A Bit of History, and Ten Little Noirs


2013-era Screening Room at Kingsway Theatre, Toronto, based on an original image (CC BY-3.0) by Jason Whyte


Decades ago, when I was going to school in Toronto, there was a great repertory cinema called the Nostalgic Cinema. Rather than screening newer films, the Nostalgic stuck to older 16mm films, mostly black & white — Alfred Hitchcock’s work was regularly featured to the extent that there was a framed list posted outside the screening room that identified his role and cameo for each film in his body of work.

The screening room itself was small, located on the second floor of the Kingsway Theatre, and featured perhaps three plywood risers each holding perhaps two rows of maybe five or six seats. Wonderfully cosy, (I think I remember bead curtains on the two entry doors off the second floor hallway, and drapes on the walls for ambiance — and soundproofing), it was a great place to get introduced to all those old films. Limited information located tonight suggests that the Nostalgic sat perhaps an audience of 25-30. Sadly, I was unable to find barely a mention of it on the net.

"Kingsway, coloursplash," by @aforgrave, based on an original image (CC BY-3.0) by kingswaytheatre

“Kingsway, coloursplash,” by @aforgrave, based on an original image (CC BY-3.0) by kingswaytheatre

At the time (early 80s), the Nostalgic Cinema and the downstairs 700 seat Kingsway theatre were part of the Festival repertory theatre chain (perhaps 5-6 theatres total throughout Toronto), each of which offered up two different movies each night of the week, plus matinees on the weekend. Admission for a movie at the time was $2 (with your membership card, which perhaps was a one-time fee of $2?) and was as close as you could get back then to Netflix today. This was pretty much before VHS and video-rental chains took off.

A few years after, but on the opposite end of the Toronto, I found a video rental shop that stocked an inventory of classic films (we’re talking VHS cassettes at the time) — it was there that I was able to source out a copy of the original The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), directed by Robert Wise. Having seen the film once years before, I knew that it would be a perfect focus for a paper I was writing on the 1950s fear of nuclear power/aliens/other/cold war. Being able to call up the store (on a landline, mind you) and then rent a copy at the time pointed out how valuable it was to have such resources at hand. We’re talking LONG before the Internet.

Fast Forward to Today*

*Pardon the magnetic tape reference.

So yes. Now we live in the age of Netflix and internet delivery of a wide range of cinema (and television) content. Some aspects of access have certainly changed. But old films and television shows are still a treasure!

Last season (during the late summer and the fall run up to #Wire106), I located the wonderfully stocked Classic Video rental shop (40,000 discs packed into two floors!) about an hour’s drive away in the next town over. In addition to providing rental access to the complete 5 seasons of The Wire, I was able to access some great television series from my childhood and from across the pond.  They even have a great video telling their story! Check it out …

Sourcing Some Noir

So this past weekend, while returning the last of my outstanding rentals of The Sweeney and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, I took a few moments to root through the Classics section at Classic Video in search of some noir for me to dig into in the coming weeks. I had a few titles I was looking for, but for the most part, if it looked noir (or if it said noir), then I added it to my stack. At three films for $4.99, I tend to get 3×3 films to tide me over. When I had my nine, I stopped digging, and tendered my $16.91 — what a great deal!

Here then, sorted in chronological order only now as I document the list, are the films that I have queued up for the next little while.

"Eight Little Noirs," animated GIF by @aforgrave

“Eight Little Noirs,” animated GIF by @aforgrave

It’s been many years since I kind of watched Our Man in Havana, and reading the synopsis clarifies that it won’t really play well as a noir, but I’ll watch it anyway.

Now, I did say Ten Little Noirs up in the title, and that’s because I’ve already started watching another film that I saw in first release back in the eighties, and that I’m looking to GIF in the next little while. I’ll hold the title to that one close to my chest for a couple of days, but I’m going to see if I can unpack whether it’s noir, or whether it is just borrowing from noir, or whether it might be some kind of mutated noir, akin to what Jim Groom was talking about.

Time for some Art!