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Friday, January 15, 2016

Meet Ms. Noir City 14, Aja De Coudreaux

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2016 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge DAVID ALLEN (DAVIDALLENSTUDIO.COM)
  • David Allen (DavidAllenStudio.com)

Women have always played an important role in the dark, tortured world of film noir, portraying femme fatales, damsels in distress and sly murderesses with tragic flaws. Taking the lead from the silver screen performances of Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford and Lauren Bacall, the new Ms. Noir City will grace the Castro Theatre stage during the 14th annual Noir City Festival, held Jan. 22 -31.

Artist’s model and Oakland resident Aja De Coudreaux will be the 11th Ms. Noir City, a title given to the glamorous women who grace the festival posters each year and introduce films during the festival. Previous years’ posters included scenes of a murderous wife, a hitchhiking hottie and a Chinatown Madame with a smoking gun. The theme of Noir City 14 is "The Art of Darkness" and features 25 films about the pressures and pain of being an artist.

Sometimes your art can turn against you, so we chatted with De Coudreaux along with the “Czar of Noir,” Film Noir Foundation President Eddie Muller about the Ms. Noir City dames.

click to enlarge Aja De Coudreaux and Eddie Muller creating the Noir City 14 poster. - DAVID ALLEN (DAVIDALLENSTUDIO.COM)
  • David Allen (DavidAllenStudio.com)
  • Aja De Coudreaux and Eddie Muller creating the Noir City 14 poster.
What was the genesis of Ms. Noir City and how has the process evolved over the years?

Eddie Muller: We first used a model, Shiva Sharifi, for the poster of Noir City 3. My art director, Bill Selby, and I thought it would be fun to create our own posters instead of repurposing existing "noir" art. At first, it was just about creating the perfect poster image, but once we began working with models who also loved the films and regularly attended the festival, I started inviting the women into the onstage part of the show.

There have been 11 Ms. Noir Citys. Their occupations: photographer, attorney, writer, waitress, teacher, actress, radio-show host, jewelry-maker, comedic impresario, burlesque dancer. One of our poster models — not a Ms. Noir City, however — is now a hardcore bondage performer. Frankly, this list doesn't do justice to how multi-talented they all are.

This is Aja’s first time as Ms. Noir City. Why did she stand out?

EM: She came to the shows! I'd seen her around the festival and saw some photos of her, in vintage attire. I thought she'd be great. A different, beautiful look. It was hard to move on from Audra Wolfmann [Ms. Noir City 11 and 13] and Evie Lovelle [Ms. Noir City 12 and 13], because personally I like them so much. They'll be at this year's festival. It turns out Audra, Evie, and Aja have lots in common, so I'm sure they'll form a gang.

Aja De Coudreaux: The whole experience [of going to Noir City] is really something; it's like you’re seeing the movies in their home. There's a lot of movies I've seen a lot of times at home by myself like [Alfred Hitchcock's 1954] Rear Window, but to see it on the big screen with people who love it is different.

l really enjoyed going to the Noir City festival and didn't know I was in the running, but I do really like that it’s not a competition pageant-type of thing.

EM: I had no idea she was an artist's model when I asked her if she'd be this year's Ms. Noir City. So I was a bit sheepish when I explained the poster concept and said she'd have to be nude. It was a good laugh when she said, "No problem. That's what I do for a living."

What do you find most appealing about film noir as a genre?

AD: l like the air and the feeling of dread, the way that the crimes go. Sometimes it'll be an innocent person that gets caught up in a dark, twisted web of mayhem. Nowadays there's something that has been lost, the seriousness and the gravity of somebody getting caught up in a murder and the downward spiral of the feelings burdening you.

I like the glamour of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s but noir is something special. I like the dark, downcast eyes, the brim of the hat casting a shadow, the dark, kind of sinister, almost goth kind of qualities that weren’t the blonde, sparkly kind of Hollywood image.

click to enlarge David Allen (DavidAllenStudio.com) - DAVID ALLEN (DAVIDALLENSTUDIO.COM)
  • David Allen (DavidAllenStudio.com)
  • David Allen (DavidAllenStudio.com)
That’s a good point; many women in film noir are more independent or harder in some sense.

AD: It’s having a different kind of woman [on screen]. Some of the women seem more independent and are trying to fend for themselves, trying to solve crimes by themselves. There’s also a strange kind of independence in trying to protect yo’ man. I like to see a woman that can look pretty, get dirty, handle a gun, handle herself.

What was the poster photo shoot like?

AD: Oddly enough, I had posed in that exact [art school] room before. I’ve posed nude for drawing, painting and sculpture, but not really photography. The theme felt perfect for me … and the pose is based off the old [Jean-Léon] Gérôme painting Pygmalion and Galatea.

The final image looks fantastic with the marble effect on your legs.

AD: I like that this nude person [on the poster] is in their mid-30s; that it’s a real person. We live in a society of skinny and Photoshopped – my legs were Photoshopped to look like marble, and my hair is black and red and was Photoshopped to be one color – but this is me.

Is there anything about this year’s theme that speaks to you?

AD: I can't help but think of how hard it has been for the artists and creative minds that made S.F. the joy that it is, who were priced/forced out and replaced by the "techies."

click to enlarge DAVID ALLEN (DAVIDALLENSTUDIO.COM)
  • David Allen (DavidAllenStudio.com)
EM: The "Art of Darkness" theme couldn't be more timely. Every day we hear more stories about the increasing struggle artists face from skyrocketing living costs and the corporatization of the media, and how the personal pursuit of convenience and luxury is squeezing the creation of genuine art out of our culture. In a small way, this year's festival is my protest of this terrible trend.

Which films are you most excited about seeing this year?

AD: I’m a big fan of The Red Shoes fairytale, it’s really dark and really messed up and I’m curious what the connection is in the movie. The international noir [on Jan. 23] is very exciting, and Bluebeard from 1944.

This is very important – what will you wear to the festival this year?

AD: I love getting dressed up and sometimes there’s a silly or theatrical element to the way I do it. It’s not like a daunting intimidating task, but on the other hand I’ve been thinking of “what am I going to wear” times nine.

Can you describe a vintage outfit or two?
AD: I have a suit from the 1940s, a jacket and skirt with a grey and pink theme with a pink hat that has little matching flowers. There’s a simplicity and sophistication in suits from that time. [There are] little details like the curve of a lapel or a detail that might be on a pocket, things that might be lost in modern clothing.

It’s nice to dress as a representation of the everyday that’s not super fancy. Though it would be great if I could put together something like dress that’s known as "the Paris gown" in Rear Window.

Do you have any other responsibilities as Ms. Noir City?


AD: I’ll be at the festival every day helping Eddie introduce movies. I offered to help wrangle talent because, this year, every night has different theme like music, ballet, painting, photography. [The Film Noir Foundation was] trying to encourage people do a number, play a song or dance for each of them. I’m really honored to part of be the Film Noir Foundation, even if it’s just the public view. I’d like to get more behind the scenes, too.


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Jessica Lipsky

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