Friday, August 31, 2018

On Dangerous Ground: Film Noir Poetry- Gun Crazy (1950), The Hitch-Hiker (1953).

“Ontology! I’m just
  telling you a story
  about this projector, that’s all.”

                     Edward Dorn, Gunslinger, Book II

Gun Crazy (Joseph Lewis, 1950)

Another case of Godard getting 
it right. Perhaps all you really do 
need is a girl and gun. Plus thirty 
days and a black-listed ghost, star-
crossed by mutual obsession. Soak 
and stir in delirious metaphor: trick-
shooter, gun stealer, carnival contest 
winner, to prove whose is bigger, if 
not best. Sleazily slipping on silk 
stockings, threatening to walk if her 
boyfriend isn't with the programme, 
ready to swim in her hapless pit of 
anxiety. Together seeking redemption 
in one-shot heist, from, not in, 
the back. Why show the teenage 
robbery- with ghost-laden precision- 
when you can depict trembling smirks, 
gazing into the past, while making 
plans to finagle the future. Adrenalin 
pumping gaggles of personas: tight 
sweater, cowboy gear, beret, like 
shapes of things to come, breathless, 
amidst soiled pruriencequote “Your 
cock has never been...female dog 
in heat." Perhaps that's just stating
an obvious ellipsis.  Better, if possible
to scam the studio, Das Capital in 
their pockets and Fuck you, League 
of Decency on their backs.  

The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Fear of the other, past and
present. From picket-fence 
and fishing trips to inflagrante 
hitch-hikers with psychotic 
tendencies. Is that tough love, 
or, if pushed, simply physical 
deformity- the hitcher's drooping 
eye which, like Pinkerton's, 
never closes. Breaking in this 
new smog of paranoia, dragging 
those hostages all the way to 
Baja, tortured by a survival-of-
the-fittest spiel and the irksome 
inadequacies of everyday life. 
Like sharecropping desolation 
row. If you don't believe me, 
check the map: Lone Pine, not 
far from the source of L.A.'s 
water. Manzanar, where other
others were interned. Ida,
geographically sussed, riffing 
on the dangers of an outstretched
thumb and proverbial obsession:
a stranger asking for help could
be a killer, a commie, or, worse,
a commie killer. But when have
non-drivers not been suspect?
Like paying in cash, thumbing 
is a state of mind lacking in 
negotiable currency. And Ida, 
air-brushed, herself a hostage, 
stuck in another kind of desert, 
released for a price only after the 
world had all but passed her by.

Friday, August 03, 2018

On Dangerous Ground: Film Noir Poems- The Gangster (1947) and Gilda (1946)

The Gangster (Gordon Wiles, 1947)

Old-world scar maps a familiar but seldom 
visited country. Where arrogance and bravado 
morph into fear and cabbage. Where fatalism 
and tears flow like honey. So singer-obsessed 
he's lost interest in his empire, gaming tables 
located in the crevices of a diversified ice-cream 
parlour. What about an ad in the classifieds
corporation seeks new emperor of ice cream, 
greased by seam of sleazy modernity. Apply 
to melt this frozen empire. Total liquidation, 
everything slashed. Unreasonable love, hidden 
to heed the voices. Knowing power will soon 
be as negotiable as two-dollar bill. So stylised 
its scheming, one expects Gene Kelly to enter 
the frame, a leap of faith across a rain-ridden 
Coney Island boardwalk.“You know what my 
sins were?" asks Shubunka, yid too far for 
the studios.  "That wasn’t low and rotten and 
dirty enough.” With politicos still seeking less 
with more than ever, final grand gesture 
skinned of old world remnantsslight accent, 
cigarette smog, heart attack sandwiches and 
decayed lungs. Grist for melodrama that turns 
on an empty soap box, the politics of poetic 
realism searching the gutter to touch the stars. 

Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946)

A sluice of post-war Nazis sleazing it up 
down Argentina way. And that song, 
exotic turbulence churning routine, from 
self-preservation or convenience, the singer, 
displaying metaphorically-stained dress 
Bill might have denied denying, and her 
Nazi, tie the knot, unpredictably gordian, 
entangled by roving gambler with case 
of tango tumescence, rubbing his recent 
past against her precarious future.  But that 
fucking Nazi should have known hiring
a gambler to run a casino, tweaking his job
description to include spying on a libidinous
wife, was a hedge too far. A wall beyond
which to fixate on his sword-tipped cane 
affectionately called my little friendWhile 
an array of sycophants quack dubious dialectics, 
maracas shake, hearing hubby's plane bubbling 
under troubled waters. Disentangled to marry 
the lone stranger, who too will soon learn to 
grovel. As for the Nazi, they rarely die with 
such aplomb, floating shark-infested seas, 
treading wetness until the fish cry mercy, the
Argentine cows come home, and the blame 
is put on...a weapon of mass dysfunction, as 
euphemism for greater obscenity. “Men 
fall in love with Gilda," she said, "but they 
wake up with me.” No wonder out of all 
her filmsit was only musicals that Holly-
wood's closet chicana could bare to watch. 

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Noir This, Noir That: Understudy For Love by Charles Willeford, The Original Adventurers of Ford Fairlane by Rex Weiner, Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne, The White Devil by Domenic Stansberry, People Only Die of Love in Movies by Jim Ridley

Charles Willeford, Understudy For Love (Hard Case). Available for the first time since its 1961 publication.  A housewife has killed her two children and herself, and  Richard Hudson, here a cynical newspaper reporter rather than the cynical car salesman in The Woman Chaser, investigates the matter. Clearly a novel no Willeford fan will want to miss, while anyone who has yet to encounter this trickster of all things criminal, will find themselves, for better or worse, at the deep end. Probably not Willeford's best, but even so it's better than most and more than worth reading. Who knows, maybe someday the likes of  Hard Case  could even find a way to negotiate the publication of that most infamous of Willeford novels, Grimhaven. What a coup that would be. Or am I dreaming?

Rex Weiner, The Original Adventures of Ford Fairlane (Rare Bird).
Forget that horrible movie based on these pieces, reproduced here for the first time in their entirety. Originally written for the L.A. Weekly and New York Rocker back in the 1980s, they comprise when taken together a fast paced novel that, if nothing else, conjures up a specific time and place. Written in a mock-Chandler style, and fuelled by adrenaline and other substances, these pieces have an undeniable charm and humour, not to mention an almost archaeological presence, with depictions of long gone  L.A. and New York's iconic streets, night spots and personages. Read it and wonder why time never stands still.

Lawrence Osborne, Only to Sleep (Hogarth). Osborne is certainly one of the more interesting writers around these days- my favourite of his is Bangkok Days- but he's set himself a monumental task in writing a Philip Marlowe novel. For me, trying to write in the voice of an established crime writer is invariably a losing proposition- apologies to the likes of Banville, Atkins, Coleman, Parker, etc. To even half-way carry it off necessitates some major writing chops. And to  undertake it takes no small amount of courage. Osborne is an excellent writer, but he, like most others, isn't quite up to the task.  Yet it's a nice idea, a 72 year old Marlowe (sometimes it seems that Osborne is writing about Chandler rather than his protagonist) in 1988.  And there are definitely some hauntingly beautiful passages. But Chandler, Osborne is clearly not. Nor, for better or worse, could anyone else possibly be.

Domenic Stansberry, The White Devil (Orion). This is 17th century playwright John Webster crossed with the Amanda Knox case, all of which Stansberry filters through his dark imagination. A story of money and power that moves from Rome and Spain, to Beverly Hills and Malibu. Particularly evocative are passages describing Rome's Felliniesque streets. A young aspiring actress, Vicki with a more than shady past and Texas roots, is married to a fading playwright. But we soon discover that she has a considerably more  intense relationship with her manipulative half-brother. Her brother introduces her to a wealthy, but married, Italian politician. It isn't long before the  politician's wife is found dead, apparently just one of a series of murders. All of which leaves  the reader wondering not only who might be responsible for the various cross-continental murders, but Vicki's  relationship with her half-brother, and whether or not she might simply be a fantasist. Reminiscent of Highsmith ar her best.

 Jim Ridley, People Only Die of Love in Movies (U. of Vanderbilt)
The odd one out, in that it's a book of film reviews rather than a novel. But  deserves to be mentioned. I have to admit I'd never heard  of Jim Ridley until William Boyle posted something about this posthumous collection, after which I immediately wanted to read this book.  I wasn't disappointed, realizing after only just a few pages that Ridley, a regular contributor to and editor the Nashville Scene, was one of those writers who are stylists without, it seems, ever trying to be. Moreover,  Ridley was one of the best, and most soulful, reviewers around.  So why hadn't I heard of him before? I suppose it's one of the downsides to living across the pond. What Ridley shares with the best critics, whether Kael, Faber, Ferguson, Rosenbaum, etc., is that what they write is always  of the moment, yet invariably has lasting value.