Sunday, February 13, 2011

For the Love of Film Noir

What a great idea. There are hundreds of blogs dedicated to classic films. How about a Blogathon to raise money for film restoration? Ferdy of Films and The Self-Styled Siren have done it. Last year they dedicated their efforts to Silent movies. This year... film noir. I jumped on the chance to get the word out about the Film Noir Foundation and their preservation efforts. I contacted the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller and we decided to talk about restoration this week instead of our normal film article. The bottom line: If you're a film noir fan you should be a member of the FNF!

Steve-o: Let's talk about the goals of the Film Noir Foundation -- restoring classic film noir. How did the Film Noir Foundation get started?

Eddie: It began when I realized that there were films I could not screen at my festivals because we were not a certified non-profit corporation. Film archives won't provide films to for-profit theaters. So if I wanted to show things like Ben Hecht's Crime Without Passion (1934) or Joseph Losey's version of M (1951), we needed to be recognized as a non-profit entity. From there it was a short step to creating a simple, closed-loop system in which the profits from exhibition were used to fund restorations.
Steve-O: When I explain the FNF's goal of restoring movies people assume I'm talking about DVD releases or digital media. We're actually talking about the film, right? Why should we care if a movie is restored if we have a copy already on DVD or recorded off of TV?

Eddie: Simply put, a digital copy of a film is not the same as preserving the film in its original state. Digital makes films accessible, which is fantastic. But there is no reason to abandon the film as a film. In some cases, you simply can't have a digital version without preserving the film first. Consider films that we recently preserved like Loophole and The Hunted ... there is no digital version of these. By preserving these films before the original pre-print deteriorates, we have ensured that some day, some way, those films will be accessible to movie fans. Woman on the Run is a film that we discovered in a pristine 35mm print in 2003, the only print we knew of in the world. In 2009 that print was destroyed in a fire at Universal before the film was deposited at UCLA for preservation. I now have the only digital copy of the film made from that terrific print. So I ask you: is it enough that it exists digitally? ... or would you feel better knowing that Woman on the Run still existed in its original 35mm state? A little piece of me died when that print burned. We may never see it "properly" ever again.

Steve-O and Eddie at Noir City 2009

Steve-o: Too Late for Tears is a film that is begging for a restoration. Is it beyond help? Are there any decent copies of the film out there?

Eddie: I expect we will restore it this year. We have located a complete nitrate print of the film, and by augmenting it with pieces of three other prints we've discovered, we should be able to create a new negative of the film. You're right, it's a great film that deserves to be returned to its original form.

Steve-o: What films are you currently working on?

Eddie: The Sound of Fury, obviously. Too Late for Tears; things are looking good for restoring the nifty little Monogram B film High Tide (1948) , and I remain optimistic that we'll be able to restore Guilty Bystander (1950) at some point. I also hope to be able to make new prints, with English subtitles, of some remarkable Argentinean noir films that Fernando Peña has introduced to me. I'd like to not only restore Hollywood noir, but bring to prominence films noir from other cultures made during the same era.

Steve-o: The Prowler was just released by VCI to excellent reviews (not just for the movie but for the DVD itself). Should we expect more? How are the sales of the DVDs tied to the Film Noir Foundation?

Eddie: Yes. We certainly want to make our restored films accessible. But there are many factors that come into play that make reproducing the films digitally more complicated than preserving the films as films. I hope we can do more—but unlike the restorations, the decision to produce and market DVDs is not something we can always decide unilaterally. There are rights issues, licensing costs, mastering costs, the expense of special features, etc. Sales of The Prowler have, I think, exceeded VCI's expectations ... we'll see how well that bodes for more releases.

Steve-o: Folks can go to to become a member. What are the benefits?

Eddie: Knowing that you playing a part in saving film history. That should be its own reward, and based on the gratitude of donors I communicate with, it is.

Steve-o: Do you ever get sick of film noir? Ever take a break from them - especially after Noir City?

Eddie: Amazingly, I never burn out. I get immense satisfaction from watching the films with an audience, seeing them react to the films as if they were new releases. I feel that the writers, directors and actors of these films would be greatly appreciative of what we do to keep their work alive, and bring it to a new audience.
For more from Eddie, check out the Self-Styled Siren's interview here. You know what else is great about this Blogathon? Some of my favorite blogs -- the usual suspects when it comes to classic film discussion-- are part of it. The Self-Styled Siren is one of them near the top of the list.

Editor's note: I run the message board Back Alley Noir - which is the official message board for the Film Noir Foundation. Eddie and a number of contributors to BAN and The Film Noir of the Week are members of The Film Noir Foundation.


Mark said...

Great stuff gentlemen. Three cheers for the film noir foundation and everything they strive to accomplish!

Tinky said...

Succinct and convincing.

Joe Thompson said...

A good interview, thank you for sharing it.

Post a Comment