Monday, May 31, 2010

Greek film noir pastiche Singapore Sling

Well, to call Singapore Sling a pastiche is a weird way to put it. Certainly, there's a lot of pastiche and parody of film noir in Singapore Sling, but it's a very far cry from your usual neo-noir. Singapore Sling is a disturbing stageplay of great perversity.

Directed by Nikos Nikolaidis, Singapore Sling starts with two women dressep up in sexy lingerie digging a grave and burying a man in there. It rains heavily down on this grim scene. It actually rains almost all the time through the film - one of the film noir touches in the film, an obvious allusion to The Big Sleep. These two women are a mother and a daughter living alone in a big mansion, talking about the killing of someone called Laura, a mysterious young woman who showed up in their house one stormy night. They restage the scene of killing her from time to time, as a foreplay to sex between them. From this point on, you know this film is not for everybody.

There's also a private eye (or a cop, it's never fully explained) who's looking for the same young woman, Laura (another illusion, this time to Vera Caspary's novel and Otto Preminger's film). The film uses a flashback technique to explain what has happened to the private eye, but everything is not fully out in the open. It's possible that Laura was a false identity to the young woman and she used it to escape the law - she seems to have killed someone. The private eye comes to the women's house, wounded from a gun shot, and is instantly taken into the weird sex roleplays the mother and daughter engage themselves in. There's a lot of bondage, whipping, vomiting, peeing and such in the film, and it's not very pleasant to watch, even though it's done with style, with a great detail in the costumes and such. The film is often quite funny, though, so it's not only disturbing. There's also less gore than one might imagine. Weird thing is that the private eye's private parts are never shown, even though the director doesn't shy away from showing a mother whipping her own daughter or the mummified father having sex with the same daughter.

There's just that the film seems a bit empty in retrospect. What's it about? What is the director trying to tell us? There are quite a lot of metanarrational techniques in the screenplay, and it's clear not everything we are shown really happens, but in the end the film seems just another postmodern pastiche ripe with empty irony.

Singapore Sling came out in 1990 and won some awards at film festivals, mainly for its direction and photography, which are very stylish. Then the film became more obscure and it vanished from sight, to be released on DVD in 2009.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Salted coffee à la Lew Archer

For years I've been thinking that there's a scene in one of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels, where Archer asks someone - a chef or some such - to put salt in coffee that's been forgotten on a coffee machine and reheat it. The salt is supposed to take away the bitter taste that's stuck on the coffee. I've mentioned this scene on one or two forums before - such as the Rara-Avis e-mail list -, but so far no one has verified there really is such a scene in one of Macdonald's novels.

But just the other day I was reading Ask For Me Tomorrow by Margaret Millar (you know, Ross Macdonald's wife) and there the scene was. Well, it wasn't actually what I had had in mind, but still close enough. Lawyer Tom Aragon has a cup of coffee with a woman who's related to the case he's working on and he thinks that a cinch of salt would take the stale aroma out of the coffee. Ask For Me Tomorrow is a book where Ross Macdonald's effect on Margaret Millar is very visible - in fact, some of the scenes could've well been written by Macdonald, especially the ones with Aragon. (The book changes the point of views pretty clumsily, and the ones without Aragon are not as worthy as the ones with him.) So, it's entirely possible that I've been thinking about this book - which I remember reading already in my teens, in the Finnish SAPO series in which Millar's novel came out in 1980 - and just getting it confused with a Macdonald.

Or then there is a similar scene in one of the Lew Archers. Maybe the writing couple did it on purpose. "You put this scene in this book, I put it here in one of mine."

As for putting salt in your coffee, just read this conversation thread.

And by the way, here's a recent post by Steve Lewis about Millar. There's some interesting discussion in the comment section.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

True Men's Ads?

The well-known British ad agency Ogilvy and the Finnish ad agency Taivas got an award for this advertisement used in Finland. A friend of mine thought first that this was just a rip-off from some old men's adventure magazine, but it seems that the ads are original. See this link.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An obscure René Goscinny cartoon

This is more of interest to the Finnish readers, but I'm sure some othesr will find it interesting as well. I bought some old children's magazines from a thrift store dealer yesterday, one mainly because there was an old cartoon written by the French René Goscinny in it. The strip, drawn by Berck (known for his humorous Sammy Day gangster graphic novels), was called T.A.X. Suhari and Gorilla (the "TAX Suhari" is a bad pun meaning a taxi driver). It's called Strapontin in French, and I'm sure it was never published anywhere else in Finnish. The magazine I found this in was called Nasta - it was a magazine for the young, published from 1957 to 1965.

Here's a sample of the cartoon. It's about a gorilla that's been captured and given some treatment to become more human-like. The bad guy (in the right frame) tries to set up a trap for the gorilla, who's now too intelligent to be captured again. (Here's another link to Goscinny. I seriously everyone knows Goscinny's masterworks, Lucky Luke, Asterix and especially Iznogoud.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The last issue of Pulp

I mentioned before that the last issue of my crime fiction fanzine, Isku, just came out. Now the last issue of my other fanzine, Pulp, has come out and is ready to be sent to the subscribers (of which there are not many). Pulp is not a fictionmag, it's about the different aspects of pulp and other popular fiction.

I started publishing Pulp shortly after the Finnish Western Society's magazine, Ruudinsavu (Gunsmoke), was started. The first issue of Pulp came out in 2003. It had articles on Paul Auster's first novel, Squeeze Play, William Johnston's Maxwell Smart novelizations and the Finnish translations of Peggy Gaddis's romantic paperbacks. The magazine was published four times a year. The circulation never rose above 80, and for the last issues the print run was only 40. It covered also the few libraries that have been subscribers.

There have been issues that I've been very fond of: the two issues consisting fully of Edgar Rice Burroughs-related material (the works of ERB's relatives, ERB pastiches, ERB copies and so forth), the issue that was solely about sex and sleaze in pulps and paperbacks, the issue that was solely about the Finnish pulp fiction... At times I was even able to use some of the material in Pulp in my other, more commercial work, such as my book on the forgotten works of Mika Waltari, the famous Finnish novelist and fictioneer. I also liked the logo very much. It was done with an old typewriter of my friend - thanks, Lotta!

Jukka Murtosaari was a great supporter of Pulp from early on and he provided the magazine with many interesting and meticulously (sometimes too meticulously...) researched pieces on obscure paperbacks and pulp and paperback illustrators. One could do a book solely on Jukka's articles for the magazine. It was just too bad Pulp was always a black-and-white magazine - the photos of the pulp and other covers just don't look right in b&w.

But the process really wore me out: editing the mag, writing the articles, asking others to do articles, getting the mag into print, sending out copies... I was losing money with this, so I decided to pull the plug. So it's bye-bye, Pulp, we'll miss ya. There's lots of stuff that was meant to be done (such as the theme issue on TV and movie novelizations, the kiddies' pulp, the religious pulp, the article on the Flash Gordon novels, etc.) and I really wanted to get deeper into the Finnish pulpy fiction, so this is a missed opportunity. We'll have to see if I get something published in a blog format. We'll definitely have to see...

There's also a possibility that I'll publish a collection of my own articles that came out in Pulp. That should have an interest for 50-100 buyers. At least.

On top of the post is the cover of the last issue. The issue features two articles by Jukka Murtosaari, the other one being about the Finnish reprint series of the Fawcett Gold Medal books, called Kultamitalikirjat, and the other one about the illustrator R. G. Harris. (Sorry for the bad photo: it was taken with my cell phone.)
PS. Don't bother to ask me for a copy, since they are all gone already.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Margaret Millar

I've been writing an entry for a forth-coming book 100 American Crime Writers on Margaret Millar. I promised to do a 2,500-word article on her, but it's proven quite difficult, for some reason or another. (One of the reasons is that I'm writing in another language other than Finnish.) It started getting better when I decided I'll have to reread some of Millar's books. And it seems I read Beast in View (1955) for the first time in my life, since I didn't remember anything about it! And I'm sure glad I did, since it's an excellent psychological thriller, with lots of noirish overtones and a very convincing twist in the end. It didn't win the Edgar for nothing. The only bad thing about the book is the way Millar depicts homosexuals, as weak perverts with cold hands. But hey, it's 1955!

I also read The Listening Walls from 1959, and while not equally good as Beast in View, still a very worthwhile book about two young women in Mexico and the other one getting killed in what seems like a suicide. There's also a private eye called Elmer Dodd, short and somewhat overweight. Beast in View stars a similar character, a family friend and solicitor, who's asked to care of some awkward things, but he ends up acting like a private eye, even solving the case - this shows that Millar was interested in private eyes, but just didn't want to use one hero regularly. (Or then it was her husband's idea: "Why don't you use one of these private eyes, they can be quite handy?")

I started thinking about Mexico in Millar's work. It shows quite often, many times almost as the unconscious of the depressed and lonely Americans she writes about. It's a place where everyone wants to go, to forget, to start anew - it's also a place wherein you can set lies easily, as happens in Beast in View (which otherwise takes place only in Los Angeles). Mexico is important in Ask For Me Tomorrow, one of Millar's later Tom Aragon novels. Private eye Steve Piñata in Stranger In My Grave is half-Mexican. And then there's of course The Listening Walls. I'm not sure, but I've got a feeling Mexico plays an important part also in The Air That Kills - I've read that years ago (twice, I think), but I'm not sure anymore and I can't find my copy of the book. Anyone can confirm my suspicion?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Miller's and Zack Snyder's 300

Last Friday night we were out having fun with my friends from our victorious movie pub quiz team. Between hopping from one bar to another, we were at one of my team mate's place and watched the Blu-Ray edition of the movie 300. Someone might think that I'd go for a movie about sword-yielding Spartans, but I thought - and all of my friends - the movie sucked big time. There were several points in the movie that I really disliked.

First. There's no plot. The movie is basically one long battle scene. There is some intrigue behind the lines, but not enough to merit a mention. I think the same marred Ridley Scott's Gladiator for me: the plot wasn't just interesting enough.

Second. The movie is full of empty posturing. The dialogue is silly and full of meaningless one-liners. The movie is directed with a bent toward empty posturing. Some of the battle scenes are not very exciting, since Snyder likes to stop the action by showing blood flow in slow motion or some such nonsense. Everything looks nice on a photo, but the drama just doesn't move along.

Third. The movie is politically so appalling that you feel like John Milius is a Commie pinko. It's not very hard to understand that Sparta is the USA, the ugly, hideous and back-stabbing witches are the UN and the Persians are - well, Persians (or Iraqis). Miller and Snyder like to show everyone else but Spartans are ugly or weak (the other Greeks that come to help the Spartans; they are presumably the British). Or a homosexual and a pervert - when Xerxes, the King of the Persians, came on the scene I burst out laughing and started to sing Sylvester's disco classic "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real". The movie also shows that the conflict between Persia and Sparta is one-sided, that the Persians just move in on Sparta - oh poor, poor Sparta!

Aside from the political overtones (they really not undertones) of 300, it's possible to see the plotlessness and the slow-motion being good examples of the new Hollywood cinema that's more based on videogames and their aesthetique, and not on old-fashioned drama, like Spartacus or Ben-Hur. It's more about the cinema of attraction rather than drama. It's also possible to see that these new historical films take the genre back to the its older roots, the ancient myths, Greek myths, Beowulf, etc., where the plot is not the crucial matter. However, I can't stop thinking that both Gladiator and 300 are just utter bores.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A pair of Morgan Kane jeans

I spotted this pair of vintage Morgan Kane jeans at the UFF thrift store earlier today. I believe they are from the seventies. The size was a kiddies' (or a small lady's) size, so no point for me to buy them. Unless as a trophy. Must think about this further.