Things That Aren’t Films ~

I’ve been reading lately —

Donald Westlake’s work writing as Richard Stark — the Parker novels. I’ve resisted Point Blank, the first one, because the writing seems a little florid by his standards, although it’d be fascinating to compare it to the Boorman film. The later ones are like meaner versions of the Dortmunder books, with a ruthlessly efficient killer in the lead, and a slightly less fickle universe for him to struggle against. In their deadpan way, they’re nearly as funny. Parker is like Bugs Bunny to Dortmunder’s Daffy Duck. Ask the Parrot is good, Breakout is better.

Fredric Brown — short short science fiction stories, including Knock, billed as the world’s shortest horror story — and also noir thrillers. Night of the Jabberwock is a near-surreal comic nightmare about a news editor in a lifeless small town who suddenly finds himself at the end of fifty years of crime stories in a single night. Amid the chaos there’s a visit from a fat man called Yehudi Smith who claims that Lewis Carroll’s fantasies were really encrypted mathematical instructions for accessing alternative dimensions…

Marc Behm — a varied and peculiar author whose screen credits include both HELP! (original story) and EMMANUELLE, and whose works include Eye of the Beholder (filmed by both Stephan Elliott and, hauntingly, Claude Miller [as MORTELLE RANDONEE]). I’m reading The Ice Maiden, his vampire novel. His prose is abominable, clunky and littered with exclamation points: reading him is like trundling over the Martian landscape. But his focus on the financial and other mundane worries of vampiric life (or undeath) is quite fresh and interesting — and the novel is, perhaps uniquely, a vampire heist.

The pop stylings of Gillian Hills ~

Breaking Bad — finally yielded to peer pressure (Damn you, peers!) and started this, and it is as great as they say. We’re up to season 3. Nice seeing Giancarlo Esposito again, and interesting to catch familiar names like Peter Medak and Tim Hunter directing episodes. Everybody say it just keeps getting better, and that does indeed seem to be the case so far…

Batman Incorporated. Grant Morrison has been writing Batman comics for forever by now, an unlikely match in many ways — working class Scottish anarchist magician pacifist writes American billionaire vigilante. It’s furiously complicated, nasty, funny and clever stuff — what distinguishes it from the recent movie versions is the combining of Tim Burton’s carnivalesque grotesque, the cold, high-tech glitz of the Nolan films, and occasional touches of gleeful silliness recalling Adam West (but shot through with a much darker sensibility). Unlike all of the above, though, Morrison seems to love the character. His oft-repeated narrative trick, that whatever the outrageous scheme plotted against him, Batman will have prepared a defense and a counter-attack, should get old, the way the reversals in Soderbergh’s OCEAN’S films become tiresome. But to me, anyway, it doesn’t.

Batman’s son Damien, the new Robin, is a wonderful creation — the first time Bruce Wayne’s sidekick has been cool.

12 Responses to “Things That Aren’t Films ~”

  1. I recently read Alan Moore’s demented League of Extraordinary Gentleman Century 3 – Harry Potter is the bad guy and Mary Poppins is God and Hogwarts is reduced to ashes in a school massacre…yikes. Interesting thing about the cover on top, it incorporates the original Tenniel illustration of the Jabberwocky(which Carrol intended as a parody of the then fad for Chaucerian English derived neologisms), which is really scary in any case.

    The last book I finished reading was A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, I picked it up after they discovered the goddamn particle. An amazing book, everyone should read it if they haven’t already. And I’ve also been reading MEN OF MATHEMATICS by E. T. Bell and stuff on Renaissance History, was inspired to do so after seeing Rossellini’s history films.

  2. Gilliam used Tenniel’s illustration for the Jabberwocky poster too. “Faster than the fifth century! Bigger than the black death! At last — a film for the squeamish!”

    I think the bad guy in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is Tom Riddle, AKA Voldemort, in his youth. I haven’t overall enjoyed this volume as much as the predecessors, but I’m still very curious about What Happens Next.

  3. I’m of course always pleased to hear someone whose taste I trust has dived into the Parkers. They\’ve brought me so much pleasure over the years. (And my employers, the University of Chicago Press, has just announced the movie tie-in edition that will accompany January\’s Jason Statham Parker, which is based on Flashfire. Lots of explosions in that one, fortunately.)

    I, too, just started Breaking Bad, though I’m only four episodes in. It’s impressive, but I suspect that if I didn’t have the accumulated praise of trusted friends to keep me going, I might not do so: everyone is interesting, but it also all seems so hopeless that I\’m not sure I could take it. But I’ll keep watching, because, as you say, everyone tells you it just keeps getting better.

    And now I have to go find that Fredric Brown story–who can’t be intrigued by the shortest horror story ever?

  4. Tim Hunter was a classmate of mine at Communist Martyrs High.
    Ring Lardner Jr. is/was his uncle.

  5. I think Fredric Brown’s Knock is online. In fact, it may be quoted in full on his Wikipedia page, if I remember correctly.

    I’m currently in a particularly downbeat stretch of Breaking Bad, early season 3, so I know what you mean, Levi. But there are oddly exhilarating episodes too.And it’s often the pleasure of cunning storytelling rather than anything nice happening to anybody.

    Hunter seems to have abandoned his trademark dutch tilts, but he also scrapped the slight camera tremor that had been a fashionable tic on earlier episodes. His shots are rock-steady and beautiful.

    But the show’s best director is producer Michelle McLaren, who used to be on The X-Files. I want to frame-grab some of her shots to showcase her skill. So I will!

  6. Somebody has a Twitter account as Parker, tweeting the opening sentence of one non-existant Parker book after another, many pitch perfect: ‘When the sun came up, Parker put down the gasoline can, lit a match, and said to the man in the chair, “Are you ready to talk now?” ‘ It’s all at .

  7. Nice! My favourite real one was always “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage killing a man.” For some reason, very funny.

  8. Westlake adapting Jim Thompson (Anjelica would make a great Parker)

  9. Anjelica can do anything!

    Frears said choosing her was tough because of the high quality of people they saw, particularly Sissy Spacek. And depending who took the role, the film would have been entirely different. With Huston, it became Greek tragedy (and allowed the neat Maltese Falcon homage at the end).

  10. I like Fredric Brown a lot, both for his science-fiction *and* his mystery writing. We all know about his SCREAMING MIIMI novel, of course, which was filmed by Gerd Oswald and was an inspiration for early Dario Argento. I’m also quite fond of his novel WHAT MAD UNIVERSE?, a parallel universe tale in which an sf writer must live amidst the cliches that went into his writings.

    People speak highly of his MARTIANS, GO HOME — which was turned into an allegedly awful picture with Randy Quaid.

    I took a class with Tim Hunter studing Hitchcock at U.C. Santa Cruz in the early ’70s, for what it’s worth

  11. It was probably worth plenty!

    Haven’t seen The Screaming Mimi for years, would kind of like to revisit it. May well read the book first, it’s included in my (borrowed) compendium.

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