noir: in a recent Entertainment Weekly, Robert Towne was asked to pick his favorite movies about L.A. One of them...

THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)''Bunker Hill is the downtown area re-created in Ask the Dust, and this movie contains some of the last shots of Bunker Hill before it was torn down. I love it for that.''


Blogger Unknown said...

I was very impressed with Biden, also. But, something keeps nagging me - wasn't there some type of previous allegation of plagurism or something in a previous WH run?

ANGEL'S FLIGHT - sounds cool. Who has home video rights?

4/12/2006 6:33 AM  
Blogger Chris Oliver said...

Someone asked the writer about whether it was getting a DVD release, and he said he wanted to get it out there. But earlier, when he was talking about tracking down the film, he said the film lab told him that two different people were arguing over who owned it, so it might be one of those more-trouble-than-it's-worth scenarios.

4/12/2006 8:04 AM  

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