Friday, February 18, 2011

Is There Such Thing as a Home Movie Noir?

From February 14 through 21, Preserving a Family Collection is participating in For the Love of Film (Noir):  The Film Preservation Blogathon.  Through this blogathon, over 80 bloggers are hoping to raise significant funds to support the work of the Film Noir Foundation and restore The Sound of Fury, a 1950 film noir starring Lloyd Bridges.

Please contribute to this worthy cause by making a donation at  this link, the Maltese Falcon donation button, or through the donation buttons on host sites Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren.

So far in this wide-ranging For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon, we’ve seen blog entries on animated noirs, western noirs, science fiction noirs, horror noirs, and even (!!!) noirs with happy endings.

But what about home movies?  Can there be such a thing as a home movie noir?

I posed this question to Snowden Becker, one of the co-founders of the annual international Home Movie Day event and the nonprofit Center for Home Movies.  Snowden is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, Austin, School of Information where she is studying how home movies and amateur media become integrated into our larger cultural heritage.  She frequently consults on preservation issues for personal and institutional film collections.

Snowden’s response to my home movie question was enthusiastic and fascinating (and the clips are great!):

“As far as making a connection between film noir and home movies, I don’t think that'll be too hard.  I’ve definitely seen some examples that would fit the bill with very little stretching.  In fact, this footage of street-corner life shot in South Dakota in 1938 may easily be read as a proto-noir classic!

(Click here for video link – just first six minutes for street-corner life.)

Screen capture from "Britton,
South Dakota, 1938-39," filmed by
Ivan Besse.
“Strangers shoot suspicious glances as they hurry past the camera, then disappear into mysterious doorways.  Is that man waving a cheery hello?  Or hiding his face from view?  The bright winter sunlight makes the afternoon shadows longer and darker, and you can almost feel the deep chill in the air.  Something's not right in this town.  These people have secrets they want to keep hidden…  but this camera wants to find them out!

“There’s also Robbins Barstow’s Disneyland Dream – shot in 1956, not long after the theme park was opened – which is pretty much the ANTI-noir film:

(Click here for video link.)

“It was named to the National Film Registry in 2008, alongside the classic noir features The Killers (1946) and Johnny Guitar (1954) (often described as a “noir Western”). The contrast between the wholesome family life depicted in Barstow's film and Lionel Rogosin’s feature-length docudrama On the Bowery (1957), also named to the Registry that year, is a great illustration of the sunshine-and-shadow split in American filmmaking – and American life – which just got more and more complex as the postwar years deepened into the Cold War years and the Atomic Age.  Life, it seems, was never this simple again – although it really may never have been this simple in the first place.”

UPDATE:  A fun addendum to this entry: In the “Disneyland Dreams” anti-noir clip, the home movie catches Steve Martin working in Disneyland in 1956. He appears at the 20:20 minute, and he’s the guy walking left to right in the top hat.

And here’s Steve Martin sharing about being caught on film in a famous home movie, courtesy of the Cartoon Brew blog:

© 2011 Lee Price

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