Edited by Dan in the MW on 8/30/2015, 9:56 am
With many current films, the audiences will respond to humor and laugh at the same jokes, but it seems exceedingly rare for the assembly to do anything more than quietly exit and resume talking while the credits roll.
I will be the first to concede that the Chicago Noir City festival experience is a much scaled down affair as compared to the festivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Palm Springs. While we have introductions by members of the Film Noir Foundation and occasional musical interludes supplied by a theater organist, to date only Harry Belafonte has graced the stage in Chicago. He appeared at the inaugural Chicago festival when "Odds Against Tomorrow" was exhibited. On one or two occasions, writers and historians have addressed the audiences. For example, this week the author of a recently published biography of Robert Ryan will appear when two of the late actor's films are screened.
It is quite understandable when an audience applauds when an actor or director is present at a screening. It is a different thing when sustained applause or a standing ovation follows the conclusion of a film when none of the cast or crew are among the living. One of the rare examples that I can recall from recent times followed a presentation of "For the Greater Glory." That film dealt with the anticlerical policies of the Mexican government which led to the state sanctioned persecution of religious Catholics. The audience response to that film in all likelihood resulted from the spiritual message of the movie.
On other occasions, I attended several Saturday matinees where newly remastered prints of Universal horror films were screened. I put down the audience lustily cheering and applauding the dynamiting of the dam in the climax of "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" to nostalgia. Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi could not hear the applause, but these movies meant something to a generation of children who camped in front of their televisions on Saturdays. The first film shown at a film noir festival that I witnessed which provoked such a surprising response was "Fly By Night" which is a decidedly lightweight early Hollywood effort by Robert Siodmak. It was a crowd pleaser.
As for the films shown at the film noir festival, a few of the titles were quite obscure, but high quality prints of independent productions that were difficult to individual audience members to see on in worthwhile DVD copies or cable television. Two films shown Saturday were made by people who worked for or graduated from Poverty Row studios (Monogram and Producers Releasing Corporation). The others were Spanish language features from Argentina being shown with English subtitles.
At some level, the film makers of that era managed to connect with the collective psyche of the audiences watching in ways that current Hollywood types can seldom manage. None of these films were praised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All the same, the movies are high quality productions that have stood the test of time and still please film goers sixty plus years after their initial release. It is another argument while film preservation is so worthwhile.