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'Noir City' organizer Eddie Muller on the evolution of the genre he loves

'Czar of Noir' Eddie Muller talks about the hard-boiled crime fiction that inspired film noir.

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Q: How did film noir affect hard-boiled detective fiction?
A: The first generation of crime fiction writers were really the architects of what became film noir. They created the characters, the type of stories, and the world view that the filmmakers put up on the scene.
Those films influenced the next generation of literary crime writers, like David Goodis, Charles Willeford, and Jim Thompson, who developed an even more cinematic style in their books.
But when I say that film noir and Hollywood influenced these writers, I don’t always mean that they always wanted to write that way. Sometimes they were writing in opposition to it: We're going to write something that you can only get on the page that would never work as a movie.
Willeford was like that. "Pick-Up" is an amazing book, in which you’re following this protagonist – a classic noir loser – through the entire book and wondering why people treat him the way they do, why people are giving him so much grief.
It’s not until the last sentence that you realize why people have been treating him the way they have. In a movie, if you never showed the guy, that’s all the viewers would think about.
Q: Why the focus on Hammett this year?
A: My festival is in San Francisco, I’m a big Hammett fan, and he deserves more credit than any other writer for establishing the noir ethos. He popularized this tough attitude – lifting the lid on corruption in law enforcement and politics, and not really being shocked by it, saying this is the way things work. That’s what he brought to popular fiction.
And as a guy who tries to rescue obscure films, it occurred to me that there were a number of early Hammett films that were never seen. I figured that if I could get these resurrected, San Francisco is the obvious place.
Q: You shot the poster for this year's festival in a studio apartment on Post Street in San Francisco where Hammett lived. What does the apartment mean to you?
A: He kept an apartment in San Francisco while he was working as an ad copy writer. He'd come home, and that's where he'd write his stories.

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