Saturday, November 22, 2008

Noir gumshoe in 1970s Los Angeles and other odds and ends (Film - The Long Goodbye)

We are edging toward the final weeks of the semester, and may I just say one word - cuh-ray-zee - so we will all be lucky if this is coherent.

Made a stop at normblog after learning about him from exlibris who was profiled there recently. He has an impressive selection of blogger profiles which I much enjoyed. I love to eavesdrop on other people's lives a phrase which always makes me think of the opening sequence of the film of Ordinary People , the first film directed by Robert Redford. Have you seen it? The camera comes down a street, passing by houses in an average American suburban neighborhood, peering suddenly into the window of one and then moving magically through that window into the house? Wonderful sequence.

Speaking of movies, we had Robert Altman's 1973 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye with Elliott Gould out from the library this week and watched it a few nights ago. Altman is a structured but improvisatory genius, a style after my own directorial heart, so I have always loved his approach to film making. This film makes barely a nod to 1930s noir, despite the fact that it might be fair to say that the Bogart/Howard Hawk's film of The Big Sleep, another Raymond Chandler novel with detective Phillip Marlowe, fairly defined it. This gumshoe is stuck in 1970s Los Angeles, definitely a man out-of-place, as Chandler's Marlowe is. That is the thing I like about this movie. It is faithful to the themes of the book and the experience of the characters but not slavish or imitative of the iconic film that preceded it. Though there is no noir to be seen, this man's world is black as can be. He drives his friend Terry Lennox to the Mexican border and is then hounded by the police for aiding Lennox in escaping prosecution for the murder of his wife, and is hounded by a crime syndicate loony who is sure Marlowe has the substantial sum of money owed him by Lennox. In the meantime he is hired by the wife of a famous writer to find her disappeared, desperate, alcoholic husband played with brio by Sterling Hayden a fine contrast to Elliott Gould's Marlowe, who he understatedly plays as a decent guy, wise-cracker, with no delusions about himself. Altman gets this incredible grimy sense of verismo in this film. The camera work and the personal interplay, feels totally accidental and utterly real. It most evokes for me Joan Didion's bleak novels, also set in 1970s California. Altman also has a lot of fun with the theme music - a song by John Williams and Johnny Mercer that is played in ten different guises - by a local Mexican orchestra, twinkled on the piano by a bar tender, played on the car radio as a popular song of the day... a fun conceit. If you're not familiar with this film, it's worth a look.

And last, but certainly not least, I have begun a re-read of A. S. Byatt's Possession, yes Sheila, I know it is one of your favorites. I am barely fifty pages in and am taken with her observant, whimsical eye for character and the elegance of her prose. Perhaps after The Meaning of Night I wanted to continue in the fictionalized scholarly vein. Also, as the pressures of papers and finals bear down, I want a quality of writing good enough and a world compelling enough to absorb me completely.

1 comment:

Sheila O'Malley said...

Norm profiled me once, back in the day. Way back when - maybe 2003?? I love his site!

And I love The Long Goodbye too. I love the shots of the naked yoga girls across the way - who seem omnipresent in almost every shot ... Like no matter what he is going thru, his naked neighbors are still practicing Downward Dog and getting stoned and being friendly ... I love those girls!