Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Tales of Ordinary Madness

Charles Bukowski hasn't been a favourite of mine for over 20 years. I liked his books when I was 15 or so, but then they wore me out with their machismo. And then came Pulp, a very bad pastiche of hardboiled crime novel, which wasn't funny in the least. I might reread some of his novels in the near future, but we'll see if I really can make it. I remember, though, that Bukowski is a very easy and quick read.

All this leads me to the first film version of Bukowski's work. I saw Marco Ferreri's Tales of Ordinary Madness, based on a short story collection from the early seventies, already in 1986 or 1987, but just last night I saw it again. I didn't remember anything from it, save from the scene in which Ornella Muti pierces her cheek with a huge needle.

Tales of Ordinary Madness proved to be a pretty good film. Ben Gazzara is wonderful (if you can call him that) as Charles Serking (meaning Henry Chinaski, but they couldn't use the character's real name, due to the fact that Taylor Hackford owned it at that time). Serking is a sleazebag of a man, stalker, rapist, drunk, loudmouth, cynical asshole with nothing good to say about anyone. Yet we feel something for him, when he meets Cass, played by gorgeous Ornella Muti, a wreck of a human being working as a prostitute. Serking falls in love with Cass, and problems ensue. The film ends in a tragedy after Serking is lured to New York by a big publishing house, but he doesn't want to work for them.

Bukowski started where David Goodis left off. There's indeed something noirish in Tales of Ordinary Madness, its view of people of the streets, with no hope, with only their lust and booze. This is enhanced by Serking's hardboiled monologue with sentences out of a neo-noir novel. Gazzara's voice is low and brutal and he works well on those consonants.

Tales of Ordinary Madness, filmed in the US, but made with European money, is no B-grade flick. The decorations of Dante Ferretti and the photography of Tonino Delli Colli make sure it looks good even in the lowest depths of mankind.

More Overlooked Films here.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The left-wing and the right-wing definitions of noir

Here's Dave Zeltserman's (wonderful author) interesting essay on the definition of noir at the Artery site. Zeltserman emphasises what an individual, possibly or preferably sick or at least doomed, does to his or her own life. He argues against Dennis Lehane's social class theory of noir, where the failure of man is explained by the circumstances of life, which one cannot influence easily or not at all. Zeltserman is backed up by Otto Penzler, who says: "Noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed."

Zeltserman's is what I should call a right-wing theory of noir. There's been a lively discussion over Zeltserman's essay at this Facebook site, and people like Vicki Hendricks (wonderful author) and Woody Haut (wonderful noir and pulp essayist) have been saying most interesting things. The Facebook discussion is public, so I thought I could link it here and quote it. Here's Woody Haut's comment (after which he says: "Does that make sense?") which, to my mind, illustrates what could be the left-wing definition of noir: "Taking into account society as a whole and the forces at work that produce a noir sensibility. To put it bluntly, social issues inevitably become individual issues. Penzler’s definition is as comprehensive as they come, and easier to digest, but only so far as the individual. On the other hand, that's what noir is invariably about. But, in the end, even though he expresses it in simplistic terms, Lehane’s statement ends up being a deeper concept, if only because the social and the individual can’t be separated."

Further on, Woody Haut says that the psychological struggle (that Zeltserman emphasises) and the social issues can't be separated, both affect each other. The background of many noir stories is minimal and sparse, like in Double Indemnity Zeltserman mentions in the discussion, but I don't think this is not not being about social or class issues. I think Woody Haut nails it when he says: social issues become individual issues. The anxiety of one's place in the society, the urge to move upward, even with the help of violence, the frustration or the anger of what one has become when not wanting to on in the society, these are both social and individual issues. In the right-wing theory of noir, these losers are losers because that's all they can do, in the left-wing theory, the same losers are losers because there's no other possilibity for them in the society, be they rich or poor.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mark Coggins on The Long Goodbye

I was just writing on Chandler's The Long Goodbye for a forth-coming book I've started working on, and Googling for some references I found this interesting article by Mark Coggins on Chandler writing the novel. Well worth checking out!

(Sorry for not blogging. I'll try to get something done in the near future.)