Film Noir Series Starts With a Screening of a Silent ‘Pre-Noir’

A screening of the 1929 silent film Asphalt in Dartmouth College’s Loew Auditorium on Sunday at 4 p.m., will feature music composed by Dartmouth graduate student Carlos Dominguez. . (Courtesy Dartmouth College)

A screening of the 1929 silent film Asphalt in Dartmouth College’s Loew Auditorium on Sunday at 4 p.m., will feature music composed by Dartmouth graduate student Carlos Dominguez. . (Courtesy Dartmouth College)

Asphalt , the silent film that opens the Dartmouth Film Society’s tribute to Film Noir at 4 on Sunday afternoon, is really more of a pre-noir. Made in 1929 in Germany, the movie heralds some of the familiar tropes audiences have come to associate with film noir: a gullible leading man, a devilish femme fatale and a stash of filthy lucre.

Film Noir is usually associated with American, and some British, movies made in the period after World War II and continuing through the mid-1950s. The term was coined by French critics who saw in post-war American film a maturity and cynicism that hadn’t been there before, although the phrase was also used to describe the shadowy shooting style of the filmmakers who worked in the genre.

“They’re films that are disturbing and dark and pessimistic to the core,” said Bill Pence, director of film at the Hopkins Center.

The DFS series, which screens at 4 p.m. on Sundays in the Loew Auditorium in the Black Family Visual Arts Center, includes nine films and runs through Aug. 17.

Asphal t was directed by Joe May, one of the stalwarts of the German film industry of the 1920s and early 1930s. The plot centers on a beautiful jewel thief who seduces the policeman who comes to arrest her. The movie includes not only location shooting in Berlin (worth seeing for that alone) but boasts a frank sexuality that was rare for the era. This screening will have a musical accompaniment by Dartmouth Digital Musics graduate student Carlos Dominguez, who also scored a soundtrack for the Film Society’s 2013 screening of the silent film Beggars of Life .

Why begin the series with a movie that, chronologically at least, doesn’t really fall into the Film Noir category?

For one thing it anticipates the motifs that will later characterize Film Noir. And, said Pence, “It’s a film that nobody knows. I like showing stuff that others have not yet done.”

The femme fatale in Asphalt is played by Betty Amann, an American born in Germany who did film work there before coming to the U.S., with a stop-over in England to act in one of Hitchcock’s earlier films, Rich and Strange .

With a sleek cap of glossy black hair and sloe eyes, Amann is reminiscent of Louise Brooks, another silent star who disappeared from the scene only to have interest in her career revived when she came to the attention of a film curator at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. Amann just faded into obscurity. But in this film at least she has a sultry, knowing, amused presence that distinguishes her from Brooks’ icier persona.

For tickets and information call the Hopkins Center Box Office at 603-646-2422 or go to hop.dartmouth.edu.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.