RARA-AVIS: Re: A Whiff of Sulphur...

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 05 Dec 2007


A more serious response to your comments below:

"Besides, if Chandler is that great himself (no argument from me there), then certainly he should be able to withstand any kind of insult. Consider the sins (if they be sins) that have been committed against Shakespeare in the name of adaptation and updating. A purist could have issued a fatwa against Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins for the 'sacrilege' against 'Romeo and Juliet' that is 'West Side Story.' But Shakespeare seems to have survived just fine (and so, for that matter, has the brilliant 'West Side Story')."

This really isn't a good analogy. Bernstein, et al, weren't deliberately trying to trash Shakespeare. They were taking a familiar Shakespearean plot and putting it in a modern setting.

The characters weren't wildly divergent from their orginal inspirations. Tony, for example, wasn't an unromantic uggo deliberately patterned to be the opposite of Romeo. Neither was Maria a harsh, unattractive strumpet totally unlike the beauteous innocent that was Juliet.

Arguably, Shakespeare himself did a far greater job of trashing his own ROMEO & JULIET with the "Pyramus and Thisby" sketch in MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM than Bernstein ever did. Of course, that was an outright parody, not a supposedly straight adaptation. And, IIRC, MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM actually precedes R&J, so, technically, I suppose, R&J trashed P&T.

Altman, by contrast, said right out that it was his intention to portray Marlowe as a loser, a REAL loser unlike the heroic figure cast by Chandler, and further, implied that, by making Marlowe heroic, Chandler was somehow selling out.

One can look at Richard Beymer's performance in WSS and, comparing it to, say, Leonard Whiting's, Leo DiCaprio's, Laurence Harvey's, or Leslie Howard's, can see that we're looking at essentially the same character.

One can't honestly compare Elliot Gould's performance to Dick Powell's, Humphrey Bogart's, Robert Mitchum's, or Powers Boothe's, and conclude that we're looking at essentially the same character.

To me that seems obvious on its face.

"It could be that Altman's apparent disrespect for Chandler is actually a mark of the highest respect -- a riff on a the work of a fellow master. That's certainly what I think."

The fact that you acknowledge that Altman's disprespect for Chandler is apparent shows how far one has to twist and turn to reach the conclusion that his version of TLG is somehow a faithful, or at least a
"respectful," adaptation.

I prefer to take things at face value. Altman's dispresepct is apparent (and, moreover, stated outright), therefore it is real, and not, by some tortured reasoning, a sign of "true" respect.

You like the film? Well, fine. That's a matter of taste. For myself, quite aside from the fact that it pisses all over the book, I found it dull and listless with no characters I really cared about. But some people like chocolate and some like vanilla.

What I'll still never understand, though, whatever virtues the film may or may not possess, is how anyone who purports to be a Chandler fan can claim to enjoy a movie that so deliberately trashes his most ambitious novel.

And this is not, as has been suggested, a case of a
"cult of personality." Chandler, after all, was, in many ways, not an altogether nice man. And it may be that Altman was a prince. I don't know.

I DO know, however, that if Chris Columbus had done to Harry Potter, or Peter Jackson to Frodo Baggins, what Altman did to Marlowe, that Rowling fans and Tolkien fans would have howled to the high heavens. So the acquiesence of Chandler fans to Altman's "riff" on THE LONG GOODBYE really does puzzle me.


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