Monday, September 23, 2019

On Dangerous Ground: The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls, 1949), Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)

The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls, 1949)

Perhaps everyone desires something similar. Hiding
home-truths as much as falsehoods. Neither unseen
nor unseeing. A historical reference mainly lost on
the white world, never mind it's derivation. Crossing
a bridge connecting Balboa to another world. Behind
dark glasses. To a sleazy hotel, a gambler and mink-
toting blond, bass propped against the wall, just below
a boxing poster. An interloper, not even a femme fatale,
to confront the creep who's messing with her seventeen
year-old art student daughter. Casually exercising a
droit du seigneur bluntness: as in, how much you willing
to pay to make me go away. Tells the tearaway daughter
he's only into her for the money she can generate. She
lashes out. A reasonable reaction, likewise her desire 
to escape her island of surplus capital. He falls, hits his
head. It's not murder, but it's not bad, more a piece of
messy performance art, left to her mother to curate. So
how does the soft-spoken Irish black-mailer hear about
it? Or did I miss something? Inserting himself into her
life until she can produce the cash. Which requires the
approval of her husband, no more than a moan-and-groan
out-of-towner. “Quite the prisoner, aren’t you?" says
the blackmailer, himself barely in the loop, whether
amongst criminals or old-world revolutionaries. Yet
smart enough to know that on this beach of milk, honey,
and good housekeeping, appearances must be maintained.
She's called Lucia, but he prefers Lucy. It's not love but
it's not bad. Less about the danger of not having a man
around than what life is like in the dark, the past like
falling dust and and how easily things can fall apart.   

Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)

For the meek shall inherit clichés, scams and false
modesty. While, in the shop window, democracy is
once again placed on the auction block. As always,
it's about class, selling the dictatorship of taste and
art world pretentiousness to the masses. Easy targets,
if not for the human element, humdrum never more
than skin deep. Sunday painter, Christopher a sitting
duck gabbled by Kitty in her see-through raincoat,
and amuse-bouche approach: "You know those art
galleries on Fifth Avenue? I saw one little picture that
cost fifty-thousand dollars. They call it, uh, 'Seezan'."
Christopher, his invisible sign- "Another sucker born
of middle-class manners"- hanging from his neck,
"You can't put any price on masterpieces like that.
They're worth, well, whatever you can afford to pay
for them. " Kitty: "I bet I saw some of your pictures
there and didn't know it." Christopher: "Oh no. I, uh...
I don't sell my pictures." Kitty: "Well not in New York
you mean…I bet you get as much for your pictures in
France as those Frenchmen get right here in New York.
You're never appreciated in your own country." Less
a social comedy than an ice-pick to the heart. Whether
gallery fascism or a seller's market, the only guarantee
that everyone will get fucked in the process. A scam, somewhere between a stick-up and Say's Law in broad
daylight. His face, her body, wistful window reflections,
pain and punishment for the person he has become.      

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Manchette Quotes: from Nada (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith)

"Four in the morning. The proletariat was sleeping with one eye open in its suburbs; middle managers for their part were sleeping like dumb logs in their luxury co-ops overlooking the Seine. The late-night pizzerias in Saint-Germain-des-Prés were closing up and shooting out languid, ravishing transvestites. Daughters of the well-to-do, stupified by drink and hashish, were getting fucked in Paris's western outskirts and faking orgasms to mask their nausea. Bums were passing around venereal diseases under the bridges. La Coupole had closed, and intellectuals were parting company at the Raspail-Montparnasse intersection and promising to phone one another. At the printing houses the Linotypists were working away. Headlines concerning the killings of the morning before were being composed. Editorials had been delivered with headlines varying according to the opinion of the particular paper: WHY? or BLOOD or HOW FAR WILL IT GO? or VICIOUS CIRCLE or FOOLHARDY JOE BLOW VS. STORM TROOPERS IN PEAK FORM."


"'I made a mistake," he said abruptly. "Leftist terrorism and State terrorism, even if their motivations cannot be compared, are the two jaws of...'

He hesitated.

'...of the same mug's game,' he concluded, and went on right away: 'The regime defends itself, naturally, against terrorism. But the system does not defend itself against it. It encourages it and publicizes it. The desperado is a commodity, an exchange value, a model of behavior like a cop or a female saint. The State's dream is a horrific, triumphant finale to an absolutely general civil war to the death between cohorts of cops and mercenaries on the one hand and nihilists armed groups on the other. This vision is the trap laid for rebels, and I fell into it. And I won't be the last. And that pisses me off in the worst way.'"

Monday, September 09, 2019

Proletarian Roadkill: Colin's Asher's bography of Nelson Algren- Never a Lovely So Real

WITH THE PROLETARIAT, to a large degree, having morphed into today’s precariat, midcentury writers who sought to align themselves with the dispossessed tend to be a forgotten, if not extinct, species. Which is unfortunate because, until the onslaught of McCarthyism, they were a vital force in American cultural life. These days few people read the work of radical authors like Benjamin Appel, Tom Kromer, Meridel Le Sueur, Josephine Herbst, and Mike Gold, all of whom depicted the conditions of those surviving on the margins — indeed, declared their solidarity with those unfortunates, extolling their virtues and idiosyncrasies. Writers who survived that tradition with their proletarian credentials intact were, to a large degree, those — like Jim Thompson and David Goodis — who were able to convey their portrayals of the underclass via hardboiled pulp fiction. After all, they were themselves working writers, laboring in obscurity, grinding out paperback originals to make a living. By contrast, left-leaning authors such as John Dos Passos, James Agee, John Steinbeck, and Richard Wright had literary connections and writing ability that allowed them access to the upper realms of respectability. Rarer still were those writers who found themselves stranded between proletarian fiction and mainstream literature, yet who could nonetheless sidestep the pay-by-the-word pulp market. Notable among such talents was Nelson Algren, who, no matter how celebrated in his day, would eventually pay the price for adhering to that precarious position.

Born in 1909 in Detroit, Algren (née Nelson Ahlgren Abraham) moved with his family at the age of three to Chicago, where he remained for most of his life. Like many of his fellow writers during that era, he was briefly a member of the Communist Party, dividing his time in the 1930s between professional writing and organizing work for the Communist Party–inspired League of American Writers and the John Reed Club (and later, during the New Deal, for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project). Always a dedicated, if individualistic leftist, he went on to raise funds for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), then, some years later, for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; not to mention voicing his opposition to creeping conformism (code for McCarthyism), the Vietnam War, and the false promise of consumerism. It was during the Great Depression that Algren, inspired by books like Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and Aleksandr Kuprin’s brothel-set novel The Pit (Yama, 1915), as well as by witnessing the plight of ordinary people, kicked off his writing career. Like many during that era, he took to the road, riding the rails and hitching rides, ending up in Texas, where he hooked up with some petty criminals and eventually manned a rural gas station. It was at the local teachers’ college that Algren, seeking to hone his literary chops, stole a typewriter, was arrested, found guilty, and given a two-year suspended sentence.

(You can find the remainder of the review at the LARB website)