Thinking about New Orleans: Movies

Hello again ARLISians,

Today’s fun Friday post — to help you think “New Orleans is a must” for the February 5-9, 2017 ARLIS-NA Conference — is about movies. Whether you stream them via Netflix, Hulu, or another source, or check out the DVD from a library, these movies and one television series — using New Orleans as a central character — are very easy to locate.

Of course, there are many documentaries available about the city, many concentrating on Hurricane Katrina or the situation in post-Katrina New Orleans. But let’s talk about fictional representations.

Now, go start your popcorn and get ready for the weekend!

NOLA Theater
Movie Theatre on Saint Charles Street. Liberty Theater, New Orleans, Louisiana, by Walker Evans, 1935-36; FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8e08107, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Many of us became devotees of the fine HBO series Treme, which ran from 2010 into 2014. It was created by David Simon and Eric Overseer, with a great cast and a wonderful soundtrack and appearances by musicians who were primarily, though not all, native to New Orleans. Vocalist John Boutte’s theme song for the series is fantastic. Listen to it on this Youtube video; it gives you a feel for the history and the people of the city, and it includes a few production stills from the series:

Other TV series have been set in New Orleans, but I think Treme is the best, and it is readily available on DVD, and right now it is also streaming via Amazon Prime. It is said to be a fairly accurate picture of the people of New Orleans trying to deal, both physically and emotionally, with the aftermath of Katrina as well as with the greedy people who came to prey on them.

Now let’s travel several years down memory lane: How about the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the play by Tennessee Williams (more on him in an upcoming post) and directed by Elia Kazan? It starred Vivian Leigh, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter, and if you ever saw this version of Streetcar, it is hard to forget Brando. I mean, HEY, STELLA!

Another oldie-but-goodie is from 1958. King Creole was directed by Michael Curtiz and starred the man of the moment, Elvis Presley. In this one Elvis is a New Orleans teen who works in a sleazy (of course) French Quarter club to support his family, and (of course), Danny (Elvis) can really sing – thus the big production numbers. Dean Jagger plays his unemployed father, Walter Matthau plays a gangster, and Carolyn Jones is Matthau’s moll. You really must hear Elvis singing the title song:

Staying on memory lane: Pretty Baby is a 1978 film directed by Louis Malle and starring a twelve-year-old Brooke Shields, with Keith Carradine and Susan Sarandon, and a soundtrack including Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin, among others. Many scenes, which take place in the brothels of Storyville, are based on the photographs of Ernest J. Bellocq (more on him in an upcoming post). Bellocq is a main character, but the film is not even loosely based on what is known of his life. Here’s the original trailer:

In 1982 a remake of the 1942 film Cat People was made which takes place in New Orleans rather than in New York City. It was directed by Paul Schrader and starred Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. One memorable part of the film is the theme song, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” with lyrics and vocals by David Bowie:

Some of us remember the 1994 movie, Interview With the Vampire, which begins and ends in San Francisco, but is primarily set in New Orleans’ French Quarter. It was based on Anne Rice’s first novel, and wow, talk about atmosphere! One of the earlier of the trendy vampire movies, it is chock full of ick moments. There is quite a cast: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, and a young Kirsten Dunst as the child vampire Claudia.

A more recent film, 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, was directed by none other than Werner Herzog. It stars Nicholas Cage who plays a drug and gambling addicted detective investigating the killing of five Senegalese immigrants in post-Katrina New Orleans. Rotten Tomatoes called Cage “delightfully unhinged” in this picture.

Have you picked up a theme here? Many filmmakers have depicted New Orleans as a place where one’s senses are heightened, and the people you meet are different, to say the least. Who of us would want to miss that? Arts du Monde awaits!

E. Lee Eltzroth, publicity coordinator, ARLIS-NA 2017 NOLA

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