At 11:21 AM 8/22/03 -0400, you wrote:
>"Sorry about all those blank messages. I didn't know I was sending them
>'til they started popping up in m inbox."
>Gee, and they were the first of your messages I agreed with all day.
>Very non-traditional, even postmodern.
Oh, yeah, because if it's 'post-modern' it has to be
Adding one more thought on 'redefining noir over and over
again,' I have no beef with people telling and re-telling the
same story over and over in new and different ways (look at
how many different ways Shakespeare has been interpreted and
reinterpreted, and he was a noted thief of other peoples'
plots in his own day, as well).
However, if your retelling is not entertaining, I don't care
how cutting edge, post-modern, off the tip, or anything else
it is. I like to read things (view things) that interest me.
Altman's "Long Goodbye" did not hold my interest, and I
struggled through the whole thing, hoping it would get
That said, if it's your cup of tea, well and good. I don't
see what good it does pooh-poohing the 'tastes' of others (to
reference a previous quote of Jay MacInerny, a writer I find
endlessly tiresome in how self-conscious his writing can be).
Returning to Shakespeare, I taught Summer School and we read
"Macbeth" (a noir tale if EVER there was one) this year. I'd
like to think the students liked it because of the prodigious
ability of their instructor, but to tell you the truth, I
suspect it had more to do with the fact that this play (like
all of Shakespeare's great works, note that I don't think ALL
of his work is great) is a TERRIFIC story, combining murder,
the supernatural, plots, betrayal, ghosts, witches, and a
first-rate psychological study of how ambition can eat away
at the noblest character, and how guilty hands can never
truly be metaphorically cleansed. No wonder the high
schoolers I taught liked it.
Interestingly enough, I showed them two different versions of
the film, once we had assigned roles and read the play,
stopping frequently to break down the language (they were far
less intimidated once we got going), discuss the symbolism,
etc., of the play. We did a comparison/contrast, act by act
of Orson Welles' impressionistic 1948 version and the 1977
Royal Shakespeare Company/BBC co-production starring Ian
McKellen and Judy Dench. Not surprisingly, the students
vastly preferred McKellen/Dench to Welles' version. Why?
After all, the McKellen/Dench was originally produced for
television, and everyone knows what a genius Welles was.
Besides, it's the same story, right?
The answer is simple. Welles gutted the script, cutting about
1/3 of the dialogue, consolidating too many characters, not
allowing for much development of either plot or character,
and in the title role, badly over-acted. One of my more
perceptive students pointed out that if Welles were concerned
with running time on the film, he might have cut out some of
the long, brooding, slow shots of himself staring off at
nothing, and kept the dialogue intact. McKellen was, well,
McKellen, and Dench gave the best, most polished, most
nuanced perfomance in either adaptation.
Being avant-garde is all well and good. It doesn't change
one's obligation to tell a good story if one wishes to be
successful. Welles did precisely that with both "Citizen
Kane" and "Touch of Evil" (a superb film I should have put on
my top ten list instead of, say, "Double Indemnity."). People
who take big chances like Welles and Altman shouldn't (and as
far as I know, don't) complain when those big gambles don't
pay off. By the way, I *do* in fact think that Altman is
frequently brilliant. I liked
"M*A*S*H*" and loved "The Player." Say what you want about "The Long Goodbye", it was a failure at the box office and it certainly failed to hold my attention. No correlation? Perhaps. But to quote an often abused maxim of the Joe Sixpack crowd: I may not know art, but I know what I like.
Speaking of what I like, I just finished "The Wycherly Woman"
by Ross MacDonald, and LOVED it. I've heard it said (as was
said about Robert B. Parker, as well, another gifted writer,
and one I genuinely enjoy, but one whose work I have to read
in intervals, otherwise I ), that MacDonald told one story
over and over and just made it variations on a theme. True
enough, I suppose, but the man did it so brilliantly, and his
writing is so entertaining, so capable of drawing the reader
in, who really cares?
Lastly, I also recently read Carl Hiassen's new work, "Basket
Case." It gets a top recommendation from me. I think this
really shows Hiassen's maturation as a writer of crime
fiction. His account of how the mergers of various media
conglomerates has abetted the good ole-boy corruption of
places like Florida is a riveting sub-plot in this darkly
funny tale of a washed-up journalist hacking for the obit
page of a south Florida daily
(where he used to be a star investigative reporter) when the former singer of an 80s rock band dies under decidedly suspicious circumstances. It's a must-read, if only to see what sort of animal corpse Hiassen uses as a weapon in THIS book (for those who recall the Marlin in "Skin Tight."). Avant-garde? Nah? Cutting edge? Nope. Good storyt. A couple of the loose ends in the conclusion get tied up in a bit too pat of a manner, but with good wrting that makes me laugh, makes me tense, makes me think, and makes me root for either the good or the bad guy, I'm willing to overlook small complaints like these. Feel free to disagree, as emphatically as you please. That's part and parcel of why we're all here, right?
After all, I'm not paid to be a critic, so I may not know
art, but I know what I like!
All the Best,
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