Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Detour, NYC’s Premiere Film Noir & Arts Festival, April 16, 2009

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos
Flyer © LOOKpresents

Truly, I tried to get to Detour: NYC’s Premiere Film Noir & Arts Festival on time, but the MTA…well, you know.

Despite getting there 20 minutes past its scheduled 7:30 start, I still had enough time to check out the ambience of the joint, in this case the Galapagos Art Space (16 Main St.), under the DUMBO side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

On the ground floor, there is a generous stage, fronted by a series of four circles of five tables, surrounded by water that has walkways linking all of the circles. Creative, but after all, that is what one would hope from an art space. Looking from the stage, there is a bar in the back on the right. Horseshoeing around the room is the mezzanine (from which I watched the show), lined with small tables with two chairs apiece and an occasional couch, and a bar at the back. Seems wine was flowing more than beer; it was that kind of crowd.

As I entered, the music was great ‘30s-‘50s style jazz (more Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” than, say, Coltrane); like one would hear in a Betty Boop cartoon. On the screen was a short film by Kate Raney called, Love (Hate) You: Mitchum, which had images of Robert Mitchum during his Noir days, and some of his leading ladies (including Jane Russell, and Gloria Graham at her finest), floating in front of a psychedelic haze, repeatedly. Very Pas de Deux (dir. Norman McLauren). This played over and over until 8:30, when the lush red curtain was lowered and the show truly began in earnest.

[The Well Rounded Hoodlum]
Under the scream of sirens and helicopter blade chopping sounds blaring over the PA, the host arrived. Matthew Hendershut, in his dapper guise of the Well Rounded Hoodlum (WRH), was dressed in the Noir fashion of dark suit and tie, and fedora. It was hard to see his face from the balcony because he read the show information from a paper, but he ably fulfilled his duties as master of ceremonies: humorous, short, and to the point.

[Melinda Smart, v1]
First up was Melinda Smart, who did a slow and sultry version of the classic Van Morrison tune, “Moondance.” It was intense, like liquid silk that made the air heavy with anticipation… uh-oh… Splaneisms are catchy, it seems. Anyway, Melinda has a beautiful voice that set the mood for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, nearly all acts were one song, sung live over pre-recorded music.

[The “cool kids” table]
After leaving the stage, a series of short modern films (i.e., from the last 5 years) created in Noir style or temperament were presented, both Black & White and color, and occasionally animated. This would be a theme of the evening: films bookcased by live acts (or vice versa, depending on how one looks at it). One of the highlights of this block of showings included Night Visitor (dir. Kenneth J. Hall), if merely for the rare (unfortunately) presence of Lynn Lowry, who had a limited career in the ‘70s as a s/exploitation goddess, including the leads in They Came From Within/Shivers, The Crazies, and I Drink Your Blood; she is starting to revive her career, I’m happy to say…but I digress. Another film shown in that segment worthy of attention was Rest Stop For the Rare Individual (dir. Robert Bentivegna), which was successfully creepy with a twist ending that took me by surprise.

[Brooklyn Strip a Go Go]
The next live performance was by Brooklyn Strip a Go Go, featuring two dressed-alike burlesque dancers trussed up in tight ‘50s fashion style, who slowly ripped each other’s clothes off piece by piece while moving to the music, down to garters, underwear and pasties. I’ve never been to a strip club though I have seen scenes on film and television and get the idea, but I have also seen some Bettie Page (RIP) era films, like Hollywood Revels, and burlesque seems a lot more fun that modern stripping, even if less revealing. Following that thought, yes, I enjoyed the Brooklyn Strip a Go Go for what it was more than what it revealed.

More films followed, including the humorous animated Cole Petticoat, PI (dir. Hamilton Craig), though the sound was a bit muddled, and The Look (dirs. Ryan Demler and Matt Fantaci), a film I’d actually wanted to see as it co-stars Ashlie Atkinson, who I had recently seen during a reading of the play Psychomachia (see this blog, dated February 20, 2009).

[Justina Flash, “hula hoop fire goddess”]
After an intermission that gave us a chance to stretch, Justina Flash came to the stage. Continuing in the burlesque edge, Justina does not strip, but exotically twirls a hula-hoop while contorting her body. She is known as the “fire goddess,” but this night (probably for fire safety regulations) she relied on multicolored lights in the hula rather than actual flame. Either way, it was a pleasure to watch her smooth motion while dancing and wiggling her way around and through the hoop while dressed in a corset. Oh, and huge, honkin’ eyelashes.

The last round of films included two that were similar in name, yet diametrically opposed in style and ‘tude, and yet still remained within the Noir genre. Diary of a Hitman (dir. Ary Hernandez) is played for laughs with cartoon violence in the broadest sense of the word. Corny and silly all at the same time, the staging and acting is, well, bad (purposefully, I am assuming), but that makes it all the more fun. The other, which is just barely in the genus, is a rough and gritty piece called Chronicles of a Hitman (Dir. Yuri Alves), in which a Latino hitman hides out from mysterious assassins while on his own “project.” Edge of the seat time.

[Melinda Smart, v2]
The curtain went up on a woman dressed in a corset, tutu and top hat, who was holding a large open umbrella. While swirling around, slowly losing the tutu and hat, the PA played a song I did not recognize, with a beautiful voice. Eventually I realized that it was the second appearance of Melinda Smart, and while she sounded like a recording, it was soon clear that it was actually her singing live. Yes, she’s that clear.

[Katy Gunn]
As another intermission started, I decided that perhaps it would be time to leave, as I had to be at the airport extremely early. I said goodbye to an Asian NYU student I was talking to at the next table, and headed downstairs. As I was passing the main room, the WRH announced the next act. Oh, what the hell, sez I, as I moved to one of the front tables on the main floor. The curtain went up on an actual live group on stage. Surrounded by two men, one on stand-up bass and the other with a small synthesizer, Katy Gunn stood behind a huge electric keyboard. By the number of people taking photos of her, I assume she has a large fan base, though honestly, I am not familiar with her work, yet.

Unlike the wild jazz that had been playing over the PA through the night, Katy plays a much smoother, quieter, more intense jazz of a later day. It was sort of a more ‘60s Noir, perhaps. Sultry vocals, cool looks and a tight group showed why people stayed to listen. It was the first live music of the night, and the first performance that consisted of a “set” rather than a single song. Understandable why this would be true in Katy’s case, and it was a happy choice to have it so.

After about the fourth or fifth song, as much as it was enjoyable, this soft-boiled non-detective decided it was time to beat it to the streets, where men scuttle around in the dark, walking under bridges, looking for…well, the subway. And waiting for the next LOOKpresents production…

Additional info:

LOOKpresents mission statement, in part: Dedicated to organizing thematic based events where creative minds can promote their creative endeavors and foster collaborative relationships. Contact them at the Website listed directly above.

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