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 Brings Back Free Noir Double Feature Film Series

Last summer, MysteryPeople brought you free screenings of five films based on some of our favorite romans noirs, followed by discussion of the book and film. We screened Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, his adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic novel,  Purple Noon, René ClémentCarl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s first Easy Rawlins book, and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel

Now, we are proud to announce the return of MysteryPeople’s Noir Double Feature Film Series for summer 2015. Starting Sunday, April 26, we will bring you five of our favorite films based on five noir classics. Screenings are free and open to the public and start at 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. We’ll be profiling each film/book combination closer to each screening, but here’s an overview of each film we’ve chosen for this year’s screenings:

laura picsSUNDAY, APRIL 26 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

OTTO PREMINGER’S 1944 ADAPTATION OF VERA CASPARY’S LAURA

Vera Caspary’s 1942 novel Laura was just one of many complex psychological mysteries by Caspary to be turned into a Hollywood film, but Laura may contain her most emblematic femme fatale of all. Come discuss this lesser known hard-boiled classic before a screening of the rather more well-known yet equally fascinating film. Copies of Laura are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

spy who came in from the cold screeningSUNDAY, MAY 10 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARTIN RITT’S 1965 ADAPTATION OF JOHN LE CARRÉ’S THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

 John le Carre’s classic spy novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the film and novel, with their prescient plague-on-both-houses story-lines, have only gotten better with time. Join us for Richard Burton and Oscar Werner’s electrifying performances in the film, followed by a discussion. Copies of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening MarloweSUNDAY, MAY 24 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARLOWE, PAUL BOGART’S 1969 ADAPTATION OF RAYMOND CHANDLER’S THE LITTLE SISTER

In this neo-noir from 1969, James Garner plays Chandler’s Marlowe in one of the stranger adaptions of a Chandler novel. Come join us May 24 for a discussion of The Little Sister and a screening of Marlowe, the 1969 adaption of the book. Copies of The Little Sister are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening coup de torchonSUNDAY, JUNE 7 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

COUP DE TORCHON, BERTRAND TAVERNIER’S 1981 ADAPTATION OF JIM THOMPSON’S POP. 1280

Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280 gives us one of the most chilling looks into a killer’s mind ever written, and Coup de Torchon beautifully adapts Thompson’s novel, changing the setting from the American South to French Colonial Algeria. We picked a French film in celebration of International Crime Fiction Month, which we plan to celebrate in a variety of ways, including international crime fiction pics for all of our book clubs.  Copies of Pop. 1280 are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening walk among the tombstonesSUNDAY, JUNE 21 AT 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

SCOTT FRANK’S 2014 ADAPTATION OF LAWRENCE BLOCK’S A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Lawrence Block’s Mathew Scudder series is one of our most beloved in the mystery section, and we are pleased to bring you Scott Frank’s recent addition to the noir canon, his adaptation of A Walk Among The Tombstones. Please join us for a film screening and discussion of the novel. Copies of A Walk Among The Tombstones are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


Keep an eye out on our blog for more in-depth looks at each of the books and films as we get closer to each screening. A full list of the film series can be found on our website.

Down and Dirty in the Country: A Quick Look at Rural Noir

Noir is a genre usually identified with the city. Concrete and steel cut off our anti-hero, throwing an endless shadow over him or her. At the same time, however, authors were also looking at the darkness, isolation, and evil in small towns or farms. When we weren’t looking, the sub-sub-genre of rural noir took over like kudzu.

The roots of rural noir come from the Southern Gothic authors. One could argue that William Faulkner was an early practitioner. As I Lay Dying uses many noir tropes with a stylized point of view, family secrets, dark humor, and a bleak look at class. Flannery O’Connor is another author whose influence shows itself in the works of current rural noir authors. Her use of religion and perspective of evil can be seen in the work of Jake Hinkson in such modern classics as Hell On Church Street

“Noir is a genre usually identified with the city…at the same time, however, authors were also looking at the darkness, isolation, and evil in small towns or farms.”

One of the first great examples of rural noir is James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much. Using Southern speech, much like Chandler used the Southern California dialect, Ross tells the story of jack McDonald, a failed farmer who ends up running a road house owned by schemer Smut Mulligan, who later pulls Jack into a robbery and murder. A power play ends up between the two involving Lola, the wife of the town proprietor Smut is having an affair with. It took the James M. Cain noir structure and themes and put a country spin on it.

Jim Thompson wrote many tales from the city, but some of his best dealt with shady small town lawmen. The Killer Inside Me, still one of the most chilling books ever written, features West Texas deputy and psychopath, Lou Ford. Lou pretends to be a dim hick, who mainly tortures the town citizens, many with their own dark secrets and agendas, by talking in cliches and platitudes. When he develops a brutal relationship with a prostitute, he and the town both violently spiral downward.

“…the violence almost becomes redemptive in this black satire on small town culture and bigotry…”

Thompson took the bad lawmen to new heights in the Sixties with Pop. 1280. MysteryPeople screens Coup de Torchon, French director Bertrand Tavernier’s Algerian-set film version of the Pop. 1280, on Sunday, July 7, as part of our Double Feature Film Series. Screenings will be followed by a discussion of the book and film, and all screenings are free and open to the public. Nick Correy is the lazy, philandering sheriff of a small Southern town during the Nineteen-Teens. When he’s challenged in an election and kills to stay in the lead, we learn how smart and dangerous he is. What is odd is how Nick keeps his genial tone and how the violence almost becomes redemptive in this black satire on small town culture and bigotry. It is interesting to note that Thompson’s father was an Oklahoma sheriff who was caught embezzling when the writer was young.

The author who truly opened the door for rural noir was Daniel Woodrell. Originally writing about Rene Shade, a police detective in a corrupt Louisiana parish, in his Bayou Trilogy, he later moved his settings to the Ozarks, were he was born and raised, in such novels as Winter’s Bone (screened last year as part of our Noir Double Feature Film Series) Woodrell’s novels are somewhat the country cousins to George Pelecanos’ D.C. novels, including the recently released and critically acclaimed The Martini Shot: A Novella and StoriesWoodrell and Pelecanos both create character-driven stories, where criminals are motivated by extreme poverty and drugs (crack for Pelecanos, meth for Woodrell) plague an entire community. Woodrell dives into his stories on a personal level with a poetic prose style. The beginning paragraph of Tomato Red, with its page-long, run-on sentence, is work of great humor and craft. He delves into the lives of the working class and the poor from his area, inspiring a wave of other writers to use their rural background in their noir.

“…rural noir has a strong lineage, an established canon, and the manifest destiny to travel down every back road and tell its story…”

Several of these writers inspired by Woodrell have already established themselves in the rural noir cannon. Frank Bill built a reputation through his short stories dealing with hard men and harder women pushed to the brink of violence and beyond, exemplified in the collection Crimes In Southern Indiana. His debut novel, Donnybrook, is about several characters and the trail of blood they leave behind as they head to a bare knuckle fight. Donnybrook shows how meth in the Midwest has fused the drug and culture together. Another great take on the subject is Matthew McBride’s relentless A Swollen Red Sun. McBride sets a Missouri county aflame when a deputy takes seventy-two thousand dollars from a meth dealer’s trailer in a moment of weakness. The book is reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest in its look at how a corrupt society destroys itself. Benjamin Whitmer’s anti-heroes get ping-ponged from their country homes to the city, trapped by their violent compulsions, developed of necessity but leaving his characters isolated and alone. Both of his books, Pike and Cry Father, are emotional gut punches.

the genre of rural noir is expanding rapidly, and it has room to do it. Both David Joy and Jamie Kornegay have shown new back roads with their novels Where All Light Tends To Go and Soil. Jamie Kornegay joins us Monday, May 4, for Noir at the Bar at Opal Divine’s. Frank Wheeler, Jr.’s debut, The Good Life, set in rural Nebraska, hopefully ushers in a long career writing great rural noir set in Midwestern wastelands. We also have yet to see many female writers and authors of color embrace the sub-genre. As rural noir grows in self-confidence and acclaim, I hope to see many more diverse voices in the genre, but already, rural noir has a strong lineagean established canon, and the manifest destiny to travel down every back road and tell its story. Like Hank William’s country boy, the genre can survive, and even thrive.