A Day of Jazz and Noir at the SF Jewish Film Fest

I saw two films at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Saturday; both at the Castro. I liked them both, but neither of them blew my mind.

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes

This documentary traces the history of the revolutionary jazz label that brought Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk onto vinyl. The film provides many a fantastic track, but not one of them played through to the end. The surviving musicians, and some new ones recently signed, tell the story. They all emphasize that the founders and original owners, Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, cared more about artistic freedom than the bottom line, and yet they managed to keep hold of the company for 30 years (although no one got rich). Near the end, the documentary discusses how jazz influenced and created hip hop.

Why is this a Jewish film? Lion and Margulis were Berlin Jews who got out of Germany in time. The movie is part of the spotlight Black•ish / Jew•ish.

The Festival will screen Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes one more time, at the Piedmont, today (Sunday August 5), 4:05. Tickets are only available at rush.

B+ Budapest Noir

The deep shadows, fedora hats, and protagonist’s first-person narration tell you immediately that you’re in an homage to ’40s-style detective movies. At times, the film borders on parody, except that it’s entirely serious. This is Budapest, 1936, and Hungary is sliding into fascism. A city square has been renamed after Hitler. Anti-Semitism is rising. Our hero, a tough reporter on the crime beat, sets out to find out who killed the young woman who just might be Jewish. Some powerful people don’t want him nosing around. An important message wrapped up in an entertaining package.

After the screening, the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller interviewed director Éva Gárdos. Born in Hungary, she moved with her parents to Canada when she was seven. Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • How the movie came about: I made another film in Hungary called American Rhapsody. I read the novel Budapest Noir and I thought it would make a cool movie. I liked that Budapest was a character in the story.
  • I was in LA and screenwriter András Szekér was working in Hungary. We talked every day through Skype.
  • I think the genre of noir was new to Hungarians.
  • Hungarians had a bad history. They’re a nation of great artists stuck between the Nazis and the Communists.
  • On the film’s timeliness: We were shooting at the train station when Syrian refugees were stuck there. There’s a huge anti-immigration feeling all over Europe, which connects with the film’s view of anti-Semitism.
  • On casting the lead: We couldn’t make the film without a strong leading man. People said there are no such actors in Hungary with that kind of charm. Cinematographer Elemér Ragályi suggested Krisztián Kolovratnik. He was perfect. He just didn’t like wearing the hat.
  • On Cinematographer Ragályi: He shot my first film, and he’s extremely well-known in Hungary. [He shot 1945.] But some credit should go to Production Designer Pater Sparrow.

Budapest Noir will screen two more times at the Festival:

The film will most likely get a regular theatrical release in 2019.