Friday, January 08, 2010

Updates, schmupdates

I wrote two weeks ago about the new Sherlock Holmes movie and why it works. More recently, comments on this week's post about "Jim Thompson's happy ending?" including the following exchange:
If Marlowe is going to remain relevant I think we'll have to let directors update him as they see fit, the way Guy Ritchie plays around with Sherlock Holmes, for example.
and
I'm not really interested in seeing anybody's update of Marlowe or any other period detective. I don't think Marlowe could be made "relevant" to the present. Heck, he was out of place in his own 1940s-50s. Even Chandler himself said many times there would never be a real p.i. the way he wrote Marlowe. There are plenty of contemporary detectives who would make, do make, wonderful novel-to-screen transitions, however.
The floor is now open. Which crime fiction authors, stories and characters are ripe for updates? Why? Why not? Which updates work? Which do not? And why or why not?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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66 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

Like with anything else, the burning question is, "Was it done well?"

Sure, Marlowe could be updated. A hero whose values are slightly out-of-sync with society never goes out of style. He'd just have to be a little out of step with the 21st Century instead of the 1940s and 50s. Marlowe was all about his own concept of honor, and honor is always around, though in different forms at different times.

What worries me about Holmes (I've not seen the movie) is whether his character can be updated while leaving the story in the same time frame. Nero Wolfe is close, set in his own time, though Wolfe is more of an approximation of Mycroft Holmes than of Sherlock.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

As a round-about way of answering your question, I offer you this: After John Thaw's appearance as Inspector Morse, there was neither a way nor a need to offer updated, revised programming with a different actor; instead, someone wisely came up with the idea of building a new spin-off series with Lewis (Morse's colleague) as the "star." This is a sensible solution to the question you've posed.

BTW, I'll be commenting more about Colin Dexter's series in a few dates at my blog. Stay tuned!

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

R. T.,

I agree with your comments about John Thaw/Inspector Morse.

It's too bad that the powers that be didn't make the same decision when they recast PD James' Cmdr. Dalgliesh. Why they ever chose Martin Shaw as a replacement for Roy Marsden is incomprehensible.

January 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

It’s all a matter of personal preference so we could argue this (pointlessly) forever but when I read about plans for “updating” a character in order to make it “relevant to today’s audiences” a sense of impending doom comes over me. “Today’s audiences” is film-studio marketing speak for “males, ages 18-34.” I’m a middle-aged broad and I realize that if I like a current action/crime/thriller film, it’s just the icing on a cake for a studio. They didn’t make it for me, but if I like it, that’s fine.

“Updating” usually means ratcheting up the number of spoken “fuck yous” and fucking scenes in a movie, whether or not they appeared in a book. No, I’m not a prude. But this was not an element of Chandler’s fiction (with a notable exception in “The Big Sleep”) and it would annoy me to see it on screen. Having few options for CGI effects to draw in the desired age group—who will watch even a PG-13 film if it has enough of this—the director/producers would have to rely on sex and language to get the desired R rating to bring in the targeted audience. Now, on the other hand, violence in Chandler’s works would give filmmakers ample opportunities to depict it in the graphic, almost pornographic, fashion so many of today’s directors are fond of. No problem.

Another given in any new Chandler adaptation is, I think, the overemphasis on what contemporary filmmakers think of when they envision “noir”. So we will get a lot of smarty-pants wisecracking, artsy camera angles, lighting effects, fedoras drawn low over foreheads, rumpled trench coats, etc. and character—so essential to a Marlowe novel—is bound to take a back seat to this stuff. Of course, few members of the audience will have ever read a Raymond Chandler novel so few will notice the omissions, regret their absence.

Chandler is my favorite crime fiction author so maybe I tend to get overly, needlessly anxious when I read about plans for new movies based on his works. There are several dozen contemporary cops/detectives in the literature with Marlowe’s sense of honor and personal integrity that could make great transitions to the screen with all the requisite “relevance to today’s audiences.” Why pick on Marlowe?

January 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Generally speaking, wouldn't courtroom dramas, à la the old Perry Mason TV series, be fairly easy to update? Certainly forensics would play a far greater role over the course of a trial but the courtroom setting seems a fairly timeless one.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

One of the things I like best about the new Sherlock Holmes is what they did with Watson's character. A veteran of the Afghan Wars, a sophisticated forensic doctor and a clever writer deserved better than the bumbling buffoon of Nigel Bruce's incarnation. I like Robert Duvall in the 7 Percent Solution but I think Jude Law might be my favourite Watson.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I've mentioned several times that the new Sherlock Holmes took some non-traditional turns, but that the changes all had a basis in the text (Well, all except for some of the weird, gimmicky sound effects). My favorite example is that, where Doyle's stories may have mentioned Holmes' prowess as a fighter, the movie showed him fighting.

I wonder that a comparable update for Chandler might be. I did notice that the Howard Hawks "Big Sleep" had Carmen Sternwood draped in a blanket when Marlowe bursts in on her, whereas the 1978 remake had the character topless.

I attended a panel on "The Maltese Falcon" sometime in the last couple of years. Someone asked what the biggest obstacle would be to remaking the film today, and the consensus was that a contemporary audience would be too impatient for a movie with that much talk in it.

I say that any successful update of Chandler or Hammett would have to restore that danger and the stench of corruption that time and nostalgia have covered up in the original.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: Good answer on Morse and John Thaw, though the coincidence of the actor's death and the character's was spooky.

But the real test will come if someone decides that Morse is worth reviving for the screen in, say, twenty years. What changes will the producers see fit to make then?

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I've never read the Dalgliesh books, but your comment reminds me of how thoroughly Luca Zingaretti moved into the role of Montalbano in the Italian TV series based on Andrea Camilleri's novels. He has done so thoroughly that a Camilleri novel not yet translated into English refers to the television character.

Zingaretti is younger than the character is in the novels, he doesn't especially look like him -- and he does a tremendous job. So perhaps part of the answer to the problem of updating is simply to find a brilliant actor for the role. (Of course, the novels are closely contemporaneous with our own time, so not much updating is involved, but the principle may apply nonetheless.)

January 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

A bit off the point, but I watched "His Girl Friday" a couple of weekends ago, and I was somewhat stunned by how fast the patter between Grant and Russell went. I'm sure there is some example that will prove me wrong, but I can't think of a contemporary story that takes the risk of losing the audience when the dialogue is going at breakneck speed like that. Of course, they sometimes sacrifice the language to the action or the soundtrack, but that's not the same thing.

Robert Downey Jr. isn't the best at enunciation, much as I like him as an actor otherwise. I hope he did a bit of elocution in prep for Holmes, as a mumbling Sherlock just really wouldn't sit right.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I agree with you right down the line on your apprehension about Chandler. The trivial (and quite unobtrusive) updating in "Sherlock Holmes" were obviously intended solely to grab the attention of a generation of filmgoers with attention spans no longer than a text message. The savvier updates were in the matter of fighting and, perhaps, in the noticeable Irish presence in Doyle's London.

An analogous update to the Black Mask-era writers, to Hammett more than Chandler, really, would be to reinfuse the corruption with the danger that it must have had in the 1930s and '40s.

Your notion of noir and hard-boiled being (mis)construed as mere style plays very much into an interesting presentation at Noircon 2008. If you should happen to be in Philadelphia in November 2010, perhaps the subject will come up again.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, it may be easy to keep the form of a courtroom drama fresh, less so for the substance. Would a new movie based on the Scopes monkey trial carry the dramatic weight of the original even if it managed to get the courtroom mechanics down?

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I always wondered if some future adapter or updater of Holmes might somehow make Watson's wartime experience more a part of his character. I do like it that this Watson shows anger, backbone and even the suggestion of hidden depths.

January 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you're not at all off the point. "His Girl Friday" would be a good test case, since it's been made at least three times. I've seen the Lewis Milestone version of "The Front Page," made in 1931, which I recall as more somber. I have not seen the version with Walter Matthau.

"His Girl Friday" was a much better movie that the Milestone "Front Page," but a partisan of the Milestone might scorn "His Girl Friday" for its frivolousness. The whole serious but of "His Girl Friday" -- especially the little killer's speech about "production for use" -- is ridiculous, like some strained vestige of the original. So, at what point does a remake cease to be a remake and instead become an entirely new movie?

January 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Well, you would know best, Peter, if frivolousness has a part to play in the depiction of a newsroom, but it certainly adds to a screenplay.

I'd be all for some modern variant of the screwball comedy, or even an infusion of it into modern forms. But I'm afraid that is not going to happen. The visual and the sound effects seem to be the direction that moviemaking is going. It makes sense, really, but it's still a loss when you see some of the classics.

I think a new Chandler and a new Hammett could appear. What it would take would be a true understanding of what noir is and then a sort of translation of it into modern terms. It actually would be an exciting project for one of your noircon compatriots, or maybe even you.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Peter Temple's "In the Evil Day"/"Identity Theory" has a little subplot that could very well make a brilliant newspaper noir story. It has wisecracks, but those wisecracks drip with menace -- the sort of menace that is missing from the all-style noir and hard boiled that Elisabeth complains about elsewhere.

Oh, frivolity has a decided place in any accurate story about a contemporary newsroom but only as a necessary antidote to all the other stuff.

January 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

The motion picture studio that arguably has updated stories better than anyone else is Disney. This came to me tonight while driving past a building-sized (illegal) ad for their upcoming Tim Burton version of "Alice in Wonderland." Sounds like an Alice for the one pill makes you larger / and one pill makes you small "White Rabbit" generation. Perfect!

Disney's recent updating, or "repurposing," of "Freaky Friday" and "The Parent Trap" were both fine films. Perhaps family fare is easier to successfully, happily update?

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and you're right about the ingredients necessary for a new Chandler or Hammett. I have written in recent comments that a Hammett update would have to rediscover the menace that Hammett saw in municipal corruption. We are so used to corruption trials and to a popular culture that makes heroes out of money grubbers that that old-style villain doesn't cut it anymore. Who comes closest today? Maybe a protagonist who him(or her)self creeps closer to that corruption than Sam Spade or the Continential Op or Phillip Marlowe did but who nonetheless remains untainted by it. And who might that be?

I'll think about that tomorrow.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know those updates or the originals, but Tim Burton's "Alice" sounds like fun. There are probably lots of folks tales and nursery rhymes out there just waiting to be made as horrifying as the Brothers Grimm intended.

January 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

For a quick overview of movie remakes I checked a fairly substantial compilation at Wikipedia. Perusing the originals in the right-hand column and the remakes in the left, a person could just weep at how few measured up to and how even fewer surpassed the originals. So many of them fall into the "why did they even bother?" category.

Peter, you never saw the original "Parent Trap" starring Hayley Mills?! Must be a generational thing...

Seana mentioned elocution vs. mumbling. This evolution (or devolution) is showcased on Turner Classic Movies this month with a series of films starring actors trained in The Method style of acting. The clear speaking voices, apparent even in those colloquial, rapid-delivery Howard Hawks movies like "The Big Sleep" and "His Girl Friday" went out of fashion as The Method came into fashion--and never left. Peter, you mentioned John Garfield; he was a fine Method trained actor. But too many actors today still fall into the scenery-chewing antics of a Rod Steiger or the scene-hogging twitches of a James Dean.

Yes, the thought of most of Chandler's dialog getting the axe in a contemporary screenplay is depressing.

And, off hand, I don't know who the close-but-not-too-close-to-corruption cop or PI might be. Probably someone more hardboiled than the semi-softies (the type who wouldn't plant false evidence on a suspect or frame a femme fatale to take the rap) I've been reading lately. I'll look at some of my notes, too.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I think the question is, why do people still bother to read the likes of Chandler and Hammett, Goodis and all the rest? Why is there still something called Noircon? Someone seeking to bring it into contemporary mode would have to answer that question before embarking on that update.

It's interesting because I think Masterpiece Theater has been very successful at enlivening Holmes, Marple and Poirot. The setting is period, but the actors' psychology is modern. I think all of it stems from deep familiarity with the work and then a kind of new vision of the whole thing. I admire the actors above all in this, but for all I know it really stems from the direction. Or the whole underpinning that lets them act unencumbered.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Elizabeth, the Method has a lot answer for. (Though of course it's given its share of memorable performances as well.) But thanks for that elucidation.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, why did I never think of looking for such a list? I may well be able to mine it for ideas for blog posts. I mentioned the new and old versions of "The Ladykillers" recently. Those are probably on the WIkipedia list, with the advantage to the original.

I wonder if I am just young enough to have missed "The Parent Trap." I certainly know of it, and I think I got taken to all the blockbuster kid movies of the day, from "Mary Poppins" on.

I made a post or two some time back about "Harper," observing that Paul Newman stood out from a cast of fine (with one exception) actors who had obviously been directed to go over the top, though they didn't mumble. Al Pacino would have fit in well. I thought of the overheated acting as more a '60s thing than a result of the Method, but the two are not mutually exclusive, of course.

And then there's the old anecdote about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman. When the latter worried about all the agonies he would have to put himself through in order to play a role successfully, the former told him, "Dear boy, why don't you just try acting?

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, if this keeps up, I may one day be able to talk sensibly about acting. And if you ask questions like "Why do we still read Chandler, Hammett and Goodis?" you should be not just a student at the Penny University, but its dean.

As for noir in our time, Megan Abbott manages to recapture the old, sensual atmosphere for contemporary readers. She generally sets her stories in the 1940s, I think, and she appears to have thought very carefully about about the appeal of a certain kind of story from the '40s and maybe the '50s, and to have understood that appeal well..

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder to what extent the Method's reputation is tainted by Marlon Brando's having wasted his talent the way he did. It may have been Stanley Kauffman who called him the greatest waste of talent in the history of American movies. Or maybe it was Andrew Sarris.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger solea said...

Perhaps "update" is the wrong word. The fact is, there has not yet been a great Marlowe movie! The studios that first bought the rights to his books didn't even use the "Chanderlisms"; some other writer was making up shoddy Chandlerisms! Chandler's characters & writing style has influenced so many books, tv shows, & movies yet no director or actor has brought to the silver screen the fan's Marlowe.
Marlowe is really popular with the younger generations right now; look at the success of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I do hope that Marlowe is brought back to the silver screen and that the director respects that we want to see Chandler's Marlowe (lol like the twilight teens demanding no deviations from the books). OK, i had more to write but my puppy is doing everything possible to get me off the computer.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope "everything" does not include a set of teeth sunk into your calf.

One always reads that much of Chandler's writing finds its way unaltered into movies. I think that was the case at least with The Big Sleep. So perhaps one has to look somewhere other than dialogue for the essence of Chandler when it comes to movies.

Interesting, too, to hear that younger generations like Chandler. I wonder how young these generations are and whether they like Chandler for the same reasons that people my age and older do. (I am from well after Chandler's own time.)

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Lauren said...

I've always thought "The Big Sleep" was a great movie but not a great adaption. I own the Mitchum version on video, and didn't like it all that much (there's only so much mumbling I can take, and gloomy cinematography is not a taste I have), but I think in spirit it works better. But I'm really the wrong person to ask about authenticity in cinematic versions - the extent to which I mind entirely depends on how much I love the source material. Which is also why I love the Thin Man and its film sequels even though the banter (er, and the title of subsequent stories!) has less and less to do with the original book.

Incidentally, I'm using "His Girl Friday" with an advanced ESL class next week (course is about various types of print media) - will report back if they've been able to catch the dialogue! (That's one of the reason I picked it, as it happens.)

Updates - there's a television series about Sjowall/Wahloo's character Beck that more-or-less brings the figure into today. It works as a generic crime series (and there's a slightly crazy number of those on German tv) but the originality is gone. But good retro is terribly hard to pull off. I think the recent film about the Bader-Meinhoff gang did it very well, but as a friend commented to me, "The haircuts and the sex were kind of distracting, even if they were right."

I have a long-standing hankering to see Crime and Punishment set in today's Russia, by the way. And in a similar vein, the Austrian Elfriede Jelinek updated Ibsen's "Doll's House."

(Sorry: I disappear for months - new job, new country - and then write a novel!)

January 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oh, I would love to hear how the ESL students coped with His Girl Friday, Lauren. Please do report back.

Peter, I am remiss not to have read Megan Abbott yet. Hope to correct that soon.

There is something sad and even tragic in Marlon Brando's trajectory. It seems to be one of those catastrophes that continued on even into the lives of his children.

January 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren: Welcome back. You had some interesting reasons for disappearing. Let me know where you are now so I don't find myself leaving some city fifteen minutes before I find out you live there, as happened with Edinburgh.

Is authenticity something necessary -- morally, artistically or otherwise -- to adaptations? I grew up with the ideas that Hollywood was the vandalizer and defiler of literature and with that authors so vandalized and defiled would complain. In recent years, though, it seems to me that I've heard more and more authors say, "Shut your mouth, take the money, and move on to your next book." And my buddy Ed Pettit, the Philadelphia Poe guy, has surprised me with his openness to odd film adaptations of Poe.

I would be eager to learn what your students think of "His Girl Friday." Perhaps it will become a formative influence in their acquisition of English.

And I do remember watching episodes of the Dutch television series based on Janwillem van de Wetering's Grijpstra and De Gier novels and thinking the series failed to capture the books' wry, philosophical tone.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, one can imagine Lauren's non-native speakers astonishing their Anglophone family, friends and colleague with their rapid-fire patter. I always smile when I hear some Cambodian or Chinese or Puerto Rican kid say, "Awesome!" Lauren's class could duplicate this phenomenon on a far grander scale.

Among Megan Abbott's books, I think "Queenpin" and "Die a Little" are especially rich in moody mid-century atmosphere. I suspect that her academic studies may have helped. She's written about masculinity in film noir, so I think she has thought carefully about what lends noir and hard-boiled writing their edge. She knows it is no mere matter of smoke, trench coats and moody lighting.

I actually know little about Brando's life other than a bare digest of the headlines, but I get the idea that he never tried hard to make the career that he could have.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

To act the tabloid reporter for a moment, his son killed his daughter's boyfriend and went to prison and his daughter committed suicide. Reasons enough to not fulfill his own artistic promise, I'd say.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember that the son killed someone and that the daughter had been involved in some tragedy. I wonder if all that accounted for his failure to fulfill his promise, whether it was unrelated, or whether that family tragedy and the failure to fulfill the promise were in some way results of a common cause. Not that it matter much, I suppose.

I've never been attracted to biographies of Hollywood figures, but I did see a biography of Howard Hawks today that might bear looking into.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I know what you mean, but on the other hand, these are very American stories, and I think that in competent hands they would shed light on larger issues. Of course Brando must bear personal responsibility for failing his own talent, but I'd bet that there were larger issues at work, and that these have a cultural resonance. I think that what has happened to some athletes is similarly illustrative. Talent needs to know what it's up against, and these cautionary sorts of tales might help.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suppose the saturation of our popular culture with celebrity worship has soured on the possibility that these folks could have something to say. Howard Hawks would interest me not just because he and Humphrey Bogart both had a crush on Lauren Bacall during filming of "The Big Sleep," not just because Hawks' wife's nickname was Slim, which nickname Bogart's character uses for Bacall's in the movie, but because Hawks made good movies in just about every genre.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Lauren said...

You've managed to unearth a hobby of mine - classic Hollywood biographies. Not sure about Howard Hawks, but Lauren Bacall's autobiography is worth reading (and covers many of the issues you're interested in.) Myrna Loy's autobiography is also rather good. (Growing up, my father introduced to me to old films, and then I discovered my local library had a great collection of books.)

Hollywood was and is a strange place. I often ponder that rag-tag collection of exiles who ended up there during World War Two, safe in the sun and yet utterly miserable.

Suicidal children of actors are far more common than you'd think - both Charles Boyer and the recently deceased Richard Todd come to mind.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Lauren said...

And I'll keep everyone updated on "His Girl Friday"!

(Did I mention the other ESL course I'm teaching based on Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers etc?)

---

Peter, I've moved to Germany - I'm now based in the north west not that far from the Dutch border and about 90 minutes south of Hamburg. Not sure anyone's likely to end up here as a tourist unless they're particularly fond of pancake-flat scenery and locals (and this transplant) on bikes, but it is a nice place to live.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, in the matter of Hollywood exiles, I suppose Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder also led lives worth reading about.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should mention that I'm not in fact sure that the Howard Hawks book is a biography; it could be a critical study, though it looks pretty large for such a book. Grove Press publishes the book, an argument in the book's favor.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You did not mention that other course, but I do like the idea of using crime fiction to teach English. I recently sent some books to a reader of this blog who uses crime fiction as part of a home-schooling program.

In re flat land, I got to know parts of the Netherlands well enough to learn that not all flatness is equal. Compared to Friesland, for example, Gelderland is spiked by mountains and riven by valleys. The rest of the country lies between the two extremes. (I'm also familiar with this song of Jacques Brel's: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/jacques+brel/mijn+vlakke+land+le+plat+pays_20254997.html

I also took a more recent interest in roughly that part of Europe thanks to Jonathan Meades television programs called Magnetic North. He had interesting things to say about the Hansa cities.

January 10, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I wonder if Lauren has read the biography of Marlene Dietrich by here daughter Maria Riva. A bit long but richly entertaining for the most part

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marlene Dietrich lived a life that could support a book, I'd guess. The first book by a star's daughter that I remember is Mommy Dearest, which probably contributed as much to the rise of of voyeuristic vicitimology memoirs as if it did to the genre of Hollywood biography. (I have just noticed that Wikipedia calls James Frey's A Million Little Pieces "a semi-fictional memoir." What's that old proberb? "Time heals all marketing scams"?)

January 10, 2010  
OpenID blackwatertown said...

Pyke. Not the Dad's Army Pike, but Andrew Pepper's Pyke. The hero of The Last Days of Newgate, and The Revenge of Captain Paine, and other books following on.
Set in 1830s London, England and Ireland. Great period detail, colour, smell, callousness - lots of swashbuckling passion and violence - and involvement of real-life figures (politicians and royals) in skullduggery. Great read too. I'm just finishing The Revenge of Captain Paine.

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Any book that has you invoke skullduggery has something going for it. I am always interested to see how authors balance the occasionally competing demands of history and fiction when they write historical fiction.

(Andrew Pepper walked into No Alibis in Belfast to sign books one day when I was browsing. Someone pointed him out to me, but I didn't know at the time who he was.)

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, your quote of sound advice from Olivier to Hoffman -- "Dear boy, why don't you just try acting?" -- reminded me of what Howard Hawks (mentioned frequently in this thread) is supposed to have said about what makes a good director. "One who doesn't annoy you." So much of Method acting, and its directorial counterpart, auteurism, then and now, is, to me, annoying.

Even in the most intelligent and sensitive directorial hands I think it would be very difficult to make a "great" Chandler movie. One of the main reasons we continue to read his novels is for his style, including those wonderful Chandlerisms, his detailed descriptions of the LA setting, character development, artful dialog, etc. All of these elements have always been difficult to capture on film and are even more so now that few directors and studios want to make this kind of picture.

Chandler said something about his having written far fewer wisecracks than most people thought, it was just that the wisecracks were what people remembered when they thought about a Marlowe novel. How do you get this on film?: "I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun." Even hearing that in a voice-over is not as effective as reading it. The producers can hire a guy who fits the bill but reading “he had a face like a gnawed bone” is better. And wouldn’t most of us rather read:”She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket” than actually see it?

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"And wouldn’t most of us rather read:`She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket' than actually see it?"

Not to mention "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window."

If Howard Hawks said something as sensible as a good director is "One who doesn't annoy you," that biography that I mentioned above might be worth reading.

Of the Hawks movies I've seen, I remember not loving the end of "Twentieth Century" and finding "Man's Favorite Sport?" less than great (though I give the man props for trying a screwball comedy in 1967). Other than that, the man deserves a spot on the directorial Mt. Rushmore.

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Yes, two of HH's weaker entries. But you know that could happen under the studio system; a director didn't have the free rein to direct whatever he wanted that many do today. We re-watched Hawks's "Air Force" (1943) this weekend -- an unusually fine ensemble film for the period; no star turns, action-packed, great editing. Other don't-miss HH films include "Ball of Fire" and "Red River."

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My most surprising Howard Hawks favorites were "Only Angels Have Wings" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," the former because I had known nothing about it before I watched it and the latter because it was watchable where I had expected fluff.

The Wikipedia article on Hawks' filmography usefully classifies each film by genre. It's instructive that Hawks' list includes musical, crime, comedy, adventure, Western -- just about every kind of movie that Americans have traditionally done well. Thanks to that list, too, I realize I have the wrong year for "Man's Favorite Sport?" The correct year is 1964.

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could i forget? Fletch really really needs an update! Chevy Chase was not Fletch! and Fletch is one of the most enjoyable book series to read! He needs his own series. And that "psychic" dundo is not Fletch!

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never seen the Chevy Chase movie, but I did flip through one of the books once and very much enjoyed some of Fletch's remarks about and attitudes toward newspapers. That book has been floating around my mental TBR list since. So thanks for the nudge, anonymous.

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flip through the books? For me, Fletch is right up there with Montale, Montalbano, Marlowe & Massimo! The books force u to finish them even if u have to stay up all night! Greg MacDonald's series is highly underrated & i think actually the movie turned people OFF from reading the books! Fletch made the 7o's cool! He was a detective in the newspaper man tradition. Start with Fletch Won!

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One reason I haven't embraced them is that most of my crime reading falls under the rubric of this blog's subject: international crime fiction.

Thanks for the recommendation, though. I'd naturally have been tempted to start from the beginning of the series. Is the movie more farcical than the books?

The bit that I remembered from the book I browsed was an account of Fletch's brief career as a writer of obituaries. He lost that job after telling the truth, referring to a deceased's "life distinguished by absolutely nothing."

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, that's the beginning of Fletch Won; it's a funny intro that lets the reader know how cleverly Fletch looks at things, which is always a diff angle than everyone else. No need to go in order though. Off the top of my head i also love "Confess Fletch" because it introduces MacDonald's otro character, Flynn. The book titled "Fletch" is great too and it is the one the movie is based on. Go for it! The books are one day reads that will make you chuckle (and want to see an updated silver screen Fletch)!

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I especially like the bit about obituaries because I work for a newspaper. I am fond of declaring that while there have been many books, plays and movies about reporters, editors and publishers, there has never been one about a newspaper. Among other things, it appears that Fletch Won could prove me wrong.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

It would be interesting to see what would happen if there was a remake of _Inherit the Wind_, which was, I think, the title of the film.

Considering the furor over evolution/creationism or the so-called intelligent design theory today, certain political/religious factions might be very disturbed.

January 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never seen the movie, but I did find this interesting article about the alterations it made from the 1955 play. The factions of which you speak might cheer Scopes' conviction as a happy ending and hiss at anything that found the conviction problematic.

January 14, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

R. T.,

I haven't had an opportunity to see them so far, but I'm hoping Netflix will make them available.

I'm curious to see what they've done to Mankell's "Wallander" novels. Netflix finally has them available. The local public library now has them on order.

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

R. T.,

Good point. I had forgotten that he actually was found guilty.

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I haven't seen either of the Wallander series -- the Swedish version or the English, with Kenneth Branagh. I have heard good things about both, though I did recently read an interesting comment that the Branagh version focuses much more extensively on the protagonist than the books do.

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The verdict seems like one of those in which the defendant is fined a dollar. I cannot even begin to comprehend that people still want to teach biblical creation as science. I'll be kind and say that I just don't understand this country.

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

I believe that those who wish to present "biblical creation" as a science are concerned about the prestige that science has today. If it could be included in a science course, then it will share the same respect. It will then be equal to Darwinian evolution.

Let's face facts. Biblical creation is much easier to learn and understand than evolution. God did it and one doesn't have to think about the topic any more.

Problem of the existence of life is now solved, so now one can spend one's time damning all those who think or believe differently.

Rant Mode

January 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Whatever one's religious beliefs are, it defies belief that anyone would want to teach biblical creation as science. Pace Jefferson, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God may not be just.

That's the same Jefferson who I think believed in something like what proponents of intelligent design profess today. Unlike them, he did not use this a smokescreen for his real beliefs. Intellectual ground can shift an awful lot in two and a half centuries.

January 22, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Yes, if I remember correctly, Jefferson and many of his contemporaries were of the opinion that while the universe may have been created by an intelligent being, it wasn't involved or interested in micromanaging its inhabitants.

January 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jefferson was no theologian, he was a practical man and a deist so, yes, he believed in a God but no time for the meddling of which you speak.

January 24, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Fletch remake

A film adaption of Fletch Won has been in the works for a number of years. It was initially spearheaded by Kevin Smith who later dropped out.

Actors rumored, at various times, to be be playing the lead were Jason Lee, Ryan Reynolds, and Zach Braff.

I'm not sure if the project is still in development but given the lead actors mentioned it would probably be better for all concerned if it was not.

Though if I squint real hard I can almost see Jason Lee as Fletch.

Regards,
M. Ilard

January 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the reminder on Fletch. To review: visit a bookstore or a library for Fletch, but hold off on the vide store at least until we see how any proposed remakes turn out?

I think I've seen just "Clerks" of Kevin Smith's work, and that was pretty damn good. How his style might suit Fletch, I'll let you know once I've done some reading.

January 26, 2010  

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