RE: RARA-AVIS: City of Glass

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 15 Jun 2003

Johnny wrote:

"I thought films made more hard-boiled impact than books, with Humphrey Bogart etc."

That would depend upon how you define impact. For instance, a good argument could be made that Bogart was simply the vehicle for several of the best hardboiled/noir writers, like Hammett (Maltese Falcon), Chandler (Big Sleep) and Goodis (Dark Passage).

"Thrillers have pretty strong contraints (at least American ones do) when they're made into films because they need to make their money back and so they can't be too far afield. Once in a while a Memento comes along, though."

While generally agreeing with your lament, are things any less constrained in other countries? How many HK films are like Fallen Angel? How many Brit ones are like Following? And how many French films are there like La Haine?

"I wasn't joking about taking refuge among the French. The French thrillers are more ambiguous and subtle, especially the old ones
(50s/60s) before they tried to copy Hollywood. Case in point, Plein Soleil (Purple Noon in English, for some reason) which is the Rene Clement film based on The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. Compare it to the Minghella version, which is not without its virtues, but..."

Sure, it's convenient to compare the two since they have the same source material (however, Hitchcock and Wenders have also adapted Highsmith, though other books), but you are stacking yur deck. First, you're digging back four decades. It's really not fair to compare a 1961 French film to a late '90s (early '00s?) US film. Many might make the same argument about US films alone across the same time period, that the increased blockbuster mentality has erased subtlety and ambiguity. And as far as that goes, where are the great French crime thrillers of today? If there are many, I'm unaware of them (if I'm wrong, please let me know, always looking for good new crime movies). Those are what should be compared against current US crime films, of which there are far better examples than The Talented Mr Ripley.

"And since postmodernism is largely a French invention they have their funky crime novelists too, like Fred Vargas (a woman) who does not seem to be translated into English much, . . ."

Is anything translated? Sounds interesting. We've had recent disussions of Pennac, Manchette and a few other recent French crime writers.

". . . and, shockingly, the greatest plotters of all time, Boileau-Narcejac, a pair who together wrote the novels that Vertigo
(D'Entre les morts) and Les Diaboliques (Celle qui n'etait plus) were based on, and fifty others, most of which are not translated."

Not saying they might not be very much worth reading, judging from the movies based on them I'll bet they are, but don't these predate postmodernism, at least the exposition and promotion of its theories? And there was a lot of great US writing during the same era (assuming they were written roughly contemporaneously with the movies based on them). That was the classic period of the paperback original, for instance, many of which greatly influenced French directors like Melville, Dassin, Godard and Truffaut, who all read and drew on the US books as well as the US movies.

"I live in Paris half the time now, the other half in London, and my French is only just getting good enough to maybe read a whole novel in it without my head exploding. So that doubles the literature. Imagine that."

A lot of good current Brit books coming out, too, many published by Serpent's Tail and Do Not Press.

As you explore these French authors, please let us know about them, especially those who have been translated into English (I can barely get through a French sentence, much less a novel).

Oh yeah, you mention you're a scriptwriter. Are your screenplays crime stories?


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