Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ca Suffit: Manchette's Fatale.

Jean-Patrick Manchette's books seem perfect for graphic novel adaptations. If for no other reason than they are primarily about imagery, with a short punchy existential, often poetic, prose that purports to be only surface-deep, but which, in fact, delves further down than few crime writers seem able or willing to go.  I remember reading Fatale in French about fifteen years ago and being somewhat perplexed by it. Though its line "Vous-bridgez?" has, for some reason, remained, for me, as memorable as anything in Manchette's oeuvre. Since then I've read the novel in English and now in the present graphic novel adapted by Max Cabanes and Doug Headline (Manchette's crime writing son), translated by Edward Gauvin, which Titan has recently published in the UK by Titan. With the results now in, I can say the latter is almost as effective as the original.  

Maybe more effective. Though much of Manchette's writing has been edited out, there is still enough to get the story across, aided by Headline's textual selection and Cabanes's images and cinematic eye, which are about as noir as it gets. And no wonder I was perplexed by the novel. Whether a scorned woman's revenge on a corrupt and bourgeois French town, or something deeper, I'm not sure. For the femme fatale's motives remain ambiguous- even though we eventually learn that "she saw herself wearing a scarlet evening dress... climbing with ease an endless snow-covered slope."

Cabanes and Headline's adaptation  made me wonder how the work of other  crime writers might fare as graphic novels. Early stylists like Hammett and the Black Mask School seem best suited. Though Chandler, being mostly about language, would be a bit tricky.  Spillane, I hate to admit, would probably work as well. Of present writers, the only one I can think of who would be well-suited would be James Sallis, who, in some respects, comes across like an American Manchette minus  the political edge. And  if I'm not mistaken, there is a graphic novel of  Drive.

But who else? For instance, I doubt if Ellroy would translate all that well. Of course I could be wrong. For all I know there might be any number of such adaptations around these days. But I still think Manchette is better suited  than most. And better suited to b.d.'s than he is to the cinema; that is, based on  recent evidence, i.e., Pierre Morel's glossy 2015 The Gunman (from The Prone Gunman). For me, the best Manchette adaptations for the screen were those stylish if somewhat ridiculous films released during  the 1970s and 80s, like  Jacques Bral's 1984 Polar (from Morgue Plein), Chabrol's The Nada Gang and Yves Boisset's Mad Enough to Kill (from O dingos o chateaux). Not that Manchette's work is enmeshed in a  time warp, but one can't help but conclude that there is an element of artifact to them, one which conjures up a particular era.  Of course, in France there are now any number of graphic novels by Manchette, illustrataed, for the most part, by Tardi, like La princess du sang, Le petit bleu de la cote Ouest, O dingos, o chateau, and La position du tireur couché. All of them deserve English editions. But on those and others we'll have to wait... In the meantime, Fatale will more than suffice.  

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