Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Book: My Bonny Lies Under the Sea

Ray Alan was the pseudonym of one Joseph Lawrence Valls-Russell (born probably in 1922, died in 2007) of whom not much is known. Seems like he was a career soldier at one point, but the only thing that's most assuredly known about him is that he wrote two spy thrillers under the Ray Alan by-line. The earlier book came out in 1963 under the title My Bonny Lies Under the Sea, the latter, The Beirut Pipeline, came out in 1980. I don't know what he did between those books.

Ray Alan is the also the name of the hero of My Bonny Lies Under the Sea. He's a British journalist who's asked to come to Lebanon by a friend to investigate some fishy affairs. Of course there are murders, chases, mysterious tough guys, beautiful ladies etc. The book is pretty talkative and repetitive and also a bit too complicated as I lost myself in all the schemes, but there are also some better scenes throughout. At times the book resembles a hardboiled private eye novel, but it's still firmly a spy novel. The big stakes are about the Cold War stuff, uranium and other minerals used in nuclear weapons. Seems like "Ray Alan" knew quite a lot about the Middle East, which makes me wonder if he served there during the WWII or worked there as a diplomat. If someone knows something about Valls-Russell, I'd like to hear more.

Sorry, couldn't find the original cover, so you'll have to do with the Finnish cover. It uses a Bertil Hegland cover that, for all I know, might be the original Swedish cover for Ray Alan's book.

More Forgotten Books here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

I managed to see this German cult film about a girl dormitory recently and I thought it was worth blogging, even though it's not Tuesday and the Overlooked Films meme. The film is a rare example of an all-female cast.

The beautiful film by Leontine Sagan is a look at teenage girls' love life that develops in a dormitory governed by a tough mistress. There's also a young teacher who cares for the girls and at times lets them get near her - and one of the girls, a new one called Manuela, falls in love with her, with tragic results.

The film is both frank and tender, at times with striking visuals and sensual erotics, and it must've caused quite a buzz at the time. I think the film was also ahead of its time as for the girls' appearance. Many of them look like they could be from any decade, not just the Germany of the early thirties. Especially Hertha Thiele as Manuela is very stylish in her chignon (she's very pretty, too). It's tempting to read the film as a critic of dictatorship (under which Germany was soon to fall), but it also might be projecting later incidents into the past.

Mädchen in Uniform is a very interesting and beautiful film, not to be overlooked by anyone seriously interested in the history of cinema. It's possible the film has no official English title, IMDb gives these two: Girls in Uniform and Maidens in Uniform.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ideal Hellbient Party

I noticed while checking out some other older posts that this had been lingering in the cyberspace for years. I don't really know what it was originally for, but it's a set of songs I'd play if I was DJ'ing somewhere. (And of course when I decided to clean it up a bit and publish it, it went straight to top of my posts, though it must've been originally written in the early 2000s. Hell, what the heck!)

The Ideal Hellbient Party Soundtrack Compiled by (the one time) DJ Andropov AKA Juri Nummelin, Pori/Tampere/Turku

(Not in order.)
The Crack House: My Revolution
The Demars: Lada
Lalo Schifrin & Alan Douglas: Amityville Frenzy
Stetsasonic: Talkin' All That Jazz (Dominoes Version)
Sly & Robbie: Make 'Em Move
DJ Hell: My Definition of House Music
Suicide: Ghost Rider
Ron Trent: Altered States
US3: Cantaloop
Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel: White Lines
Eric Peters: Mechanical Movement / Industrial Activity
Isaac Hayes: Run Fay Run
The Dave Howard Singers: Rock On
Aphex Twin: Z Twig
Syd Dale: Stanley Steamer 1 & 2
The Meters: I Need More Time
Laibach: Panorama
Jean-Jacques Perrey: E.V.A.
Eric B. & Rakim: I Know You Got Soul (The Double Trouble Remix) '
Kool Mo Dee: Go See the Doctor
Spoonie Gee: All Shook Up
Alan Hawkshaw: The Roving Reporter
Dyke and the Blazers: It's Your Thing
Plastikman: Spastik
The Pop Group: Forces of Oppression
Wiseblood: Motor Slug
Prince Charles and the City Beat Band: Bush Beat
Green Velvet: Flash
Ministry: Jesus Built My Hotrod
Trouble Funk: Don't Touch That Stereo
The Dead Milkmen: You'll Dance To Anything
The Rochester-Veasley Band: Beat Bop / Tokyo Strut
The Naked City: Batman
The Monkees: Writing Wrongs

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Minnesota Clay

Minnesota Clay was Sergio Corbucci's second western and the first one released under his Italian name - the earlier one, Massacre at Grand Canyon (1964), was released as Stanley Corbett. Minnesota Clay was actually the first Italian western to be released under the Italian director's real name - even Sergio Leone claimed his true authorship later.

Minnesota Clay has some of the same characteristics as Corbucci's later, cynical Django, but it's not on the same level and it's also a bit clumsy and at times even boring, especially in the first half. The last shootout in which Cameron Mitchell is virtually blind, but still manages to kill six baddies, is however very good. Beware of the copy with the happy ending!

Sorry, managed to do this only on Wednesday! More Overlooked Films here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rural Noir: A Visual Essay

Brian Lindenmuth, the fiction editor of Spinetingler Mag, has put up another great Pinterest board, this time on rural noir. Take a look here.

And here's Lindenmuth's earlier visual essay on modern noir.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Book: Adam Diment: The Dolly Dolly Spy

Adam Diment's The Dolly Dolly Spy (translated in Finnish with a misleading title Nukkevakooja) was an enormously popular spy novel published in 1968 that's largely forgotten these days. It does seem to have some sort of a cult following, though, which I can understand, but not easily relate to.

I did enjoy the book mildly. The book has lost some of its shock value - I mean, we have seen quite a lot of free sex and the use of mild drugs since 1968, there's not much to it anymore. But it's still entertaining, even though in the case The Dolly Dolly Spy there's also lots of old-fashioned sexism to it. A blogger wrote that Adam Diment's Philip McAlpine makes Ian Fleming's James Bond books feel like they were written by Andrea Dworkin!

The main problem for me in The Dolly Dolly Spy was that the book was too episodic. There's not much coherence to it. I'm the first to admit this was probably something Diment was aiming at, but it doesn't work very well (though it does work in some books). The first part of the book is pretty good, and so is the end, but the middle part drags - and none of them have much to do with each other! It does, however, add to the overall parodic quality of the book. The parody goes well with Philip McAlpine's character, since he couldn't be less interested in the Cold War affairs and he gets rather pissed off by the fact that his employers want him to help an old Nazi officer escape.

Adam Diment's story has been interesting, read for more here and here.

More Forgotten Books here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Interview with Megan Abbott

I'm doing a piece on great American crime writer Megan Abbott for the magazine of the Finnish Whodunit Society. Here's an interview I made with Megan via e-mail. It starts without any introduction, so you better check Megan's website. She's a wonderful writer. I do hope someone in Finland picks her up (no pun intended). 

You've written five novels that could all be labeled as noir. What draws you to noir?

With the exception of Queenpin, I don’t really think about ”noir” or even genre when I set out to write a book. What draws me to a story idea is a character under pressure. What will he or she do, in the face of circumstances out of their control? Or faced with a desires they cannot restrain? Or to keep a secret they fear escaping? Those situations always fascinate me. I guess human nature, its lightness, darkness and murkiness will always be my draw.
How do you define noir? How do your novels fit your own description?
I don’t think I’ve ever found a definition that works for more than one person. It’s so subjective. I’m happy to have anyone consider any of my novels ”noir,” or not, but those are terms that feel constricting when I’m actually writing. If I thought like that, I think the process would feel artificial, formulaic”this is what should happen next”rather than organic, springing from the characters.

Did you start writing at early age?
No, but I was a booklover my whole life, from a family of booklovers. I think the writing eventually became the natural outgrowth of that, of wanting to write myself into the world of the books I loved.
Your crime novels are at times without crime, there are only few murders in them. Especially THE END OF EVERYTHING was interesting in this aspect. Are you moving away from being a crime novelist? Will there someday be a mainstream novel from you? Or is this definition something you're not interested in?
I think if there’s a throughline in my books it’s that a crime occurs (a character under pressure seems to lead to crime) and the story beats are driven by that crime. Crime fiction is about as ”mainstream” as one can get in the U.S., if you’re talking about popularity/readership, but I’ve never thought of my career  in those terms. I guess I just write the story that comes next. Usually the seed for the next one lies in the prior one.
Your doctoral thesis was about men in original film noirs, but your novels are almost exclusively about women. Why do you find men interesting, but don't write about them? (Or does this question belong to the category "male writers are never asked this question"?)
I admit, I’ve never heard a male writer asked that question! To me, I write about men in all my books and I can’t imagine otherwise! Foremost in The Song Is You and The End of Everything and in my next novel, but I consider them just as central to the story as the women.  Gender and power and desire interest me very much.
Your first crime novels were set in the past, mainly in the era of the original film noirs. The books never felt they were only pastiche, how did you manage this?
I’m glad I did! I guess it’s two things. Pastiche means you risk writing character ”types” rather than characters so I’ve  always tried very hard to make all my characters feel authentic. Second, growing up with a love for midcentury America, research is key for me. When I’m doing research, I’m really looking for the odd piece…the piece of slang you’ve never heard. The phrase you never see anymore. I’m more fixated on the idiosyncratic.I want to build out the worlds in which my books take place so they feel both authentic and unfamiliar. I want the reader to feel they have slipped into the past and can feel, taste, smell it.

What's especially interesting to you about the fifties' and sixties' Hollywood and its seedy underlife? And why?
I grew up on movies from the 30s-50s, so they were my fairy tales. And I think we always return to our foundational fairy tales. They are the stories that form us, in some way. I never tire of reading about that world. 
THE SONG IS YOU deals with similar matters as Ellroy's THE BLACK DAHLIA and is also based on a true story. How did you approach the story?
Several years ago, I saw a reference to Jean Spangler as one of Hollywood’s unsolved missing person cases and there was just so much there: An aspiring actress, gone missing. Rumors of gangster boyfriends and dates with movie stars. Then, one day, just vanished. I tracked down one of her movies: The Miracle of the Bells. She’s on screen for just a few seconds. She’s witnessing the “miracle” of the title and she has this terrified look on her face. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Utterly haunting. I began to imagine her life. And that made me think about how a missing person becomes this empty vessel for everyone else to fill with their own desires, fears, anger, guilt. The characters in the noel turn her into this blank slate on which all they can etch anything, everything. And precisely what they etch tells us so much about them, their disappointments and dreams, the way they view love, romance, death, themselves.

One point I noticed in QUEENPIN is that you don't use the usual trademarks of a historical novel, the music, the books, the trademarks etc. of the era. You described the whole era only through the language and style. How did you manage this and was it deliberate on your account?
It was deliberate. I wanted that book to take place not in any real world but the world of the B-movies I loved, particularly the crime films of 1950s and early 60s, films like The Killing and Kiss Me Deadly, when it’s less romantic, when it’s harder, tougher, leaner. And because they were B movies, the sets were spare, everything was spare. For me, it was all about human drives.
Even though DARE ME is set in the present day, it still seems as it's set in the past, i.e. in the teenager years of these girls? Is this something you've set out to do and not only my imagination? [This was my bad, I meant THE END OF EVERYTHING, not DARE ME, which obviously is set in the present day.]
Mmm. No, it ’s meant to be set in the present day. It’s a world of Facebook, texting, YouTubevery much the world of now. Though I think the particular experience the novel recounts is over for Addy, so perhaps that’s why it feels that way to you?
You seem to find youth fascinating - the time between being innocent and the time being experienced and knowing. What draws you to youth?
I think it's the bigness of it. It’s all sex and terror and longing and chaos. Everything feels urgent and frightening and thrilling. The stakes feel unbearably high and everything feels precarious—it’s a time of heightened everything. And a time when you can't control yourself, stop yourself.

And, while I. don’t think that’s solely an experience of youth, the passage from innocence to experience is an abiding fascination for meAnd I think we go through it again and again. It’s what makes us human, the desire to believe in something, someone, again and again. Our hearts may close temporarily, or thicken with scars, but ultimately we open them again.

And what about the fascination that young girls feel toward dangerous situations and dangerous men, someone might say it's something female writers don't normally touch upon?  
I think that comes with the crime fiction terrain. You could argue all crime fiction is about our attraction to danger, its lure, including the dangers in our own desires. It’s primal and goes across genders. All desire is dangerous in some way. You make yourself vulnerable.
How did you end up writing a novel about cheerleaders? How did you do the research? Have you ever done any cheerleading yourself?
No, I was never a cheerleader, but in my last book, The End of Everything, one of the characters was a high school field hockey star. I started watching girls play and was struck by their ferocity on the field. Their aggression but also the wild abandon they brought to it. That led me to cheerleading, which is the most dangerous sport for girls in the U.S.. Watching squads compete, I was fascinated by the girls’ willingness not only push themselves but to take tremendous, terrifying risks. I started thinking about it as this terrain to explore friendship, rivalries, power, ambition. Adolescent girls feel things so powerfully and when the stakes are raised, as they are in this kind of sport, the possibilities for trouble are pretty immense.

I recall reading on Facebook that you were negotiating a movie deal on DARE ME. What's the status on that?
It’s been optioned by Fox, with me ”attached” to write the screenplay. Pretty excitingfngers crossed!
What are you working on now?
I’m tackling the screenplay for Dare Me. It’s a weird process, like taking a chainsaw to your home and building something from the ground-up. And also at work on my next novel. It’s called The Fever and it’s about a s about a family reckoning with a mysterious outbreak in small town.
Who are you reading at the moment?
A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley by Neal Thompson.

Who are the writers that have influenced you most?
A pretty wide rangea lot of voices in my head at any given moment. From Chandler and Cain and Ellroy to Fitzgerald, Plath, Joyce Carol Oates. In more recent years, Daniel Woodrell would probably be tops for me.
It would be nice to have you visit Finland and get your books published in here, have you had any requests from here?
I don’t know, but I hope to be one dayI’d love to visit!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Review of Weasels Ripped My Flesh

Or actually a review of half of it. I wrote a review of this collection of stories from vintage men's magazines for a Finnish cultural magazine and I asked the published if I could see a PDF of the book in advance, since I wouldn't have had time to buy the book via web and wait for the copy to arrive. And I haven't had time since to read the rest of the book, but I definitely will when I've got some extra money to order the print book.

Okay, to the book. I posted the table of contents earlier, now I read the first half of the book and some extra stories. My reaction to the stories was somewhat mixed: the concept of the stories is often better than the execution. (Well, who didn't know that already..?) The idea of half-crazed Nazis torturing gorgeous and half-naked women in the castles of Germany is always good fun, but as far as the stories go, I'm not sure whether I'd care to read lots of them. One here and there is passable, but dozens of these...?

There are some good writers and good stories in the bunch, make no mistake about that. Robert Silverberg's crazy "Trapped by Mau Mau" (Exotic Adventures 1959) is a very good hardboiled adventure story, even though it's racist as hell. Robert F. Dorr's "Bayonet Killer of Heartbreak Ridge" (Man's Magazine 1964) is very well told, a snappy true-war story set in the Korean War. Harlan Ellison's "Death Climb" (True Men Stories 1957) is just a crime story, there's nothing about it to claim it's a true story, but it's pretty good - noir set on a mountain!

There were some disappointments: Lawrence Block's "She Doesn't Want You" (Real Men 1958), which is a rather bland account of prostitutes who are really lesbians. This wouldn't do as journalism anymore, even though I'm willing to admit that today's journalism at times resembles the vintage men's magazines very much. They might only do it better today. Same goes for Walter Wager's "Please God, Help Me Break Out" (Male 1958), which just tells what happened to a famous soldier (forgot the name already, sorry!) during the WWII. Jim McDonald's (real identity unknown) story has a great title: "Grisly Rites of Hitler's Monster Flesh Stripper" (Man's Story 1965), but it's actually a quite bland "re"-telling of odd incidents. You would think a writer would want to pepper these stories with some narrative hooks, but that clearly wasn't the case. And it has not enough sadism! By 2013, the teasing element has somewhat worn out. (Someone might say of course that's sad, but that's the way it goes.)

There were also stories by Bruce Jay Friedman (oddly humorous piece about a tiger in a zoo trying to eat another tiger in another cage) and Walter Kaylin (weird story about an exotic dancer acting as a tribal chief in the darkest Africa) that were of interest. The book is also spiced up by interviews with Wager and Mario Puzo, but unfortunately no story by Puzo. Wager's interview is more interesting (albeit too short!) than his story.

There are more books coming out from New Texture and I'm all for it, though I was a bit critical on this. I'll be reading the rest of the book one of these days and I'll also blog about it. Meanwhile you can take a look here.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Inglourious Basterds

I was finally able to see Quentin Tarantino's war film Inglourious Basterds last night. I watched it from my small TV set, so it wasn't quite the experience it might've been. 

The film got some bad reviews here in Finland and I wasn't very eager to see it, since I'd hated Kill Bill 1 so much and was mildly bored with by Kill Bill 2 and Death Proof. But now that I liked Django Unchained a great deal, I thought I should see this. It's better than Kill Bill and Death Proof, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the Django film. I'm probably in minority here as far as Tarantino fans are concerned. 

Inglourious Basterds could've been ripped out of the headlines of vintage men's adventure mags: LUSTY FRAULEIN HELPED US DESTROY NAZI MOVIE THEATER! THEY ESCAPED THE NAZI DEATH CAMP WITH HUNDREDS OF KRAUT SCALPS! It's all done with great visual verve and great dialogue - Tarantino can really write a scene. They are sometimes a bit too long, but they are never boring. I should probably try to watch Kill Bill and Death Proof again... 

Tarantino's influences come from violent and even trashy European war movies and such. They are usually (or, shall we say, at times) incoherent and not very well made. Tarantino seems to maintain the incoherence, but makes everything else better than his predecessors. There's not much continuity or character development in Inglourious Basterds. There are only dozen to fifteen individual scenes in the whole film, into which mix Tarantino throws some comic-like flashbacks or ironic info dumps. The hell with continuity, says Tarantino. He goes for spectacle, not plot or story or any of that serious stuff. This is probably something some critics will never get and it will irritate them for years to come. 

And this is also the reason why I liked Django Unchained more than this: it's more a drama, more a story, it's no mere spectacle. But I did enjoy Inglourious Basterds in all its glorious silliness.