Re: RARA-AVIS: Random Notes On Redemtion

From: Patrick King (
Date: 03 Sep 2009

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    Without Dostoyevsky, I don't think you get to any Celine, any Jim Thompson, or any Charles Willeford. Certainly you don't get to James M. Cain.


    Jack the Ripper & H.H. Holmes, too. CRIME & PUNISHMENT postulated the serial killer before the phenomenon was actually recognized in reality.


    What Dostoyevsky adds though, and the HB guys avoid, is any redemptive note. _Brothers Karamozov_ and _Crime And Punishment_, though as dark as one gets have sort of happy endings (Sort of. In the mystical, Catholic sense).


    Candidly, these books are about making money. If you added a "redemptive" element to these American books you might sell to a religious audience, but the secularists, who no matter what anybody claims, are the vast majority in "the new world," will roll their eyes and not bother to read it, nor is Hollywood likely to option it as a movie. Most important, however, the people who write this type of novel in the US, for the most part, have very little faith in redemption or the human condition. I think this is a strength. It gets the reader out of the kinds of nonsense we're fed be it from pulpit or television set, and see an element of the world most tend to ignore. Dostoyevsky was, as a writer, a wonderful stylist. His language, even in translation, is a pleasure to read. But his point of view is very naive, which is perhaps why he kept losing the money he made gambling.


    So I guess the question is...."Is this a strength or a weakness in HB fiction?" I suppose that this came up for me because I was re-reading John Gardner's book _On Moral Fiction_ in which he suggests that too much focus on the ugliest aspects of experience diminishes the writers respect for the human condition ( I think this was what james Ellroy was getting at when he said Tarantino's movies were "childish"). I'm inclined to agree with him, on balance, yet that doesn't reduce the emotional power of the authors I just mentioned.


    RESERVOIR DOGS, KILLING ZOE, TRUE ROMANCE & PULP FICTION were not childish movies. They were a meld of violent action and consideration of what this type of behavior is likely to beget. They greatly changed the way these types of movies are developed and for the better.

    FROM DUSK TO DAWN was a very childish film with no cerebral content at all and Tarantino's work has gone down hill from there. Rob Zombie's films are more contemplative, and better films, than Tarantino has offered the public in many years. I doubt that James Ellroy, of all people, is looking for "respect for the human condition" when he criticizes Tarantino. He's looking for the element of reality we enjoyed in RESERVOIR DOGS from KILL BILL. KILL BILL 1 & 2 are preposterous spoofs on the worst type of Chinese films. Fun as far as it goes, but the thoughtful depth and power of Dennis Hopper's performance for example, in TRUE ROMANCE, is entirely missing.

    Patrick King


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