Friday, August 13, 2021

TCM's Eddie Muller Interview: Talks About the Revised Edition of Dark City: Lost World of Film Noir!

The Video Attic Exclusive: Eddie Muller Interview 

Here at the Attic we have a darkly lit corner where femme fatales, doomed fellows, damaged detectives and tragic destiny all belly up to a gin soaked smoky bar. The 'czar of noir' himself Eddie Muller stopped by to talk about the revised edition of his best-selling book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir which is currently out now! 

My Full Book Review HERE

My Past Interview with Eddie Muller HERE

TVA: So, how long did Dark City take to research and write?

EM: Your referring to the original edition, right? (Editors notes: from the 1998 edition)

TVA: Yeah. 

EM: That's a good question. I would say probably...Well, here's the thing the actual knuckle-down research was probably a couple of years. But, these were movies that I had been quote, unquote collecting in my head since I was a teenager but to really get into the back story and stuff I would say it was about two years. And, what was interesting Mike is that I did all that, it was all pre-digital (laughs) when I wrote the first edition. So, as I said in the authors notes in the new version it was a challenge to just find these movies because a lot of them were not on tape. I luckily developed a network of hardcore film fans around the country who made it their life's work to record everything on television broadcasts. Cause there was stuff that wasn't yet available on any format be that VHS or whatever. And these guys would just send me these care packages. I put out a message in a bottle saying stuff like, "I need to see City that Never Sleeps, who has a copy?" (Laughs) and a week later I would get a care package with a VHS tape inside. So, that was how the research was done for the first one. 

TVA: Wow, thats great. That actually sort of ties into my next question which was pre-Internet what other resources did you use? Maybe such as the Library of Congress? 

EM: At that time I did not make use of the Library of Congress. I was not 'czar of noir' guy at that time that could. I basically just convinced Saint Martins to publish a book on noir and that was it. At that time my name did not hold any cache. It didn't open any doors (laughs) what so ever. So, I did do a lot of research at the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture's Sciences. But, honestly I'm one of those guys that climbs old bookstores. They are some wonderful stores on the San Francesco Bay area where I would just go in and find film books that were totally out of print. Some of these books were printed at the time of the movies release. I found it fascinating to get a kind of on-the-spot view of what was happening as opposed to hindsight from a supposed 'scholar'. So that was really it. The bibliography is pretty extensive for a reason. Because thats where most of my research came, which was from books. 

TVA: At this point (during the writing of original release of Dark City) in your career were you interviewing people involved in the making of these noirs or was that later on?

EM: That's an interesting question. Expect for a few examples, Abraham Polonsky was probably the major one who I did get to know about and he gave me a lot of background info. It really helped inform my approach to the material. Because he really was a born skeptic and was a pretty cynical character (laughs) and that impressed me lets say. But, it was the book that lead to my being asked to program a film festival in Hollywood for the American Cinematheque. That's when I started to meet all the people connected with noir. That's another reason why I wanted to do another edition, because now I have collaboration, I have actual input from the people that made these movies. The original edition is how I got to meet people like Jane Greer, Lawrence Tierney for better or worse (laughs) but yeah, that all came later, after the first edition. 

TVA: Speaking of, what can fans expect from this revised edition?

EM: When I presented my proposal for my book originally to Saint Martin's Paperback division I did propose three additional chapters -no actually I think it was four additional chapters. They came back and said, "We can't make a book this big". (Laughs) So, I had to sacrifice the chapters in this new additional, I had not written them but just prospering them. This would have included a chapter on the city desk, about newspapers and the prisons and the stage door which is about showbiz noir. I had also proposed and I forget what the chapter was supposed to be called but it was about noir set in foreign countries. Hollywood noir but they were set in foreign countries. Films included Bribe, Calcutta, sort of the faux-exotica that Hollywood brought to foraging countries. But, honestly that I realized was outside of the city limits (laughs) so to speak, right? Like, I created this whole fantasy of dark city being a real place and then I realized why am I suddenly requiring a passport to go aboard for this. It just didn't seem to fit. So, I just left that one out. Then of course every chapter of the new addition has additional material. Some stuff I actually trimmed down. When I wrote the book originally I honestly didn't know that there was going to be, and I'm going to use the term, this renaissance in film noir. (chuckles) I certainly didn't know I would have a own t.v show presenting film noir. But, I honestly didn't know how familiar people would be with the movies. So, I tend in the original book to rehash the plots quite a bit. Now I feel like with the show and everything else I can cut that down. For example, my section on Out of the Past in the original book was really long. I must have spent like four-hundred words just describing what happens in the movie. I realized that that wasn't a good idea. I mean some of those films I honestly didn't think would ever re-surface so why not recapitulate it. Now I cut a lot of that out which in turn gave me a lot of room for material and films and info on the writers, directors and performers. 

TVA: You`ve of course written a lot of non fiction but you`ve also written some excellent fiction. Do you prefer one over the other?

EM: No, I actually don't. I will tell you that its much easier for me to write non-fiction than it is to write fiction. I apply myself to both but fiction is a totally different approach where your just making things up. Non-fiction the road map is easier to see. For example, you know I'm sitting here right now as we talk I'm writing an introduction for Noir-Alley for the film Brighton Rock. In that case I know what needs to be said. (Laughs) I'm gonna talk about Richard Attenborough I'm gonna talk about John and Ron Boulting,  I'm gonna mention the back story of Carol Marsh who played a character in it etc. I know all that stuff so I can see the roadmap. With fiction you can go anywhere and do anything. So, that is a bit more daunting. It didn't come out quite as freely as now fiction stuff does. 

TVA: So, you would say fiction takes longer for those reasons. 

EM: Absolutely. The third Billy Nichols novel  I've been working on it for like 12 years. I would definitely say that it takes longer to write the fiction. I've also written a lot of short stories and thats kind of a different thing. A novel is an epic. It takes years for me to get into it. A short story is different because it sometimes they can just come to you in a flash and it's like, oh, I get it because it's like a big extended scene or something, so you can write that pretty efficiently. It doesn't take as long as or, what I mean to say is very often my short stories may take me two or three days, as opposed to weeks or months, or in the case of the new novel years. 

TVA: I'm curious if anymore of your books will be getting a re-release, such as Dark City Dames?

EM:  I would certainly hope so.  I would love to. I think Dark City Dames is more timely now than when I wrote that book. And as a book that is very dear to my heart because of the relationships that I formed with those women. So, yes I would love to see that come back and I expect it will. 

TVA: Do you get asked about noir a lot in your regular day to day life? 

EM: No (laughs). I can walk around where I live and nobody knows that I'm on T.V or anything like that. But yes, when I do things publicly of course. I've been asked so many times questions like, what is film noir? What's your favorite film noir, is film noir still going on? I'm asked these questions all the time but the people who know me as friends, we do not talk about film noir. We talk about other things. 

TVA: I think you need that kind of balance otherwise I could see that getting a bit maddening. 

EM:  I actually have a good balance going on Mike. Because, I have this thing that I am totally known for but it is not the only thing in life that interests me. So, its great to have that. It's become my vocation which was once my avocation, but now I have all these other avocations that I'm also interested in. So, I don't ever feel...The other thing people ask me all the time is will you ever get tired of it? Are you going to noir out? I answer is no, because its been really fascinating to see how many different directions this has taken me. I mean if it was just writing about the movies alone that would be one thing but I created this foundation to restore films. So, I have become something of a advocate for film preservation and restoration. Which of course doesn't apply solely to noir so thats a whole other thing. I've also learned that all of these extends to international boarders. So, I've gotten into international noir and learning about it in other parts of the world such as Japan, Spain, Germany, Italy which is really fascination. In those instances I'm not just learning about noir I'm also learning about those cultures through noir which is really great.   

TVA: Interesting. So in other words you never get tired because its almost endless?

EM: Preciously! But there's also a real focus to it that makes the differences have understandable to me. Because there is a same-ness to the movies that points out where the differences really are. Like the other night I was watching some films from Egypt that are noir and was made in the early '50s. They are very similar story wise to what we would see in an American noir. But, there are really amazing differences and because I have this familiarity with the storylines and the ways these things are done those differences more obvious and more profound to me. Like, this movie would have never been made this way in America. They would have done something else instead and I love that. It really helps me understand the cultural similarities in a very immediate way. 

TVA: You mentioned this earlier but for those not in the know can you explain about the Noir Foundation does and what are some current projects?

EM: Okay, sure! One of the things I learned doing this book was at independent cinema has always existed. Within the last few decades its become a buzz-word like, oh its an indie, blah blah blah. But, those independent films were always there where the financing come from outside of the studios but the Hollywood studios controlled the distribution rights to the product. So, you had to make distribution deals. And, what I learned was that for alot of these movies that I wanted to see that, that I had heard about and wanted to show when I started doing film festivals I wanted to show 35mm prints. The problem was I couldn't find these movies. They were no longer available because there was questions of ownership to studios that distributed but may not have a print of the film any longer. So, thats when I created The Film Noir Foundation. which s a non profit. We started using all of the proceeds from the film festivals I would do to find missing films and then restore them. We largely do that through work with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. We also started working with the Library of Congress. Now a lot of archives around the world are coming to me saying, "We`d like to work with you to restore these films as well." Now, like I mentioned earlier how back when I wrote that book originally (Dark City) my name would not open any doors, but now like film archives from all over the world, when I call and say do you maybe have a copy of this film cause we are trying to restore it. I immediately get an answer (laughs) they actually go and look when I call! Which is fantastic. I love that. So, thats what we do and people can be patrons of the foundation donate twenty bucks and you get our publication and know that you are helping us in our mission to find and preserve these movies. In January will come out with a new restoration The Argyle Secrets it was made by Film Classics in 1948 but distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. It's fantastic and it looks better than it's ever looked thanks to this restoration and will later on put that out through our partnership with Flicker Alley which publishes Blu Rays and DVDs. So, it's great. I never planned any of this Mike but it's all worked out and had this great synchronicity because what I do for TCM has just increased awareness of this so much and TCM in some cases gets involved if we need a little help here or there. For example if we need help digitizing something for a Blu Ray or DVD. TCM has stepped in on occasion and not only can they show it on TV but release it as a Blu Ray as well. Its like all the puzzle pieces have fallen into the right places. 

TVA: Are you working on any commentaries or are you retired from that?

EM: Yeah, thanks for reminding me, Mike. I did agree to do another commentary. I sort of retired from that because its a lot of work. Doing a commentary is an awful lot of work. And, you know you get spoiled doing television. Like, with that its like five minutes at the top and five minutes at the back end however many times I do it a year. But, you know with commentary you have to talk for ninety minutes (laughs) and think of interesting things to say. It's a bit of a challenge but I keep getting talked into it. Kino did Alas Nick Beal which is a personal favorite of mine so I "came out of retirement". I told Brett Wood I would do the track. The same thing happened with a film that is coming out in the Fall called Shakedown which is a noir from 1950 set in San Francisco with Howard Duff and Brian Donlevy and Lawrence Tierney I really like that movie a lot so I'm going to be doing the commentary for that one also. 

EM: Well, I'm one of these superstition people that doesn't like to talk about projects that hasn't been completed which is why I talked about the The Argyle Secrets because thats completed. I've seen the finished restoration so whew, now I can breath a sigh of relief! So thats done. The two Argentine films that we restored Los tallos amargo, The Bitter Stems (1956) also The Beast Must Die (1952) I'm very very proud of those. Those are coming soon from Flicker Alley and those are perfect for people who, its funny on TCM I'm starting to show more foreign language film noir for all those reasons I explained to you earlier like how significant and important it is. There is a little bit of push back from some areas that think don't wanna read subtitles and all that. But, I think these noirs are a great way for people who maybe dont think they like foreign language movies to get into it because you can see the similarities. These are movies that look like Hollywood movies that you love from the '40s and '50s you get to see different cities shot in that same noir way. It's fantastic!  

A Huge Thank you to Eddie Muller for donating his time to talk about his book and upcoming projects! Links to his Book/websites below!

About Dark City: This revised and expanded edition of Eddie Muller's Dark City is a film noir lover's bible, taking readers on a tour of the urban landscape of the grim and gritty genre in a definitive, highly illustrated volume. Dark City expands with new chapters and a fresh collection of restored photos that illustrate the mythic landscape of the imagination. It's a place where the men and women who created film noir often find themselves dangling from the same sinister heights as the silver-screen avatars to whom they gave life. Eddie Muller, host of Turner Classic Movies 'Noir Alley, takes readers on a spellbinding trip through treacherous terrain: Hollywood in the post-World War II years, where art, politics, scandal, style--and brilliant craftsmanship--produced a new approach to moviemaking, and a new type of cultural mythology

Amazon Link for Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (Revised) HERE

TCM's Noir Alley Website HERE

The Noir Foundation Website HERE

Contribute to The Noir Foundation HERE  

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