Going to a movie theater has always been a big thing for me. I was raised on cable television and video rental places, so I missed the experience of seeing a particular gem projected 10 million feet tall and the sound blasting at me. Instead I had to endure my parents yelling at me to do my chores or turn the damn thing down while watching Bogart’s ending speech to Ingrid Bergman at the end of Casablanca. So when I got to see one of my favorite films of all time in a small art theater in my new adopted home town, I was stoked beyond all measure.
Kiss Me Deadly is amazing plain and simple. I have measured every other film noir I have seen against this film and found them wanting. It is not because it is good in a conventional sense. It is because it is an experience that you will either latch onto at the first amazing shot of a woman walking barefoot down the middle of a street at night or you will think is total nonsense. The protagonist is gruff womanizing gum shoe who sticks his nose into anything that will make him a few bucks. He uses women, anger, physical violence, and just about anything in order to get what he wants. Yet you love him because he is so bad, so mean, so sexist. The side characters who either help him or hinder him are also something to see. His “friend” from the force has this way of speaking that immediately recalls a snake. He has a mechanic friend who says “va-voom” as his catch phrase. His secretary wants to have sex with him every time she is around him and yet he is always telling her no and she has a ballet bar in her apartment (wtf?!). Every character is so expertly written that you remember them and their sly and out-of-place dialogue days afterward. It is quite amazing.
But you know what is even more amazing? The freaking cinematography. I love film noir cinematography because of this film. The bright lights of the car saturate the screen with such a blaring intensity that your eyes blink in the same way the lost young woman does. One in particular scene is framed with such complexity that I could watch it again and again. It is the scene where the protagonist, Mike Hammer, rescues this other young woman from her apartment complex. She hides in her bathrobe at the bottom of these interwoven stairs, crouching on ripped up black and white tile flooring. For seconds the camera lingers on this shot as she waits for the car honk. She is just one part of the puzzle that Hammer is trying to figure out and therefore she is highlighted in the middle of this puzzle of apartment design. It is fantastic.
I feel like I was born too late to experience the collective film experience that is going to a movie theater. I wish everyday that I can experience the experience I had watching this film with every other film I see. The audience knew what they were getting into and it was full of older people who have a respect for the medium. I enjoyed myself at a theater for the first time in a long time and it was refreshing. Go to your local art theater. Make sure they stay in business. It is the only true way to see a film.