Film Noir Gets Festival Treatment from the New School

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Film.

For its first arts festival, running April 1 through 8, The New School turned to what is perhaps the most influential genre of all time: noir. “The Arts Festival reflects the range of artistic and intellectual activity at The New School,” says New School President David E. Van Zandt. “What better theme to launch this first event than noir—a genre that has influenced a number of the arts, from music to literature, and the fine and graphic arts.” And what other worldview from the Golden Age of Hollywood still resonates as much as the morally ambiguous men and women that populate films like Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon?

In addition to the usual cinematic suspects (Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive are both playing at the IFC Center as part of the Student-Run Film Noir Screening), The New School has wisely assembled a collection of film theorists and filmmakers to add new viewpoints. Among them are Todd Haynes, on hand to discuss his HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce, which bypassed the noir film adaptation starring Joan Crawford to create a more faithful version of the original 1941 James M. Cain novel; film critic Molly Haskell, delivering a paper on the noir female archetypes (since Haskell revitalized theories of womens’ portrayal in classic Hollywood films with her 1973 book From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, this is a must-see for serious film buffs); and Frances McDormand, on hand to discuss her role in the Coen Brothers’ modern noir, Blood Simple.

But The New School also spreads its focus to mediums other than film. Robert Polito, poet and director of the New School Writing Program, will be reading poetry and fiction with fellow writers Mary Gaitskill and Robert Pinsky, set to improvised jazz from musicians Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough and Rudy Royston. Students and alumni of Eugene Lang College will perform a 60-minute adaptation of the Jacobean play The White Devil, “in which Noir meets Steampunk.” And, as part of Noir Now, video excerpts will screen of a new opera by Paul Moravec and Terry Teachout, based on the classic play and film The Letter.

Noir is, however, best known as a cinematic experience, and The Arts Festival doesn’t stint on movies. In addition to a “Noir Film Orgy,” a day-long marathon of classics and student-made noir shorts, cult filmmaker Guy Maddin will be on hand to introduce his Hauntings, short adaptations of lost movies by great directors that Maddin has recreated based on plot synopses he found in old issues of Variety. So dust off your fedoras and grab a pack of unfiltered cigarettes, because The New School is bringing noir out of the shadows for a week that promises to shed new light on one of the most enduring genres of all time.

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