Monday, December 31, 2007
I've published some well-received short stories, and I completed the writing of a short crime novel over the summer. Shotgun Opera was nominated for an Anthony Award. I learned how to cook PERFECT ribs on my awesome charcoal grill. Many, many important accomplishments.
Emerson LaSalle passed away. The full ramifications of this remain to be seen.
The most important thing to happen (career-wise) was that I signed a two-book contract with the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster. The first book Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse has already garnered great blurbs from authors I respect like Joe Lansdale, Ken Bruen, Mike Resnick, Sean Doolittle and James Rollins. I'm hard at work on the second book in the contract, Bad Alchemy. So I go into 2008 with a lot of high-octane optimism. I have some good promotional ideas for Go-Go and I'm eager to work on other projects.
Still ... I feel I could have done more. At the moment, I need to keep my fat yap shut, but I have a number of things on the very edge of falling into place ... all the result of a combination of hard work, luck and the machinations of Team Gischler. More as doings develop.
What about you folks? What were the hi-lites of 2007?
Friday, December 28, 2007
But the incident got me to a-wondering.
How are pop culture references passed along?
Example: There are two obvious groups watching the bunny cartoon. 1. Older folks who have seen The Six-Million Dollar Man and understand the reference, and 2. Younger kiddies who haven't and don't. But I postulate a 3rd group. A middle group who haven't seen (and don't particularly want to see the show) the show but understand the reference nevertheless. I think many of these references have become part of a common mythos and live on independently of their source material.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Why did the Scooby Doo cartoon abandon its popular original format in favor of guest stars like Sonny and Cher and the Harlem Globe Trotters?
Friday, December 7, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Say, anyone out there up on their Hebrew mythology? Is there a term for a Jewish wizard or man of magic or something like that? Yes, I know I should do my own research (and I will) but I thought if anyone wanted to point me in the right direction it would be neato-keen for me.
Anyway, I want to try to finsih a chapter before the Florida vs. Florida State game comes on TV.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I opened the package with shaking hands, breathlessly eager to see the title of the FINAL LaSalle manuscript. I got a little surprise. In addition to the final manuscript, there was also a copy of LaSalle's one and only attempt at a "literary" novel, his 1951 effort The Reluctant Enthusiast.
I'd heard of this novel, but never thought I'd be holding a first edition in my hands. It was probably the only thing that could have distracted me from the new manuscript, and I must admit that I began reading it that very minute, sitting in my easy chair with the shreds of the FedEx package still in my lap.
It's a love-triangle story, something about a piano and a tree surgeon and a teenage girl keeping some sort of long-winded diary. At times, LaSalle's efforts almost seem like a parody of a literary novel, but his raw earnestness is clear and I'm almost glad my friend is not alive to ask my opinion of his attempt at literature.
It's sad really because the rich themes in almost any of his pulp novels make better literature than his one conscious attempt to accomplish the same thing. His 1960 novel I Was a Teenage Android offers one of the most stunning comments on human nature and free will ever written in English.
LaSalle often made fun of my academic background, but I think secretly he wanted to win my respect which might be why he willed The Reluctant Enthusiast to me in addition to his final manuscript. How I wished I'd let him know. You always had my respect, Mr. LaSalle. Always.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Perhaps I'll get to use a bunch of fancy words I learned in grad school.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Monday, September 3, 2007
I was contacted by the good folks at Touchstone (the S&S imprint publishing my stuff) who said they were starting to talk about GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE in-house and getting excited about various ideas to market the book. (I even contributed a good idea myself which was fairly well-received. Stay tuned.) It was the sort of phone call an author wants to get from his/her publisher. Lots of positive enthusiasm about my work and how the team was going to spread my name hither and yon among readers of the world.
One little surprise during the conversation: Touchstone plans to market the book as Science Fiction.
Cool. I am a huge science fiction/Fantasy fan, loving such authors as Nancy Kress, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Mike Resnick, Dave Duncan, Richard K. Morgan, John Scalzi, Lawrence Watt-Evans ... the list goes on. And a story set in a post-apocalyptic America? Sure. That's a no-brainer. Why wouldn't it go on the Science Fiction shelf of Borders and B&N? In a way, it feels cool to come full circle. I started off writing science fiction/fantasy/horror short stories, and, although I published a few things, I was really getting nowhere fast, not really hitting my stride until I penned a few things in the crime genre. So it's cool. I'm finally starting the science fiction career I always wanted, and I'm stoked about it.
And yet ...
Expectations are everything, aren't they? And I'd developed some different expectations. When we all first started talking about GO-GO, the name Christopher Moore came up a lot (I highly suggest everyone get a copy of Lamb.). I'm a huge fan of Moore's work, and while he uses a number of fantastical/supernatural elements in his work, the books are sold as mainstream. This was sort of how we were going to approach selling GO-GO. The science fiction elements in the book are strong, but I think the satirical elements are dominant. But Touchstone saw opportunities to reach a science fiction audience, and I very much support any campaign that gets my work to the readers who will appreciate it the most.
Kurt Vonnegut (another book-writing hero of mine) said he wanted to stay out of the science fiction file drawer because critics too often mistook this drawer for a urinal. I'm not inviting the tired lit-snob vs. genre debate. I don't have the energy for it. All I'm saying is that I'm wondering. Wondering what's going to happen as I tackle a brave new genre. Will my crime readers follow me to new places? Will the science fiction community welcome me? I sort of feel like a rookie all over again.
I'm eager. I look forward to meeting different folks at science-fiction conventions, new authors. It's all out there waiting, and I plan to jump in with both feet.
Here's what's not different: What I write and the way I write it. When I wrote crime novels, I never sat down and said to myself "Crime novels are supposed to look like this." No. I wrote the story I wanted to write regardless of genre conventions or formulas. Same goes for science fiction or any other genre. I'm going to write the sort if thing I'd want to read. I'm going to hope others like it. We'll see what happens.
I hope I can get you guys to come along for the ride.
(p.s. This doesn't mean the crime genre is over for me. I always have a little something brewing there too.)
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Friday, August 31, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Did I mention I was up for an Anthony Award? Yeah, I'm surprised too.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Friday, August 3, 2007
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
A funny thing happened on the way to bed last night. I flipped the channel to Turner Classic Movies and caught the opening strains of a Glenn Yarbrough-ish theme song and a tedious, intrusive voice-over. The opening footage was of a vast Western panorama a la John Ford in vivid Technicolor. A buzzard hovered in the air. What the hell was this? I checked the electro-guide and found out Mackenna's Gold (1969) had just started. I said to myself, "Self, give this flick 10 minutes and see what happens." Once I'd started, there was no stopping. Because the film is a perfectly conceived work of art?
No. Not even close.
Because the film was too odd and surprising to turn off?
Briefly: Mackenna's Gold is about a law man who gets a treasure map from a dead Indian. Other people find out about it, and the movie continues as a clusterfuck of various folks all wanting a share of the treasure. Imagine It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World set in the old west, but a lot more people are killed.
The film begins deceptively in what seems to be a traditional western, Gregory Peck on horseback, the landscape littered with orange buttes. The film quickly goes Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs. At times the film seems to want to be a traditional western, at other times a bad Sergio Leone knockoff. At one point, I would not have been surprised to see Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs rush from the canyons to gobble the characters. Near the end, we rapidly go from Indiana Jones to Irwin Allen. The style of the film seems to suffer from an identity crisis as if the movie were cobbled together from bits and pieces of other movies.
Yet there was something highly compelling about such a hodge-podge. I almost want to pick up Will Henry's novel on which the film was based. Almost.
And I must grudgingly admire director's J. Lee Thompson's seemingly drunken devil-may-care, it's my movie and I'll do whatever the hell I want attitude. Much of the film is shot against breathtaking scenery, but then other scenes are clearly set on a half-assed sound stage. I was particularly amused by the film's willingness to bring in very well-known actors, give them two or three lines, and then shoot them dead five minutes later.
"Hello, I'm Edward G, Robinson."
"I'm Anthony Quayle. I'm British."
"I'm Lee J. Cobb. You might remember me from 12 Angry Men."
"Burgess Meredith here. I just wanted to express my thanks for being included in the film and--"
There are some genuine highlights. We get several shots of Julie Newmar's butt during the underwater cat fight scene, apparently choreographed by whomever did all those Tarzan/crocodile fights. Gregory Peck turns in his usual dependable performance, and Omar Sharif's very un-David Lean-ish performance is quite good.
The special effects. Huh.
Here's how I imagine the meeting:
Director: (gulping from a bottle of rum) I want a big ghost Indian head floating over the canyon at the end of the film.
Special effects guy: Well, we'll have to cut the budget someplace else.
Director: Any suggestions?
Special effects guy: The rope bridge scene. For the long shots I'll use a plastic palomino figurine I got from my Little Farmer's Playshcool Set. The whole thing will run you about three bucks.
Director: (Gulping more rum) Super. Now lets talk about how to do a cheap earthquake.
Ultimately, this is a film with a lot of problems and many chunks and elements that fit together so strangely and awkwardly that one must simultaneously condemn it as a stinker yet admit that it's highly entertaining nonsense. I cannot bring myself to say it's a good film, but I have to admit I'm glad I saw it. It was, overall, a worthwhile and entertaining experience. Frankly, I don't want to bee too tough on the picture because part of me knows that if I had some horses and cameras and a case of whiskey, this might very well be the sort of film I'd make too. In fairness, many of the above problems might have been solved if Hollywood mofos hadn't demanded an hour be carved from the picture.
If you get a chance, see this film. No, wait. Down 4-5 beers, THEN see this film. Perfect for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 party.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer you the Blogpocalypse post-apocalypse film and/or novel survey. I want to know everyone's favorite and or "important" post-apocalypse novel or film. I asked some pals to offer some suggestions to get us started, but I don't think the list is complete by any means ... so join in, you mofos.
My picks: I was tempted to say Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank since it seems to be one of the grand-daddies of nuclear holocaust novels, but instead I'm going to pick Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournell. The authors do one hell of a job of not only depicting the disaster itself (a comet putting the smackdown on Mother Earth) but also of depicting the aftermath. Cool stuff.
Here's what others have offered:
David Brin's "The Postman" is a favorite of mine.(Ignore the Kevin Costner film, although it's not as bad as you might have heard.) A book about hope and the search for meaning in life, "The Postman" might be a little too corny for some, but it worked for me.
David J. Montgomery
Ha, great idea. I should probably say something cool like Escape from New York or The Stand, but the post-apocalypse film I think everyone should pay attention to is the direct to video Left Behind: The Movie.Who wouldn't love Kirk Cameron as a cheesy pilot turned missionary after all of the "good christians" have been whisked away in the Rapture? The book are horrible and leaden and preachy, and so is the movie, but it has a level of cheese that elevates it to high art.
A couple of years ago a woman who'd never read any SF got interested, for some reason, in post-apocalypse novels. She asked me if I could give her the names of a few. The ones that came to mind were of course the ones that had most affected me when I was a beginning SF reader long ago. She'd heard of all those but one: George R. Stewart's Earth Abides. After she read it, I got an e-mail from her thanking me profusely for the recommendation. She couldn't believe she'd never heard of such a wonderful novel. Probably not too many people have, these days. It was written in the late '40s, Stewart didn't write any other SF novels (but lots of other stuff), and it's not spectacular in the Mad Max way. It's very quiet. Very powerful, too, and still as relevant now as it ever was. Jim Sallis wrote a great column about it in the Boston Globe. I'd put it at the top of my list, along with A Canticle for Leibowitz and On the Beach.
I suck at this. But two come to mind. The hoopla over The Day After, that made for TV movie in the 80's detailing what happens in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. I saw it as an adult and cried buckets, because at one time it *did* seem we were headed toward total annihilation. Plus, we live in the largest concentration of nuclear missile silos in the world, and B-1's were stationed at Ellsworth Airforce Base and we were #4 on the hit list for nuclear attack.
The other one is more urban. JD Robb writes futuristic, the "In Death" series set in 2054. There are heli-cars, penal colonies out in space, other planets which are mini-cities. It's set mostly in NY after the "urban wars." What I love about it, besides Eve Dallas being a kick-ass, totally righteous cop (and it is a romance series, so the relationship stuff with her husband Roarke is killer too) is that it shows the more things change, the more they stay the same. The reasons for greed don't evolve. Since she's 24 books into the series, the character arcs are amazing.
I have to say The Road Warrior because, well, it's the motherfucking Road Warrior. I realize that hardly makes me look like Cool Apocalypse Guy (TM), since it's sort of the obvious choice. But I don't care. That movie had all the elements of perfection: a razor-edged boomerang, human bonfires, Alpo as gourmet grub, a character listed in the credits as "Feral Kid," a compound guarded by warrior women wielding flamethrowers, creepy rapist torture-bikers, a villain called The Humongous, and an anti-hero riding the last of the V-8 Interceptors straight to hell. All back in the days when Mel Gibson seemed like a pretty cool guy. How could you lose?
Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow (1955) is an out-of-print and overlooked post-apocalyptic novel. It takes place a couple of generations after "The Destruction." Technology is outlawed, as are any towns larger than (if I remember correctly) a few thousand people. Everyone lives in fear. The book was a reflection of its time, but it still holds up well. Brackett was one of my favorite of the classic SF writers. She worked on the screenplays for The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and The Empire Strikes Back.
Patrick Shawn Bagley
At the risk of causing Ray Banks instant heart failure: CHILDREN OF MEN (2006), a movie which I watched last week. Adapted from the novel by P D James, which I haven't read. The movie is a work of art. The premise is fairly straightforward: it's 2027 and women have stopped having babies. There are some nice little surprises along the way, but essentially this movie's so damn good largely due to the brilliant directing and excellent script, which together with one or two standout performances generate some really powerful emotions. The bastarding thing'll make the most hardboiled of individuals weep. I tell you, if Michael Caine's performance as Jasper isn't utterly heartbreaking, it's stone you've got there, mate. Fuckin' stone. There's an astonishing chase scene where the camera wanders all over the place inside the car whilst all around is mayhem. You're right there with the passengers. Terrified. Bleedin' genius, innit. But there's so much else to commend it. Go on, go watch it and if you don't like it you can pull my finger. As Jasper would say.
Blogpocalypse pal Duane Swierczynski offers this: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/11808/
What, like THE ROAD?
I choose McCarthy's THE ROAD... unless, you know, I'm misunderstanding the question. In which case, my answer is... THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE.
Or maybe that should be my first answer?
What the hell is wrong with me, Gischler?
Oh, and as far as a film... nothing comes close to A BOY AND HIS DOG.
When I was working for Don Johnson, I never asked him about VICE, or Jennifer Connelly's breasts... I was always asking about A BOY AND HIS DOG.
Maybe that's why Don and I don't work together anymore...
The Rift by Walter J. Williams. A massive earthquake along the Mississippi destroys the U.S. heartland. The social commentary gets to be a bit much, but the story is pretty cool.
*Okay. people ... let's hear it .....
Monday, July 9, 2007
The process of getting this green light involved writing a synopsis. I HATE summarizing. Hate hate hate it. For one thing, I'm not good at it. I even cringe reading my own synopsis. Perhaps one of the reasons I hate to write them is that while I can summarize a basic plot, I find it very hard to summarize things like style, voice, dialogue, etc. Publishers have every right to know what is coming next, but I will continue to despise the synopsis process. Maybe if I were better at it, things would be more peachy-keen.
Much of the novel is set in Prague. Look up Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II to get a hint of things and whatnot.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Economics as Law Enforcement in the Noir World
In the dark, urban world of film noir, society?s official and recognized law enforcement agencies continually prove disappointing. The police are ineffective and, in many cases, hinder the progress of the hero detective. In noir films, we suspect the detective is more likely to be "taken downtown" than are the criminals. True, the detective hero skirts the edge between the darkness and the light, but when it comes right down to it, he is our only chance for justice. The police, rather than catching the criminals, simply provide them with a level playing field.
So we must ask ourselves, in the absence of standard law enforcement, what sort of system governs the noir world? What keeps chaos at bay in the realm of urban darkness? Before answering, let us consider a general but accurate characterization of the world which film noir depicts:
[Film noir], flourishing in America in the period 1941-58, generally focuses on urban crime and corruption, and on sudden upwellings of violence in a culture whose fabric seems to be unraveling. Because of these typical concerns, the film noir seems fundamentally about violations: vice, corruption, unrestrained desire, and, most fundamental of all, abrogation of the American dream?s most basic promises?of hope, prosperity, and safety from persecution. (Telotte 2)
It is this corruption and crime which concerns our examination, for if all noir films have these elements in common, we are led to ask if the motivations for the crime and corruption in these films are also identical. In almost every case, the driving factor for one if not all of the characters in these films turns out to be greed. Greed propels Gutman?s relentless quest in The Maltese Falcon. Greed is the reason behind the elaborately planned heist in The Killing. And if the main characters themselves are not motivated by greed, they are at least the victims of others who are greedy, victims of those who exploit, murder, extort and blackmail in the name of greed. In the noir world, such situations are commonplace. The noir world exists not because these evils exists; it is the way these evils are presented and relate to one another which constructs our notions of noir. In the noir world, even greed must operate within boundaries, and it is this system of controlling and administering greed which replaces traditional law enforcement.
The films which best illustrate this system are Billy Wilder?s noir classic Double Indemnity and Robert Siodmak?s The Killers. Both films show economics as the new system of law enforcement, but one is from the detective/hero?s perspective while the other is from the criminal?s. Specifically, the characters which act in the roles of the detectives in both films are insurance investigators. By taking the investigation--the detective?s search for truth--out of the hands of the traditional detective hero and putting it in the hands of the insurance investigator, the films allow a highly focused discourse which adopts the language of the insurance business and emphasizes the influence of economics in the system which governs the daily lives of the characters. In other words, money is the bottom line where law and order and justice are concerned in the world of these films. Let us here take a much more detailed look at Double Indemnity and use The Killers to supplement our findings.
In Double Indemnity, Walter Neff?s (Fred Macmurray?s) sexual overtures toward Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) early in the film become mixed with her questions about the insurance policy which has lapsed on the Dietrichsons? automobiles. In answer to Neff?s flirtations, Phyllis seems to stick doggedly to the subject at hand, saying that the Auto Club has a better rate. Talk of insurance juxtaposes constantly with sexual innuendo, fusing sex with economics, what Peter William Evans calls "interrelated transgressive desires to have an affair with an attractive married woman . . . and to defraud the insurance company that employs him" (165). Neff must relent and gives Phyllis his standard sales pitch, but even now we see Phyllis pacing, her schemes and machinations already forming early in the film. As Neff leaves after their first encounter, Neff offers a final flirtation. "I wonder what you mean," replies Phyllis. "I wonder if you wonder," says Neff. The implication is clear that even though they pretend to talk past one another?he about sex, her about insurance?they are actually participating in the same conversation. This initial encounter sets up the parameters for an economic negotiation. Phyllis needs Neff for his insurance connection, and she barters with the only commodity of any value available to her: herself. Neff?s desire for her is plain, and Phyllis finds herself in a strong position for bargaining.
But Neff as a character is complicated, divided, a characteristic which contributes to the doubling indicated by the film?s title. Neff, as a salesman, is a part of Pacific All Risk Insurance Company. Ostensibly, he owes his allegiance to them, and it is Barton Keyes? (Edward G. Robinson?s) trust in this fact, which keeps him ultimately from solving the Dietrichson case. But Neff?s association with Pacific All Risk is based on a motivation of greed. He is a salesman who earns his living on commission. In this light, the insurance company merely provides the tool, the system whereby Neff obtains wealth. Neff?s pursuit of Phyllis leads to the corruption of this system, and it is Barton Keyes? job to expose this corruption and repair it.
Barton Keyes is perhaps the most interesting character in the film, if the least complex. Indeed, Edward G. Robinson steals every scene he?s in. As the claims investigator for the company, it is Keyes? task to ferret out those who try to corrupt the system. It is with Keyes that we get the most straightforward example of economics as law enforcement. When we first see Keyes, he has a Mexican farmer "on the carpet." He informs the farmer that his claim on a burned truck has been denied because evidence shows he set fire to the truck himself for the insurance money. In addition, Keyes "little man"--the gut feeling that kicks around his innards whenever he gets suspicious--tells him that the farmer?s claim is rotten. He bullies the farmer into signing a waiver on his claim, and the matter is settled. Under the film?s system of economics as law, no other punitive measures are taken. The farmer?s signature on the waiver repairs the farmer?s attempted corruption of the system. Keyes is satisfied that he has protected his company, and justice, to the extent that it is allowed under this system, has been served, and he proclaims to the farmer, "Now you?re an honest man again."
Keyes and Phyllis Dietrichson are exact opposites within the framework of economics as law enforcement. Whereas Keyes guards this system, it is Phyllis?s lot to constantly attempt to circumvent and corrupt the system to her advantage. According to Phyllis?s stepdaughter Lola, Phyllis has already corrupted the institutions of marriage and family in the name of financial gain. We are led to understand that as the former Mrs. Dietrichson?s nurse, Phyllis was responsible for her death. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Dietrichson marries Phyllis. The motivation is simple: money. She confesses as much to Neff. Leaving out the part about the murder, Phyllis tells Neff she married him because she wanted a home and security.
A home and security are certainly not the most unconventional reasons for marriage, but Mr. Dietrichson himself confirms that Phyllis?s greed goes far beyond the need for simple creature comforts and blames their financial difficulties on her buying "five hats at a crack." Indeed, it is when Mr. Dietrichsion dries up as a "cash cow" that Phyllis feels the need to improve her financial situation by again corrupting the system. By offering herself to Neff in exchange for his helping to get rid of her husband, she is attempting to peddle goods which do not belong to her, for she has already made a commitment to Mr. Dietrichson in the form of marriage. In the noir world, it is allowable for Phyllis to turn marriage into a financial arrangement, but it is again a corruption of the system to fence goods which are no longer hers to sell.
If Phyllis and Keyes represent opposing forces within this system, then Neff himself falls somewhere in between. As mentioned before, Neff?s loyalties are divided. His sales for the insurance company and the commissions her derives from those sales come from a fair manipulation of the system. But Phyllis provides him with two things: an object of desire which can only be obtained through criminal means, and a "shill" to help him "crook the house." In Neff?s dictaphone confession to Keyes, Neff admits that insurance folk spend so much time watching for a con, that they try to figure out how they can crook the house themselves. The Dietrichsons finally provide Neff with the opportunity to "do it right," even telling Phyllis to make sure it happens on a train to cash in on the lucrative double indemnity clause.
But Neff immediately begins to regret his decision. His divided loyalty reminds him he is friends with Keyes. He tells Phyllis they can?t meet for awhile, ostensibly to keep a low profile, but also because Neff feels guilt for his deed, a guilt compounded when he talks to Lola who understandably grieves for her father.
Once the crime has been committed, the system of economics as law enforcement is slow to leap into action, but it is clearly superior to the traditional law enforcement which so often disappoints its citizens in noir films. In one of the most memorable scenes in Double Indemnity, the president of the company calls Keyes and Neff into his office to discuss the Dietrichson case. When Neff asks if something is wrong, Keyes replies, "It?s going to cost us dough. That?s always wrong." Although an off the cuff remark, the comment clearly illustrates how matters of economics become inseparable from ideas of right and wrong, ideas which are at the very core of the film?s system of justice.
The scene is important to this analysis for two significant reasons. First, it emphasizes the failure of traditional law enforcement in the context of the noir world. The president of Pacific All Risk reports that the police have declared Mr. Dietrichson?s death an accident. He tells Keyes and Neff that he does not believe this to be the case and even tells Phyllis later in the scene that he is not satisfied with the police report, "not satisfied at all." Although the president later shows himself to be a bit of a fool, he is correct in his suspicions that the death was by no means accidental as Neff and Phyllis wished it to appear. He is right (albeit for the wrong reasons) not to be satisfied with the police report. The traditional law enforcement elements in the noir world are not motivated to pursue the investigation. As Keyes points out, "It?s not their dough." Since Pacific All Risk is economically motivated to investigate further, they suppose Mr. Dietrichson?s death not to be accidental but instead a suicide. They pursue justice in the Dietrichson case not for the sake of justice itself, but because it is financially sound to do so.
Like Double Indemnity, other noir films illustrate the shortcomings of traditional law enforcement and turn to an economic system to maintain order and administer justice. In The Killers, it is not the police or even the traditional private eye we follow on the trail of truth. Rather, the protagonist is an insurance investigator like Barton Keyes. Whereas Neff?s loyalties are divided in Double Indemnity, the doubling in The Killers manifests itself in a dual story line, criminal as protagonist in one, detective hero as protagonist in the other. (Interestingly, insurance investigator Reardon--Edmond O?Brien--works for Atlantic Casualty, so between this film and Double Indemnity both coasts are covered.)But when both story lines at last converge, it is the insurance investigator who saves the day. Standing over a dying Colfax at the end of the film, Reardon is framed with Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) and two uniformed police officers on a staircase. In the blocking, Siodmak places Reardon two steps above the uniformed officers, emphasizing his superiority over traditional law enforcement. Other critics have also noted that film noir police don?t do their job very well, specifically in The Killers:
Another noir feature of the film is the implicit incompetence of the police. Not only did they fail to track down any of the four original robbers in 1940, but the local chief in Brentwood washes his hands of investigative responsibility for Swede?s killers and, even when his men later surround a building, they let Dum-Dum slip away. It is true that Lubinsky is able, eventually, to shoot the killers and that the master-criminal behind both the Prentiss robbery and Swede?s murder is finally exposed, but all these are primarily thanks to Reardon; without him, Lubinsky would have got nowhere. (Walker 134).
In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Lana Turner?s lawyer correctly predicts that the district attorney will be unable to prosecute her. He knows this because the insurance company has already paid off on her husband?s life insurance policy. The lawyer knows how insurance companies operate, and he remarks that if the insurance investigators failed to find enough evidence to refuse the claim, the district attorney certainly would not be able to find enough to prosecute. His implication clearly suggests traditional law enforcement to be below par if not simply incompetent.
Returning to the important scene from Double Indemnity, we see that the second important element is its depiction of Keyes? relationship with this economic system of law enforcement. The president?s assertion that the death was a suicide is the very definition of ridiculous. As claims investigator, one might figure it would be Keyes? job to support his employer?s refusal of the Dietrichson claim. Instead, Keyes quotes elaborate and detailed statistics from actuarial tables which show suicide as an unlikely possibility. Instead of supporting Pacific All Risk, Keyes supports the system in which the insurance company is but a single member. The same system of economic justice which prevents fraudulent claims also prevents Pacific All Risk from abusing its customers. The rules apply equally in both directions, a uniform code which controls the greed of customer and company alike. To the president, Keyes declares in no uncertain terms, "You?re stuck, and you?ll have to pay through the nose." Keyes may be a company man, but his ultimate loyalty is to the system of economic justice in which he is an agent.
Again, Keyes may be a company man, but he is also an investigator, and although he condemns the notion of Mr. Dietrichson?s suicide, he begins to suspect something fishy is afoot when he notices that Mr. Dietrichson had a broken leg but hadn?t made a claim on his accident policy. He stops by Neff?s apartment to discuss the matter because Keyes? "little man" is kicking around in his chest again. Because Keyes mistakenly believes Neff to be trustworthy, he speaks frankly. He tells Neff he suspects murder, and points the finger of blame at the wife: "Maybe I like to take it easy on myself," admits Keyes, "but I always suspect the beneficiary." Keyes?s suspicions are right on the money. He knows that in the system which governs his world greed is at the root of all corruption, so he simply follows the money trail to Phyllis Dietrichson. After all, this is a hardboiled crime drama, not what we?ve come to understand as strictly a mystery. The suspense lies not in "whodunit" but in how the criminals will finally get what?s coming to them. So Keyes edges closer and closer to solving the puzzle, Neff being the only piece he fails to apprehend.
Neff himself offers an explanation for Keyes? oversight in the confession he records on Keyes? dictaphone. Neff suggests that Keyes couldn?t see Neff?s involvement because it was "right under his nose." Neff is more correct than perhaps even he realizes. Ironically, the sensibilities which separate Keyes from the other characters in the film, thus enabling him to conduct an honest investigation, are the same sensibilities which prevent him from pursuing Neff as a suspect in the murder.
Although Keyes is not the protagonist of Double Indemnity, he does fill the role of the truth-seeking detective, and the sensibilities mentioned above demand closer examination. How Keyes relates to his system of law enforcement and to the other characters in the film inform our understanding of justice in the noir world.
Keyes' misplaced trust in Neff stems from Keyes? mistaken belief than he and Neff are the same kind of men. In a thematically important scene, Keyes finds Neff in his office and offers him a job by saying, "How would you like a fifty dollar cut in salary?" One would normally see this as a demotion as, in fact, does Neff. Because Neff is at least in part greed motivated, he refuses Keyes? offer. But in Keyes? eyes, the offer is a step up, not a demotion. The fact the job pays less money separates those in the job from greed motivation, thus thrusting the claims man into a position of superiority. Keyes explains to Neff that the claims man is like a surgeon, "a doctor, a bloodhound?Judge, jury and confessor." Here Keyes attempts to communicate to Neff that the work--claims investigation--is its own reward. The value of it does not derive from the economic rewards it produces.
By calling himself "doctor, judge, jury and confessor," Keyes not only confirms his role in noir?s economic system of justice and law enforcement, he also extends that authority to include other societal conventions. Keyes represents not just justice but in fact civilization as a whole, for it is through him and others like him that American institutions are protected. For instance, one of the most obvious institutions being violated is the institution of marriage. Greed in Double Indemnity is pursued and fully realized through blatant acts of adultery--another staple in the noir film. But it is Keyes? job to perpetuate and protect such institutions, and he suggests Neff should "settle down and get married." At one point in the film, Keyes refers to himself as "poppa," suggesting a protective authority and "an endorsement of a conformist society" (Evans 166). Even the name "Keyes" implies his role as a guardian and his propensity to keep things at least figuratively under lock and key.
Keyes, like many of the more traditional noir detective heroes, is an outsider, but he is not an outsider in the same way Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer are. Ironically, Keyes must be outside of the system in order to enforce it more effectively. Likewise, Spade, Marlowe and especially Mike Hammer could not possibly conduct business in their own way if they were members of traditional law enforcement. These men straddle the border between light and darkness. For instance, their relationships to greed are far different than Keyes?. Charles Gregory notes "We are disoriented by Spade?s greed ("We didn?t believe you, we believed your $200.")"(159). Part of these detectives? noir sensibilities and attributes are their inner conflicts. But even though Keyes? is an outsider, we never sense such inner conflicts in him. We trust him to serve truth in the most straightforward manner possible, a character trait which easily explains Neff?s fear of him.
Keyes polices a system which operates on the principle of greed, but he himself is not greed motivated. He is not affected by the system he helps maintain and is therefore an outsider. Yet unlike Spade and Marlowe, Keyes is more trustworthy for his outsider status rather than less so. Without greed motivation, Keyes is simply not corruptible, for he does not possess the desires that Neff or Phyllis or Hammer or many of the other characters have in the noir world. It is this incorruptibility--conferred upon him by his outsider status--which makes him the perfect "poppa" in Double Indemnity.
We have been examining economics and specifically greed at some length, focusing especially on economics as the measuring device for a system of law and justice. In "Democracy?s Turn: Homeless Noir," Dean MacCannell claims "The still unexamined tension at the heart of film noir is that between senile capitalism and democracy"(284). In a portion of his essay, MacCannell discusses the seeming tendency of capitalism to subsume democracy and to press democracy into capitalism?s service. MacCannell elaborates:
Classic film noir has an almost fatal fascination for the confrontation between capitalism and democracy, which it witnesses with an implacable numbness. In countless films . . . a tainted, slightly compromised, democratic hero battles corpulent and decadent capitalism to a draw. The basic principle that is compromised in these films, and in democracy as it is currently inflected, is inclusion: everyone is supposed to have a "place" in it; anyone can win; everyone has a voice. (284-6)
But not everyone has a voice or a chance to win in Double Indemnity. Although a rather insignificant part in the film, the elevator operator in one of the early scenes confides to Neff that he can?t get life insurance because he has a bad heart. The system precludes him even from participating let alone winning.
But we need not lapse too deeply into Marxist rhetoric to appreciate MacCannell?s observations. His essay recognizes the economic elements in film noir as a major thematic concern. Intricate capitalistic conspiracies, however, are a bit grander than we need to be. Rather, let us refocus our attention to the subject at hand: greed. What makes greed stand out as more significant than any of the other elements of the noir film? Adultery or murder or betrayal?
First of all, adultery, murder and betrayal are all usually the results of greed. Phyllis and Neff enter into an adulterous relationship because of greed. Mr. Dietrichson is murdered in service of greed, and Neff betrays his best friend because of greed. At the core of every sinister act in Double Indemnity lurks greed. The same can be argued about most noir characters in most noir films.
Identifying greed as the root of all noir evil, however, falls short of explaining how greed works differently in noir films than in others. Film noir, after all, doesn?t have a monopoly. Double Indemnity deals with greed by accommodating it. Whereas other films understandably classify greed as aberrant or undesirable behavior, the noir film includes it as a given. Greed is standard in the noir world and rather than deny it or attempt to eradicate it, films like Double Indemnity incorporate it into a system. That Phyllis marries for money or that Neff earns his commission by "glad-handing" are acceptable, if not particularly admirable, applications of greed. When greed compels them to team up and kill Mr. Dietrichson, they are abusing a system in which there are strict rules governing greed. By including greed as a natural part of the system of law and justice which governs noir, men like Keyes can, in part, stem the tide of unfairness and abuse.
It is the fact that Keyes upholds this system from without which allows him to conduct himself untainted by greed. Greed is a part of the system; Keyes is not. Thus, he can safely and objectively make judgements and rule on matters of law and justice. This is how he is able to deal with the Mexican farmer. This is why he goes against the interests of Pacific All Risk to tell the company?s president--his employer--that the suicide angle is all wrong.
Inevitably, the criminals in Double Indemnity get what?s coming to them. Just as in all classic tragedy, the protagonist brings his ultimate demise upon himself. Neff and Phyllis trade bullets, and Neff slowly bleeds as he records the events of the film into Keyes? dictapone. It seems Aristotelian aesthetics have conspired with the Hollywood Production Code to make sure film-goers know crime doesn?t pay. In James M. Cain?s novel, after all, the criminals get away. R. Barton Palmer would have us believe the following:
If [noir films] paint a terrifying picture of evil, it is only to reinforce the sense of inevitable punishment for wrongdoing effected by a moralizing conclusion. In other words, the film noir is only superficially, not essentially, different from the standard Hollywood movie, which always supports the status quo. (Perspectives 7)
Perhaps, but this hardly seems the case. Certainly, the dark, unsatisfying endings in noir films cause us to question whether or not the status quo these films advocate deserves to be supported. Hardly the typical Hollywood fare if true, and if men like Keyes defend systems, not people, let?s hope the system is worth it.
Double Indemnity. Dir. Billy Wilder. Perf. Fred MacMurray,
Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson. Paramount, 1944.
Evans, Peter William. "Double Indemnity (or Bringing Up
Baby)." The Book of Film Noir. New York: Continuum,
Killers, The. Dir. Robert Siodmak, Perf. Edmond O?Brien,
Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster. MGM, 1946.
MacCannell, Dean. "Democracy?s Turn: On Homeless Noir."
Shades of Noir. Joan Copjec, ed. New York: Verso,
Palmer, R. Barton, ed. Perspectives on Film Noir. New York:
G.K. Hall, 1996.
Postman Always Rings Twice, The. Dir. Tay Garnett. Perf.
Lana Turner, John Garfield. 1945.
Telotte, J.P. Voices in the Dark. Chicago: U of Illinois P,
Walker, Michael. "Robert Siodmak." The Book of Film Noir.
Ian Cameron, ed. New York: Continuum, 1992.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Monday, June 4, 2007
The screenplay is called Pulp Boy, and it's about a very pulpy sci-fi writer named Emerson LaSalle who was big stuff in the 1970's but is now scrambling to save his waning career.
Why am I blogging about this? Because I always have this silly sense of accomplishment whenever I finish a project. It's nice to look at a stack of papers and say "Whew. All done."
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
John Wayne would have been 100 years old today, and Turner Classic Movies has been showing a few of his films in tribute. I used to think it was not Wayne's job to "act" in a film. It was his job to be John Wayne. Certainly he's not what you might call a classically trained Shakespearean actor. Later, when I became more familiar with Wayne's work, I found I needed to give him a bit more respect as an actor.
That's not to say he should play Hamlet or be cast in the lead of Death of a Salesman. For the life of me I cannot remember which film featured a drunken Dean Martin as a co-star and which featured a drunken Robert Mitchum as co-star. Many of these cowboy flicks run together. But within a certain range, Wayne was actually quite talented and generally quite smart about the roles he accepted. If you watch In Harm's Way, The Searchers and The Quiet Man all in a row, you'll see he's asked to do something just a little different in each film, and he does it quite well. Like I said, he's not Olivier, but he does a little more than just stumble around calling people Pilgrim.
The three films mentioned above are probably my favorite Wayne pictures. You can throw in True Grit and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon as honorable mentions. I'd love to hear your favorites too.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
chunks of a novel
small chunk of screenplay
See you next year.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
The conference was priveleged to host a special presentation by wine maker Sean Mondavi.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
"First, who wouldn't want to read a novel titled GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE? Second, who could have guessed the book was even better than the title? Part Christopher Moore, part Quentin Tarantino, Victor Gischler is a raving, bad-ass genius."
-- James Rollins, New Tork Times bestselling author of Map of Bones and Black Order
"If it's all going to go to hell, you might as well have some Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse to go with it. Weird just doesn't say it for this one. Gischler gives weird a kick in the butt, sends it right over the edge of the abyss. Wild fun."
-- Joe R. Lansdale
"Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse is funny, mordant, crazed, riviting, sardonic -- and despite all that, it's got a plot. Bravo for Victor Gischler."
-- Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Mike Resnick
"Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse proves, if proof were needed, that Victor Gischler is among the most demented, nimble, and flat-out hilarious American satirists working today. Listen closely: that sound you here, somewhere out there, is Vonnegut's applause."
-- Sean Doolittle, author of The Cleanup
"If Pynchon ever decided to write an insane action novel, this would be it. All out sustained brilliance, nobody is writing the unique lunacy that Victor Gischler is."
-- Ken Bruen, author of The Guards and American Skin