A Little Late for Father’s Day…

Me: “I don’t think the AC in my car is working anymore.”

Dad: “It probably leaked and you’ll have to go get it refilled for a bazillion dollars.”

Me: “Yeah, that’s not happening.”

Dad: “I can have it done for you.”

Me: “You never offered to do that with my old car.”

Dad: “I didn’t love you in those days.”

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L.A. Confidential

I’ve been on a bit of roll lately with books and movies based on them.  L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy is something special.  I kept reading it, I’ll give him that, but there were parts so weirdly written that I wanted to throw the book at a wall.

For example:

Two days since: midway through day two he hit hard–the bootleg number, Muscle Boy.

No Fleur-de-Lis phone listing; brain gymnastics tagged his personal connections–the first time he saw the calling card.

Tilt:

Xmas Eve ’51, right before Bloody Christmas.  Sid Hudgens set up a reefer roust–he popped two grasshoppers, found the card at their pad, thought nothing else of it.

Scary Sid: “We’ve all got secrets, Jack.”

He pushed ahead anyway, that undertow driving him: he wanted to know who made the smut–and why.  He hit the P.C. Bell employment office, cross-checked records against physical stats until he hit Lamar Hinton–tilt, tilt, tilt, tilt, tilt–

Jack looked around the squadroom–men talking Nite Owl, Nite Owl, Nite Owl, the Big V chasing hand-job books.

The orgy pix.

Vertigo.

Jack chased.

This makes only marginally more sense if you’d read the preceding 170 pages.  Reading this book was sometimes like reading something that has a lot of words that your don’t actually know the meaning to but you can sort of guess from context.  If someone asked you what they meant, you couldn’t tell them, but you can get enough of an idea not to be completely lost.  What that makes for is a frustrating read.  Tilt?  What do you mean tilt?  Like pinball?

If there’d been many more long passages of incomprehensibility, the book would have hit the wall and not got picked up again.  But somehow, despite pages like the above, Ellroy can write in a way that keeps you going.

The book, at 500 pages, has a lot more plot than the movie.  It’s convoluted and while the twists and turns, the parallel investigations of the main characters, were intense and interesting, by the end I got a little lost.  Because the plot is sort of compartmented–the stolen heroin, the Nite Owl, the rape victim, the porn books, the serial killer, etc.–this gave the movie a better ability to cut pieces off without destroying the main.  The movie makes some large changes but it’s done well.

For instance, the death of one important character in the movie has major significance to the plot; in the book, he dies pointlessly in a shootout after having some hope of patching things up with his wife just so you’ll feel worse about it.  That character has a better arc in the movie as well.  None of the main characters are good men but they’re not quite so bad on the screen as they are on the page.

L.A. Confidential is the sort of book that I’m not sorry I read but I’m not likely to read again, nor do I have any desire to read anything else of Ellroy’s due to his literary forays into nonsense.  Like Laura, it’s difficult to say that the movie or the book is better.  Both have strengths and weaknesses.  The plot of the book, even if hard to follow in a few instances, is complex and compelling in a way that the screen can never capture.  The movie makes makes the main characters slightly more like heroes.

There is one thing, however, that the movie does really, really badly.  Kim Basinger looks nothing like Veronica Lake.  Sorry, a hair style doesn’t make you pretty.

Kim Basinger and Veronica Lake

NO

The Projection School of Critical Analysis

Tomas Diaz’s comments on Infinity War touched on something I’d been thinking about lately:

There’s a number of commentators which have placed Infinity War in a Pro-Life context. This is mostly as allegory, and I share Tolkien’s distaste for it.

Still, it’s pretty easy to see it. Thanos is pretty clearly inspired by Malthusan societal concerns, and the overpopulation argument was historically among the most used arguments in favor of abortion. That we see our favorite heroes untimely killed for the sake of his plan adds the emotional grip. From there it’s only a skip and a hop to seeing the movie as an allegory for Pro-Life concerns.

Even outlined like that, I’m skeptical of such a reading. I don’t think pointing out the allegorical power of the movie will help many to see the light and is really doing little more than preaching to the choir – helping to justify us Catholic Fanboys in our love for the movie.

It’s very difficult to read or watch someone and not have a view of it skewed in some way by one’s own beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with that; we just need to be aware of it.

I’ve been watching Bosch. It’s a good show so far even if it has some content issues. I like cop shows; it’s nice to watch one that actually has detective work in it instead of a formulaic twenty minute rush with only one real suspect (the other twenty minutes get wasted on a pointless subplot).

One thing that struck me as being good was that there’s side effects to certain behavior.  Bosch’s extramarital relationships end with rather badly.  His daughter is shown to be unhappy and hurt by her parents’ divorce.  But even as I considered this, I realized that what I’m seeing in the show is entirely because of my moral perspective.

Normal people are not going to see it. It’s just going to look like normal life to them. That’s just what happens. It’s not something to avoid. That’s not something to learn a lesson from.  If they can’t see it in their own lives–and they can’t–they aren’t going to see it subtly in a TV show or movie.

It’s tempting to look at entertainment like this and try to see the good in it.  The good might very well be there but personal biases and convictions can twist or amplify parts that don’t show up to other people.  We can’t then hold these shows or movies up as examples because they aren’t really what we want them to be.  Doesn’t mean we can’t like them but we shouldn’t like for what they aren’t.

DRM is from the devil

I just wanted to read a book.

The book was available from the library but only in ebook form from Overdrive. I haven’t got anything from the library in six months because I have more books than I know what to do with and they usually don’t have anything I want. So of course my library card has expired.

Have to physically go to the library and renew it and pay off a fine they never sent me a notification for nor am I completely sure how I got.

Okay, now I can get into Overdrive. Check out book. It says I can read it in the browser, on Kindle, or on my phone. I’ve previously read books from Overdrive on my phone, but that gives me a headache and I have a Nook now so I want to use that. (Why do I have a Nook? Because I got it for less than $20 that’s why.) In order to add library ebooks to a Nook you’ve got to install Adobe Digital Editions.

Once you install ADE, you have to “authorize” it which means you have to set up an account with Adobe. This is starting to take too much time. Account made, authorize ADE… it looks like it works… it says it put the book on the ereader… and it didn’t work. Error message: “User not activated.”

Go through all the troubleshooting steps.  Delete ADE files off Nook, eject.  Plug the Nook back into the computer. Figure out how to reauthorize it. Claims it worked… and it didn’t. Errror message: “Loan token not found.”

Repeat: the Nook now refuses to admit that it has a new book added.  Repeat: “User not activated.”

I could keep going and repeating what happened because I’m the stupid sort who keeps trying even after it hasn’t worked three times. Fine, I give up. I’ll read it on the phone. Oh, never mind. I can’t make that work either.

I don’t want to steal your lousy ebooks. I just want to read a book. If you don’t want me to read your book, then fine, I’ll read somebody else’s book. Or if I were a bad person and had the time to waste figuring out how to do it, I’d strip the DRM off it and read it however I wanted. Then delete it because I didn’t want to steal your stupid book in the first place.

The Big Clock

As mentioned previously, the movie and the book versions of The Big Clock have some differences. Unfortunately, the differences of plot rather than content lead, once again, to the movie being better than the book.

Like Laura, the book is written from difference first person points of view. (Was this a fad in the 40s?) I liked the different narrators’ styles better, but unlike the other book, there isn’t a real reason for it. It’s not given that someone gathered these up and put them together nor does there seem to be any major reason to have certain chapters be from random characters’ PoV. A single chapter from the main character’s wife in which she comes to the horrible realization that her husband’s having another affair, then we never hear from her again. Another chapter from one of the reporters giving the main character a few facts. It’s interesting to see his descriptions of the situation but it doesn’t actually add anything.

It’s the ending that makes the movie. Our hero, George Stroud, is set the task of finding himself by a murderer trying to frame him. Trying to find proof of the murderer’s identity, he is then trapped inside the office building as his team of investigators closes in on him. It’s wonderfully suspenseful. With the help of his wife and a few others, he manages to set up a confrontation with the villain while dodging the people who can identify him.

In the book, seconds away from being discovered, Stroud gets to call off the whole search because, well, the company got bought out.  The murderer is no longer in charge.  The end. He doesn’t prove who the murderer is, confront him, or go to the police.

Stroud, at the end of the book, says some stuff about learning something from a the disaster he just barely escaped, but one doesn’t necessary feel like he’s a better person for it. The guy is a louse. Perhaps we’re supposed to believe because he says he’s off to meet his wife for dinner or whatever that he’s not going to cheat on her again but the ending is too abrupt and we aren’t shown that he’s actually changed.

The funny thing is the Hays Code undoubtedly pushed the change to Stroud’s character, de-lousing him so to speak, but even if it hadn’t, it would have demanded a better ending.  Stroud would have had to be shown paying for his actions or being somehow redeemed.  Other than that the big difference is action. The main character does something in the movie. The main character doesn’t in the book. Which means, regardless of how well written it is, it’s an anti-climactic dud.

The Hays Code and Reality

The much maligned Hays Code ruled Hollywood from the 1930s to the 60s. It was one of the best thing ever to happen in Hollywood. Certainly it had bad effects and some very stupid ones*, but constraints can sometimes do wonders for creativity and filmmakers produced some absolute masterpieces under the code.

Pre-Code films might seem tame to modern audiences but if a movie from 1932 is already showing a man getting out of bathtub without a stitch on him, just from exactly the right angle, then where do you think films would have been twenty years later if they’d continued unchecked?

What’s very interesting is to read a book on which a film from the Code era is based. The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing was made into a movie in 1948. The owner of a magazine publishing empire murders his mistress then tries to frame the man he caught a glimpse of coming out of her apartment. In order to do so, he has to find him first and give the job to one of his magazine editors… who happens to be the man he’s looking for.

In the book, the main character isn’t just hanging out with his boss’ girlfriend for an evening, he’s having an affair with her and it’s pretty clear that this isn’t the first time he’s cheated on his wife either. There’s talk of abortion in a discussion about possible magazine articles. The magazine magnate quarrels with his mistress before killing her in both versions but in the movie it begins with him objecting to her seeing other men; in the book, he objects to her seeing women and she accuses him of having an inappropriate relationship with a male friend.

The Hays Code gives a skewed version of what the world was actually like at the time. It hides these little things. One might say it protected people from them. But they were still there so if the only thing you’ve look at from the 1940s is movies you’re not getting the complete historical picture.

Laura

Laura, both the book by Vera Caspary and the movie based on it, has a rather off-putting premise: a detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he is investigating. It sounds a little too silly for a decent mystery but, thankfully, it’s actually rather misleading.

Laura 1944 McPherson looks at the portraitThe book is written in a way which is both interesting and slightly annoying at the same time. It’s written from different points of view. First Waldo Lydecker a newspaper columnist and supremely obnoxious person all round. Then the detective. Then a piece of police transcript and so on. It’s not quite epistolary but similar. You find out towards the end that the detective has gathered these up and written his pieces around them to make the story whole. It’s hard to pull off multiple styles and first person points of view but Caspary does so. Which is the problem. If I hadn’t known that the point of view would change, I probably would have given up on the book. Lydecker starts it off and his narration is irritating. He’s pompous and over the top. Him talking about McPherson, the detective, falling in love with Laura makes is sound like an utter nonsensical fantasy that Lydecker has concocted.

There’s a good twist midway through that complicates both the murder and the “love story” of sorts. Much better if you don’t know it going in, but that means if you read the book first, that’s ruined in the movie and vice versa.

Laura 1944 Lydecker McPhersonThe movie is also pretty good but it’s one of those cinematic cases where I’m left wondering “why’d they shuffle everything around like that?” There’s less detecting and more Lydecker infodumping everything in flashbacks. The worst thing about it, however, is the ending.  Not worse in that it’s bad but that it just doesn’t have the same impact or excitement of the book’s. I’m not sure how it could actually. The suspense of the end of the book is nicely set up by a couple mentions of the doorbell and how Laura was murdered answering it, then ending a particular character’s section talking about how the doorbell keeps ringing and ringing… and here’s the detective elsewhere oblivious that someone else is about to be killed.

The thing the movie does better, however, is the murder weapon. Caspary doesn’t give a good enough description of what it is because it’s hidden in plain sight and she’s trying to be very clever. The movie just hides it. Sometimes it’s better to be simple.

With the little issues with each version, you might say it kind of balances out.  Both are good.  Both have some quirks which make it difficult to say one is better than the other.