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  • Feature: Dark Streets

    Fri, 12 Dec 2008 16:08:31

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    For Bijou Phillips, the hazy musical noir Dark Streets was more than just another gig. It's the kind of film that the young actress has wanted to do for as long as she can remember.

    "Dark Streets fulfilled some childhood fantasies for me. After doing it, I was able to check off everything on my list of 'Things To Do Before I Die'—except for marriage and kids," laughs Phillips.

    Sitting in the Beverly Hilton wearing a stunning black dress and flashing a wide smile, Phillips shines with unbreakable enthusiasm. In real life, she's not much different than her Dark Streets character, Crystal. She shares Crystal's passion for music and performing on stage, and similarly, she's a dreamer. Crystal is a singer and dancer in a jazz club that's tangled in a web of intrigue. She's caught in a dangerous love triangle, surrounded by nefarious characters and stuck in the dark about what's transpiring around her. Phillips spent a lot of time preparing herself to be in her first noir.

    "I watched a lot of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart movies," she explains. "If you walked into my trailer, I just had every Lauren Bacall movie on DVD. I would just pop them in and have them playing in the background. I watched all of those as much as I could for inspiration."

    Phillips' performance bears traces of those classic femme fatales. At the same time, she instills modern sass and edge into Crystal, making her palatable for a generation that's not necessarily familiar with musicals or noir. Right when the opportunity to star in Dark Streets arose, she had to jump on it.

    She explains, "I got sent the script, and I was asked to come in and read for it. I love going in to read. They were like, 'Prepare some songs.' I thought that was exciting. I prepared some songs, and I had some records ready. Doing a jazz musical is everything I've wanted to do since I was a little girl. When other kids were listening to whatever modern music was popular, my parents were playing Etta James, Billie Holiday, and the blues. My dad only listened to Motown."

    Phillips's dad wasn't just another Motown fan, though. He's singer John Phillips of '60s dream pop legends The Mamas and The Papas. Growing up, music was everywhere around her. However, it wasn't just standard Woodstock fare. "Everyone always thinks, 'Oh, did you listen to a lot of Zeppelin, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and blah blah blah.' All my dad's friends? No, we listened to the music that inspired my parents, which was the blues, Billie Holiday, Motown, and all that stuff. That's all I heard as a kid. When I moved out, that's all I still listened to. Getting to be a part of this movie and write two songs for it was everything I'd ever wanted when I envisioned being in movies as a kid. Watching Turner Movie Classics and all of those old movies, I would say, 'I'd love to be in that movie.' This is what I'd always wanted to become."

    Her wish came true, and Dark Streets channels that classic sensibility. There's an authenticity to the film that makes it stand out. Shot in abandoned theaters in downtown L.A., there's a pervasive sense of history in every frame.

    Phillips continues, "The location scouting they did for the movie was unbelievable. That's what gives the movie this texture and this feeling. You couldn't build or buy sets like these. It would cost millions of dollar to make sets like this. It brings the movie to life. You really feel like you've been taken to a new place. The theaters we shot in downtown L.A. are so haunted! You walk in there, and it's like something takes over you. There are still people that are trapped there or something. When you walk in and go through the different parts of it, and you just feel stuff going on. It's inspiring."

    When I'm on stage wearing the outfits and performing, I [feel] completely transformed.

    Aside from dodging spirits, Phillips got to showcase her singing skills in the film, challenging herself more than ever before. "When I'm up there on stage wearing the outfits and performing, I [feel] completely transformed. My mom is a jazz singer. I remember going on stage [for Dark Streets] and doing the performance. My mom was watching my monitor, and after I finished she was crying. Everything I wanted to do since I was a little girl was there in that moment. I couldn't believe that I had gotten to do this. I checked off everything on my list that I wanted to do when I made this film. It was awesome."

    Dark Streets may rouse younger audience members to, like Phillips, find inspiration in the classics. "I want people to go home and be inspired. Sometimes you see a movie, and you're like, 'I want to go write or I want to go think or I want to go for a walk.' Sometimes, I'll leave movies and I'll have that energy of the film or that energy of the character. I almost talk like that character or think like that character, and it'll just sort of empower me. It'll take over me. I'd want the audience to leave with the feeling that they want to walk out of there and go write something, do something, or think something that's maybe different or separate from what they'd normally do in life, which I think is what you want from every film you make."

    —Rick Florino

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    Tags: Gabriel Mann, Bijou Phillips, Izabella Miko, Elias Koteas

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