Grease Monkey Business

The Coen Brothers, back when BLOOD Simple was new, were asked about modern noir and in particular the new version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. Not yet having learned the form of good manners that seems to prevail in the film industry, whereby filmmakers rarely badmouth each others’ work (in this, as much else, Ken Russell was un vrai enfant terrible), they remarked that Pauline Kael’s criticism of the film seemed to them dead right.

Kael had basically said that the scene in James M. Cain’s book when a man is murdered just as he sings out into a valley, and his voice echoes back after his death to alarm his murderer, was pure cinema, and that nobody with an ounce of cinematic sense could possibly omit it from a movie adaptation. Now, Bob Rafelson, that film’s director, showed considerable cinematic sense, or at least flair, in his work –

But he must bear some responsibility for leaving out that compelling detail, and for truncating the book’s grimly ironic ending. (Though in fairness, his film delivers on some other key moments.) But if we have to point the finger of blame, I’d sooner point it at David Mamet, who does seem to me to display an anti-cinematic impulse in nearly everything he touches. An exception can be made for THE UNTOUCHABLES, where Mamet’s speechifying and DePalma’s showy excess hold each other in a kind of goofy equilibrium.

Anyhow, both Cain’s murder scene and his ending are intact in the FIRST version of Postman, which might not be the version you’re thinking of. Check it out at The Forgotten.

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20 Responses to “Grease Monkey Business”

  1. Getting ready to test this notion re. Mamet, as I just acquired a copy of HOMICIDE.

  2. Good central perf, but I never understood what the point of that film was.

  3. David Boxwell Says:

    Luchaire joined Balin, Darrieux, Arletty, and Gregor in Club Collabo These girls loved not wisely, and not at all well.

  4. La Faustin Says:

    Or, as Arletty supposedly put it, “My heart belongs to France, my ass is international.”

  5. david wingrove Says:

    That’s a wee bit more polite than the version I heard.

  6. I loathe both the Coens and Mamet. That moment in Blood Simple where the camera, tracking down a bar, moves up and over a passed out drunk did itfor me — and The Hudsucker Proxy drove it home. They’re ignorant snobs with the sole goal of putting the viewer in a position of smug superiority to everything and everyone. ie. Perfect “Conservatives.”

    Mamet is just as asshole. Nothing more.

  7. My favorite version of Postman is Ossessione by Visconti, wiht Antonioni’s Cronica di un Amore a close second.

  8. The camera move on the bartop was sufficiently self-conscious to make the brothers actually have a rare debate as to whether it was too much…

    If Cronica is a version of Postman, then so is Double Indemnity…

  9. Well sure. Cain repeats himself. Except in Mildred Pierce (Todd’s version)

    Off-topic but I know this will becoming up soon I LOATHE MARGARET WITH THE HEAT OF TEN THOUSAND SUNS!

  10. Hudsucker Proxy did the Coens in for me as well. I rarely get angry at a film, but I got angry at that one.

  11. The Postman Always Rings Twice seems to elude a definitive American version. The international adaptations seem to be better. You know I read the book two months back for the first time and I was amazed by it, it really is a great book, very much in the spirit of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and I thought that you can adapt it and set it in contemporary times and it would loose none of its fervor.

    Antonioni’s Cronaca di un amore is definitely inspired by Cain albeit filtered through his own modernist eye and his yoking the story with Pirandello and Albert Camus(who I think liked Cain as well). Ossessione is a masterpiece but the Antonioni is the superior film on the whole.

  12. Something about the Garfield/Turner version seemed too homogenized to me, too Mainstream Hollywood. I find that I prefer Visconti’s as well, it has a grittier feel that I respond to. And even though CHAIR DE POULE is the least faithful of the lot as adaptations go (an adaptation of a knock-off) the viewing was a pleasure to experience.

  13. I think everybody accepts that the MGM film is too full of that studio’s ideas of “class” and “good taste” to really succeed as Cain. It’s a very slick bit of filmmaking by Garnett, though.

  14. Adding to the list of non-American versions that seem to work better than the US adaptations: Petzold’s “Jerichow” is a pretty successful version of this material, IIRC.

  15. It’s one of Lana’s best roles too. She’s perfectly cast. And she and Garfield BREATHE sex.

  16. Nate, thanks, I don’t know Petzold and he looks interesting!

  17. Mamet doesn’t seem merely anti-cinema to me, he seems to hate films so very, very much that he is beside himself as he makes a movie. It’s as though he’s resentful of their mere existence, which is probably a defensible philosophical-artistic point on some level, but it makes me question why he works in cinema in the first place.

    The Coens, at least after seeing and reading several interviews, seem to me to be a pair of rather loathesome guys who look down on positively everyone. They hate other human beings, to be blunt, but I find their asocial tendencies fascinating when it comes to their cinematic output. Two people who hate humanity making heavily character-based films is delightful to me, it’s absurd and hilarious, though I wouldn’t want to be in the same building as either of them.

  18. Apparently he’s reasonably good-natured as he works (a friend assisted on The Winslow Boy).

    His goal, as he describes it in his books, is Eisensteinian, but his films look as though he’s never SEEN an Eisenstein, and his description of Eisenstein suggests he’s going by the writing, not by the filmmaking. His key phrase, “uninflected shots” doesn’t seem to describe what’s going on in Oktober or Ivan the Terrible.

    His description of “how to shoot a person being hit by a car” is hilarious, like every amateur movie or cheap daytime soap’s idea of cinema fakery. I’m waiting for a chapter where he’ll tell us how to show a helicopter explode (“Have it fly behind the crest of a hill then set fire to some petrol.”)

    I met Joel Coen very briefly and he was polite. I think the anti-people thing is an attitude of the work, rather than something felt. The strongest argument against them is that they hide behind this ironic attitude rather than expressing anything they actually feel. Which is why I think their comedies were always a bit more successful than their dramas, and why recently their adaptations have shown a bit more empathy, because they’re engaging with Portis and McCullers.

  19. Everyone knows the best way to blow up cinematic helicopters is to paint a model with thermite and throw matches at it. That’s what Delbert Mann did.

    Perhaps I was unfair to the Coens. I was heavily influenced by comments from Sam Raimi in interviews as he was relating working second unit on Hudsucker Proxy; his crankiness with them (coupled with his obvious respect for their work) plus interviews I’d seen with the pair just gave me a feeling which, obviously, I should not have construed as reality.

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