You Don't Know Jack

"Post-War Alienation: Film Noir Educationals"

American postwar mythology insists we were all shiny happy people living in Levittown. But of course, along with the gray flannel suits and housewives in heels came ulcerative businessmen, psychotic factory workers, and suicidal latchkey kids. At least, those are the denizens of noted curator Jack Stevenson's "Post-War Alienation: Film Noir Educationals" program. It's hard to imagine what audience was supposed to appreciate this trio of mini-melodramas, or where they played, but their survival proves that cultural critiques exist even in the most hostile territory. Norman Taurog's The Long Way Home is a gritty, well-acted exposè of kids home alone, with Carolyn Jones as a self-possessed slut who greets her depressed little boy with "Any messages?" Ulcer at Work (1959) suggests -- and visualizes in punishing medical detail -- that behind every uptight businessman's belt is a stomach with a hole in it. Best of all is Morton Hellig's Assembly Line (1961), a harrowing anti-Odyssey through downtown Philadelphia which skewers every imaginable locale -- automat, church, strip bar -- in its picture of a pathetic factory worker's nightmarish night on the town. This film won raves recently in Europe, no doubt because it confirmed the continental view that work has driven all Americans insane. This show and its companion "The Cult of Camp,"a brief history of film's camp aesthetic from the '40s to the present, play at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Fine Arts Cinema, 2451 Shattuck (at Haste), Berkeley. Admission is $7; call (510) 848-1143. The shows repeat at 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room, 701 Mission (at Third St.), S.F.. Admission is $3-6; call 978-ARTS. Stevenson will speak at all screenings.

 
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