Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Phil Karlson Enters the Fray in June

I was so excited by the Nagisa Oshima film series at the PFA that I overlooked another program there in June. PFA is screening 8 films (4 double features) during Tight Spot: Phil Karlson in the Fifties. The series runs every Friday in June.

I've seen some of the films in the series at Noir City (99 River Street and Scandal Sheet) or previously at PFA (Gunman's Walk). Scandal Sheet and Gunman's Walk have screened within the past six months but I can't blame PFA for screening them again as they were immensely enjoyable.

The lineup is:

Friday, June 5, 2009
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
99 River Street (1953)

Friday, June 12, 2009
Scandal Sheet (1952)
Tight Spot (1955)

Friday, June 19, 2009
5 Against the House (1955)
The Phenix City Story (1955)

Friday, June 26, 2009
The Brothers Rico (1957)
Gunman’s Walk (1958)

Welcome to Phil Karlson’s fifties America, where corruption and cruelty lurk not just in urban back alleys but in sunny resorts and leafy villages, and injustice is not an abstraction but a visceral blow to the body politic. Karlson is known for a particularly stark and punishing brand of noir, but his visual assaults are based in a brutal morality. Although he objected to screen violence for its own sake, Karlson said, “when it belongs, you should show it and you shouldn’t pussyfoot around it. You should put it on there the way it happened.” This fidelity to the physical was part of a pulp naturalism that combined authentic locations and downscale details with weird set pieces and startling twists, uncovering the uncanny in the real.

Born Philip Karlstein, Karlson (1908–86) came of age in 1920s Chicago and was seasoned in that city’s underworld as well as its high culture: he was a bootlegger’s lookout and witnessed a mob killing before attending the Art Institute. Later, to pay his way through law school at Loyola, he took a job at Universal, “washing toilets and dishes and whatever the hell they gave me.” He eventually landed a barely more glamorous position as a director at Monogram on Poverty Row, where he compared himself to “a mechanic that worked on a line”—but “I was experimenting with everything I was making, trying to get my little pieces of truth here and there.” The experiments paid off in the fifties, when Karlson put out the remarkable run of movies we feature here (all but one of which are unavailable on DVD). Join us for four nights of low-budget ingenuity and exhilarating eccentricity, laced with gritty little pieces of truth.


Between the Oshima and Karlson programs at the PFA, I guess I'll be spending a lot of time in Berkeley this June. Actually, with Hole in the Head running June 5 to 18, June is shaping up to be quite a busy month for me.

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