Author Raymond Chandler & The Long Goodbye

Reading a Raymond Chandler novel today is like a genre mashup of poetry, historical fiction, and crime mystery all rolled into one. Take The Long Goodbye (1953) for instance.

They just don’t make book covers like they used to…

Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled narration is charming to read. I doubt that was the goal when he wrote it, but sixty-odd years later, reading the lyrical sentences had me smiling throughout the story and showcased Philip Marlowe as a vulnerable tough guy. It’s the contrast that endears.

If I want to feel like I’m in Los Angeles in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, I can jump into the historical climate of a Raymond Chandler book. The ambiance is authentic in the darker world. What a better place to insert an anti-hero. Philip Marlowe is a complex character with a healthy mixture of noble and ruthless attributes.

Philip Marlowe is often described as a moral man surrounded by unethical people. No one is trustworthy. He is full of contradictions. He is a man of his time. There are occasions in his narrative when he shows little regard for Mexicans, homosexuals, and women. On the other hand, he sees through the masks of affluent or authoritative “important” people. He is a good judge of character, dodging past their games and calling out with brass their true colors even if it gets him thrown in jail or shot at.

In The Long Goodbye, Terry Lenox is a veteran of WWII who saved his buddies in war but can’t save himself back home. He resorts to drinking to help him escape his trauma. He is polite and Marlowe can’t refuse to help him sensing pain and some decency in the man.

“There’s always something to do if you don’t have to work or consider the cost. It’s no real fun but the rich don’t know that. They never had any. They never want anything very hard except maybe somebody else’s wife and that’s a pretty pale desire compared with the way a plumber’s wife wants new curtains for the living room.” – Terry Lennox, Chapter 3, Page 21

In creating Marlowe, Raymond Chandler paints an interesting man who possesses an unusual way of describing his feelings with similes. It is part of Raymond Chandler’s legacy for quick, witty dialogue and provocative, lyrical similes. His language is precise and yet ambiguous in meaning. This is the formula Chandler employes to create Philip Marlowe’s charm and appeal.

“I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”

“. . . the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare”.

“I drove back to Hollywood feeling like a short length of chewed string.”

“He looked like a tubercular white rat.”

Philip Marlowe’s popularity in pop culture inspired generations of writers of detective stories and helped birth the genre of the film noir.  Join us on May 13 for another rendition of the Lucky 13 Film Club. My good friend Pete from Beetley will help me co-host Raymond Chandler Films. 
For today, what do you like about Raymond Chandler novels? 

Anticipated 2019 Indie Films

I was reading the December 2018 article by David Ehrlich, et al,  “The 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2019” on Indie Wire to stimulate my curiosity for films I might like to see this year.

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Ad Astra. James Gray leaves the jungle in The Lost City of Z and offers a science fiction drama in space. Starring Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Sutherland, it will be a challenge to create a realistic space epic about a son who travels through the solar system to find his father and why his mission to Neptune failed. I am hopeful. Release date: May 24. 

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The Irishman. Martin Scorsese explores the hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran’s possible involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. If you like mobster movies, I don’t know how one could not be interested, when considering the cast: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Scorsese signs up with Netflix for total creative control and resources. The CGI de-aging of DeNiro has caused rumblings. I’m hoping the chemistry and a well-written script keeps me captivated. It should be seen on the big screen, so I hope it makes it to the theaters. Release date: “Sometime in late Autumn.”

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Jojo Rabbit. New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, Two Cars One Night) whose mother was a Russian Jew, creates an unusual tale about a young German boy who searches for his identity in a fascist regime by creating his own version of Hitler as an imaginary friend. In reality, his mother is hiding a Jew in the basement. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Thomasin McKenzie, who was amazing in Leave No Trace, it sounds like a quirky, dark satire. I hope Waititi’s sensitive side adds compassion and irony to a potentially thought-provoking story. Release date:  November 27. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Is this Quentin Tarantino’s final film before he retires? Whether you love him or hate him, this film intrigues me. It’s Quentin Tarantino’s goal at creating the historical climate of Hollywood in the early seventies. Will it be enough? As with most Tarantino films, I find the plots dubious and rambling — a lot of borrowed style but little content. I hope the script he took five years to create has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yes, of course, I would love to see Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio together on screen. So, too, Margot Robbie and Al Pacino. It also helps that the Manson murders are a backdrop and not the central plot point of the movie. That Sharon Tate’s sister approved of the script and that Tarantino had the class to ask her for her blessing, helps the cause. Release date: July 26.

What are some films you are looking forward to watching this year?

Out of the Past vs. Lady Bird

I have been thinking about the choices a director makes when making a film. What does a well-made film look like? I watched two films back-to-back on the plane to Italy, Lady Bird written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan, and Out of the Past directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum and the femme fatale played by Jane Greer.

I recognize it’s unfair to compare these two disparate films as one was a coming-of-age story, the other a film noir. One was made just this past year while the other sixty years ago. One was the directoral debut by a female while the other by an established male director. There is nothing similar about these two films.

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Unless you consider the quality of each film as an artistic offering. While Lady Bird was nominated for the top writing and directing awards of 2017, I could not help but scratch my head as to why this was so other than it was a political move on behalf of the Academy of Motion Pictures. I just didn’t think it was an interesting story or directed well. The scenes seemed desultory like mud thrown on a wall with little thought. I wouldn’t have noticed as much if I had not just seen Out of the Past. Wow! What a film. Tourneur took his time to frame each scene. He blocked his characters to take advantage of the space. There was movement. There were silhouettes. The staging was aesthetically balanced. Even the costumes played a visual role–don’t you love how Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) started the film wearing white, but as her devious nature became more apparent, her wardrobe darkened? The characters were interesting–Kirk Douglas was an affable villain. Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey was the anti-hero, private detective who you couldn’t help but root for since he tried to leave his notorious past behind and make an honest attempt as a working man and who fell for the girl-next-door. His relationship with the deaf and mute boy (Dickie Moore) revealed Bailey’s goodness in spite of his tough-guy bravado. Every character was interesting and added to the plot purposefully. It was a beautiful film to watch.

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Then there’s Gerwig’s effort. This, a Best Picture contender? It was not structurally interesting. The choppy editing to elicit the passage of time killed whatever emotional investment I had in Lady Bird’s friendships. The only aspect that was quasi-interesting was Laurie Metcalf’s performance as the overpowering mother. The brother and father were a wimpy, wasted pair in a lame plot. I genuinely like Saoirse Ronan as an actress, but her character here in this film was downright boring.

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Out of the Past in 1947 was not nominated for an award but was superbly constructed compared to Lady Bird. Maybe if I had not seen both back-to-back it would not have been so glaringly obvious. If you haven’t seen Out of the Past, I highly recommend it. Watch it for the plot. For what a well-made film should look like. For pure entertainment. For the record, I’m all for women directors. Jane Campion and Julie Taymor know what they’re doing. I just wish they’d pass along some tips to Greta Gerwig.

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