Friday, February 25, 2011

Essay on Shaft

I've never been a fan of Shaft, but this longish essay or article on the origin of the character was fascinating. Check it out!

Check out also the Friday's Forgotten Books on Patti Abbott's blog here!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Anima Persa

The Finnish Film Archive showed last night a very interesting Italian film that's not very well known: Dino Risi's Anima Persa (1977) that seems like it's not been shown in the English-speaking countries (there's a title for it in the IMDB, but with the caption "undefined", whatever that means). The film falls somewhere between an artsy film and a giallo film with some shock moments, but it's no Mario Bava or Dario Argento. It's no Fellini, either. Dino Risi was a skillful comedy director from the late fourties on and this shows with many funny and humorous moments, even though the pervasive feel in the film is the feel of the thread, the fear and the absurd. The dirty town of Venice is one of the main players in the movie, as is the decayed Renaissance palace these people live in. Vittorio Gassman, the former leading man of the Italian romantic comedies, is simply marvellous as the engineer who keeps his wife - the beautiful Catherine Deneuve - in tight leash. Highly recommended.

Two other films seen recently, from the small screen:

Antoine Fuqua: Training Day: a very interesting, but at times highly implausible take on what cops do when no one sees them. Seems to be the peak of Fuqua's career, though.

Ron Shelton: Dark Blue: an interesting take on the same theme, with a historic view, as can be expected from James Ellroy whose screen story this is based on. (Did Ellroy write a non-fiction piece on Rodney King or was he planning a novel on the subject? Then he must've sold the treatment to the producers.) Suffers greatly from Shelton's slack direction and Terence Blanchard's cliché-ridden film noir soundtrack with howling saxophones.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winterbottom's Killer Inside Me

Michael Winterbottom's controversial rendering of Jim Thompson's famous paperback original, The Killer Inside Me, didn't seem to make much impact in Finland. Maybe we're so used to looking at helpless women getting beaten and kicked to death we don't care. Many commentators here said the film is lame.

I watched the film recently on DVD and have to wonder: lame? what the fuck? I didn't see anything lame about this - it was a very powerful and unsettling experience, even though I'm pretty accustomed to read about rapes and beatings.

Winterbottom's film is very close to Thompson, but stays away from going into killer Lou Ford's head. He's seen from the outside, his own comments in the voice-over narration don't do much to deepen what we already see. I think this might be what makes the film lame to others. They want to see some crazy stuff happening, the guy going really insane and saying "boo!" and thinking perverse thoughts all the time. This stuff doesn't happen here - it would be just too easy and public-pleasing - and I really think this is the best way to film Jim Thompson.

I realized watching this that's it's been almost 20 years, since I read Thompson's novel. About time to revisit it, especially when the film made some things clearer that I hadn't understood the first time around. But I do remember that I wrote a review of the then new Finnish translation and compared it to Ellis's American Psycho and Donna Tartt's The Secret History, under the headline "The American Nihilism", and came to the conclusion that Thompson outwins both Ellis and Tartt in the harshness of his vision.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: Max Brand: Jim Silver, hjälten från Arizona

Don't have time to do a proper Forgotten Book entry, so a photo of a Max Brand translated in Finland, but published in Swedish will have to do.

The book was published by Schildts (still in business, after all these years, but doing mainly books in Finnish) in 1949. It was a part of their Pocket-serie series that had 23 books in it. It was one of the first real paperback series published in Finland. They had also one other Jim Silver book in the line. I don't know who the cover illustrator is, but the art is pretty nice.

The title of the book means "Jim Silver, the hero from Arizona" and the book belongs to the Silvertip series. I have no way of knowing if the Swedish translation is abridged or done from a condensed version of the original magazine version, as I don't really read Swedish. Actually I'm going to throw the book away (if no one comes to rescue), since, well, we are moving and something needs to be thrown away. I already started from a book club edition of a Tess Gerritsen novel.

More Forgotten Books here, at George Kelley's blog!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My working bibliography: Nummeliniana

I celebrated my 10-year career as a writer two weeks ago.* Beside the big party I threw, I also published a small leaflet containing my working bibliography. (Working in the sense not complete, something that others can build upon.) The book is called Nummeliniana. I collected all my published books, all my self-published novels and leaflets and all the stuff I've published in my own fictionmags, such as Isku and Seikkailukertomuksia**. I dug out some pretty obscure stuff, which I'd completely forgotten myself. I also included all the small leaflets and booklets I've done through my own publishing outfit called Abraxas. Many of these are without the ISBN code, which makes them rather unvisible to other bibliographers. There are items that have had a print run of 10 or 20 or even 5. Even if someone would start collecting my stuff, he/she wouldn't find some of the Abraxas books/leaflets very easily (especially as I suspect some of the stuff I've given away have been thrown away).

There's a bit of self-irony in this, but I'm not sure if it's readily visible. I'm being pompous here on purpose. If there's someone out there interested in obtaining this, let me know. I'm selling these for two euros each.

* With "writer" I mean author, the writer of published books. As a freelance writer and a contributor to various magazines I've been almost 25 years.
** Isku = Punch; Seikkailukertomuksia = Adventure Stories.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Roger Smith's Mixed Blood

I stayed up late last night finishing Roger Smith's South African thriller Mixed Blood. Only thing I can say is "vow!" What a mix of relentless, suddenly outbursting violence, harsh language and terse narration, high-octane suspense and heart-throbbing sentiment, with the added of bonus of a Dickensian cast of obscene and absurd characters! Highly, highly recommended. Not a wasted scene in sight - and what a noir ending! Will be interesting to see if they can use the scene in the forth-coming film (starring Samuel Jackson - well, actually his character is a minor one in Smith's book).

Can't recommend this highly enough and I immediately started working towards getting the book translated in Finnish. (I'm sure there's a big publisher who's already started bidding on the book. Which would be nice.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: A Force of One

The idea of me commenting on a Chuck Norris film is something mind-boggling, but when I found a vintage Norris film A Force of One on VHS for 10 cents, I just couldn't resist buying it. But the fact remains: every time I've tried to watch a Norris film, I've found them to be boring as hell. But I noticed this was scripted by Ernest Tidyman, who wrote the original novel and the script for Shaft. Well, that may not be a recommendation to all - it's not necessarily to me, since I've never much cared for Shaft. (And the other films scripted by Tidyman - The French Connection and High Plains Drifter - have always been a bit overrated to me.)

Okay, beginning to sound like I shouldn't be writing this entry, but A Force of One actually is a somewhat interesting film, with themes of betrayal and parenthood (Norris is a father to a black kid!). It's more interesting during the first thirty minutes, when it resembles a realistic cop film, with the drug stake-outs, tough cop dialogue, relationships between cops and such, but then it gets only weird and pretty stupid, when the cops are being taught karate - to fight the bad guy, who kills cops with kung fu (or some such). I lost interest and started to leaf through some old magazines I'd gotten hold of and the film rolled on. I don't actually know what happened in the end. Someone died and Chuck Norris had a love affair with another cop.

I started to watch another old VHS cassette, Mel Brooks's 12 Chairs. I'm not sure if even that's an overlooked film being largely unfunny. (But probably the only US film made from a Soviet novel. Any other contenders? The original Twelve Chairs was written by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov.)

More overlooked films over here.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: Operation Sex by Kimberly Kemp and an unknown sleaze book by Gerald Kramer

For just the fun of it, I picked up recently two old sex paperbacks (in Finnish translation) and read them. The first one of them I actually said to my wife was research, since I'm writing a sex novel set in a roadside motel, and the Finnish title of the book I read was Seksimotelli/Sex Motel (the original title is said to be Swap Motel, though). If I could pick up an obscure reference to use, I'd be more than happy!

The other book I read was Operation: Sex by "Kimberly Kemp" (Operaatio seksi in Finnish), who was really Gilbert Fox. He used this pseudonym in other novels as well. I find this information on him at the Lesbian Pulp Fiction Collective site: "Gilbert Fox (b. 1917) was a friend of Harry Shorten, the founder of Midwood Books, and the author of over 100 titles for the line using the pseudonyms Kimberley Kemp and Dallas Mayo for his lesbian novels and Paul Russo for his heterosexual novels." The book was published originally by Midwood in 1962 and features actually quite a nice cover. The prices for the book seem to be quite high! The Finnish translation should go for less than five euros.

Operation: Sex is a fast read. It's a spy novel, in which a beautiful dancer Colleen Mead is asked to act as an undercover agent and take part in a mysterious flight. There's a mystery man in the plane as well, and also a very beautiful woman who starts to flirt with Colleen, but also takes something out of the mystery man's pockets when the plane crashes down in the sea. The women are rescued by a famous playboy cruising around in his orgy-filled yacht. There's a bit of everything in this: some spy action, some lesbian scenes, some mild domination, a near-rape scene in the end... As I said, it's a quick read, but there's really nothing much to think about.

For some reason I found Gerald Kramer's Seksimotelli more interesting. It's bibliographically challenging, since I can't find any publishing info for it. Gerald Kramer, whoever he was, did write porn and sleaze for publishers like Midwood, as this blog proves. I took a look at Abebooks and was able to come up with this short bibliography. Anyone know more about Kramer?

Seksimotelli/Swap Motel is a loosely narrated tale of a young man who owns a small roadside motel. He gets into weird escapades: in the beginning of the book, there's a young couple coming into the hotel, with the man being obnoxious and abrasive while flirting and the girl resisting. The young man peeks into their room and witnesses bad sex after which the couple falls into sleep. As the motel owner has the gift of hypnotism, he goes in and hypnotizes the woman and starts to caress her tits. The young guy is then lured into a strange plot: the husband comes in several days later and says that if he won't come to a party with him to hypnotize more people to have sex, he goes public with the hypnotism stuff. Some even more weird escapades follow. This is a picaresque novel for the free-wheelin' sixties. There's not much sense in it, but it's fun in a sort of depraved way. The motel owner is a heel, but he's a sympathetic heel, who feels sorry for the cruel jokes his victims are inflicted upon. One of the weird details in the book is the code word the guy uses trying to get the girl of his dreams: Kropotkin, the name of the famous Russian anarchist. This goes on to prove that there's more than meets the eye in the American sleaze literature of the sixties.

One detail for my Finnish readers: as an euphemism for "penis/dick/kyrpä/kikkeli" the Finnish translator (the pseudonymous Kaino V.T. Sievänen) uses quite often the humorous and not so exciting word "kikuli".

The Finnish books were published in the sleazy Cocktail paperback series in the early seventies. The publisher came from Turku where I live and they also published the porn magazine with the same name.

Other Forgotten Book entries collected in Todd Mason's blog here.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Coleman's and Bruen's Tower

Reed Farrel Coleman is one of my favourite new private eye writers - he has a great sense of tragedy, place and noir. I've read less of Ken Bruen's work, but what I've read has been good, especially London Boulevard (that's coming out in Finnish in a few months; see to it that you read this book). So their joint effort, Tower (out in 2009 from Busted Flush Press) was bound to be good - and my God, it is very good! It's both tragically and hilariously violent, very elliptic in style and narration (and actually pretty hard to follow at times) and there's also a nice twist or two in the middle. It's clear both writers had a good time writing this. See Cullen Callagher's review at Pulp Serenade.

Granted, I had some trouble getting into the flow of the narrative and I thought the ending could've been stronger, but I don't mind, since the other stuff is so good. No wonder this has been popular and victorious: it won Macavity for best novel and was nominated thus: Anthony: best original paperback, Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel: Legends, Book of the Year: Foreward Reviews, Crimespree Magazine: Best Novel of 2009.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Dreams That Money Can Buy

I've had this film on DVD for years on loan from a friend of mine, but I had some time to watch only now. I'd read about the film quite a lot and I'd been interested in it for a long time, but the film proved to be somewhat disappointing.

This is spelled out in the excellent brochure that comes with the British Film Institute DVD: the film is "neither intellectual enough for an art film, nor entertaining enough to be popular". But the story behind the film is more interesting than what we see on screen. Dreams That Money Can Buy was supervised by Hans Richter, German avantgarde filmmaker whose abstract animations are part of the canon of the experimental cinema. The film was made in the US as an indie production and the point was to make an experimental film that could be played in more conventional forums, not only in art galleries and places like that. Richter got other European Surrealists and other artists to go along in the project - the list is breath-taking: Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Fernard Léger, Alexander Calder and Max Ernst. This is not only abstract animation, the episodes are made all in different styles and techiques. (I won't provide links to all the artists, I'm sure you know who they are. At least you should!)

The problems are visible almost the minute the film starts: the actors are clumsy, the voice-over narration (used also in dialogue) is clumsy. Not all of the episodes are interesting either. I recognized Max Ernst himself in his own episode, "Desire", that followed the Surrealist dogma of resembling a dream, but his episode left me cold. This was a far cry from any Luis Buñuel film. (Buñuel always did things in a very realist way, shooting at eye-sight and not using weird editing techniques - this keeps even his most Surrealist films very watchable.) Fernand Léger's episode, "The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart", was a love story told with shop-window dummies - must've been a fresh idea at the time, but it's been done so many times since that Léger's film seemed dated. The song to go with it, sung by Libby Holman and Josh White, was quite funny, with its Surrealist lyrics, but all too long.

Man Ray's spoofy and jokey "Ruth, Roses and Revolvers" was about the film media making people act against their own will, but again, not very interesting. Marcel Duchamp's "Discs" was one of weirdest episodes, but also one of the best: it has different discs rotating, facing the viewer, and shots of a nude descending the stairs (Duchamp's best-known Cubist painting). The film also refers to Duchamp's earlier film, Anemic Cinema. The music was by John Cage (more on that later). Alexander Calder, famous for his beautiful mobiles, had two episodes. The first one was just about his mobiles moving around, and it was not even very well photographed. The other episode, "Circus", was done with some of his moving toy-like figures. Charming, but not very interesting as a movie - not enough story.

The film ends with Hans Richter's film noir parody, "Narcissus". A guy notices his face turns blue during a poker game. A nightmare starts, he runs away from other people and other things, everything seems scary. This episode also suffers from stilted acting and voice-over, but it's still one of the most interesting things in the film. David Lynch is said to like the film and it's easy to see that he's taken things especially out of Richter's episode.

As for the music in Dreams, it's done by modernist composers, like Darius Milhaud and Louis Applebaum. Their music has suffered in the hands of time, though: it just doesn't like modern anymore. John Cage is an exception here, his short composition for Duchamp's hypnotic film supports the images and sounds fresh even today. Interesting to note, though, that Paul Bowles, the writer of The Sheltering Sky, wrote the compositions for two films, Ernst's and Calder's.

The BFI disc has also three short films by Hans Richter, from the 1920's. They are interesting, but suffer from the lack of music on the soundtrack. There's a hypnotic quality to these, though. The middle one, Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), shows the love the Surrealists had for the crime and adventure fiction, and the last one, Everyday (1929), has some contribution from Sergei Eisenstein - there are some shots in the film that might be outtakes from an Eisenstein film.

Here's the link to other contributions to the Tuesday meme.

Here's Duchamp's and Cage's "Discs" from the film:

True Grit: a dime novel

Graphic novel version of the Coens' True Grit. Looks good to me.