Double Feature: LAURA

On Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM, we will be screening Laura, directed by Otto Preminger and based on the novel by Vera Caspary, as part of our Double Feature film series. 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.


Post by Molly

Laura, first published in 1942, was Vera Caspary’s breakthrough novel. She turned the novel into a play, which was then adapted into a hit 1944 film, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb (in his first appearance in a film since the silent era) and a young, handsome Vincent Price. Many today have seen the film; fewer have read Caspary’s fascinating novel, reprinted by The Feminist Press in 2005 as part of their stellar Femmes Fatales imprint. The film and book, despite their gap in fame, are equally fascinating in their context and themes.

Laura begins, like many a detective novel, with the murder of a woman. Laura Hunt is found dead in her apartment, shot in the face with buckshot, with her portrait looming large above her. Detective Mark McPherson is assigned the case after his antagonistic boss decides to keep the young detective from going to the ballgame (just one example of Caspary’s acerbic wit and care for detail) and as he enters Laura Hunt’s world, his admiration for the murdered woman grows in proportion to his disappointment in virtually all of her companions, male or female.

Laura, in her life, was surrounded by a host of characters who alternated between worshiping her, controlling her, using her, and deceiving her. From Laura’s aunt, a faded beauty with designs on Laura’s fiance, to Laura’s best friend, a cynical society columnist who, before her death, destroyed each of her relationships with cutting remarks, to Laura’s gold digging fiance, a penniless Southern aristocrat who uses his good looks to gain Laura’s financial support while looking for a bit on the side – all combine an obsessive love for Laura with the need to exploit her talents and charm. Added to this host of callous, covetous characters, the policeman himself develops a growing interest in in the victim that gets in the way of his ability to solve the case.

I can’t get too much further into the plot – the book and film both have enough surprises that all I can provide is the basic set-up, but trust me, this film and book both have enough subtle nods at taboo topics to make for great between-the-lines reading. The film and book represent a variety of attitudes towards gender, sexuality, class and work. Sometimes, the story reads like a hardboiled version of a 19th century novel in its scathing critique of the Gilded Age upper classes.

The differences between the film and book are subtle, yet worthy of discussion.The story remains basically the same, with the usual shrinking of narrative time in a book-to-film adaptation and more differences introduced in the portrayal of characters than in the plot itself. There’s a rumor that a remake of the film may be in the works, and it would certainly be fascinating to see Laura adapted in post-code Hollywood for modern sensibilities. In the meantime, come watch this classic noir with us – we screen the film on Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. 


Copies of Caspary’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Laura on Sunday, April 26th, 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. 

Double Feature: WINTER’S BONE

This Wednesday, August 20, MysteryPeople is proud to present the latest and last installment of our summer Noir Double Feature series. For those of you new to the series, each event is a two-parter: we screen a film based on a book available on our shelves and then discuss the book and movie together. For our last screening, we present to you Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik‘s 2010 adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.

Winter’s Bone, both as a film and as a novel, presents an icy, poetic portrait of Ozark strength and suffering. The film and novel have much the same plot.  The story begins as Ree Dolly, teenage caretaker for her younger brothers and mentally ill mother, finds out that her meth cooker father has put their house up as collateral to make bail. When he fails to appear for a court date, Ree must go on a quest to find him – a quest that proves more dangerous than she could have imagined, as she works her way through relatives and members of the community in an increasingly desperate quest.

Daniel Woodrell lived the world he portrayed, and he understands that teens like Ree Dolly have few options. Ree plans to join the military, something Daniel Woodrell himself did at the age of 17. If she loses her property, she can foist her younger brothers and her mentally ill mother off on relatives. However, she knows that by doing so, she will condemn her brothers to a life of criminality and most likely prison, and she doesn’t trust others to take in her mother long-term. Knowing that she must ensure her family’s safety before she herself can leave means that she will risk any danger to ensure their future well being, and her future escape.

Winter’s Bone portrays a world where men are either obstacles or absent, and women are the forces that preserve their near-destroyed community. As Ree goes from relative to relative looking for her father, she must approach any man through their woman, and it is the women of the community that decide what information to pass on and what to hold back.

Winter’s Bone contains a beautiful reversal of noir tropes – instead of an irresponsible, violent man who has created many of his own difficulties, Woodrell has written a strong young woman who tackles challenges head-on, no matter how insurmountable her difficulties may seem. Winter’s Bone passes the Bechdel test in spades. Ree exist within a fully realized female world where topics of conversation run the gamut. She also has strong bonds of friendship that give her the courage to continue dealing with her extraordinarily difficult life.

Winter’s Bone takes place in a community where predefined roles govern each life from cradle to grave. There are no options other than to mimic the lives of those who have come before, and standing in the community is determined solely by how well you fulfill those roles. Happiness, therefore, can come only through succeeding in your role or in leaving the community entirely.

Winter’s Bone has found universal acclaim both as a novel and a film, and although the film is mostly faithful to the novel, the two compliment each other rather than acting as redundant. Winter’s Bone as a book comes in a long line of critically lauded works by Woodrell. The film catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to fame with her powerful performance, as well as bringing director Debra Granik to prominence. The film does not use sets, but uses actual Ozark houses, and this is just one part of the authenticity of Woodrell’s story and Granik’s production.

Come to BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, August 20, for a near-perfect movie and a perfect novel. Our screening starts at 6, and discussion of the book and film will follow the screening. As always, our events are free and open to the public. Copies of Winter’s Bone can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


 

Double Feature Stats

Adherence to book:

4.5 [out of 1-5]

Recommended films:

Ride with the Devil, In Country, Cold Mountain, Harlan County, USA

Recommended books:

Anything by Daniel Woodrell, A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank BillPike by Benjamin Whitmer

Double Feature: DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS

Devil-in-a-Blue-Dress

This Wednesday, August 6th, at 6 pm, MysteryPeople will host a screening of Carl Franklin’s 1992 noir classic Devil in a Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name. The screening is part of our ongoing Noir Double Feature Film Series, a biweekly MysteryPeople event where we screen a film adaption of a noir classic and follow with a discussion of the film versus the novel. Each screening begins at 6 pm and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor.

Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosely’s first novel to star unlicensed private detective Easy Rawlins, follows Easy as he first enters into the finding-things-out-for-money game. A sinister white gangster hires Rawlins to find a blonde bombshell who likes to frequent black clubs, but when Easy gets a little ways into the case, people around him start showing up dead, and it is up to him to find out whodunit before the law decides to go the lazy route and just frame him instead. Easy Rawlins, as a proud veteran of World War II and the mean streets of Houston’s fifth ward, is up to the task. By the end of the book, he may just have found himself a new career and a permanent outlet for snappy one liners.

Mosley’s novel takes place in 1940s LA, like many a neo-noir, and the book is so cinematically written as to form a perfect bond with Franklin’s jazzy interpretation. With a 20 million dollar budget, Franklin creates a vibrant depiction of African-American neighborhoods in mid-century Los Angeles. This, combined with a tight narrative and stunning early performances from Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, make this a film not to miss.

As a film, Devil in a Blue Dress shares most symmetry with Chinatown – they both take a modern perspective and delve deeply into LA’s sordid history, and the city plays as large a part as any single character. Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin use the groundwork already laid for LA noir, and Devil in a Blue Dress adds a welcome layer to the cosmopolitan patchwork that is representations of Los Angeles in literature and film.

Devil in a Blue Dress is firmly grounded in the hard-boiled detective novel conventions. Corruption, murder, greed, deviance, prostitution, small-time gangsters – Easy Rawlins does not find post-war LA to be a particularly wholesome world. Easy also has all the particular problems of dealing with racism as an African-American in 1948, including police violence, potential lynching every time he talks to a white woman, and a constant stream of indignities and casual racism from almost every white man he meets. Although Rawlins is well established as a hard-working homeowner in a community in which he is known and respected, the admiration of his peers and the constant booze and sex cannot obscure his place at the bottom of society’s totem pole. The film was made shortly after Compton exploded in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating, and the film struck a particularly heart-wrenching cord upon its release through its portrayal of issues from an earlier time that to this day pervade society.

Detective novels have long been dominated by voices writing from within mainly white communities, where the majority of minority visitors are represented as the other. Devil in a Blue Dress provides welcome relief from such literary tunnel vision – any white visitor to Mosley’s spot-on recreation of 1940s black LA is immediately viewed as a potentially dangerous anomaly. Mosley is, however, certainly not the first detective novelist to represent the African-American experience, and noir set in black communities has a long history stretching back to Chester Himes in the 1950s. Carl Franklin had Denzel Washington read some of Himes’ novels, including Cotton Comes to Harlem, so as to give him a sense of the time and place the film aimed to recreate.

Mosley is one of the  most intriguing authors writing now in any mystery subgenre. His detective novels, like his sci-fi and general fiction, have all enjoyed wide renown and crossover appeal. Luckily for us, he is also one of the most prolific authors writing now, and you can find his work all over our shelves. Mosley himself will be coming to BookPeople this fall on Wednesday, October 22nd at 7PM, so keep an eye out on our events calendar.

MysteryPeople is proud to offer a screening of Devil in a Blue Dress, Wednesday, August 6, at 6 pm, up on BookPeople’s third floor. You can find Devil in a Blue Dress on our shelves and at bookpeople.com. Our next MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature will be Wednesday, August 20. We will screen Winter’s Bone and discuss Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence to Book [scale of 1-5]: 4

Recommended films:

Chinatown, LA Confidential, Long Goodbye, In the Heat of the Night, Boyz N The Hood

Recommended books:

Anything by Walter Mosley, anything by Chester Himes, Charlie Huston’s No Dominion, anything by David Goodis