« Make honey | Main | Image of the day, 4/29/10 »

April 28, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Jesse M

I recently watched The Getaway (and discussed it a little, here: http://benefitofthedoubt.miksimum.com/2010/04/renegade-april-getaway-1972.html ) and now I'm reading the novel... and you're right that Peckinpah, despite his ability to render effective gritty hard-boiled male characters, fails to capture a lot of the sheer anxiety and desperation that Thompson evokes in scene after scene. I wanted to see The Killer Inside Me (I'm reading that one next), but didn't make it out for the screening.

I would love to see Serie Noir... I don't really buy DVD's anymore, but that appears to be the only way to see this one, through 5minutestolive.com. I might go ahead and do it, based on your assessment and my current interest in Thompson's writing.

Mark Asch

Looking forward to this. Due respect of course, but I'm not entirely sure the problems in adapting Thompson are down to "atmosphere"--I've always thought it was more a matter of translating his paranoid, unreliable first-person narrators to a far less interior medium. (It's the problem of adaptation in general.) The reason why 'Seire Noire' is the best Thompson adaptation is because the voice is embodied onscreen by an actor who was in real life enormously charismatic and tragically sick.

(A decidedly un-swell Elias Koteas, incidentally, seems to be imitating Dewaere, badly, in Steven Shainberg's less successful 'A Swell-Looking Babe' adaptation 'Hit Me', which turns the brilliant but sick, and increasingly erratic and wheel-spinning narrator into a dumb hump.) (And of course, the less said about wooden Keach's attempt at Lou Ford, the better.)

Or maybe "atmosphere" is the right word, if the atmosphere in question is this shadowy sped-up mindscape where everyone is trying to think one move ahead of everyone else. What's both thrilling and unnerving about, say, 'After Dark, My Sweet' is that you're not just following the plot twists, you're following all the *possible* plot twists as they occur to the narrator (and then compel him to actually behave accordingly).

Glenn Kenny

@ Mark: Yeah, I thought I'd be nice and just not bring the awful "Hit Me" into the discussion!

Chuck Stephens

I'll second Mark Asch's endorsement for AFTER DARK, MY SWEET as the best of the Thompson adaptations, SERIE NOIRE (which I love, but less for its Thompson-ness than its Dewaere-ness) notwithstanding. Indeed, James Foley's (forgotten?) AT CLOSE RANGE has a definite Thompson vibe as well.

It's my understanding that Thompson only wrote the dialogue for THE KILLING; the plot/structure was Kubrick's, and whatever "sentimentalizing" is done to the characters, particularly Sterling Hayden's, is pretty well mitigated by his final, ultra-fatalistic "What's the use?" (which is, ultimately, more John Huston than Jim Thompson.)


Shadows would be all wrong for many Thompson books -- Winterbottom's correct that bright, if punishing, sunshine, is the way to go.

I think the problem in adapting Thompson is maybe a general lack of intestinal fortitude, by which I mean an unwillingness to just grit your teeth and do it. Romanticizing and softening these types of characters, or thinking the whole thing is cool in a grungey sort of way, is too often the fall-back position -- not for Thompson, necessarily, who doesn't get adaptated ALL that often, but for classic, truly hard crime fiction. Thompson wrote about some genuinely sick people, and watching a real adaptation of something like THE KILLER INSIDE ME should feel like an act of bearing witness. That sounds pompous, but you get what I mean (I hope).

For all the unsure buzz I've been hearing about this film, it sounds like Winterbottom knew what he was doing here.

I need to see SERIE NOIRE. A HELL OF A WOMAN is generally my favorite of the Thompson novels I've read, and for whatever reason I want to see how that ending gets translated to the screen.


Will you be posting a video of the Q&A at some point?

Stephen Whitty

Thanks for this, Glenn. Glad to hear that they seem to have caught the spirit of that book. I read all of Thompson, back when Black Lizard was republishing a lot of pulp, and as fascinating as the books were to me it was always more intriguing trying to imagine being inside the head of the man who wrote them.

Brief note @ Jesse M: I won't give anything away, but wait until you read the final chapter of "The Getaway" which is definitely NOT in Peckinpah's film. It's pretty out there, and maybe the best thing Thompson ever did.

Brief note @ Chuck Stephens: Share your admiration for "The Killing" but I think a good deal of credit is also due Lionel White, whose novel "Clean Break" was the movie's source. White's "Obsession" also seemed to serve as a basis for "Pierrot le fou," credited or not, and he's another noir writer well worth re-discovering.

Chuck Stephens

Thanks Stephen: I've never read any of White's novels, but at your encouragement, may do so now. I see that the creepy THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY is also based on a White novel. It has long been my understanding that Kubrick had substantially reshaped the structure of the novel for THE KILLING. Time to find out for sure. Cheers!


Another glaring cinephile/lit-phile how-did-I-miss-this moment: Thompson, whom I'm not aware of outside of The Killers. Given what I've read here, I'll have to take a close look at the books/movies being bandied.

But what's this? A movie called Hit Me - starring the brilliant Koteas (If he's had an off role, I haven't seen it yet, so I'm surprised to hear of this role being a misfire) and - GASP - written by none other than Denis Johnson, one of the few truly brilliant living American writers? Shainberg's being off the mark doesn't surprise me too much, since I've only seen Secretary, which was intermittently excellent but also contained plenty of wrong notes. But...then again, it wouldn't be the first time a great prose writer faltered when doing a screenplay. Anyway, how bad could it be?

(Ominous silence)

Tom Block

Peckinpah was deliberately shooting for a BO hit with "The Getaway" (and he got one), so it's no surprise he (and/or Walter Hill) changed so much of Thompson's book, especially that ending, which is about as far from Slim Pickens' scene as you can possibly get. The movie's loaded with talent (Hill, Ballard, Pickens, Johnson, Bright, MacGr--uhh, check that last one), but I think it's mostly interesting for the in-movie gibes about Peckinpah's rep as a woman-hating neanderthal, like the cross-cutting between the guy getting shot in the nuts and the gas-station fireballs (which *is* pretty funny), or the guy emptying his machine-gun into the rack of paperbacks. (I also like the tonal connection with "No Country": those sleek shots of the killers sliding out of Dallas in their convertible vs. the Dallas moneyman who puts Harrelson on Bardem's case. It's like a generation later you still gotta go straighten out these West Texas shitstorms every so often.) Anyway, I can practically hear Thompson blessing "Alfredo Garcia" from his grave...


I got my hands on Série noire a couple of weeks back: must cue that up now. I like Coup de torchon, but there's still something missing for me; in particular, I don't find that it makes the best use of its unusual setting and the transposition to Africa as opposed to, say, the south of France, doesn't seem to add the intended extra layers.


Are the DVDs offered by 5minutestolive.com good quality? Worth the price? Not that the price is steep, but I don't want an image that looks like it was scrubbed with a brillo pad.

Jason M.

Bill - No. Every 5minutestolive DVD I've seen has been atrocious quality. As in multi-generation VHS dupe from a bad transfer bad. So, perhaps somewhat worse than being scrubbed by a brillo pad. To be fair, my sample size is pretty small (I've only seen 4 of their DVDs, never the whole way through), and this was a few years ago as well, so maybe they've cleaned their act up a bit, or maybe the other DVDs I haven't seen are pristine transfers. I highly doubt it though.

Bruce Reid

bill: "Thompson...doesn't get adapted ALL that often...."

No, but there was quite a flurry in the wake of THE GRIFTERS. The only one I recall enjoying was THIS WORLD, THEN THE FIREWORKS, which I thought did well enough by the unsavory aspects of its source even though it did spill over into lurid comedy. Thus placing the audience at something of a safe distance, which is pretty much the antithesis of what Thompson's all about.

The Billy Zane factor isn't one for me, as I rather enjoy his chipper hamminess; but I could see how others find that a turn-off.

Oh Canada!

@NL: I spotted some video here: http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2010/04/killer_repels_m.php

Oh Canada!

PS: Jeffrey Wells said "It was clear during the Glenn Kenny-moderated q & a that the audience was doing everything it could do to suppress its dislike of the film for the sake of politeness." I must conclude that Mr. Wells & I were seated in different parts of the audience because I did not sense that whatsoever, & rather enjoyed the film.

James Russell

5 Minutes To Live are notorious scammers. I know a few people who've been burned badly by them.


@James and John N - Well, that settles that. Thanks for the warning.

@Bruce - True. There was a general flurry of interest in Thompson at around that time, with THE GRIFTERS and the fact that, as Stephen points out, Vintage/Black Lizard was reprinting a lot of Thompson's stuff, and a lot of classic pulp in general. Man, those were the days. And I loved those covers.


Chuck Stephens

Little bit of slightly fuzzy history at work here: the Black Lizard Thompson reissues began coming out in the early 1980s.

Maggie Greenwald's THE KILL-OFF was 1989, THE GRIFTERS is 1990.

The only Thompson big screen adaptations between THE GRIFTERS and Winterbottom's new film were former underground filmmaker Michael Oblowitz's THIS WORLD, THEN THE FIREWORKS (1997), the hideous Alec Baldwin/Kim B remake of Peckinpah's version of THE GETAWAY (1994) and HIT ME (1996) (which I've never seen).


Anybody with a copy of that Dr. Kildare episode, please get in touch.


I wasn't sure when the Black Lizard reprints started, and what chronological relation they had with Frears's film, though I suspected the reprints started first. But broadly, the reprints caused an uptick of interest in Thompson, which lead to THE GRIFTERS, which caused a greater uptick, which has sputtered out over the years. That's how it looks to me, anyway.

Pete Segall

Amidst all the Thompsonia... don't neglect Robert Polito's admiring and admirable biography, Savage Art.


"It is interesting to note that in a world where postmodernism supposedly holds a significant number of the cards, there are some things that some folks still insist on taking at face value."

I just wanted to say that this is a perfect sentence. It succinctly explicates a social fact with enviable writerly elegance.


What msic said. I meant to praise that line myself. See also "ambiguity".

Kevin Deany

Jim Thompson appears as Charlotte Rampling's wife in "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975). Interesting to see Thompson and Robert Mitchum share screen time together.

Stephen Bowie

Good luck discerning anything Thompsonian in that DR. KILDARE. The CAIN'S HUNDRED ... maybe; the show was pulpy crime to begin with, so he wouldn't have had to try very hard. I've tried to find somebody who remembers working with Thompson in TV, but no dice. He was rewritten on all three of those 60s shows. Wasn't aware of the CONVOY until now, though ... I'll have to sniff around on that one.


"Pulsate". Has someone been reading the latest Bolano story in the New Yorker?

Chuck Stephens

Having read Thompson's terrific IRONSIDE novelization, I'll be happy to decide for myself just how Thompsonian his TV scripts are. Are you suggesting you've seen them, or have copies?

Dan Coyle

Thompson novelized Ironside? Dammit, Mark, GET THE VAN!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad