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Rotary Club of Oakland Civic Luncheon Meeting, March 17, 2022

President Dudley Thompson opened the 5,379th Civic Thursday meeting by summarizing the Club’s 113 plus year history. The joy of those members who could attend in person was palpable throughout the Ballroom. However, Pres. Dudley reminded everyone of the Club’s policy that masks must be worn in the Ballroom except when eating or drinking.

In her inspiring thought for the day, Liz Ortega reminded us that women still face various forms of gender discrimination, which have been aggravated during the Covid pandemic. Following her remarks, Pres. Dudley led us in reciting the Club’s Mission Statement.

Past President and Past District Governor Ed Jellen introduced two distinguished guests: Past Pres. Jon Gresley and Past Pres. Gudrun Dybdal, who are both prominent members of the Truckee Club.  We also were favored with the presence of C J Hirshfield’s guests Gary and Kathy Meyer who attended in person. Sandeepa Nayak introduced Ruth Stroup’s online guest, Edie Zusman, MD & MBA (Director of the Piedmont Neuroscience Center on Grand Avenue).

C J Hirshfield, a confessed film noir addict, introduced our keynote speaker, Eddie Muller, film director, author, and the host of Turner Classic Movies’ popular weekly “Noir Alley” TV show. This month, he is also moving his annual Film Noir Festival from San Francisco to Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater.

Here are the highlights of Eddie’s talk:

– He wrote the book on film noir titled Dark City, The Lost World of Film Noir, which led to his being asked to head film festivals at Los Angeles’ Egyptian Theatre and the Castro Theater in San Francisco. This experience introduced him to some of the original film noir producers and screen writers. He now does eight festivals around the country and constantly receives requests from other cities.

– “Film noir” refers to a U.S. film movement that spanned the 1940's and 1950's. This was America’s only organic artistic movement, that Eddie calls the “anti-myth of American life”. The films portray the hard knocks reality of life and its unexpected turns versus the “live happily ever” myth of traditional American culture. The films were written and produced by artists, and not the money driven Hollywood studios. Many of these artists were emigres from war torn Europe. The scripts are especially attuned to the American vernacular. (C J recited one: “I’ve met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you’re a full 20 minutes!”) Having experienced the horrors of the war era, the emigres were pessimists about life in general. The films tried to warn us about racial injustice, police brutality, sexual assault, and immoral politicians running amok. A striking irony is that nowadays some people watch noir films as comfort food because they remind them of a better time.

– Eddie has lived in Oakland for 30 years. He decided to move his Bay Area Film Noir Festival to Oakland when the pandemic prevented continued filming in Atlanta. The new Oakland festival begins next Tuesday at the Grand Lake Theater, which Eddie’s neighbor, owner of the Grand Lake, offered to him. Eddie is happy he moved the festival to Oakland. He thought it was about time that a popular institution go in the reverse direction taken by the Warriors. He has found Oakland to be very welcoming, more so than San Francisco.

– If you want to learn more, attend the Festival. You can also read the new edition of Eddie’s book which has a lot of new material.

– In response to Robert Kidd’s question: The conventional characterization of film noir as a genre that depicts victimized, ruined women is inaccurate and the result of poor scholarship. In fact, more women were involved in the films than early film noir critics realized. All the films have a good woman who is the right answer to men’s problems; but the men go for the bad femme fatale; e.g., the movie Angel Face where the ambulance driver who is better off staying with his nurse girlfriend, instead falls for a demented heiress. Also, many women wrote the books on which the films were based: e.g., Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes. But more attention has been given male writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. In addition, there were excellent female film producers such as Joan Harrison, Hitchcock’s protégé.

– In response to Bob Barth’s question: Eddie’s favorite boxing subgenre film is The Setup.

– In response to Stephanie Casenza who asked how Eddie compared the remake of Nightmare Alley with the original, Eddie answered they’re both good. The main difference is that the new version is more faithful to the novel by keeping its “bleak” ending.

– In response to Allison Bliss’s question: Yes, the German film school known as “expressionism” had a big influence on film noir. The German movement is based on the idea that what you see in a film is a reflection of the actor’s inner emotions). It occurred during the “silent film” era of the 1920's when Berlin was the center of film making. The German films often disregarded realism and had realistic but distorted and stark black and white scenes that accentuated the war-related pessimism of that era. See, e.g., the film called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

– In response to Steve Lowe’s question: Yes, Eddie has been slipped a mickey but not at waterfront dive; It happened at a bar in Salzburg, Austria at the hands of locals who didn’t like Eddie’s loud-mouthed American companion.

Click here to watch Eddie Muller video segment.

Missed our meeting, but interested in checking out the next one? Click below to learn more. https://www.oakland-rotary.org/calendar

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