A few responses to Jim:
I recently said that PIs are losers by society's definition.
I would include Marlowe, Chandler's Marlowe, within that
definition. However, I am most certainly not contemptuous of
my favorite genre, that of the hardboiled PI. Chandler is one
of my favorite writers and Long Goodbye is my favorite of his
"Films like HARPER, MARLOWE, GUNN, SHAFT, et. al., released
in the years immediately preceding TLG, and films like
CHINATOWN, THE DROWNING POOL, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, et. al.,
released in the years immediately following TLG, are evidence
that the private eye story still had an audience."
Deconstruction does not mean the genre no longer has an
audience. It's just a stage of evolution. Genres evolve or
And I'd claim at least two of the movies you name fall within
the evolution of the genre -- Shaft and Chinatown. As a
matter of fact, John Cawelti uses the latter to explore the
notion in his article, Chinatown and Generic Transformation.
Furthermore, while it may ave been the most extreme, Altman's
Long Goodbye was not an anomaly in its approach. There were
numerous other films that were questioning the genre, one of
the best of which was Night Moves.
"And that's just in movies. Parker's Spenser started around
this time in prose."
A good case could be made for Parker's engaging in generic
transformation. Parker is well aware of the genre, but he is
equally aware of the changes he has made to it, not the least
of which are the split of the hero into Spenser and Hawk and
the exploration of the hero in a monogamous relationship
(yes, there were precedents, but he made it a new standard).
Crime lit paralleled the film transformations. Hansen,
Paretsky, Grafton, Lewin, Valin, Crumley, Pelecanos, Schutz,
etc, were all questioning the nature and limits of the genre
and in the process renewed it, making it vital to a whole new
generation. None of these characters was Chandler's Marlowe;
some were damn close to Gould's Marlowe.
"THE ROCKFORD FILES and HARRY O started around this time on
I'd also place Harry O in the field of generic
transformation. How is Harry O any less a loser than Altman's
"There was no "need" for a film that deconstructed the genre
in order to revitalize it."
Maybe not for you. However, I think it's clear from the
reaction you have prompted that many of us here are very
interested in the evolution of the genre, even if we don't
necessarily agree that Altman's Long Goodbye is a good
example of it.
Also look at the recent praise for and interest in
Jean-Patrick Manchette's deconstruction of noir. And his
books are anything but masters' theses, to use your dismissal
(and that is your usual argument style, to dismiss anyone who
disagrees with you); they are very enjoyable, suspenseful
thrillers that also manage to make you think about the
But you'll have none of that. It's not enough that you don't
like the film and are sorry you ever saw it. You think it
never should have been made and that no one else should ever
see it, either. Don't you even allow for the possibility that
some others might legitimately value things you don't, that
as Jay McInnerny wrote, Taste, after all, is a matter of
taste? Of course, you have always tended to be dogmatic in
terms of definition. Once a genre has gelled, that is what it
must remain. You have always refused to recognize the
possibility of generic transformation -- witness the film
noir argument. What I call evolution, what Cawelti calls
transformation, you pronounce "other," something completely
different because it no longer falls within the tunnel vision
of your definition of genre.
"Altman, instead of using the film medium to tell Chandler's
story, used Chandler's story to criticize the genre. If he
wanted to criticize the genre, he didn't have to use
Chandler's novel as a vehicle."
So would Altman's film have been okay if he had changed the
title and the characters' names? Are you offended by the
messing with Chandler or the messing with the genre? Or both?
Can you separate the two? I'd say not only can they be
separate, but they must be. Chandler was great, still is, but
he was of his time. If someone like Pierre Menard tried to
rewrite Chandler today, it would not read the same. Just as
the mean streets change, so must the man or woman who walks
down them. I, for one, prefer a genre that evolves and
interacts with its own time to one that becomes marginalized
as nothing more than nostalgia.
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