Film noir fans, rejoice: I Wake Up Dreaming, a month-long annual festival of genre classics, is underway at the Castro Theatre. Beginning tonight, films will screen every Wednesday evening through August 31st.
Sadly, longtime I Wake Up Dreaming promoter Elliot Lavine tells Hoodline that the current festival will be his last in San Francisco. Lavine, the former director of repertory programming at the Mission's Roxie Theater, is moving up to Portland, Oregon, where he will continue screening classic films in classic theaters.
"The difference between seeing these great films in a theater like the Castro and seeing them on Turner Classic Movies, or any other small-screen source, is like comparing the experience of skydiving to that of taking a nap on a hammock," Lavine said. "You can't stop people from watching films on TV, but it certainly enhances the experience to be in a huge, beautiful theater with hundreds of complete strangers around you, mesmerized."
Film noir has long been considered one of the cinema's most creative genres, but many of today's younger moviegoers have never even heard of film noir.
"Film noir, simply put, is a film style first popularized in America around 1940," Lavine explained. "It's photographically expressionistic, utilizing a high-contrast, monochromatic approach. Tilted camera angles help to accentuate the discordant nature of the narrative, which often centers around fatalistic concerns, criminal or otherwise. Duplicity is generally part of the package, with trust a barely recognizable commodity. Happy endings are usually in short supply."
Given that these films offer a dark and hopeless view of society, why are they so popular among classic film fans?
"Film noir's enduring popularity stems from the timelessness of cynicism, which is at the heart of film noir," Lavine said. "Every generation seems to have something to be disgruntled about, and film noir offers its own kind of cathartic rewards."
Some of the greatest noirs, including 1941's The Maltese Falcon and 1947's Dark Passage, are set in the City By The Bay. While neither of those films are in this year's lineup, Lavine says San Francisco is a natural fit for noir.
"The city is a combination of fragility and mystery, with its shadowy, narrow alleys and jazzy waterfront dives," he said. "It's often been said that the people of San Francisco are among the most fatalistic of all, given the notion that at any unexpected moment, everything could go crashing into the sea. Very noir."
I Wake Up Dreaming's program features a slew of relentlessly dark, yet mesmerizing, titles, often starring Golden Age Hollywood heavyweights like Joan Crawford and Tyrone Power. In 1955's Female on the Beach, Crawford romances young stud Jeff Chandler, who's up to no good. And Power stars as a carnival barker who becomes a fake medium in 1947's Nightmare Alley, building to one of the more bizarre and disturbing downfalls in the annals of classic cinema.
Betty Grable, fondly remembered for her song and dance talents, is seen in a rare out-of-character role in 1941's I Wake Up Screaming, a dark tale of murder set under the bright lights of Broadway. There's even an end-of-the-world thriller: 1951's thought-provoking Five.
"I believe this is the most exciting series I've ever put together," Lavine said. "For people who are either hardcore fans of film noir or curious about diving into that pool, this festival should be the film-going experience of the year!"
The full schedule for I Wake Up Dreaming can be seen at the festival's website.