Archive for the literature Category

Nobody Knows

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2015 by dcairns

hollywood

“In America, ‘crunchy’ is a compliment,” said Quentin Crisp, lamenting the quality of supermarket bread in the United States (he approvingly likened the consistency of British sliced bread to that of a flannel), the only thing he didn’t like about his chosen homeland.

American paperbacks are crunchier than British ones. I bought a second-hand copy of Richard Hughes’ The Fox in the Attic, and took it to Paris where I was reading it but then I accidentally left it behind. And then I found a copy in the bargain rack at Mercer Street Books, so naturally I picked it up. Distracted by other goodies, such as Mark Harris’ majestic Hollywood history Five Came Back, I laid it aside when home, and Fiona started in on it ahead of me. And the thing began to crumble in her hands, flaking to bits as she feverishly consumed it. “I feel like Rod Taylor in THE TIME MACHINE,” she complained. My copy of Hughes’ sequel, The Wooden Shepherdess, is a British imprint, and it’s appropriately loose and flannelish like a slice of bread from Tesco.

Same thing with another Mercer Street bargain, Gore Vidal’s Hollywood, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, even though the only other volume I’ve read in his history series is Lincoln (which I liked a lot. Richard Lester told me, “Gore Vidal kept trying to sell me the books of his I didn’t want to film, like Myra Breckinridge. I wanted to do Lincoln.”). And on the way home the cover of the book SNAPPED into jigsaw pieces, something I have never encountered before.

Fifteen pages in and it’s GREAT — Vidal has William Randolph Hearst sit in a chair which collapses under him, and then has him anticipate William Goldman’s famous dictum by seventy-odd years —

“But I don’t know anything about the movies.”

“Nobody does. That’s what’s so wonderful.”

I did at first fault Vidal’s prose when he wrote “Like a trumpet, she blew her nose into a large handkerchief,” since the comparison of nose-blowing and trumpetry is a banal one, and he seems to be saying that trumpets regularly, literally blow their noses into large handkerchiefs. But, on reflection, I came to admire the phrase, since it put into my mind the image of a trumpet blowing its nose, and one can’t help but be grateful for such an image.

But my favourite bit so far is the Washington psychic lady ~

“Why did you come to Washington?”

“Fate.” said Madame Marcia, as though speaking of an old and trusted friend. “I was associated with Gipsy Oliver at Coney Island. Mostly for amusement’s sake. But”–Madame’s voice became low and thrilling–“she had gifts as well–worldliness. Dark gifts. Amongst them, the gift of prophecy. I was, I thought, happily married. With two beautiful children. My husband, Dr. Champrey, had an excellent practice, specialising in the lower lumbar region and, of course, the entire renal system. But the spirits spoke to Gipsy Oliver. She spoke to me. Beware of the turkey, she said one day. I thought she was joking. I laughed–more fool I! What turkey? I asked. I know turkeys, and don’t much care to eat them–so dry, always, unless you have the knack of basting, which fate has denied me. Well, lo! and behold the next month, November it was, I was preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for my loved ones, when Dr. Champrey said, ‘I’ll go buy us a turkey.’ I remember now a shiver came over me. A chill, like a ghost’s hand upon me.”

Jess shivered in the stuffy room. This was the real thing, all right. No doubt of that.

“I said, ‘Horace, I’m not partial to turkey, as you know. Just a boiled chicken will do.'” She exhaled. Jess inhaled and smelled boiled chicken, old sandalwood. “‘Why not splurge?’ he said. Then he was gone. He never,” Madame Marcia’s bloodshot eyes glared at Jess, “came back.”

“Killed?” […]

“Who knows? The son-of-a-bitch,” she added, suddenly soulful.

Oo-oo-oo-dunnit

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2015 by dcairns

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THE SECRET WITNESS is a 1931 pre-code with Una Merkel as a crime-solving society dame (I know! Una Merkel?), Zasu Pitts as a hapless switchboard operator (I feel your eyebrows, raised to stratospheric astonishment by the previous bit of casting, burn up on re-entry as they hasten to resume their customary position on your face), and, most excitingly of all, a pistol-packing chimpanzee known only as “the monk.”

We open on a miniature skyscraper somewhere in a sound stage New York, its snowglobe dinkiness so perfect that it’s no surprise to find Clarence Muse as doorman. The movieness of this movie is well-established before a room has even been entered.

Funniest bit is Zasu describing the book she’s reading to her offscreen beau, Elmer, over the phone. “Oh, it’s a book about a… well.”

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When a well-heeled heel played by Hooper Atchley (that NAME!) gets plugged in the gut, a bevy os suspects is drawn into the web of the bumbling loudmouth police inspector played by Purnell Pratt (!), but it will be Merkel who uncovers the culprit. Among the mugs lining up to off Atchley are perennial yegg Nat Pendleton and his intellectual superior the aforementioned primate, a pet of the deceased who is discovered grieving over his slain master (about the only display of emotion in the film (Philip K Dick wrote a space whodunnit where one of the characters suddenly realizes the entire cast is composed of psychiatric patients, this explaining their terrifying lack of emotional response to the slaying — something that would never have struck the reader, who is inured to the calm way supposedly everyday characters in thrillers react to slaughter in their midst).

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Anyhow, later it turns out that “Monk” is more than capable of firing a pistol himself, so he takes his place among the possible assassins. Of course, Fiona and I were rooting for him to be proved innocent. And to get more closeups. We get endless footage of Merkel’s Play-Doh pan, while the versatile and emotive ape is relegated to a couple of reaction shots. I love Merkel’s sullen quack of a voice, but she’s no hairy ape.

Breathing Life Into A Turd.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2015 by dcairns

Fiona went to see FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Here is her report, which contains language. From the outset.

 ***

As I staggered, stupefied, out of a screening of Fifty Shades Of Grey, accompanied by the ‘monstrous regiment of women’ a friend of mine had organized into this group activity , which I’d convinced myself was an anthropological experiment, the slightly confused words falling from my lips were, “Dakota Johnson really breathed life into that turd.” Pausing to think about that statement, I realized I was mixing my metaphors like crazy, except only the first part of the sentence was a metaphor and the second part was…a word. A strange coincidence, bearing in mind the fact that EL Wisty James can barely construct a sentence at the best of times. And, is breathing life into a turd something you really want to achieve? According to attendance figures and box office for this fecal behemoth lumbering through the world’s multiplexes, it’s well worth it, but this reanimated jobby is very different from South Park‘s happy little bowl-lurker, Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo.

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Mr. Hankey in his red room of pain

I’m usually cheered to see Mr Hankey, with his toothsome smile, inviting wave and cry of “Hi-Di-Ho!” This example of human waste, excreted from the mind of EL James/Erica Mitchell on to a Blackberry, and hence, into the homes of most people around the world, instead fills me with a creeping dread much like that experienced by characters in an HP Lovecraft story.

Writing erotic fiction. A guide.

“But what of the film adaptation you started talking about at the beginning of the opening paragraph?” I hear you mewl. Well, it’s glossy. Very glossy. Many years ago I used to regularly purchase a magazine called, hilariously, Living etc, centering on interior design. That’s exactly what this film is like, with the ‘etc’ meaning, watered down, misunderstood, vanilla BDSM for people who don’t read books. I’d like to amend John Waters’ advice about not fucking people who don’t read books. Don’t fuck people who read EL James. I’m deadly serious here, because her message is not sexy, it’s toxic. Back to the film.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directs this tosh extremely well, with a self-awareness of its inherent ridiculousness that it doesn’t deserve. She regularly dips a toe into parody with a tv commercial style of shooting and grabs the comedic moments to her bosom. And there ARE deliberately funny moments. Notably the contract negotiation scene, (props to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey for the sumptuous look of the whole thing) but even that can’t be saved from Mitchell’s tiresome insistence on her dreadful dialogue being included as much as possible. When Ana expresses an interest in winding up the meeting, Christian tells her that her body is saying something different. “There is a blush on your cheek.” But how can he tell when everything’s orange?

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Taylor-Johnson apparently wanted to approach this as a dark fairy tale, while Mitchell saw it as an epic bonk-buster. Taylor-Johnson and adaptor Kelly Marcel’s sensibility creeps in with the inclusion of a scene with a hung over Ana waking up at Christian’s place with a painkiller, a glass of water, and a note that reads. ‘Eat Me. Drink Me.’ I don’t believe Mitchell has the imagination to write that, so I’m assuming it’s down to Marcel. Not exactly subtle, but it’s there. (Correct me if I’m wrong and it is in the book, but I’d bet my eye teeth it isn’t.) They try to take the curse off it in other areas too. “Laters baby,” has been turned into a recurring joke, a phrase first uttered by Christian’s brother, which he then uses ironically. There is no Inner Goddess and there are no “Holy craps!” although there is a breathy “Holy shit,” as Ana exits Christian’s office building in a downpour, holding her face up into the rain, bowled over by his money charisma. Why do we keep coming back to excrement? Don’t answer that.

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To paraphrase Sarah Miles in White Mischief, “Not another fucking beautifully composed and lit shot.”

The screening itself had the odd atmosphere of a Hen Night. And beforehand I’d mused that this film might be a first. A commercial piece of cinema about sexuality, written by women, directed by a woman and appealing to a core audience of women. I was assured by the other attendees that there were plenty of people lapping this stuff up, talking excitedly amongst themselves and generally having a great time. We weren’t among them. When Dornan does his tedious, sad, nude piano playing schtick I muttered, “For god’s sake. He’s like The Phantom Of The fucking Opera without the organ.”

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Jamie Dornan

(Thanks to Kim for pointing out this connection.)

He really is organless, because although wide-eyed, lip-biting ingenue Dakota Johnson gets everything out,  Jamie Dornan is restricted to a naked, cigarette-burned chest and buttocks.  Now, it’s not like I want the screen to be awash with cocks (Or do I? A question for another day) but I would like some parity. At one point there’s an utterly bizarre flash frame of ‘someone’s’ pubic area (not Dornan’s, because he signed a ‘no complete nudity’ clause) reminding me of the insert of a nob (“Ooh err!”) in Fight Club.

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And so to the actors. Dakota Johnson has been on the receiving end of universal praise for her expressive naturalness and I’m in agreement. She brings believability to the unbelievable. Not conventionally beautiful, she has adorable little bags under her eyes, a slightly wonky nose and a sensual mouth. The camera loves her. The camera’s a bit unsure about Jamie Dornan but it might give him a call next weekend if it doesn’t have anything on.  Now, I’m aware that Dornan is the Psycho Du Jour due to The Fall, but not having seen that, or indeed, anything he’s been in, I was completely bemused by his flat, lifeless performance. To be fair, the script is mainly atrocious. Who is Christian Grey? According to this film he’s a super-rich fetus in a suit with a flying license and a predilection for kinky sex. Not much to base a performance on. BUT, and now we get to the important stuff. He has a ‘back story’, it’s what’s made him into the cypher he is today, and it’s not pretty. “I’m fifty shades of fucked up.” he complains. But do you really have to be fucked up to be into BDSM? The truth is you don’t. It’s a desire, probably hard wired into the brain and reinforced by environment, and when practiced by consenting adults, is not a mental illness to be cured by having a ‘normal’ romantic relationship, and the insinuation by Mitchell that it is, is downright insulting. In fact everything she does is insulting. Her utter contempt for her readership. Her congratulatory self-aggrandizement and her complete absence of self-awareness. No wonder Taylor-Johnson doesn’t want to work with her again. The news yesterday that she will be adapting her own work for the sequels must have the execs at Universal and Focus shitting their little panties, because she can’t write a sentence let alone a screenplay and she’s never had an original thought in her life.

Fifty Shades Of Grey started life as Twilight fan fiction, but there’s an even earlier film it draws upon heavily, Steven Shainberg’s Secretary (2002), based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill and adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson.

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The original Mr Grey

Secretary is also the story of a BDSM relationship but unlike Fifty Shades, our female protagonist, Lee, genuinely ENJOYS the games she plays with Mr Grey/Spader, while Ana seems to put up with Christian’s ‘singular tastes’ in order to keep her man. When she reaches her limit, she storms out of his house in tears. This should be the end of the story, but there are a further two books/films in which she partially ‘cures’ him and they live happily ever after in a socially sanctioned marriage with children. Pardon me while I have a strange interlude in which I imagine Mitchell drowning in a vat of Nutella, her favorite snack. Now Lee and Mr Grey also get married, but the wonderfully unconventional coda (SPOILER ALERT) finds her tied to a tree in her wedding dress being rogered senseless by Grey and loving every second of it! This is true consent. Ana doesn’t consent to Christian selling her car behind her back or having him stalk her, turning up at places and events he hasn’t been invited to. This is obsessive nonsense. In fact it’s abuse. Mitchell, even when she knew her witterings were turning into a money-making concern, wasn’t the least bit interested in properly researching the BDSM lifestyle. What she peddles is Harlequin Blaze like romantic fiction with rough sex, pop psychology and a writing style that makes Dan Brown look like Dostoyevsky. These are quite simply the worst books ever published, in any medium, aside from possibly, the Cum For Bigfoot series, (Yes. They’re exactly what they sound like) which also makes a bloody fortune, but film studios didn’t engage in a bidding war for them. She’s the kind of woman who makes me ashamed to be female. I’m all for women making successful careers. I have a lot of respect for Taylor-Johnson. She has talent and she’s worked for her now elevated position, all while navigating extreme illness and personal crises. Mitchell on the other hand, wrote a load of old rubbish on her phone on the underground on her way to and from work and has created an empire. An empire of ‘holy crap’.

And now, something for the ladies.

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