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'Sex & Death & Venetian Blinds': The Brattle Revisits '80s And '90s Noir

Still from Brian de Palma's "Body Double" (Courtesy Brattle Theatre)closemore
Still from Brian de Palma's "Body Double" (Courtesy Brattle Theatre)

Unlucky tough guys, bad news dames, long shadows, convoluted plots and endless cigarettes are in abundance at The Brattle Theatre this month thanks to “Sex & Death & Venetian Blinds” — a series of 16 pictures focusing on the resurgence of film noir in the 1980s and '90s.
Some 30 years after the genre’s classic period, noir came roaring back with a vengeance in the early pay-cable and VHS era, giving a certain generation of movie buffs (OK, mine) their first glimpses of muddy morals and femme fatales, now in living color but still typically accompanied by a wailing saxophone score.
This comprehensive series includes auteurist classics like Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and Michael Mann’s “Thief,” as well as precocious debut films from the Coen brothers (“Blood Simple”) and P.T. Anderson (“Hard Eight”). Bob Rafelson’s kinky “Black Widow” is cleverly paired with John Dahl’s “The Last Seduction” for an evening that will probably put dudes off dating for a while, and there’s an inspired night of junky '80s remakes featuring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan in the craptacular “D.O.A.” followed by “Against All Odds.” The latter attempted to rework Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 noir classic “Out of the Past” with Jeff Bridges in the Robert Mitchum role, but ultimately proved less memorable than its Phil Collins theme song, which to this day remains a staple of emotionally turbulent karaoke misadventures.

Denzel Washington in Carl Franklin's "Devil in a Blue Dress." (Courtesy Brattle Theatre)
Denzel Washington in Carl Franklin's "Devil in a Blue Dress." (Courtesy Brattle Theatre)
Melanie Griffith and Craig Wasson in "Body Double." (Courtesy Flickr)
Melanie Griffith and Craig Wasson in "Body Double." (Courtesy Flickr)



Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at splicedpersonality.com.

Sean Burns Film Critic, The ARTery
Sean Burns is a film critic for The ARTery.

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