MysteryPeople Double Feature: LA CONFIDENTIAL

All summer long, MysteryPeople has been partnering with the Authors and Auteurs book club for ‘Return to Normal,’ a film series highlighting 50s noir in fiction and cinema. Come by the store Sunday, August 6th, at 2 PM for a free screening of L.A. Confidential, followed by discussion of this essential work. 

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople’s summer collaboration with the Authors and Auteurs book club ends with a screening and discussion of one of the most ambitious crime film adaptations. L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy’s sprawling, dark, hyper-violent novel presents a challenge for any filmmaker to adapt – the work is over 500 pages long with three main protagonists, and several intricate plots. The result is more about capturing tone and theme than plot.

The novel concerns itself with three cops, milquetoast political climber Ed Exley, brutish Bud White, and celebrity hanger-on Jack Vincennes, in Fifties Los Angeles, chasing leads in their individual investigations (each tied to a mass shooting at a coffee shop) as well as their own demons, and serves as the third book in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. The heroin providing the McGuffin first appeared in the previous novel, The Big Nowhere.

L.A. Confidential uses the booming Los Angeles of the fifties, organized crime, and the picture business to look at America’s ‘bread and circuses’ culture; a triumvirate of distractions serving the powers that be as diversions from their own corruption. Ellroy also uses his setting to explore the dark side of male identity as each man is led through hell before he has a chance for his own dark redemption. All themes are portrayed vividly as Exley closes in on a serial murderer.

The story of the killer and many other parts of the novel did not make it on screen in the cinematic adaptation. Ed’s father, who figures prominently in the book, is dead in the film version (although one could argue he plays an important role in the film). Hanson and Hengeland quickly came to the decision that to get the story into a workable script, any plot that doesn’t concern all three main characters needed to be excised. The result is a much more streamlined tale that still remains intricate, creating more of a bond between the three cops, even though, as in the book, they don’t initially care for one another.

Hanson uses both cast and crew to bring out the book’s tone. All three actors, Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), and Russell Crowe in his star making turn as Bud White all convey different forms of male swagger and posturing, with the self-loathing it hides peeking out. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti balances both the Hollywood glitz and the mundane sleaze it covers.

L.A. Confidential shows you don’t have to be true to every plot point of a book to truly capture it. The film may not be able to delve as deep as the novel, yet it manages to hold onto the book’s dark themes. Both have found a way to be the first great epic noirs of their medium.

You can find copies of LA Confidential on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by this Sunday, August 6th, at 2 PM for a screening and discussion of LA Confidential, presented by MysteryPeople and the Authors and Auteurs Book Club. The screening is free and open to the public and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor. 

MysteryPeople Double Feature: GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

Come by BookPeople this upcoming Monday, August 22nd, at 7 PM, for a screening of Gone Girl [2014], followed by a discussion of the book and film. The screening will take place on the third floor and is free and open to the public. 

– Post by Molly Odintz

gone girlWhen I sat down last week to read Gillian Flynn’s mega-blockbuster of domestic suspense Gone Girl ahead of our upcoming screening of the film this upcoming Monday, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew before going in that the book had already made waves as a bestseller, despite (or, perhaps, because of) its unlikable female protagonist. My friends who had already read Gone Girl assured me that the husband was just as bad, although an unlikable male protagonist, in the form of the anti-hero, is much more pervasive.

As a passionate reader of mysteries and an ardent feminist, it would be difficult for me to underestimate the impact of Gone Girl in encouraging publishers to embrace challenging, complex female characters. The early aughts brought with them the compelling but simplistic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the late aughts ushered in the era of The Girl in the Title, in which one Swede and a host of imitators forever linked “girl” with “dark and twisted,” as Flynn Berry pointed out in an interview earlier this year.

Then, with the 2012 release of Gone Girl, we entered into the era of the Unlikable Female Protagonist, previously a category embraced by literary fiction and issued in short print runs, now a qualifier for any bestseller of the domestic suspense variety. Why, you might ask, would I consider an unlikable female protagonist as a positive for feminism?

First, it would be patronizing to write every female character as a sop, morally superior to the no-damn-good men around her, who are thus freed from the responsibility of matching womanly perfection. A woman in literature, just as in life, has a right to complex motivations and wicked behavior.

Second, society has a problem with its willingness to listen to those women not bending over backwards to appeal to their audience. Maybe it’s time to have a whole trend of listening to women we don’t like, because their opinions, feelings, and experiences are just as complex and valid as those of the girl next door, or as Flynn calls it in Gone Girl, the “cool girl.” Gone Girl‘s Amy is not just hard to like – she’s been wronged, viscerally, and irreversibly, and her vengeance, while over-the-top, comes to a place of legitimate pain.

It’s difficult to say much about this book without discussing its abrupt, fascinating end, and so if you continue beyond this point, SPOILER ALERT. I repeat, SPOILER ALERT.

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MysteryPeople Double Feature: GET CARTER (based on JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis)

 

 

The MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature Series, where we screen a film adaptation of a classic roman noir and discuss the film and book, continues this upcoming Monday, August 8th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor. The screening is free and open to the public! You can find more information about the film series here

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Ted Lewis’ Jack Returns Home and director Mike Hodges 1971 adaptation, Get Carter,  released two years later, was a one-two punch from across the pond. We thought of British crime fiction as genteel drawing room whoddunits, before. Both book and film paved the way for crime stories in both the country’s medium that rivaled their American counterparts in the seventies for grittiness.

The film veers little from the book’s plot. Jack Carter, the member of a London criminal firm, returns home to bury his brother. His bosses, one whose wife Jack is sleeping with, tell him not to poke around. Of course if he followed orders, it wouldn’t be a hard boiled crime story, so instead he creates a trail of brutality, getting closer to a devastating revelation that leads to more brutality.

The differences between the book and movie are minor, yet create interesting nuances. Hodges decided to make Carter’s home town the seaside Newcastle instead of the nameless northern factory town Lewis used. The dreary greyness and sound of the ocean wind provide a bleak mood even in the day time. It also provides a great set piece for the final showdown. Also, due to the need to compress the story, there is little about the Fletcher Brothers, whom the far more competent Carter works for and is planning to set up. One can’t help but think of the Kray brothers who introduced a new level of violence to the London underworld in the Sixties. The film presents his bosses as faceless men, not that different from buffoonish corporate execs. Either way, Carter operates as his own man.

Get Carter brings Ted Lewis’ book to grungy cool life. Hodges’ documentary style creates a tough, cold tone you’d see in British crime films for the rest of the Seventies and into the Eighties. Michael Cain, in an uncompromising performance and Saville row suit, gives us one of the most iconic anti-heroes. If that isn’t enough, composer Roy Budd designed a cool crime hero theme second only to Shaft.

Double Feature Stats

Adherence To Book

4.5 out of 5

Adherence to Quality Of Book

5

Further Reading

GBH by Ted Lewis, Blue City by Ross Macdonald, Past Crimes by Glenn Erik Hamilton

Further Viewing

Hitman (blaxpoitation version), The Squeeze, Blue Ruin

Fun Fact

Following the film’s release, barmen in Newcastle got sick of being asked for drinks “In a thin glass!”

MysteryPeople Double Feature: THE GLASS KEY

The MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature Series, where we screen a film adaptation of a classic roman noir and discuss the film and book, continues this upcoming Monday, June 27th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor. The screening is free and open to the public! You can find more information about the film series here. 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Glass Key is often cited as Dashiell Hammett’s most personal novel. It is a complex mystery with men trying to retain their honor in a dishonorable life. The themes are layered and the morality ambiguous. Even its faithful film adaptation, starring Alan Ladd, still never quite captures the book.

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MysteryPeople Double Feature: REBECCA

  • Post by Molly Odintz

Come by this evening, Monday, June 13th, for a screening of Hitchcock’s classic film Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, followed by a discussion of the film and book. The screening is the first of our Noir Double Feature Film Series, where we screen film adaptations of the crime fiction we love all summer long.

To prep for the screening and discussion, I picked up du Maurier’s novel a few days ago, expecting to read just enough before the screening to stumble through discussion afterwards. Instead, I finished the novel in two sittings, staying up late on my night off from work and unabashedly involving myself in one of the greatest romantic suspense stories of all time. Hitchcock’s film is fairly faithful to the original novel, and that’s a good thing – the novel is as gripping and surprising as the film, and the two compliment each other; the film merely manifests in image what du Maurier described in the novel so well, including the lush, forbidden landscapes of Manderley, subject of the novel’s famous first line, “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” Also, Daphne du Maurier passes the Bechdel test throughout the novel, including every conversation between Mrs. Danvers and the second Mrs. de Winter.

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MysteryPeople Double Feature: COUP DE TORCHON

This Sunday, June 7th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, the film adaptation of Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, followed by a discussion of the book and film. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.


Nobody understands noir like the French, which makes sense since they coined the term. The get that noir does not so much represent literary style, but rather stands for the relationship man has to the darker side of his nature. Director Bertrand Tavernier’s Coupe De Torchon, an adaption of Jim Thompson’s gothic noir classic, Pop. 1280, takes the dark American fiction that inspired French literary theorists to introduce the term “noir” post-WWII, and puts it on screen in a French context that preserves all the complexity of the original novel.

Pop. 1280 is almost a play on one of his other revered novels, The Killer Inside Me. As in that novel, the protagonist is a questionable small town lawman, Nick Corey, sheriff of the small Southern county of Potts in the Nineteen-Teens. Nick is lazy, talkative, corrupt, and upon first meeting, appears incompetent. He’s Forrest Gump with a badge, gun, and few scruples. When he shoots two pimps who publicly humiliate him, it starts an escalation of violence and a power play involving his wife, mistress, an opposing Sheriff candidate, and the disenfranchised African Americans. The book often reads as a social satire,with murder as a redemptive act.

Coupe De Torchon moves the setting to French Colonial West Africa on the eve of World War Two. The lawman is Lucien Cordier, a village constable played in a bumbling low key demeanor by Phillipe Noiret. The film follows the book almost plot point by plot point, the setting fits perfectly for the sheriff’s benign brutality as he commits crimes in the glaring African light with a matter-of-fact-presentation.

In fact, the main difference is the film’s more reserved tone. Much of this may be translation, for little of Thompson’s ripe prose and Southern dialogue comes through clearly in the film, although the film compensates for the translated dialogue with physical humor that feels very French. That said, it captures the novel’s themes of class and one society repressing another, both with more clarity and slyness. The title is roughly translated into “A Clean Slate”, which fits perfectly as the film and novel are both looks at regeneration through violence.

Coup De Torchon, along with the many other Thompson novels adapted for cinema, proves the malleability of Thompson’s work. The way he looks at violence and the practice of power through violence is timeless and universal in its application to the human condition. Both the novelist and the filmmaker he inspired had a lot to sat about this subject.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence to Book (Out Of 5):

4.5

Adherence to Quality Of Book:

4 (Not As Humorous)

Other Reading:

They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, Donnybrook by Frank Bill, and anything by Daniel Woodrell

Other Movies:

The Bride Wore Black, Macon County Line, Mississippi Mermaid, Black and White in Color

Fun Fact:

When Pop. 1280 was translated into French, the title became Pop. 1275. Tavernier joked “I don’t know what happened to those five people  on the trip over.”

Copies of Thompson’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Coup de Torchon on Sunday, June 7th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast.

MysteryPeople Double Feature: MARLOWE


– Post by Scott M. 

This Sunday, May 24th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Marlowe, the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sisterstarring James Garner as Marlowe, followed by a discussion of the book and film. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.


Phillip Marlowe may be the private detective with the most portrayals in film after Sherlock Holmes. Bogart’s iconic image gave him a tough guy edge, Elliot Gould deconstructed him, and Mitchum portrayed him as an aging knight. When it comes to being the closest to Chandler’s creation, I argue for James Garner in the fittingly titled Marlowe.

The film is based on Chandler’s The Little Sister. It was his first novel in six years. Most of that time was spent as a screenwriter under contact for Paramount, a job he despised. For the quintessential LA writer, this was the first time to cover the film business, and he writes it with an axe to grind. With a plot hinging on a blackmailed starlet in one of his funniest books, The Little Sister was the Get Shorty of its time.

The film, the first Marlowe film to be set in a contemporary period much later than the book was written, is hit and miss. Since it was a studio film, the makers didn’t want to stick it to themselves, so they set their sights on television. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who worked in the first golden age of television, co-creating Route 66, looks at what the medium has turned into. By setting it in late Sixties TV, the stakes seem lower. Also the condensing of the novel, tends to focus on the plot, Chandler’s weaker point as a writer, than his mood and view of Los Angeles.

The film’s major saving grace is James Garner. His wisecracks are delivered effortlessl,y with no posturing, like some of his predecessors. He projects both the ease and gravity that define the character. The performance also shows us some insight into the future when he creates another iconic LA private eye, Jim Rockford.

Marlowe is one of those adaptations with an interesting relationship with its source material. Its style, period, and intent are all set in the history surrounding it. It is also a great look at the character, exploring, at least partially, the cipher of Philip Marlowe.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence To Book (1-5)

I’ll give it a three. The story veers some, the tone is not completely there, but Garner completely captures Marlowe.

Adherence To Quality Of Book

This gets a two. While the film has its moments, it is not as near as funny as Chandler’s novel.

Recommended Films

Harper, The Long Goodbye, Tony Rome

Recommended Books

The Falling Star (Can be read separately or part of the mega-meta-novel The Twenty Year Death), by Ariel S Winter, The Fame Thief by Tim Hallinan, The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald

Fun Fact

The way Marlowe outwits a kung-fu thug played by Bruce Lee is repeated in a Rockford episode.


Copies of Chandler’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Marlowe on Sunday, May 24, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast. Come for the movie, stay for Scott’s defense of his favorite ever depiction of Marlowe.