More foreign noir at the Roxie

  • by Erin Blackwell
  • Wednesday May 3, 2017
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Foreign films in black-and-white are some people's idea of a snooze fest, but in my book they approach heaven on earth. Being foreign, for starters, is a big plus. They emit strange vocalizations dissonant to the ear, with guttural quirks and vowel distensions one isn't allowed to perpetrate on the American tongue except for private moments in the bath. These transformations of everyday speech act as a trigger to an unconscious realm ready for any distortion of so-called objective reality into something more meaningful to the integrated psyche. You can test my theory as A Rare Noir Is Good To Find returns to the Roxie Theater on Friday.

Four days (5/5-8) are filled with 12 films programmed as six double features, more than the average human mind can possibly comprehend, but don't let that stop you. Many corners of the globe are represented, so you could think of it as a tour of the world at breakneck speed. Asia is represented by Japan and Korea, Latin America by Mexico, South America by Brazil, the Middle East by Egypt, Great Britain standing alone as is sometimes its wont, Eastern Europe by then-Czechoslovakia and Poland, Western Europe by Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy twice.

It's not the contemporary world you'll be exploring, but the much greater chasm of the past, as these films date from 1947-60. Their worlds are not only foreign, they're dead. The actors have aged and succumbed to mortality, the houses have crumbled, the clothes disintegrated, entire methods of manufacture have gone out of business and raw materials been eaten up. These films are time machines capturing ways of being no longer possible that, at the moment of filming, were the most ordinary and taken for granted.

This privileged view of the Past, the trick of the camera to make you believe you're watching real people walk through cobblestone streets and sit at cafe tables 60 years distant, is perhaps the best possible mental vacation you can buy for the price of a ticket. Getting hooked by a hero on the run from some demon, some nemesis, some agent of the law at his heels perks you up and keeps your mind on the matter. Meanwhile, the rest of your mind can't help noticing the jumble of odd details that look nothing like your own life.

Every one of these films is worth settling into a seat at the venerable Roxie for, assiduously curated as they are by Don Malcolm, who has scoured God knows what Aladdin's cave to find them. Poor man, he's just had a heart attack, so if you see him at a screening, don't startle him. One film he won't be watching, on those grounds, is the intriguingly titled Krakatit (1948), a gorgeously surreal rendering of Karel Capek's 1920 novel that foresaw a world at the mercy of atomic bombs. Named for the volcano Krakatoa, the chemical compound Krakatit makes its inventor's life noisy hell.

Some people refuse to watch a film with subtitles, thus missing out on some of the greatest films ever made, seeing them perhaps in a dumbed-down American version that purposefully blunts the Romantic, anarchic, or existential message of the original. Americans who resist the allure of foreign films, and God knows it isn't hard, are as limited in their imaginative potential as people who refuse foreign foods are in the subtlety of their palate. You don't want to be a cinematic stooge, do you? Broaden your horizons. Live a little. The consciousness you enlarge will be your own.