Noir, as a genre, tends toward fatalism and bleakness, and probably the bleakest and most fatalistic of all film noirs is Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945). Among the most memorable aspects of this uncompromising low-budget masterpiece is the performance of its female lead, Ann Savage (pictured above with co-lead, Tom Neal). In stark contrast to the male fantasies of glamourous evil embodied by Ava Gardner in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers or Jane Greer in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, Ann Savage’s young Vera is a completely credible femme fatale, whose bitterness and utter lack of scruples arise from a lifetime of poverty and hard luck. Reflecting the film’s grim attitude, she is dying of tuberculosis even before we meet her, hitchhiking on the road to nowhere.
Long absent from the screen (she had no major film roles apart from Detour), Ann Savage is performing once again as the mother of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin – or rather, his on-screen alter ego – in Maddin’s latest experimental feature, Brand Upon the Brain! Although Maddin’s real-life mother is still alive, he has not introduced her to Ms. Savage: “I thought maybe the universe would rip in half if those two forces came together.”
Don’t expect to see Brand Upon the Brain! at your local multiplex. It is a completely silent film, meant to be shown with live orchestral accompaniment and sound effects, and with a live narrator who may be Isabella Rossellini, Joan Chen, Laurie Anderson, Eli Wallach or Lou Reed, depending on where and when you see it. Maddin’s hybrid road show presentation will be staged in several major cities, including San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. For more, read the New York Times article here.
CORRECTION 6/11: Brand Upon the Brain! is Part 2 of a “personal trilogy” that began with Cowards Bend the Knee. Ann Savage does not appear in Brand, but rather in Part 3, My Winnipeg, a “documentary” (sort of) about Maddin’s home town.