Date: 21 Aug 2003


Re your comments below:

> He was hired to shoot a script (written by Leigh
> Brackett, so you may also want to hurl some of your
> criticism her way) based on a book. The fact that
> they updated the story so that it takes place in the
> 70's should be your first clue, using your own set
> of rules, that this might not necessarily be a
> "faithful" adaption. Hiring Elliot Gould to play
> Marlowe should be your second.

Updating the film isn't, by definItion, unfaithful. MARLOWE, an infinitely better film than TLG, was set in the late '60s and still tried to be faithful to the novel. Gould is capable of playing tough guys believably (e.g. that film he made with Bobby Blake where they're both vice cops), so castin him is no more of a clue that he means to be unfaithful than casting Dick Powell (a pretty boy tenor in Busby Berkeley musicals until MMS) was a clue that Dmytrick and Paxton were going to savage and gut FAREWELL, MY LOVELY.

> This [M*A*S*H being a relatively faithful
> adaptation] is an amazing statement. Altman not only
> strayed far from Hooker's book, he was completely
> off the page of the screenplay (which, ironically,
> went on to win the Academy Award without the
> necessity of being used much by the filmmakers.
> Altman is on record as saying he hated the script).
> Altman broke so many rules shooting M.A.S.H. that
> most people involved with the film thought he didn't
> know what he was doing. Gould and Sutherland tried
> to get him fired. Then everyone saw the movie and he
> was hailed a "genius." By contrast, Altman stuck
> pretty close to Brackett's screenplay, if not
> Chandler's book. (I've read both.)

Hooker's book was, in tone, a fairly typical "miltary service comedy" like MR. ROBERTS or SEE HERE, PRIVATE HARGROVE. The movie that emerged was a well-done, service comedy, with citizen-soldiers complaining about the Regular Army (just like in the book), resisting authority (just like in the book), cheating on their wives (just like in the book), and trying to stay alive and sane in a dangerous situation (just like in the book). For all the "counter-culture" references and improvisational scenes, it remained faithful to its genre, and, to a much greater degree that TLG, to its source.

TLG, by contrast, turned Marlowe from a hero to a nebbish, and made concepts like honor and courage seem outmoded and useless.
> > I'm not sure how Altman got around this supposed
> > "obligation" and slipped past the "ethics" police
> to
> > use his own creativity on this project and bring
> us
> > one of the most original and interesting films of
> > its era (and a fantastic time capsule to boot),
> but
> > I'm sure glad he did.
> Jim, when you write a post as dogmatic as this
> [re the ethics of adaptation], you
> might be prepared for "snide remarks" and "sarcasm".
> Certainly I feel ethics have a place in art. But you
> seem to live in a far more rigid universe than I do.

I think people charged with adapting a work to a different medium have an responsibility to the original source material. Altman doesn't. If that makes me rigid, then I'm quite happy to be rigid.

> I don't think Altman did anything unethical while
> making THE LONG GOODBYE. I think he updated the
> story (and the character) to fit the times. You act
> as if he committed a crime.

Not a crime. Just a sin.
> I just watched SATAN MET A LADY a few weeks ago and
> was amazed at how absolutely terrible it was.
> Agressively so. There seemed to be more of an
> attempt to be making a "Thin Man" type farce than a
> faithful adaption of Falcon. And everyone involved
> was failing miserably on both counts. I think you
> better take another look at this one before you
> promote it.

I wasn't promoting it. I was comparing it to Altman's TLG, and pointing out that, even as bad as it was, it still was closer to the spirit of Hammett's original novel that Altman's version of TLG was to Chandler's.
> "And what really irritate me is that
> he strayed from the novel, not because of some
> overwhelming artistic vision, but because he clearly
> disliked the novel, the character, and the genre."
> Is this your interpretation or Altman's actual
> statement?

Altman, in interviews has talked referred to Marlowe as a loser, and tut-tuts Chandler for making him seem like a winner, and goes out of his way to make adherence to some sort of code of honorable behavior seem ridiculous. Even if his movie wasn't ample evidence of the contempt he feels for the genre, his own commentary would be.
> > And if you don't like his movie, you don't have to
> > watch it.
> "I don't, and if you check the archives you'll see
> that
> I've refrained from comment on the film for the most
> part. Even here, my comment was less about the
> film,
> per se, than about a filmmaker's responsibility to
> the
> source material he's adapting, with Altman's film
> (since that was the topic) used as an example of
> failing, deliberately failing, that responsiblity."
> Your post read as a general attack on Altman as an
> elitist artist and a specific, vitriolic attack on
> THE LONG GOODBYE as a film adaption. BTW, have you
> actually seen the film? And was it recently or when
> it first came out? Maybe it is worth another look.

The discussion was originally about TLG. Chris asked if an artist isn't free to adapt according to his artistic vision. I said adaptation, by definition, constrains the artist to produce something that is faithful to the source material, and since TLG was the original object of discussion, and since Mark explicitly said (and Chris by inference agreed) that TLG was NOT faithful, I went on to say that Altman, by failing to meet the minimal obligation of being faithful to the source material, was violating that
(to me) quite obvious ethical standard. If I was forceful, it was because neither Chris nor Mark seemed to think there was anything wrong with being unfaithful to the source material.

And yes, I've seen the movie. And no, it's NOT worth another look.
> "If Altman doesn't like the genre, and wants to show
> it
> up in all its bourgeois phoniness, fine. It doesn't
> mean he's ethically free (and his being an artist
> doesn't free him from the restraints of honor,
> ethics,
> or morality) to take someone else's work and trash
> it,
> under the guise of "adapting it," to make his
> point."
> And you think I was being "snide" when I referred to
> the "ethics police"? Many people (some even on this
> list) feel Altman didn't "trash" the book. Some even
> think he classed it up. I believe they are two
> different experiences, each with their own specific
> pleasures.

That wasn't snide (or, anyway, it wasn't meant to be) because there was nothing ironic in it. Altman DID trash the book, and that was exactly what he intended to do. He's the one who said Chandler was a cop-out for making a loser like Marlowe seem like a winner. He's the one who set out to remake him as a loser. And I think doing that was ethically wrong. If he had no respect for the source material, and he's the one who said he didn't, he shouldn't have made the film.


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