A deep appreciation and love of cinema are at the heart of host and organizer Alex Weinstein’s Noir Essentials series. Featuring some of the finest films of the dark, thrilling noir genre, the series presents a rare opportunity to see these classics on the big screen.
Noir Essentials is held at the Dipson Eastern Hills Cinema (4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville). Its latest season, "The Coen Brothers Bible of America," kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on August 22 with 1984’s stunning Blood Simple. The first film from Joel and Ethan Coen is followed by Miller’s Crossing on September 26, The Man Who Wasn’t There on October 24, No Country for Old Men on November 14, and Fargo on December 12.
In a recent interview with Buffalo Spree, Weinstein identified the "deep nostalgia" and "soul of noir" in the Coens’ films: "The Coen Brothers tell stories of crime and opportunity that manage to be shocking, funny, wise, and nihilistic all at the same time."
As he prepares for the new season, Weinstein discusses what makes noir so relevant, and so exciting for viewers.
First, why noir? What makes this genre so resonant and so exciting?
I tend to think that many of the best films noir are really some of the best films, period. And if you look at some of the defining titles of the genre (The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, etc.), it’s pretty hard to argue against it.
The funny thing about a genre as popular as this is that, deep down, these are fundamentally feel-bad pictures. They’re dark, cynical, and sometimes even cruel creations, and yet they’ve been embraced by the hearts and minds of the casual movie public. In the painted-mural dream of old Hollywood, you’re as likely to find Edward G. Robinson as you are The Wizard of Oz.
I think "dream" is the key word here. Classical film noir is a fantasy of life not too dissimilar to the American Western—fables of characters facing slim odds in the dream of the world we know.
What sets noir apart, however, is its ever-shifting gray morality. Our "heroes" are usually as capable of wrongdoing as our villains, which makes them fascinating to watch and strangely relatable in these strange times. The movies own their cynicism with style and humor, and I guess that’s what gives them their staying power.
Why are these films so fun and insightful to view in a group setting and on the big screen?
It’s always exciting to view a work as it was intended to be seen. I find this to be especially true with films from the golden era—as when you’re watching, say, The Killers the same way that audiences did in 1946. You really do feel a connection to the past, like a little cultural seance. And it will never not be fun sharing the experience with others who are seeing it that way for the first time.
What are some of your ideas for future series themes?
There’s still so much noir out there to explore—from the golden age classics to the gritty new Hollywood neo-noir of the ‘70s and ‘80s—there is plenty to choose from. I would actually like to do a season that mixed old and new, looking at how these stories play over changing trends in filmmaking.
If I had the chance to do another director spotlight series, it would have to be Orson Welles. There’s no other option. I almost don’t want to talk about it, because I’ll get too excited.
In my dream of dreams, though, I would love to do a silent cinema series. I owe as much to Chaplin as I do Welles, and there is something powerful and pure and universal about those works that you don’t see anywhere else. Many pictures from the silent era remain high achievements in film, and they absolutely deserve to be seen bright and large.
For more information on the Noir Essentials series, visit dipsontheatres.com.
Christopher Schobert is a film critic whose work appears in Forever Young, Buffalo Spree, and other outlets.
Alex Weinstein’s 11 Noir Must-sees
M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946)
Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges, 1948)
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)
In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)