Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Noir City 4: Litquake
On Saturday afternoon of the 21st, the Fourth Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival tried a change of pace.
They collaborated with a group of local authors who had started a literary festival in 2002...
...called Litquake, where they could create something as a group rather than spending so much time in the solitary act of writing.
The program was set in the lounge area rather than inside the large theater, presumably because they were using DVDs for the film clips, and there was already an A/V setup in the lounge with a very harassed operator who performed heroically, although all the films were in the wrong aspect ratio.
The emcee Peter Maravelis is the events programmer for City Lights Books, and he was quite brainy, though he kept getting writer's names and titles wrong in his headlong rush to keep the afternoon moving along.
The roster of local writers reading excerpts from various crime novels was certainly a starry one, lead by Joe Gores who has published a huge pile of novels including "Hammett," along with a range of television and film work.
He read from "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett, and claimed that the reason the movie was so successful was because John Huston did something revolutionary. "He just filmed the book. Period."
The next writer was Joyce Maynard, a novelist and journalist living in Mill Valley. Her tight red skirt and leopard-print blouse was definitely the sartorial highlight of the afternoon. She read from Raymond Chandler's "Farewell, My Lovely" which reminded me of how fun Chandler is to read.
The dapper-looking novelist Barry Gifford also works in film, co-writing a movie with David Lynch ("Lost Highway") and Matt Dillon ("City of Ghosts").
He pulled out a copy of a letter Raymond Chandler had written to James M. Cain when the former was adapting the latter's novel of "Double Indemnity." It was a really interesting description of how they had tried filming a few scenes using Cain's direct dialogue for the book but how it hadn't worked. What was beautiful as a clump of dialogue on the page merely sounded stilted on a film set.
He read from Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and the following film clip nicely illustrated his point. The scene was almost exactly the same as the written page, but not really. The dialogue was succinctly covering more territory.
Next up was Joe Loya whose memoir the emcee called "The Man Who Outgrew his Self," but Mr. Loya started his reading with a correction. "My book is called 'The Man Who Outgrew his Prison Cell' and it's about my time in San Quentin when I was a bank robber where I got up to 690 pounds and literally outgrew my cell."
He read from "The Asphalt Jungle" by W.R. Burnett, who I'd never heard about before but who had quite a career, writing "Little Caesar" in the 1920s and continuing on with the screenplay for "The Great Escape" in the 1960s.
Daniel Handler, the enormously successful Lemony Snicket creator, looked very pleased with himself, and why not? He read from Patricia Highsmith's first novel, "Strangers on a Train" which was later turned into the Hitchcock movie with Farley Granger.
He told a funny story about having two friends who didn't know each other who both happened to spend some time with Patricia Highsmith. "They both used exactly the same words to describe her, though. She was one of the most unpleasant people they had ever met in their entire lives."
"Strangers on a Train" was an odd choice for the reading because the book and the movie are so radically different. The book is naturalistic and deeply melancholy. In fact, what makes Highsmith's tales so disturbing is that she tells extremely macabre tales in the flattest, most naturalistic style possible.
Hitchcock, on the other hand, enjoys adrenaline and cartoonish characters, such as Marion Lorne above as Bruno's Mom, who in the book is depicted as a slightly distracted socialite.
Winning the hunk-a-chunk award was the author Robert Mailer Anderson who has written an interesting sounding novel called "Boonville."
He read from a Cornell Woolrich short story that eventually became another Hitchcock film, "Rear Window."
Winner of the most beautiful voice of the afternoon was Los Angeles writer Gary Phillips with a rich bass-baritone reading the wildly violent and misogynistic prose of Mickey Spillane, who according to the program is still alive at 87.
The excerpt was from the final scene of "Kiss Me Deadly" where an evil woman bursts into flame and Deserves It!
According to Phillips, the 1955 Robert Aldrich version kept the title and the name Mike Hammer, and that was about it, though the movie clip was the finale of the film where the bad girl opens a box and it has Nuclear Material which makes her burst into flame. And she Deserves It!
Michelle Tea introduced an excerpt from Jim Thompson's "The Grifters" with the comment, "Let me get this over with quickly so we can get to the fabulousness of Angelica Huston," and she'll get no argument from me.
The final reader was Peter Plate, who in a tour-de-force performance recited a large chunk of Charles Willeford's "Miami Blues" from memory.
It was the scene where a handsome young psychopath (played in the 1990 movie by Alec Baldwin at his sexiest) gets off a plane in Miami, has a Hare Krishna put a candy pin into his new suit, which irritates him enough that he breaks the Hare Krishna's two fingers. It was quite a rousing way to end the afternoon.