No. 98: Eddie Muller
It was a few years ago at Tosca in North Beach, where his easy retro style made him seem like a fixture, that I finally asked Eddie Muller how he got so into film noir. He told me just what he'd told other interviewers before: that he'd traced it back to Thieves' Highway, which he saw as a teenager, and which is "set in downtown San Francisco, my hometown, takes place entirely in the dead of night, and suggests that life will always be a struggle against the worst aspects of human nature."
Not surprisingly, that classic has showed up more than once in Muller's annual Noir City film festival, a public portal to the nonprofit film preservation and exhibition concern he's been running for nearly a decade now -- while also cranking out a heap of books and articles and some of the best DVD commentaries ever. "The common denominator," Muller said, "is the desire to preserve the past. The culture moves too fast."
Of course it's easy to feel that way in San Francisco, but thanks to
Muller it's also easy -- and great fun -- to keep on getting our noir
on. It helps that the genre was born here (Maltese Falcon,
anyone?) and that the audience remains so receptive.
"I've done film
shows all over now, including New York and Paris," the impresario said,
"and this city has the most appreciative and enthusiastic moviegoers in
the world, no question. Very sophisticated without being pretentious.
When I tell people in L.A. that we'll draw a thousand for Noir City,
they're dumbfounded. In L.A., they want to stay home. They don't want to
go out and associate with the riffraff. Here, we're all the riffraff.
And we like it that way."
It also helps when the impresario is one of
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