Archive for December 3, 2021

Acquisitions and Murders

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2021 by dcairns

Recent purchases from The Bookworm and the All You Can Eat Bookshop.

The flat is lousy with Marxian biographies now, and since I’ve made two video essays on a box set of their Paramount works, I’m not sure I’ll ever have cause to do the research and actually read the things. I just get a warm glow from owning them, and for having bought them cheap, and from not being able to move in the hideously cluttered Shadowplayhouse. Books as insulation.

Sexual Stratagems is full of essays by writers I like on filmmakers I like (Guy-Blache, Dulac, Deren), and the giant Selznick is as lavish as the man himself could have wished. Karl Brown’s memoir of camera assisting for Griffith HAS to be essential. I remember his vivacious appearance in Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood, wildly enthused yet still properly sceptical of his former boss. The reason I might not get around to those in a hurry is John D. MacDonald.

These are the ones I’ve read. About five more I devoured are on loan to my mum, who is now similarly addicted. Only a few more Travis McGee’s to go. I’m consuming them out of sequence, based on having cleaned out the Bookworm’s supply and then grabbed whatever was cheap on AbeBooks. One will have to be a Kindle edition for economic reasons. I’m saving the last in the series till last.

The bad things about the series are closely connected to the good things: the independence or inconsistency of MacDonald/McGee’s sociopolitical positions keeps you guessing. Conservative with progressive flashes, romantic with cynical underpinnings or vice versa. The occasional ugliness — McGee is a roister-doisterer who respects women as people except sometimes he doesn’t — works as a frictive element. The fact that there’s a perceptible formula McDonald writes to — McGee will get horribly injured before the end, he will lay at least one beautiful woman, he will refuse another to show he has standards — adds a cosy element to the mayhem. The plotting is mostly unpredictable and exciting, the prose is beautiful in an unflashy way. Occasionally McDonald will write something that just isn’t plausible, in such a way that you wonder how a smart guy could slip up so badly. There’s one where the mystery solution is that three formerly (sorta) law-abiding citizens in a small social circle independently turned into murderers. Shades of A SHOT IN THE DARK, but McD doesn’t see the funny side.

But generally the crafting is good, and the research or life experience — probably mostly the former (McDonald mostly sat and wrote, I think) but cunningly disguised as the latter is constantly diverting. Never a dull spot.

McGee is a great series character — he takes his licks and emerges basically unchanged at the end of each novel. So he’s not quite suited to the movies. Could have worked on TV. I guess we got Magnum P.I. instead. Ugh. But that had John Hillerman. I was about to call him America’s greatest living actor, but it turns out I missed his death in 2017. I bet the Oscars roll call of the dead missed him out too. Damn.