Not Necessarily Noir is a thrilling police lineup of double bills
NOIR (AND NOT) FILM SERIES Like many of its hardboiled antiheros, film noir is a career criminal on the lam. Constantly eluding the clutches of the historically particular and categorically retentive, it's especially skilled at flying under the radar only to stealthily reappear years down the line. Just look at the number of times it has been sighted (as well as cited) since its initial appearance in postwar France, when critics first identified something particulier about the 1930s and '40s American films that filled Parisian cinemas.
Noir's notorious elasticity is on full display in "Not Necessarily Noir," an extraordinary police lineup of double bills organized by the Roxie's resident noir programmer Elliot Lavine. Following on the heels of Lavine's May series "I Still Wake Up Dreaming," which celebrated the down and dirty world of B pictures, the two-week long "Not Necessarily Noir," as its title indicates, includes films that scan as noir more in terms of their sensibility than which video store shelf they'd sit on. From Cold War sci-fi (the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers kicks off the series) to more contemporary dramas such as Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992) — and let's not forget the 1983 WTF remake of Breathless starring Richard Gere — "Noir" plays fast and loose with genre and decade but ensures that at the core of each of its titles gleams a heart of darkness.
I'm hoping that the recent return of Mad Men will boost interest in the early 1960s rarities Lavine has programmed, all of which make the bad behavior and private tribulations of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce suits look like kid stuff. Let's start with The Sadist (1961), James Landis' lean and nasty B&W attempt to jump on Psycho's bandwagon. The picture's reputation as an honorary precursor to 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much deserved thanks to Arch Hall Jr.'s gonzo performance as the titular thrill-killer.
With his incessant giggle, bleached pompadour, 10-yard stare, and an overhanging brow worthy of Ansel Adams, Hall Jr. is hillbilly nut-job personified, and it's a pleasure to which him terrorize a trio of uptight schoolteachers stranded at a remote gas station. Credit is also due to the striking compositions of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who would in later decades become the Oscar-winning go-to man for Hollywood blockbusters such as The Deer Hunter (1978) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
The psychological thriller Mirage (1965) is another title that tips its hat to Hitchcock (as does Brian De Palma's 1976 Vertigo redo Obsession, which screens in the series' second week). Gregory Peck stars as a bewildered accountant whose world starts to fall apart when he realizes that his daily routine has actually been a byproduct of long-term amnesia. As he attempts to recover his life pre-memory loss, first with the aid of a hired detective (Walter Matthau in a great supporting bit) and then with an old flame (Diane Baker), he discovers that someone is invested in keeping him in the dark — for good.
The real gem, though, is Jack Garfein's criminally unavailable Something Wild (1961), which plays with his only other feature, the homoerotic military school drama The Strange One (1957). You know the gloves are off when within its first five minutes the ravishing Carroll Baker, the film's star and director's then-wife, is graphically raped. After running away to Manhattan, Baker's traumatized victim is rescued from a suicide attempt by Mike (Ralph Meeker, star of 1955's Kiss Me Deadly), a drunken mechanic who locks her in his rundown flat. Though, at times, Meeker and Baker lay on the Method acting pretty thick, Aaron Copland's dissonant original score and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan's remarkable black and white photography of New York's slums and skyscrapers push Something Wild into wonderfully strange, surreal places.
Week two, which focuses more on recent incarnations of noir, might rankle purists, but offers plenty of bullets, bloodlust, and good men turned bad. Quentin Tarantino favorite Rolling Thunder (1978) offers much gruesome fun as its claw-wielding, Vietnam vet protagonist hunts down his family's murderers. Also worthy of rediscovery are Ivan Passer's harrowing Cutter's Way (1981), which also centers around a group of dissolute 'Nam vets, and neo-noir proponent Paul Schrader's Blue Collar (1988), a similarly working-man-minded drama about the fallout of a union office heist bungled by a group of broke Detroit auto workers.
NOT NECESSARILY NOIR
Aug. 20–Sept. 2, $5–$ 9.75
3117 16th St., SF