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

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


Re your response below:

> 1) "Trash" is such a values-laden verb in this
context that it forces the
> conclusion you wish to reach. Therefore, I don't
accept your verb.

Of course it's a value-laden term. Why shouldn't it be? Your not accepting doesn't make it any less appropriate. In fact, your rejection of it seems to be based on the fact that it's inarguably what Altman was doing, and if you admit that, you've lost the argument.
> 2) As noted earlier, I disagree that Altman was
being "disrespectful," but
> even if he was, so what? Chandler is not sacrosanct.

I never said he was sacrosanct. I said, and still say, that if he didn't respect Chandler, why make the movie? Why buy the film rights to in order to make a film that shows nothing but contempt for the source material?

As for whether or not Altman was being disrespectful, you're the one who had to twist and turn to make Altman's film a mark of signal respect. I'm just taking his film, and his comments about his intent, at face value.
> 3) Whether or not you can understand how Chandler
fans can appreciate
> Altman's effort, obviously many do. This puts you in
a position of cognitive
> dissonance, surely, but the fact remains the same.
If you mean to suggest
> that those particular Chandler fans are not true
Chandler fans, that's a
> lame attempt to solve the dissonance.

I'm not suggesting anything other than my inability to understand some Chandler fans' admiration for something that's so clearly contemptuous of Chandler's work.
> 4) There were those at the time when West Side Story
first appeared who felt
> that it was indeed sacrilegious to Shakespeare, that
placing the "star
> cross'd lovers" in a contemporary, urban, ethnic
context was quite
> disrespectful.

The custom of doing Shakespeare in modern dress, or reusing the plots of Shakespearean plays in new ways was already well-established by the time WSS came along.

The reception of both the stage production and the film, critically and popularly, would seem to indicate that those in the "sacriligious" camp were in the minority.

That doesn't seem to be as true of Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE. To the degree that the people who go to movies based on Chandler novels are Chandler fans, then THE LONG GOODBYE's financial and critical failure
(and it was a flop in both respects when first released), contrasted with the financial and critical success of, say, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY two years later, suggests that there were far more Chandler fans who disliked TLG, than Shakespeare fans who disliked WSS.
> 5) I don't understand why "parody" would be exempt
from your strictures
> while what Altman attempted is not.

Because "parody" is, first of all, supposed to be disrespectful, second of all, is usually affectionate, and third of all, is doing it for the sake of comedy.

Altman was making a film directly based on the book, which would indicate to the average filmgoer that it was going to be a straightforward adaptation
(something Altman IS capable of; see NIGHTMARE IN CHICAGO, his TV-movie version of William P. McGivern's short story "Killer on the Turnpike," or THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL, another TV-movie adapted from Herman Wouk's novel and stage play). And he wasn't doing it for laughs, but to make a serious statement about the kind of story Chandler told.
> 6) I also don't understand why actors' performances
being identifiably the
> same character matters one way or another. Acting is
interpretation. Some
> performances of the same characters or same texts
will be similar, others
> will not be.

But if the actor is true to the character as written, something of the creator's view of that character will come through, no matter how individualistic the interpretation. Hence Powell, Bogart, Heflin, Mohr, Garner, Mitchum, Boothe, Caan, and, yes, even the two Montgomerys, are all recognizable, at some level, as Chandler's character, while Gould is not. Why? Because Powell, Bogart, et al, within their own individual interpretations, are trying to convey Chandler's image of the character, and Gould, following the directions of his director, is doing just the opposite.
> 7) I don't think my reasoning is particularly
"tortured." Surely you've
> heard of paradox?

Yeah, but Altman is no G.K. Chesterton. And if disrespecting a great novel is sign of ultimate respect, then, using he same tortured logic, trashing
(hate to use such a values-laden term, but I don't have Thesaurus handy) an honest man's reputation for integrity is a sign of ultimate respect for that integrity.

Surely YOU'VE heard of Occam's Razor. Altman's stated intention was to make a film that's contrary to Chandler's vision of the story and protagonist, and the resulting film was, in fact, a version that's contrary to Chandler's vision of the story and protagonist. So, as I said, I'll just take it at face value, and leave the apologists to look for some kind of paradoxical "compliment" to Chandler.
> 8) For the record and as a Tolkien fan, I intensely
dislike what Peter
> Jackson made of The Lord of the Rings -- it doesn't
correspond with my view
> of the novel at all, and I believe that it trades
Tolkien's British charm
> for a modern CGI-monster/horror movie tone that is
wildly unidiomatic. But
> that doesn't mean that I think that Jackson was
deliberately trying to
> "trash" Tolkien, or that he committed a heinously
unforgivable aesthetic
> sin. He's a talented director; I admire Heavenly
Creatures enormously. I
> just don't like his take in this instance. But I'm
not losing sleep over it
> the way you seem to be over Altman.

Well, most Tolkien fans, from what I understand, disagreed with you. I've never been able to get through the trilogy (I've tried a few times, but I just get bogged down in the song lyrics), so I can't speak from my own experience.

It is my sense, though, that Jackson was TRYING to be true to Tolkien, and nothing you say suggests that he wasn't. In fact, you flatly state that, in your opinion, being untrue or disrespectful was NOT his intent.

Altman, by sharp contrast, was deliberately trying to be, and succeeding at being, untrue to Chandler's novel and to his vision of his character.

And thanks for your concern about my nocturnal rest, but Altman's movie has never lost me a night's sleep.

However, for some reason, my rejection of it seems to have disturbed the slumber of several people here at R/A.


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