Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some news from the literary front

October is traditionally the month of book fairs in Finland. The first weekend has the book fair in Turku (where I live) and the last weekend has the Helsinki fair. I of course attended both and am now exhausted after the Helsinki experience. It was fun, though. I made a deal with a publisher about a collection of articles I've been working on and off for some years now, and I heard that there's been some foreign interest in Verenhimo (Blood Lust), the vampire anthology that came out early this year!

At the Turku fair two books saw the light of day that had some of my stuff in it. The first one was Åbsurdistiska berättelser, a small collection of absurdist short stories (which is the title translated) that take place in Turku (Åbo in Swedish, hence the name). The book was published by Turbator, one of my most important publishers, and it came out only in Swedish that's the second official language in Finland and an important minority language in Turku. My story is a bit fairytalish, but with a political bent. The second one was a massive collection of new Finnish experimental poetry called Vastakaanon (Anti-Canon). I have two poems in it that are of the found variety and they have actually something to do with this blog! I have a series of poems made with the same theme, I might do a small pamphlet with them later on.

Will the absurdist short story ever be published in Finnish? Time will tell, but I've been thinking I'll do a collection of absurdist short stories some day. I already have four published and one in the works, so it wouldn't be hard to complete the book. One of these days...

As for some other news: I just completed a small collection of early Finnish horror short stories. It should come out in November from Faros. The architectural guide to Turku that I've been working on for at least a year and a half (or at least it feels like it!) is now almost going to the printers, my colleague is working on the last corrections. I'm not sure whether it makes it before Christmas, which would be a pity. I'm not sure either whether my Actual First Novel ("actual" in the sense of being published by someone else than me) makes it before Christmas, but I'll keep you posted.

And oh, here's a nice review (in Finnish, of course) of the outdoors anthology I edited earlier this year.

What else? You think that's enough? This is again one of those instances where I think I should've been working harder. Oh, there's this, which I mentioned in passing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Série noire

Alain Corneau is one of the most unsung and underrated French directors. He started his career in the early seventies with gritty crime films, like Police Python 357 (1976). Série noire (1979) is based on Jim Thompson's Hell of a Woman and I think it's a seminal film: it's the first in the new wave Jim Thompson film versions. (I think Burt Kennedy's The Killer Inside Me was still old wave. Though I have never seen it.) After Série noire came Coup de torchon in 1981 and then, some years later, The Kill-OffAfter Dark, My Sweet and The Grifters, all in 1990.

Corneau's film is a quite slow-moving, but in the end an almost diabolically hysteric story of the downward spiral we so much love about Thompson's work. Patrick Dewaere jumps around like Woody Woodpecker on speed and gets sudden spurts of violence. This is the best part in Corneau's film - he handles arbitrary violence very well, with great verve. Violence is never portrayed as funny, but still the chaotic killings are the funniest parts in the film (especially when Dewaere places the gun in the wrong dead man's hand). The ending is very cruel, as befits a Jim Thompson filmatization.

The French title of course refers to the legendary book series Série noire that had almost all the important American and British hardboiled and noir writers. In English-speaking markets, the film was called... um, actually can't find that tidbit. Maybe it's never been shown in the English-speaking countries. That's impossible!

More overlooked films here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

And now for something completely different: a Swiss kids' comic book

I found this comic book aimed for children of say 5-10 years in a book shop in the small town of Savonlinna last summer. I'd never heard of it, so I bought it without a blink of an eye. When I got back home (okay, I did it already in the car with my phone), I checked from the web what this was all about. Jopi, globally known as Globi, was a creation of Swiss comic artist Robert Lips, for whom there's a Wikipedia article in German and an entry in in English. There are three other Jopi books published in Finnish and I've never seen any of them (unless as a kid and completely forgotten them). This one, called "Globi Travels All Over the World", was published by the now defunct Weilin + Göös in 1982. There were three others: Eläköön Jopi, lasten ystävä! ("Long Live Globi, the Friend of Children!"), Jopi sirkuksessa ("Globi in Circus") and Jopi maanviljelijänä ("Globi the Farmer"). I showed this to a friend of mine, who's a writer and critic specializing in the comic book history, and he'd never seen any of these.

This is funny stuff, with naïve and heart-warming humour, with a touch of absurd on the side. Jopi reminds me a lot of my all-time favourite, Rasmus Nalle (aka Rasmus Klump, as he's known in his origin country, Denmark). Oh, here's another site about Rasmus in English.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The New York Ripper

I saw this classic nasty last night and I must say I was shocked. Some of the killing scenes are very gruesome, almost to the point of being unwatchable.

But then again Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper (1982) is also a quite well-made thriller or a giallo, as they say in Italy. This one is about a serial killer who's specialized in pretty young women and who talks in a Donald Duck voice, quacking over the phone, yapping to the police. The police are as clueless as can be and get a psychiatric to help profile the killer. Some of the scenes with the cops and the psychiatric are a bit boring, feels almost like there's no real police work being done.

Fulci has a knack for diverting the viewer and also for some great-looking chasing and killing scenes, and he clearly knows what fetishes are all about: some of the scenes before the killings are actually quite erotic and even sexy. Then again, Fulci spoils everything by showing something like a woman's nipple sliced in half. (I think that's the worst scene in the film full of other scenes like it.) Is there some sort of repention going on in here? Fulci feels ashamed for wanting to show beautiful women enjoying sex, jerking off in public, giving fingers to middle-aged men, and then has them slowly and mercilessly butchered? You know, Fulci comes from a deeply Catholic country...

Whatever, this is an interesting and intriguing film, minus the stupid psychoanalytic babble solution in the end. In Finland this was banned from the start, but the print of the film has remained in the archives of the Finnish Film Archive - it was in a beautiful shape.

The original uncut trailer is not safe for work and certainly not for minors:

More Overlooked Films here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Drive, the film

James Sallis's Drive came out from a small publisher in 2005. It was picked by up for a reprint by a big publisher in 2006. I read it the same year and fell in love. Drive was translated in Finnish, due to my efforts, in 2009 under the title Kylmä kyyti. Already at that time, we knew there were plans of the movie based on the book (with Hugh Jackman starring), but we had to wait until this year to finally get the film.

And what a movie it is! Surely handled, with a very cool, detached style, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, a Danish filmmaker whose Pusher trilogy is one of the great crime classics of the late 20th and early 21st century. This is his first Hollywood movie, and there's a sort of Nordic melancholy to it. The action scenes are great being somewhat elliptic, with something always left out. There are some very good actors in the film, with Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman rising above the others. Ryan Gosling who's replaced Jackman looks very neat in his scorpio jacket, well-fitting skinny jeans and driver's gloves. Visually the film's almost like the eighties blown to heaven, the feeling that's enhanced by the use of very cool eighties' kind of synth pop in the soundtrack. The driving scenes are really stylish, almost totally without a sound. 

Yet I was somewhat disappointed. Sallis's novel is a ballad of great beauty, love and sadness, yet Winding Refn really can't portray these feelings with quite the same verve as he does loneliness and compulsion. The results are too mild, too conventional. It's a serious drawback for the film. 

But I have to give credit to the screenwriter Hossein Amini making a clear narrative out of Sallis's non-chronological novel. I felt, though, the film lacked something when the story was made linear. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it might have something to do with the metafictional quality of Sallis's novel. The film also lacks what might be the most superficial aspect of Sallis's book, the dropping of the names of other writers, like Borges and Cervantes. They actually serve a purpose in the book that's more intellectual than the film (and is not ashamed to show it), but maybe luckily they were dropped out from the film. 

With those fell something else, though. I really love the novel's ending, the words with which it transforms into a ballad, a story of a heroic bandit who managed to right some wrongs and who, after that, rose to mythic heights, but still feels having a loss, missing something he once loved or cared for. Let me quote directly from Sallis himself (mind you, this is a spoiler, so if you haven't read the book or seen the film, beware!):

"Far from the end for Driver, this. In years to come, years before he went down at three a.m. on a clear, cool morning in a Tijuana bar, years before Manny Gilden turned his life into a movie, there'd be other killings, other bodies. 
Bernie Rose was the only one he ever mourned." 

(You know, Sallis is developing a sequel to Drive. Those are the words he can hang on to.) 

So maybe Winding Refn's film is the film Manny Gilden (a scriptwriter in the book, left out from the film) did? Then again, I was also a bit shocked to be reminded that there's a bond between Bernie Rose and Driver, the aspect that the film never mentions. Well, films based on books don't have to have the same things in them, but I thought this particular aspect is one of the things that makes Sallis's book so great.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Animated version of John Carter of Mars

Warner animator Bob Clampett and John Coleman Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs's son, tried to develop a weekly animated series based on ERB's Mars novels. Nothing came of it, except for these short sequences, commented by Clampett himself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Sicilian

Already see the pattern? Again an interesting, but flawed film. This time it's Michael Cimino's The Sicilian, one of his last big films before a many years' hiatus. This is a very handsome, but pretty confusing film, with a too convoluted storyline about Salvatore Giuliano, a Sicilian rebel who fights the local aristocracy over the lands and steps on the toes of the Mafia.

Gore Vidal supposedly wrote the script for this, but Steve Shagan rewrote it either too heavily or too lightly. There's too much stuff that doesn't make much sense. The theme of an innocent man getting mixed in the web of politics and corruption and getting corrupted himself is always interesting, though. One would like to compare this to the earlier Italian version, Salvatore Giuliano, directed by Leftist Francesco Rosi, but I haven't seen that myself. The biggest drawback in Cimino's film is that it stars Christopher Lambert. The guy is very handsome, but can't act shit. Joss Ackland steals every scene he's in. I'd hoped John Turturro would've been given a better role as Giuliano's brother. Same goes for Terence Stamp, whose prince doesn't have a lot to do, even though I'd like to think Cimino would've liked to deal with him more. The larger social themes don't much show here.

I watched this (this too!) on VHS, but luckily the version I'd found was the director's version that lasts 2:11 or something like that. This supposedly makes more sense than the original version shown in cinema (I'd seen that and even written a review of it, but can't remember much of it). Cimino's original edit is said to have been 150 minutes. Seems like a pattern for Cimino.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Scott Phillips: The Adjustment

Scott Phillips's The Ice Harvest has been one of my favourite books for a long time and I saw to it that it was translated in Finnish. Everyone who's read it (not that many people, gotta admit) has liked it. I was thrilled to read Phillips's latest, The Adjustment that's just out from . And it's a great book. It's probably not as catchy as The Ice Harvest, as it's not as plot-driven as the previous book, but it's still just as gripping.

Wayne Ogden, famous from The Ice Harvest's very peculiar prequel-cum-sequel, The Walkaway (a book I liked very much, but it was pretty tough for me to get into, I don't know why), is the very dubious hero of the new novel, an asshole who hates almost everyone and is very lovable for that. You cannot but share his cynic world view, since everyone else in the book is an asshole too, but they are also stupid or boring. Wayne works for a small-town big boss, an alcoholic old man whose only joy in life is fuck young women in a brothel. At the same time Wayne hates his good-looking wife who's pregnant (the fact that Wayne very much hates) and fucks other women. And at the same time he gets hassled by an unknown dude who seems to know something about his past in the war-time Europe when he was a supply surge (I happen to know that "Supply Sarge" was Phillips's original title for the book) pimping and smuggling and selling army stuff.

This is wonderful stuff, you know. Very curtly told, the dialogue is snappy and funny without being overtly so, the downward spiral with occasional bursts of random violence grabs you in a chilling way - all this makes The Adjustment very, very entertaining. Highly recommended.