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November 30, 2011

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David Ehrenstein

As I beleieve I've already metnioned in here,I>Made in USA was made simultaneously with Two or Three Things I Know About Her This wasn't planned by Godard. It came about because the French government had banned Jacques Rivette's La Religieuse and Beauregard neede a ilm to fill in for the dates La Religieuse had been booked. The only person he knew who could work that quickly was Godard.

Farnkly I think it's one of his very best films. It has quite a lot to say about Fench politcs and international terrorism. Far more than the recent mini-series Carlos in fact.

bill

First thing's first, thank you for the dedication.

Second...where to begin? Given my opinions of each, the Westlake/Godard pairing has always struck me as personally bewildering. To flip things, it's as if the Coen brothers were to adapt George Pelecanos. Well, actually, no, it's not too much like that at all, really, but even so.

This is a great piece, Glenn, and the first paragraph about the interview that never was is truly heartbreaking. Meeting Westlake, for me, would have been like meeting Johnny Cash or some other blinding American icon. I wouldn't have known what to do with myself. From what I understand, John Banville felt roughly the same way when he met Westlake while travelling to New York some years back.

And I do think Lee Marvin and Parker are inseparable, even though I'm not the world's biggest fan of POINT BLANK. When Marvin lets his mouth hang open -- and not even necessarily in the Boorman film -- he has that blankness that could mask as stupidity, but which can also put me in mind of the many moments in the Parker novels when Parker is just staring at a muted television, not thinking of anything, and not because he's so Zen, but because there is nothing he needs to be thinking about, and he's letting the time pass before his various mechanisms need to kick in again. Turning the sound up on the TV would cloud the emptiness he's after.

Westlake in general, and as Stark in particular, writes some extraordinary prose. I think his description of "flatness" is actually not very generous -- "terse", I'd say. The first line in, I believe, THE GREEN EAGLE SCORE, which describes Parker out about waist-deep in the ocean looking back to the beach and seeing a man in a suit "like a rip in the picture", makes me about as jealous as any great writing I've ever encountered. And that's one of the lesser novels! Though still pretty damn good, actually, because the other thing about the Parker books is, apart from the amazing variety Westlake was able to wring out of his chosen formula (and this isn't even counting the times when he deviates, like in THE JUGGER), the sense you, or I, have that in some of these books, like THE GREEN EAGLE SCORE and THE SCORE and THE HANDLE, that his plot is unwinding for him as much as it is for us. If a lesser writer had tried to write the ending of THE HANDLE, it could have easily been a disaster. Westlake makes it odd, but only due to its unpredictability, and its casual unfolding, because even when he's working in the formula, he will only go with it so far. Look at the fate of a particular character in THE RARE COIN SCORE. Formula, when used (as it too often is) in the pejorative sense, would not have allowed for that.

So what book are you on? And what's the RARE COIN SCORE opening line? I can't remember it. Guess I'll have to check when I get home, and of course now I've been tempted, when I get home, to grab the next book in line, THE SOUR LEMON SCORE, off the shelf and tell all the other books I'm reading to screw off. It is my plan that, when I get to the end of the series, to write a big long post about the whole damn thing, but now I'm realizing it might have been a good idea to take notes along the way. Which book are you on, anyway?

PS - I just ordered THE OUTFIT, by the way, which I've never seen. And HICKEY & BOGGS and DARK OF THE SUN and a few others, but that's neither here nor there.

Glenn Kenny

@ Bill: I'm about a third into "Green Eagle." I have to say I'm finding the device of the psychiatrist PRICELESS.

The "beach" alliteration is what I found (mildly) objectionable in the opening of "Rare Coin."

lipranzer

Very good piece, Glenn. I still haven't read "The Jugger" (when I'm off my spy fiction kick, that'll be the first thing I read), but like David, I think MADE IN USA is one of Godard's best films, even if it has little to nothing to do with the book, and has in fact a different tone than the Parker novels I've read ("The Hunter" and another one whose name escapes me).

Also, I disagree with you about the "treacly sentiment" of that scene in HEAT, but maybe I'll change my mind after reading "The Seventh".

bill

"The 'beach' alliteration is what I found (mildly) objectionable in the opening of 'Rare Coin.'"

So it was RARE COIN. I thought it might be, and then doubted myself. Anyway, it's not the alliteration that grabs me, but rather the image.

Glenn Kenny

@ Lipranzer: Well, "treacly sentiment" sounds a little harsh, I know, but believe me, relative to what goes down in "The Seventh," I don't believe it's inapt. Remember those Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra commercials that went on about how they "lift and separate?" Were I inclined to be unkind to Mann, I'd say what he sometimes does with Westlake/Stark is "lift and romanticize." But as I actually like much of what Mann does and find it often really honors the tradition, as it were, I am not SO inclined.

Wallace Stroby

I think RARE COIN SCORE remains the best of the Parker novels, if only for the tightly controlled but still expressive writing, including that great first line (the second and third ones are pretty good too). It was Westlake's first Stark book for the relatively upscale Gold Medal, and he was clearly stepping up his game. I think SOUR LEMON SCORE is a close second.
Re: PAYBACK. Helgeland's director's cut, STRAIGHT UP, actually feels fairly faithful to the tone - if not always the character - of the Stark novels. As you say though, THE OUTFIT comes the closest to actually hitting it.

Brad Olson

I envy those who haven't read Butcher's Moon yet. The masterpiece of the series.

Looks like U of Chicago is taking a break from the Parkers for a bit in order to reissue the Grofield series next April --- more light-hearted than the Parkers, in keeping with the Grofield character; I always enjoy when they are in a novel together, you get the sense that while Grofield annoys Parker, Parker might actually like him a bit more than some of their other cohorts. Although like is maybe too strong a word when it comes to Parker.

bill

I was very happy to see that they'll be putting out the Grofeld novels, though I'm not a big fan. At least not in THE HANDLE, but I did love the scene in THE SCORE when Parker and the other guy were telling him that he was making a big mistake by not paying his taxes.

Bettencourt

The best (or at least, the most Parker-ish) of the Grofields is the final one, Lemons Never Lie. Grofield also has a pivotal role in my favorite Parker, Butcher's Moon.

Always glad to read more appreciation of the Stark novels. And I hope this time my comment actually posts.

Zain

For some reason when ever i think of Stark, i think of Cormac Mccarthy.
The Grofield book-Lemons Never Lie was the first Stark i read. Parker isn't in it. Mean and weak villain who turns out to be extremely dangerous just because he is so incompetent and dumb.
What Stark does so well, his "hooks" are the procedural details of a heist, and the people who are attached around it--the lone cowboy who supplies weapons in LNL, the motel-owner remnant from the jazz age, (joyful and ditzy) with a retarded daughter that cleans for her in The Outfit,and Menlo,(god did i love Menlo) from The Mourners. They stay in the mind like little markers on the Map of americana that Parker always seems to be traversing in the books.
Read them, read them all.

renardfantastiq

I am not at all sure I understand David Ehrenstein's comment that Made in USA had more to say about French politics and international terrorism? I think Godard would like to think that he's saying a lot more about those subjects than he really is. Just the title Made in USA strikes me as being in line with a certain knee-jerk, Euro-lefty stance Godard became so skilled at. Skilled at least to those with similar leanings.

I am also wondering how Made in USA said more than Carlos? That movie seemed to me to do a damn good job at capturing the brazenness and cooperation among the various radical left groups during that era. As well as the role states played in manipulating these groups. As well as pointing to how stupid, hypocritical and self-serving their justifications/rationalizations/ideologies were.

David Ehrenstein

"Made in USA" deals with the hired thugs involved in the Ben Barka affair (go Google s'il vous plait) which was cinematically connected in that Ben Barka was kidnapped -- and murdered -- when he was on his way to a meeting with Georges Franju (who famously asked "But surely M. Godard you must beleiev that films have a beginning a middle and an end" to which Godard replied - - - well I'm sure you know the rest)

To get more background see Chis Marker's "A Grin without a Cat" and Barbet Schroeder's "Terror's Advocate" which is climaxed with a phone call from Carlos from jail.

Olivier's film is very entertaining, but it's kid's stuff compared to the real thing -- as Godard demonstrates in "Made in USA" particularly with the woman muttering about razor blades and the shot of a flayed corpse wrapped in bandages.

Mr. K

I grabbed a copy of Lemons Never Lie a few years back (it was reissued by that True Crime publishing outfit that also issues some new Lawrence Block stuff) and found it pretty interesting. I wouldn't say it's as good as the Parker novels (just because the Parker novels are pretty amazing, even the last few), but the chain of double-crosses and misfires that spur the plot are great, and the ending is very clever and effective. Zain's comment on the bad guy being more dangerous for his incompetence and weakness is very perceptive.

Larry Aydlette

I just finished reading Butcher's Moon. It's like the Justice League of Parker.

renardfantastiq

Godard is a brilliant film maker. His politics--or political consciousness--on the other hand, are less than cohesive, or even coherent. He's making Made in USA at the same time as 2 or 3 Things. Surrounding those two we have Pierrot le feu, La chinoise, Masculin Feminin. The point being, the late 60s was an astonishingly prolific period for Godard, and I find it exceedingly hard to accept that Godard's nearly contemporaneous inclusion of allusions to the Ben Barka affair in Made in USA points to any deeper or more substantive political commentary on his part. By Godard's own admission, he rarely read more than the beginning and the end of the works of literature he quoted in his movies. I think you are giving him far too much credit for being able to do more than the throwing things at a wall and see what sticks method when it comes to politics.

He was, particularly from the late 60s on, a stridently leftist film maker and thinker. And I am not knocking the left here. I am simply saying that the language and ideology promoted by the left during that period appear silly and trite now. The Ben Barka affair was sort of the ideal issue for the someone like Godard to latch on to and seek to play out a bit in a movie. Certainly, the Ben Barka affair revealed an ugly side of contemporary French politics. But again, I don't see how Godard's film said anything particularly noteworthy about French politics and/or international terrorism.

I do, though, appreciate the recommendations of Marker's and Schroeder's works. I will certainly look into them.

On the subject of Carlos. Yes, it was an immensely entertaining film. And I am not sure it necessarily said anything we didn't already know about international politics. However, and unlike Made in USA, it has a cohesive narrative regarding international terrorism and Cold War politics. Many of the political actors in Carlos continue, or until very recently continued, to impact international politics.

Of course, one could find lingering effects on French politics of the Ben Barka affair, Algeria, etc. I do not, however, think that Godard's of the moment incorporation of those themes in Made in USA should serve as anyone's guide in further investigating those events.

I.B.

"The line from Stark/Westlake to Willeford to Elmore Leonard to Tarantino gets clearer the more you read"

Don't forget some Jim Thompson in between, specially regarding 'From dusk till dawn' and every appearance of the Earl McGraw character. And, to round matters even more, it's worth noting that Westlake scripted 'The grifters', even though the film ended up being far less than the sum of its parts (I blame Frears' arty mediocrity). My ideal Thompson adaptation would be 'Savage night' directed by Andrej Zulawski; it would sure go all the way.

David Ehrenstein

"He was, particularly from the late 60s on, a stridently leftist film maker and thinker. And I am not knocking the left here."

Yes you are.

"I am simply saying that the language and ideology promoted by the left during that period appear silly and trite now."

Not to me.

Ho old are you, by the way?

"My ideal Thompson adaptation would be 'Savage night' directed by Andrej Zulawski; it would sure go all the way."

Cyrill Collard went all the way -- to death.

And while we're on the subject, it's World AIDS Day.

http://fablog.ehrensteinland.com/2011/12/02/death-in-the-afternoon-a-world-aids-day-rerun/

renardfantastiq

Now this whole conversation is starting to get silly.

A significant portion of the left in the 60s was riven by internal debates over whether Soviet Communism or Chinese Communism was the correct path. As anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of history knows, both were abhorrent. Portions of the left also became radicalized and adopted a violent, militant approach. This, as I am sure you know, included so-called political assassinations as well as the killing of innocents. And if I may attempt to preempt a potential criticism, certainly, the same was occurring on the right. Often with the implicit or explicit sanction of the state.

There is no doubt that the left served as a powerful force for positive social and political change. I do not, however, find Godard's descent into and support of the more extreme left to be admirable in any way.

Godard is, of course, entitled to his vision of French politics and international terrorism. That doesn't mean that it is either correct or valid. And I remain unclear as to how inserting a line in a film about razor blades under the fingernails makes Carlos seem like kid's play.

As for my age. Please don't condescend to me. There are these things called books. I read them. Age and the acquisition of knowledge have nothing to do with one another.

David Ehrenstein

It's more thabn one line in the film. Explicating the political commentary that's embedded throughout Made in USA requires shot-by-shot analysis. It's no simple thing.

Age and acquisition of knowledge have plenty to dowith one another when it coems to politics. I'm 64 years old, a gay activist since Stonewall and dedicated opponent to the Vietnam war -- whcih as I turst you're aware was rather central to the 60's.

I gather you're under thirty and have drunk the ne-con Kool-Aid quite deeply.

Not David Bordwell

I can't judge whether Helgeland's cut of PAYBACK is true to the tone of Westlake/Stark, but I can say with confidence that one of the things that sucks about his direction of that film is that he does fuck-all with his Chicago locations. The slick cityscape Helgeland shoots is so anonymous that I laughed out loud about 30-40 minutes in when I realized where it was supposed to be set.

renardfantastiq

Interesting. Now you're just turning into a dick about the whole thing. First, not sharing Godard's perspective--whatever that is--on politics and international terrorism does not automatically make one a neo-con. Second, you referred to the political commentary embedded throughout. Fine. I accept that's it there. As I said previously, I do not find Godard to be either coherent or cohesive in his political commentary. Third, I am 38 years old and I don't believe I've drunk any kool aid from any side. Finally, I applaud your decades of advocacy and political engagement. It's a shame that there's been such public passivity regarding to the two endless wars the US has been waging.

Oliver_C

If all NeoConservatism preached was a healthy lack of deference towards post-'66 Godard, NeoConservatism might not be such a pernicious ideology after all.

Josh Z

I found that VUDU has Point Blank for streaming in high definition. I'll have to give that a rent, thanks to this post.

I.B.

@David Ehrenstein:

["My ideal Thompson adaptation would be 'Savage night' directed by Andrej Zulawski; it would sure go all the way."

Cyrill Collard went all the way -- to death.]

Huh, feller, 'Savage night', novel, ain't kin, to my knowledge, good or bad, to 'Savage nightS', or 'Les nuits fauves', film. I wouldn't say you was wrong, but I wouldn't say you was right, either.

(yes, 'Coup de torchon' is great, but still has a lot to go to get to 'Pop. 1280''s brilliance. Maybe it just lacks Patrick Dewaere. Most films lack Patrick Dewaere.)

Mr. Peel

I am (a) well aware that this is not as interesting as debating radical 60s politics and (b) not trying to make a strong case for any version of Helgeland's PAYBACK but just because it was filmed in Chicago, was it actually supposed to be Chicago? I just took it as a deliberately styilzed no-name city.

Bettencourt

I also thought Payback was supposed to be set in an Everycity.

Not David Bordwell

Mr. Peel and Bettencourt: I probably should have said that I was seriously disappointed when I realized the film was using Chicago locations without communicating any distinctive sense of place -- every city of a certain age has skeezy storefronts, forbidding doorways, alleys featuring steam grates fire escapes -- a waste of Chicago, to my mind.

I may be giving Helgeland a bum rap, since it seems a lot of stylistic decisions were made after he was fired in post-pro, and much of my disdain for the film has to do with Mad Mel's self-indulgent reshoots, which apparently involved a lot of back-lot cityscapes.

I guess I will have to catch up with the director's cut if I can stomach the umpteenth iteration of the character Gibson always plays, which I found at turns profoundly boring and seriously annoying in Payback.

Wallace Stroby

I did a comparison of the two versions of PAYBACK for The House Next Door (now part of Slant) when the STRAIGHT UP DVD came out a while back: http://goo.gl/atu6w

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