Big hearts break hard downtown, and Chaz Davenport (Gabriel Mann) was blessed and cursed with a big heart. As our story begins, Chaz has opened a new night club in 1930s New Orleans, The Tower. Already, the bills are piling up and the dancers are catfighting. Bummer. All this, plus he was strangely disinherited by his late father, Arthur Davenport, who was CEO of Consolidated Power Co. BTW, the company lawyer died in a car crash shortly thereafter. Curious.
Enter The Lieutenant (Elias Koteas). He's a cop, but he does things normal cops don't do. MANY such things. He introduces Chaz to an old friend, Madelaine (Izabella Miko, seen previously at CineVegas in the excellent Park, 2006). She is NOT just another pretty face—she can REALLY sing. Which causes even more of an uproar among her fellow dancers—Crystal (Bijou Phillips), Rose (Tracy Phillips), Darlene (Palmer Davis), et al. Chaz explains to Crystal why she's out as lead singer: 'You're a great belter, but we've got a REAL chanteuse now.' To which Crystal replies, 'She can chanteuse my ass.' Madelaine wants to be just friends with Chaz, at first, anyway. She's unafraid to walk these dark streets alone; they are truly her home.
Then things take, well, a dark turn—Darlene is killed in the alley behind the club, her body a bloody mess. But when Tommy (James Otis), the bathroom attendant, has his throat cut in situ, the club staff become, understandably, even more morose and paranoid.
Chaz is a savvy businessman. As a judge of character, alas, he's somewhat less skilled. But, given enough time, he can figure out what people are up to. Usually. And he needs to, seeing as EVERYONE in this film, other than him, has a hidden agenda. He reasons that the best person to turn to is Uncle Nate (Michael Fairman), also an executive at Consolidated. You see, Chaz is gradually coming to suspect that his father did NOT commit suicide. Uncle Nate says he'll look into it. Another possible source of information is Gloria (Carolyn Seymour), who was a friend to Arthur. Meaning, of course, she knows things. Things Chaz ought to hear. It appears even the Governor (Ken Rosier) is involved. That's about all I'm going to say about the plot. The rest hinges on a letter which mysteriously disappears, a Consolidated facility which is down for maintenance and a telescope.
According to the director, the film is a fantasy version of the '30s, i.e., an amalgamation of different time periods, with a '30s vibe. It was originally a musical play before she signed on. The storyline was influenced by the recent California blackouts and the Enron scandal. Swing and shift lenses often shifted the line of focus, with the edges of the frame blurred, creating a dream atmosphere. When I asked what challenges such a large cast presented, Samuels responded, 'The film was shot in 28 days, with the musicals in half a day each, rather than the usual several weeks. It [the schedule] was complicated and chaotic, but incredibly fun.'
This is her third feature film. It has distribution and will be out in November. In addition, it will screen at the New Orleans Film Festival in October, in conjunction with a benefit concert. While the film itself included a few blues artists as background music, e.g., Natalie Cole, the soundtrack will also include the work of B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and Etta James.
Director Samuels has crafted a masterfully rich portrait of this world and of these characters, as diverse as they are fascinating. Come to think of it, there isn't a ray of sunlight in the entire film, not literally, anyway. These streets and back alleys are always dark. And there's always someone or something waiting for you. Sometimes friend, sometimes foe. The blues touch every second, every frame of this film. There's music in every scene, every shot. Even when no one's singing, there's music—including during the numerous blackouts—always music playing. Just as it is in these characters' lives all the time, and it's always the blues. Like a heartbeat. And one thing music and heartbeats have in common—eventually, they both stop.
This film is dedicated to the blues musicians of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina. A portion of the film's profits will be donated to them via The Blues Initiative, www.thebluesinitiative.com . The film includes the music of B.B. King, Natalie Cole and Etta James; the soundtrack album is in the works.
Stellar performances throughout, especially by Mann and the visually / aurally stunning Miko. Phillips provides a deep and calculating competitive counterpoint to Miko, and Fairman is integral to the plot, despite being in only a few scenes. Truth be told, I HATE musicals. It all stems from when my sister dragged me to see Camelot. When I was twelve. But I digress. This film and Chicago are the only musicals I have ever found thoroughly entertaining. And that's pretty good company.
Dark Streets (2008) [world premiere], Capture Film International, L.A. Dark Streets and Sherazade Film Development, 86 mins. www.darkstreetsmovie.com. Director, Rachel Samuels. Writers, Wallace King (screenplay), Glenn M. Stewart (play). I give this film 3½ stars (out of 4).
MasterMath® is a registered trademark of W G Raley.
P.S. At the CineVegas awards presentation, a Special Jury Award was given to Dark Streets for the collaborative craftsmanship in achieving its visual splendor and showmanship! Congrats! :)