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.

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.

MysteryPeople Recommends: Five Jim Thompson Novels You Need To Read

Recently our friends at Mulholland Books have acquired the novels of noir master Jim Thompson, and are now reprinting his works in beautiful trade paperbacks, many with forwards from Thompson fans like Stephen King and Daniel Woodrell. Most know him for his truly chilling novel, The Killer Inside Me, but he put out several must-read novels through a lifetime of writing. Here are five more which I would put up there.

pop12801. Pop 1280

Thompson’s other psycho lawman novel. Set in the deep South of the 1910s, this tale of a corrupt, philandering small town sheriff’s manipulation of events through murder is wild, funny, and bluntly violent. The author is working at the top of his game in style and voice.

 

 

after dark my sweet2. After Dark, My Sweet

Possibly Thompson’s most accessible book. A punch-drunk ex-boxer with a few other issues gets drawn into a kidnapping scheme with a former cop and alcoholic femme fatale. Thompson is not always known for pathos, but it comes across here for the reader willing to look.

 

 

nothing more than murder3. Nothing More Than Murder

Thompson takes the James M. Cain lovers-murder-for-money set-up and makes it completely his own. Thompson uses the backdrop of a small town movie theater perfectly and even gives a self deprecating cameo to himself. An often overlooked book, well worth picking up.

 

 

4. The Grifters

As much sordid family tale as sordid crime novel, but really, really sordid. The story follows the power plays of a short-con artist, his mother, who’s also on the hustle, and his girlfriend with her own history of larceny. About as fun as seedy gets.

 

 

the getaway5. The Getaway

This reads like a solid heist novel with touches of Thompson quirkiness. Then you get to last chapter. It is so dark and atmospheric that is reads like something out of a horror novel. Both film versions were afraid to tackle it.

 

 

 


All books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.