When Eddie Muller discovered film noir in his early teens, he didn’t know the genre’s name or even quite what set it apart. He just knew that most of his favorite movies had the words “Big,” “Night,” “Dark,” “Street,” or “City” in the title.
Over the past two decades the San Francisco native has written three books on film noir and recorded DVD commentary tracks for numerous films of the genre. He also founded “Noir City” festivals celebrating the genre in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and this weekend he’ll be bringing that brand to Detroit for the first time. The Noir City Detroit festival will run Friday through Sunday at the Redford Theatre, featuring a diverse program of noir screenings hosted by Muller.
These days Muller has no trouble articulating exactly what makes the genre special to him. He describes film noir as “Hollywood’s only organic artistic movement,” driven by filmmakers whose visions had often been suppressed during the Great Depression and World War II.
“I think in some ways we kind of reached our peak stylistically and at the same time the culture lost its innocence,” he says.
Muller’s passion and expertise immediately attracted John Monaghan, Noir City Detroit’s local organizer and a volunteer at the Redford Theatre. Having long hoped to start a noir festival of some sort at the Redford, Monaghan was impressed by Muller’s L.A. and San Francisco festivals, which respectively celebrated their 18th and 14th anniversaries this year. But before he heard of the festivals, Monaghan was drawn in by Muller’s appearances during Friday noir marathons on Turner Classic Movies.
“He knows the screenwriters, the cinematographers,” Monaghan says of Muller. “He’s way down in the credits in terms of his knowledge of these films and the artists that put them together. He’s a walking encyclopedia of this stuff and he’s also a good communicator.”
For his part, Muller was enthused by Monaghan’s own passion for noir and by the historic venue of the Redford. The two men jointly drew up a Detroit program mixing well-known noir classics with much more obscure titles that have been rediscovered and restored by Muller’s Film Noir Foundation.
A double feature will run each night of the festival, juxtaposing genre staples like Orson Welles’ 1947 classic “The Lady From Shanghai” with lesser-known flicks like 1950s “Woman on the Run.” Saturday night will also feature a special late screening of David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir “Blue Velvet.”
Muller expresses particular pride in the inclusion of “Woman on the Run” and the 1952 flick “The Prowler.”
“Those films were gone,” he says. “You couldn’t see those any longer, especially ‘Woman on the Run,’ until we were able to do this real detective work and pull these things out of total obscurity.”
Monaghan says ticket sales for the festival have so far been encouraging, and he and Muller are both angling to make the festival a major annual event in Detroit. The San Francisco edition of the festival now stretches to a full 10 days.
“We’ve really created something of a cultural phenomenon in San Francisco,” Muller says. “I’m really hoping we can light a fire and do the same thing in Detroit.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Noir City Detroit
Friday double feature: “The Killers” and “99 River Street,” 7 p.m.
Saturday double feature: “Double Indemnity” and “The Prowler,” 7 p.m.
Saturday late show: “Blue Velvet,” 11:30 p.m.
Sunday double feature: “The Lady From Shanghai” and “Woman on the Run,” 3 p.m.
17360 Lahser, Detroit
Tickets: $10 for double features; $7 for late show; $25 for all-movie pass