Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Finnish translation of Don Tracy's Criss-Cross

I reviewed Don Tracy's Criss-Cross recently and mentioned not having been able to check if the Finnish translation from the fifties is an abridged one. I had finally an opportunity to check and I can tell you it's not abridged. The translation is somewhat toned down and, for example, all the ethnic slurs, like "wop" and "dago", have been taken out and replaced with "guy" and similar neutral epithets. Some of Tracy's short, clipped sentences have been connected to make longer sentences.

But all in all, it seems an above average translation, which is unusual for the Finnish paperback publishers of the fifties. More often than not, they used to cut huge chunks of the original books, sometimes censoring, but also to make the books shorter and cheaper to print.

The Finnish translation came from Nide that operated from Hämeenlinna, and the publishing year is 1957. The Finnish title means "She-Wolf", which is not bad, but I'm not sure if it really depicts Tracy's novel. If someone knows from what book the cover illo is, please let me know. (It could be from the reprint of Criss-Cross, called The Cheat.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


With the same people I saw the stupendous Hard Ticket to Hawaii I recently watched another cult classic, Thundercrack! It's - umm, what can I say? - stupendous. It's a hilarious spoof of old silent film melodramas and the liberated porn of the seventies. It's shot in black & white and the action takes place in a house that looks like it's haunted, but the people inside the house seem to be only interested in getting each other to bed. Some problems arise from a love-sick gorilla seeking someone to hold hands with. And a locked door behind which there's a man with huge testicles... (The DVD we watched seemed to slightly cut from these scenes, so I can't really say what was behind this subplot.)

Thundercrack! is surely not for everyone, as there's lots and lots of rough sex of many kinds (this must be the only film in the annals of cinema in which a gorilla jerks off another man), and it surely is not necessarily for those who take their films seriously, as it is not very well made or acted. There are occasional moments of genius at work, bits here and there in dialogue (which is absurdly hilarious at times) and in cinematography and editing. At times Thundercrack! looks like a Soviet silent film, something made by Lev Kuleshov or Vsevolod Pudovkin. I'm not sure if this is intentional.

Thundercrack! was directed by one Curt McDowell and written by George Kuchar, better known as one of the Kuchar brothers, the famous underground movie makers of the sixties. This was Kuchar's attempt at mainstream cinema - looks like he couldn't have made a proper mainstream film even if he had tried very, very hard. (Kuchar also plays one of the leads.)

Thundercrack! is pretty hard to describe. It is a bit too long (well, not only a bit - it's almost 30 minutes too long) and it's best to see with some beer and good friends with whom you can laugh your ass off. Yet it's worth tracking down - if you're into this kind of thing, that is.

It's interesting to note, though, that while Thundercrack! is strictly an underground movie, it's totally free of any political content. I wrote recently about John Carpenter's They Live, a so-so horror-cum-action movie from the late eighties. It is much more political than Thundercrack!, and for some reason or another I find this, well, interesting. Is it often that there's more politics in the marginals of popular culture than there is in subversive underground culture?

One extra point: I'm sure David Lynch picked something up from this movie, especially the way Isabella Rossellini looks like in Wild at Heart. The woman living in the haunted-looking house looks exactly like her - and even the way she acts, mumbling to herself, throwing up over her wig that falls down the toilet, could be from a Lynch movie.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Marton Taiga's SF stories

Posted a little bibliographic piece on a Finnish pulp writer, Marton Taiga, and his science fiction stories on another blog of mine here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My daughter

I haven't been blogging much - that's mainly because my daughter (now 10 years old, 11 later this year) is spending her Winter holiday in Finland and has been mainly staying with us for this week. She's going to her mother in a couple of hours and they are leaving back abroad early tomorrow morning. These are always difficult moments. My daughter is shy and doesn't really seem interested in getting melodramatic, so it's just normal life before we part again - she's playing with Kauto, I'm sitting at the computer, Elina is tidying up places, we're talking casually about lunch. And then it's all over again for five weeks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

John Carpenter's They Live

Okay, back to normal after The Great Jimi Ellroy Experience. Haven't really felt like working (even though I've done some editing*) and I've been watching movies. On an old VHS tape I watched John Carpenter's They Live. I've never really felt easy with Carpenter - he's at the same time skillful and pedestrian. His direction is sometimes good, but his scripts are blah. They Live is more interesting, though, than many of his films.

I was wondering why a writer in a video guide (from 1993, I use this frequently while I'm on sofa watching telly, but can't tell who's behind the book) says that the two thirds of the film are "harebrained fun", while the same two thirds are also very serious and almost subversive! How many films have you seen from the late eighties in which the US police attacks a slum village populated with homeless and unemployed people? And how many in which there's a large conspiracy to get people to obey and just consume happily? I just gotta give Carpenter credit for being so bold in his satire. He also has some nice male-bonding touches that are reminiscent of classic Western films.

But then everything changes. The film becomes a mediocre action-fest, with lots of shotguns and not much tension. The satire is almost lost. But then again, the idea of the yuppies of the late eighties as aliens... there's something in there.

The actors are not very good, especially wrestler Roddy Piper in the lead hasn't got much of a charisma. (And he has a very stupid hair.) And his character does so many mind-boggling things it's a wonder he stays alive.

* I did the final edits for my translation of Duane Swierczynski's
The Blonde. It will be out in June as Vaaleaverikkö. I also edited a Finnish crime novel manuscript that will be published next Fall. More on that later.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Google translation

Okay, here's a Google translation of my Ellroy interview if you want to take a look. It's pretty bad and awkward and there are some Finnish words in there, but take a look anyway. I've never done this before and don't know how long the link will work.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ellroy and me: The Final Countdown

Some things you need to know about James Ellroy:

1. he doesn't like journalists or interviewers
2. he likes women more than men
3. he doesn't like fans
4. he wants to control the interviewing process (I believe he controls those made by women reporters by flirting)

Okay, I know I'm not necessarily the world's best interviewer, even when I conduct them in Finnish, but you'd think the interviewee would want to take some of the responsibility. Apparently not, when we talk about James Ellroy. Just before me he talked with a young female reporter who asked what Ellroy's first impression of Finland was and such pretty light-fare stuff. Ellroy seemed relaxed and talked with his feet up on the coffee table. Okay, I can handle this, I told myself - being of course very, very nervous about the whole thing.

But when I walked up to Ellroy and told him I'm a fan and have been reading his novels for over 15 years, I noticed instantly he stiffened up and went into a defensive mood. What gives here? You don't want to hear someone likes your novels? That shouldn't be my problem, should it? I can understand there are fans who are pains in the ass, but I wouldn't call myself that.

We started off pretty well, though, with me speaking in rather clumsy English - I don't know why this sometimes happens, but it just did. Then I made a mistake in my questions: I asked Ellroy about Haiti. "Haiti?! What have I got to say about Haiti?!" Well, I tried to reason, you write about Haiti in Blood's a Rover, CIA and the mob are taking it over... "Wait, wait, it's not Haiti, it's the Dominican Republic, they are two different things." Oops! I had got fixated on Haiti for some reason and honestly thought it's Haiti they are invading with casinos and all and hadn't bothered to check my copy of Blood's a Rover. My bad, totally. Apparently after that I was nobody in Ellroy's books: total moron who hasn't even read the books. I said I was sorry about my mistake, but it was all downhill from there.

Especially when I wanted to talk about politics. I think Ellroy's books are hugely political - they are mostly about how politics and the negative feelings (anger, jealousy, lust, aggression) intertwine in national and global level -, but clearly he doesn't want to talk about that. I know he's said that he doesn't want to write about later times, i.e. Nixon, Carter, the Bushes, Reagan etc., but I still wanted to ask about that, especially the Reagan era. "Don't you think there would be many fascinating characters, like Oliver North..." At this point, Ellroy gets mad, waves a finger at me and yells: "Don't! Stop right there! Reagan is one of my heroes. I'm sure history will prove him right. He defeated Communism." This, of course, made its way into my article and has, perhaps deservedly, become somewhat of a cult item, alongside with Ellroy's rant that he hates Communism, since he doesn't want to pay more taxes. "Look at Sweden! They pay fucking huge taxes and they are still all drunks." I seriously don't know what Ellroy meant with this.

But as I said, I got a great article about this. I had to write it on spot, in two hours and send it along right away, the article of 5000 characters. I knew instantly that I had to write it from the viewpoint of the author getting angry at the interviewer. It worked miraculously well. This is one of the best pieces I'll ever write, period. Someone said to me that it was better than the interview published in Helsingin Sanomat, the largest newspaper in Finland. Don't know about that, but at least it was different from any other interview Ellroy made during his three-day visit in Finland.

Any new info from Ellroy himself? Well, he'll have a new book out next Fall: The Hilliker Curse is about the women in his life. And he'll be writing another quartet set longer back in time. He'll abandon the stylistic excess (he didn't want to elaborate). He's not going to write the Warren Harding novel.

I'll post the interview here. Use Google to try to make sense out of it. Hope it works. And here's, with a Google translation, a short news item about how Ellroy got mad at a Swedish reporter, mainly for similar reasons.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ellroy and me

How did it go? HOW DID IT GO? Oh boy, how it went. Ellroy pretty much went to his defensive mood and started attacking me and I got too clumsy and made some stupid mistakes and it didn't really go very well. He got sore, very sore, and got mad at me at one point. (Not sure, of course, whether he was just fucking with me.)

But: I got a great story. James Ellroy pissed off in Finland? You can't have better stuff than that!

More details later! But not the recording of the interview! I'll destroy it the first minute I can.

Friday, February 05, 2010

James Ellroy and me: on Sunday

I'll be interviewing none other than James Ellroy on coming Sunday - he's on PR tour and will be in Finland for two days, with at least two public performances. I'm wildly excited and very, very, VERY nervous about this and I'm pretty much afraid I'll screw up something.

Any hints, folks? Is there someone who's interviewed Ellroy? How can one stop his panty-sniffin' act and get to the point? I've got only half an hour for this and I'm afraid we'll spend it listening to him howling.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Seppo Huunonen's exploitation flick from the seventies

Finland has nearly never produced a good share of trashy exploitation flicks. Teuvo Tulio's noir films from the fourties and fifties had some of that quality, as did some of Veikko Itkonen's films, but the only real entrepreneur in that category has been Visa Mäkinen whose indie-produced films have been very poor indeed, almost up to the so-bad-it's-good point.

There's a serious contender, however, lurking in the early seventies. Seppo Huunonen's Karvat (Hair - don't get this mixed up with, well, Hair) from 1974 is just that: trashy exploitation flick. I think it purports to be something else, since there's a good dose of parody, irony and metafictional narrative in the film. There are many things in the film that make it a forgotten classic (it was released in video in the early eighties, but otherwise it has disappeared completely, it has never been shown on television, for example): Paroni Paakkunainen's great funky music (which I'll steal when I make my feature film debut), some very bloody violence (this was X-rated, which is very rare for a Finnish film), lots of sex and nudity plus all-encompassing sleaziness. The most exciting fact is that this was based on Lionel White's Obsession (1962), American paperback original classic that was earlier filmed as Pierrot le fou by Jean-Luc Godard! I don't know whether Seppo Huunonen knew about Godard's film, but it's still amazing. And this must be the only film made in Finland that's based on an American crime novel. (White's first name is written as "Lionell" in the credits.)

The film is a mixed bag. As I said, there are some self-parodic moments, and several leave with a strong WTF sensation, especially the scene in which a couple making love is photographed with animated handkerchiefs! There's also a weird allusion to an European Disney character, Super-Goofy (Superhessu) and one friggin' weird resurrection. This makes the film pretty awkward to watch at times, but it also makes it wild and unpredictable. What also makes the film pretty awkward is that the actors are all pretty bad, without charisma or even good looks. You'd think that with this kind of noir story the femme fatale should be a knock-out, but not in this one, no sir! The film isn't a total turkey, though, as this review says it is.

The film is coming - on my suggestion, even though I watched it only now - to the festival of Finnish film in Turku in the beginning of April, but I'll be posting details later. Strongly recommended, if you're anywhere near Turku. Determined to be a cult classic!

Ah, by the way: there's a scene in the film in which the protagonist reads Shakespeare's condensed plays. There's another book on the sofa. It's upside down, but the cover up. I recognized it immediately, but had to go to the shelf to verify: it was the Finnish translation of Margaret Millar's noir classic A Stranger in My Grave/Muukalainen haudassani.

Sorry, no pictures!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep

I've written about Megan Abbott's earlier novels here and here. I found some extra time to read her latest, Bury Me Deep, that's been praised quite a lot in different media. It's worthy of the praise, but it's more literary and slow-paced than many of the new noir novels that have been getting attention lately. I think it's the most literary novel of Megan Abbott's works, even though Queenpin came very close to being a good example of postmodern historical novel.

Bury Me Deep is a story about a young woman who gets mixed up in foul play, usually conducted by men, just like in other novels by Megan Abbott. There are also other women, who are not what they first seem to be. Bury Me Deep takes place in 1931 and it is full of historical details, but they are quite nicely worked into the narrative flow. Especially tuberculosis plays a pretty big part in the novel.

I had some trouble getting into the rhythm of the narrative and the seemingly very accurate early thirties' vocabulary and slang, but after the things get rough, I noticed I was able to read faster. There's lots of irony and ambiguity in the ending. Abbott also has a good afterword in which she tells about the true story behind the book - which is interesting in its own right.

The cover illustration by Richie Fahey is very nice, but I don't think I'm the only one wishing there wouldn't be so much text: it hides the gun in the girl's hand totally! Someone might mistake this for a romantic novel. Couldn't be farther from that.