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Dark Streets (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 83 minutes.

This is an inventively made noir with a terrific sound track of 12 original songs, sung by people like Bijou Phillips, the daughter of John Phillips of The Momas and the Papas, who also wrote one of the songs, and also featuring BB King and Richie Sambora. Bijou shows she’s a good actress, as well as singer and songwriter, playing Crystal Labelle, the jilted love interest of Chaz Davenport (Gabriel Mann).

This is a noir in the truest sense of the world. It’s got Chaz, a naďve young man who runs a nightclub in an unnamed city in the 1930s, although it looks a lot like Los Angeles, since that is where it was filmed using the old art deco structures that still remain, like the Tower Theater, a former movie palace that now stands hidden behind a taco stand, City Hall, the Alexander Hotel, the 3rd Street Bridge, and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Production designer Frank Bollinger has created an amazing surrealistic world.

But nothing is recognizable. The era is the 1930s, but the governor is black and the dress is odd. Costume designer Maria Schicker has created a look that didn’t exist in the 1930s, but it fits right in with the world created by Bollinger.

The city, though, is dark. Chaz’s family owned the power company and the city is hit with constant blackouts. Chaz’s father has died and Chaz comes to think he was murdered. Mysterious characters appear at his night club and Chaz gets in deeper and deeper, like a corrupt, oddly dressed policeman, The Lieutenant (Elias Koteas), who offers Chaz protection at a price. A beautiful chanteuse, Madelaine (Izabella Miko), shows up, and Chaz falls for her, dumping Crystal. As any noir devotee must instantly realize, this is a bad idea.

The film is almost totally surrealistic, which is enhanced by the use of a cinematography technique using swing and shift lenses. This gives a shaded depth of field resulting in distorted images. The main person in the shot is fully focused but the surroundings are slightly out of focus. Enhancing the noir feel of the film is the darkness. Not only is the film subject to the city’s blackouts, but the entire film is shot pretty darkly. The alleys are full of trash and some bodies. This is really noir taken to its extreme.

I found the film enticing. The acting is good, the characters odd but interesting, and the story held my interest. Director Rachel Samuels hasn’t used much filler. There are enough cuts to keep the story moving without dwelling too much on irrelevant dialogue.

Miko, a Deborah Harry nee Blondie look-alike, gives a wonderful performance as the girl who seems so nice and who takes Chaz away from the girl who really loves him, Crystal. But Phillips is just as good, even if she can’t cry real tears.

Maybe the best of the film are the singing and the dancing. Samuels honors George Acogny’s music by letting each song play through to its end without any interruptions. The choreography (Keith Young) is original and a lot better than you’ll see in big movies like Mamma Mia, whose choreography would get a “1” to Dark Streets’ “10.” It’s not “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” but it’s as good as I’ve seen recently.

This might not be for everyone, but if you like noir, it’s one that shouldn’t disappoint.

October 15, 2008