Re: "Post-Modern" or "Bad Taste"? Was: Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir Films

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 22 Aug 2003

Brian wrote:

"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."

In reverse order:

As I said in my previous statement, I think the last is true of all, but some, including me, feel compelled to frame our gut responses with high falutin' terms.

Not saying it was by any means a hit, it most certainly was not, but I'm pretty sure Long Goodbye made back its investment. And I certainly don't think everything Altman's done was good. He's made some stinkers. And even though I like Long Goodbye, I don't think it's even close to his best -- in my mind, MASH, McCabe, Nashville and, maybe, California Split. As far as it goes, I often prefer his former assistant director, Alan Rudolph, who has also made a PI film, though not an adaptation, Love at Large.

I've always far preferred Touch of Evil and Lady of Shanghai to Citizen Kane. I found the stories far more interesting. And this brings me to your main point:

"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."

I couldn't agree more. I believe style should follow substance. There are far too many avant-garde works that I believe to be style overriding substance, if there is any substance to override. Nothing but empty exercises.

However, when the two come together, either in old school writers like Chandler or new school ones like Marc Behm (chosen simply because his Eye of the Beholder happens to be in my line of sight at the moment), it can be great. But you're right, first and foremost, there must be a story worth reading. And I'll even agree with part of what Jim wrote
(of course I couldn't agree with him while arguing with him; that's bad strategy), in order to play with the genre, a writer must know it and satisfy it. I immediately think of Jim Sallis when I say that -- his Lew Griffin books satisfy on genre terms, but also work on changing it from within.

And when it all comes down to it, isn't that what all of us are looking for, a story that satisfies our expectations, but also gives us something exciting and unexpected. We just happen to have a variety of opinions about how successful various writers are with the something new they add (or how well they satisfy the core expectations).


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