CineSavant Column

Tuesday March 3, 2020


I’d say the movie of the hour is a thriller that some thought too grim and too far-fetched back in 2011. I reviewed Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns’ Contagion exactly four years ago to this day, wondering myself if such a pandemic could possibly happen. The parallels with our present ‘maybe situation’ are really on the money — instead of pigs + bats incubating a deadly new virus, the odd source of our contagion is theorized to be the Pangolin, an inoffensive armored aardvark creature with a fairy tale name. Soderbergh’s virus was ridiculously deadly but it showed itself almost within hours of human contact, which would seem to make it easier to contain — well, if you could isolate everybody in the world for just 36 hours.

Do ‘this could happen’ thrillers like Contagion do good, or do they just spread fear and panic?   I would unfortunately imagine that many terrorized, paranoid Americans seeing the show would take away only the selfish, negative lesson to hunker down, pull up the drawbridge and shoot thy neighbor. That’s the abhorrent Panic in Year Zero! reaction. But I do have faith in modern medicine, and I believe in the notion of The Common Welfare and am willing to make sacrifices for it. We’re seeing a lot of that now among dedicated health services people, bless them. Let’s have calm, good thoughts for those affected by the outbreak, and concentrate on human values, not just the stock market. And let’s re-fund our emergency health infrastructure, immediately. I know some wall construction funds that can be diverted right away, today. (Unabashedly biased.)

On a more positive note is the arrival in Los Angeles next Friday of Noir City Hollywood, presented by the American Cinematheque and Film Noir Foundation. The 22nd go-round for this annual dark thriller bash runs from March 6 to March 15 at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood with individual nights at the Aero in Santa Monica and at American Legion Hollywood Post 43.

The organizing principle this year goes international, showcasing terrific, unfamiliar thrillers from Latin America, the Far East and Sweden paired up with pointedly chosen Hollywood fare. For instance, the opening night duo is the Argentinian The Beast Must Die followed by Rita Hayworth in the audience-pleasing Gilda. Fans of ‘Parasite’ might want to see the South Korean classic The Housemaid, a diabolical domestic noir that’s paired with the related paranoid classic My Name Is Julia Ross. Our out-there crime classic favorite Gun Crazy plays with the Japanese Yakuza tale Pale Flower. And the series gives us a chance to see the rapturous Portrait of Jennie on a big screen (the Blu-ray is no gem), with a promising Swedish ‘mystery portrait’ picture, Girl With Hyacinths. Authors, personalities and Film Noir Foundation gurus Eddie Muller and/or Alan K. Rode will introduce the shows. This year I’m going to grab the opportunity to catch up on my Spanish language Buenos Aires Noir.

I was all wrapped up in my minor location discovery last time around, but this new YouTube film restoration piece by Denis Shiryaev called A Trip Through New York City in 1911 takes us on a pretty amazing eight-minute time machine jaunt to Manhattan in the year of the first Indianapolis 500, the rediscovery of Machu Picchu, and the sinking of the Lusitania. We take in the metropolis with its tall buildings, massive bridges, horse wagons and ‘period’ costumes and hats — bowlers, skimmers. A well-to-do family, complete with a bored tot in the front seat, goes for an automobile ride complete with hired chauffeur. The horseless carriage must dodge parked wagons and streetcars (ding ding!).

I’ve spent exactly three short days in New York, and loved the place as only a gaga-eyed tourist can; even the subway fascinated me. I wonder if New Yorkers would be as enamored by these images. The restoration and part-colorization on view are very handsome.

A second city-renovation video is now up, from the same folks: A Trip Through Paris in the Late 1890s

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson