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A Noir-Tinged Week

Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973)

Karina Longworth, host of the outstanding podcast You Must Remember This, and filmmaker Vanessa Hope have teamed up with Vanity Fair and Cadence13 to create a new podcast series, Love Is a Crime. On December 13, 1951, Hollywood producer Walter Wanger shot and wounded Jennings Lang, an agent who represented Wanger’s wife, Joan Bennett, the star of Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945).

Wanger suspected that Bennett and Jennings Lang were having an affair. “Why would my grandfather, a successful movie producer, a liberal thinker, a man who helped Jewish émigrés escape Hitler, take a gun to confront his wife?” Hope asks in a preview of the series. “Why would my grandmother, a beautiful movie star who had all but invented the archetype of the film noir femme fatale, and was then starring in a hit franchise of family films, risk everything to sneak around with her agent?” The show features quite a cast: Jon Hamm as Wanger, Zooey Deschanel as Bennett, and Griffin Dunne as Jennings Lang. The first of ten episodes will be out on Tuesday.

On Monday, Pat Hitchcock, the only child of Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, passed away at the age of ninety-three. She appeared in three of her father’s films—Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), and Psycho (1960)—and in ten episodes of the CBS series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 2003, she cowrote a biography of her mother, Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man. “I don’t think she ever got the credit for being as good as she was,” the Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes quotes her as saying. “My father depended on her for everything.”

Here, then, a reminder: Film Forum’s series The Women Behind Hitchcock runs through Thursday. Screenings of Stage Fright are coming up, but Foreign Correspondent (1940) is not in the program—you can watch it on the Criterion Channel. Reville and Joan Harrison wrote the original treatment, working from reporter Vincent Sheean’s Personal History, an award-winning memoir that a left-leaning producer had been trying for years to turn into a movie. The producer was Walter Wanger, and James Naremore tells that story in an essay accompanying our release.

This week’s highlights:

  • Former Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr has launched a terrific and breezy newsletter, and in a recent missive, he recommends the Neonoir program on the Criterion Channel. The focus here is especially on two films. Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) is “the movie that even more than Chinatown dismantled the moral timbers of the classic private eye movie and rebuilt them for an Age of Anxiety.” Rian Johnson’s Brick (2005) is a murder mystery set in a California high school. “Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Brendan is a bespectacled Bogart piercing the murk and mendacities of a corrupt society,” writes Burr, and Nora Zehetner is “the school Queen Bee with a piece of every action and an unknowable soul—she’s Jane Greer from Out of the Past disguised as Molly Ringwald from The Breakfast Club.

  • Nora Fiore—you may know her as the Nitrate Diva—talks to Film Noir Foundation founder and TCM host Eddie Muller about ten of his favorite noir B movies—in chronological order. So the list begins with The Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), the lower half of a double bill that “allows Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr. to be in the A picture that kicks things off, The Maltese Falcon, and the B picture,” as Muller explains. “You can sort of start the American noir movement with those two. There were some very heady intellectual contributors to that film. Nathanael West worked on the screenplay. Frank Partos wrote it. [Director] Boris Ingster was a disciple of Sergei Eisenstein, and he had all kinds of ideas about cinema that were outside the mainstream. It’s always fun when one of those people gets their hands on the controls, and it’s usually a B movie.”

  • In the New Yorker, Teju Cole writes beautifully about Arie and Chuko Esiri’s Eyimofe (This Is My Desire), which tells two stories set in a single neighborhood in Lagos. Both Mofe (Jude Akuwudike) and Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams) work day and night jobs, hoping to save enough to leave Nigeria for Europe. “For those, like Mofe and Rosa, whose hearts are set on escape,” writes Cole, “life becomes an obstacle course of documents: passport, medical report, letter of invitation, employment letter, visa. All of it costs money, enormous sums in aggregate. It is a testament to Chuko Esiri’s compact and intelligent script that the film moves by its own persuasive logic, feeling neither like a catalogue of miseries nor a sentimental exercise in third-world pluck.” Eyimofe “asserts faith in the idea that happiness and goodness don’t always coincide, and that the latter can flourish even in the absence of the former.”

  • Last week, we pointed to Nicolas Rapold’s interview with cinematographer Agnès Godard for Reverse Shot, and this week, Filmmaker is running Rapold’s conversation with Caroline Champetier, who has worked as a director of photography for Jacques Rivette, Philippe Garrel, Claude Lanzmann, and most recently, with Leos Carax on Holy Motors and Annette. For the New York Times, Beatrice Loayza talks with Carax about casting Adam Driver, collaborating with the band Sparks, and watching movies alone at the Cinémathèque française. “Cinema is an art of haunting: of being haunted and of haunting other people,” says Carax. “It has to do with ghosts, and our childlike connection to them.”

  • Writing for GQ, Jason Diamond lays out the “little philosophy” he’s built around the personal style of Bob Balaban, “a sly master of a kind of smart but unremarkable dressing.” With what the actor himself calls those “thick geeky black glasses” he wore in Midnight Cowboy, Balaban “helped invent” a vibe that Diamond calls “cool nebbish.” In the 1970s, and particularly in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Claudia Weill’s “overlooked masterpiece Girlfriends, you can see how he masters the three Bs many Jewish guys in their 30s experience: Bearded. Bespectacled. Balding.” And then there’s Balaban’s narrator in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. “I’m not sure if Norman Rockwell, in his wildest dreams, could have imagined a Jewish guy from Chicago pulling off this peak New England cozy outfit,” writes Diamond, “but I have to wager that, behind maybe Richie and Margot Tenenbaum, this is the Anderson outfit I tend to see pop up on Instagram most often, especially when the leaves start to turn.”

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