Who scares you more?

March 22, 2012

A kid walks through a neighborhood with some candy, and a guy with a gun reports him in a 911 call.  Then he follows the kid, despite being advised not to by the 911 staff.  Then he shoots the kid to death.  Sounds like murder to me, maybe first degree.  That is, premeditated.  How far in advance do you have to plan it for it to be more than manslaughter?

No charges have been brought since the great state of Florida condones such behavior as justifiable  self-defense.  After all, Zimmerman felt threatened.  Umm…so do I.

Jim Thompson

April 28, 2011

I am not one for mystery novels, but I enjoy visiting the Mysterious Bookshop in lower Manhattan near where I work.  It’s a large, airy store, with couches, and lots of displays, and the people are friendly.   I purchased a massive anthology of crime pulp to pass the time on my commute.  (I believe the editor owns the store). There I found a copy of Jim Thompson’s A Hell of Woman tossed onto a shelf of miscellaneous books.

I wouldn’t call Thompson’s book a mystery by any means.  That’s not his style.  Crime, murder, brutality, ice pick sharp dialog, and a fair amount of suspense – did I say insanity – are what hold your attention.  Waiting for the denouement  Agatha Christie style, it’s not.  Perhaps I’m not fair to the mystery genre, but that’s me…

Once I read A Hell of a Woman and realized Thompson’s connection with Stanley Kubrick, and the films The Grifters and The Getaway, I knew I’d read more.  One thing, one comment lead to another, and now Tilting Planet is having a Thompson Noir Fest, and I’m getting the jump on it!

Thompson’s novels -the ones for the Fest are shown above – make an interesting bookend to the Black Mask stories.  Those are shorter, of course, and mostly written decades before, so the sex and violence is much less explicit.  For the most part, the Black Mask tales exemplify the hard-boiled style:  detectives are either macho or quiet, intelligent, crafty types; dialog is clipped, emphasizing declarative sentences.  The style seems to heavily favor the passive voice:  things just happen.  The characters react. There is often emphasis on detection, deduction, and mystery rather than on suspense and vérité crime; and the baddies are simply bad, perhaps perverse, but not usually sickos.

Thompson, from the first two I’ve read (Hell of a Woman and Killer Inside Me), true to his monniker, the dime store Dostoyevsky, favors first-person narratives by disturbed individuals, sometimes in throes of deep mental disorders.  Things always go from bad to worse, and no rational detectives guide the action to a satisfying conclusion.  Just when you think that things can’t get any sicker, they do.  It keeps me reading!

Man found dead…

March 9, 2011

…shot in his basement, and then the house was set on fire to cover it. I knew this man: a very intelligent and humorous guy who shared my interest in philosophy. I had tried to become better friends with him years ago, but he had a lot going on. Last spoke to him four years or so ago. And this is where it was all headed? I feel as if I am inhabiting one of those books or films I am always reading and watching. I feel sick…

Les Biches – Chabrol (1968)

March 4, 2010

Got to hand it to Chabrol, he knew how to keep politics and art separate when he wanted to.  1968, and what does he make, a jewel-like exercise in psychological storytelling.

Les Biches means, the does, or fawns, and also the girls, or chicks, with connotations of bad girls.  One is a street artist who draws fawns on the sidewalk, and is picked up by Stéphane Audran, a rich, bored, bi-sexual ice queen.  The other girl is a bit of cipher, and she becomes absorbed by, and obsessed with the identity of her keeper.  There’s a bit of Hitchcock’s Vertigo here – one woman being transformed into another, albeit from very different motives.  There’s not much suspense – the end is clearly foreshadowed early on – and the male character in this dysfunctional ménage is rather ambiguous:  what will he do at the end when he arrives to find that the double has killed his lover…accept her as a replacement?

The cool, precise aesthetic that is the draw of this film struck me forcibly during this brief sequence showing Frédéric rising from her bed, dressed in immaculate white pyjamas, in her rather spartan bedroom.  Look at how she gets up – she doesn’t bend her back at all!  Her posture is ramrod straight.  It looks as if she is sliding off the bed quite naturally, but every element of her movement is controlled and thought out, like a model, an actress, a creation.

This blogger gives an extended treatment in the same vein to the climactic murder scene, focusing on the precise camera work and editing of Chabrol.


Chabrol & Playing God – 1925

February 7, 2010

Van Horn lives and rules in 1925 forever.

Ten Days of Wonder is a film by Claude Chabrol based on a mystery novel by Ellery Queen, the pseudonym of two cousins who produced a stream of very popular mystery tales and products in the 40s and 50s.  Chabrol said he became an avid fan during the German occupation of France:  I don’t share his love of mysteries – even Poe’s tales of deduction leave me cold – but I liked this film a lot.  It’s a weird gothic tale with a soundtrack by Bach.

I find it hard to grasp the notion of Chabrol getting the idea to make a movie of a Queen book, but, like any culture-struck Yank, I guess French means Art to me.  On their side of the sea, they are fascinated by our pop culture – Jerry Lewis, murder mysteries, noir, and detectives.  I don’t quite get it, and thus, the New Wave of French Cinema leaves me cold.  Funny, this issue doesn’t come up for me with Hitchcock, another cinematic artist who was at home with the whodunnit, and to whom Chabrol has a close connection.

In the film, the elder van Horn (Orson Welles) lives in splendid isolation in an Alsatian manor, and likes to pretend it’s 1925 – everything was good then.  His drunken mother hangs out in the attic.  His adopted son, Charles (Anthony Perkins)  worships him, but has a father complex, as well as a passion for his young stepmother, a pretty, lithe thing that God, …er Dad, rescued from rural poverty and then married.  She worships him too, of course, but loves Charles.

The two lovers fear the wrath of Father and are being blackmailed by an unknown caller who is in possession of some love letters that Charles sent.  After the second money drop, I figured out the identity of the blackmailer – am I good with voices or was I supposed to know? – but since I don’t care about cinematic exercises in deduction, it didn’t matter to me.

Charles, poor stressed-out boy, is subject to blackouts now and then that last for days,  and he fears he may kill someone during one of them.  He invites Paul Regis (Michel Piccoli), his former professor, to the manor to try and help sort things out.  Paul’s renowned logical mind can surely produce some light in his darkness, and he consents to play the part of the Ellery Queen detective figure in this drama.

I have never read an Ellery Queen, and this plot doesn’t make me want to start now.  Ah…but in this film, the entire story is a complex fabric of themes related to patriarchy, oedipal frustration, sin, repression, arrogance, Original Sin, and more…There’s something about these lapsed Catholics (Chabrol was one) – the old black magic never quite lets go.  The film seemed to me to be two running parallel at once – the weird psycho-drama,  and the tedious detective story.  Clearly Chabrol is someone I must investigate further.  The only film of his I know is La Ceremonie.

The stills below are from the mesmerizing sequence when the elder van Horn/Yahweh (Welles) exacts his terrible revenge on his young wife, Helene (Marlène Jobert)

This sequence recalled to my mind another strange film that involves a mad, arrogant, male god-figure who dispatches passive beautiful women using a straight razor with balletic finesse, The Night of the Hunter.

On the DVD, there is a comment by Chabrol that is something like, “What I like is beautiful women being sliced with razors in circumstances  très distinguées.”  Hmm…and that chilling blue!