So close! Double release of LOVE IS A GRIFT the book and the song. Here’s the drop-dead gorgeous cover art by S. L. Johnson Images. The book from Fox Spirit and the song will be available at CD Baby (and other places). Dead swanky!
I was sure I had written this up before but I searched for it and didn’t find it. This Sphere edition is so much nicer than the bland corporate packaging of the St Martin’s Griffin edition I did end up buying. When you’re on a Highsmith kick and buying everything, the covers are less important (though still proud to own the kickass edition of This Sweet Sickness).
There are two kinds of writers: those who are articulate about the process and those who are not (ditto most arts and artists). Highsmith is not one. If you want a handbook on the topic, this is not the one to teach you. Of course if your publisher offers to pay you to write one, most writers will accept the challenge. But this is not the Highsmith School of Suspense Fiction School, which she recognises. So she turns to the tortured history of her novel The Glass Cell (a good Film for a Friday) in hopes that it will clarify how she does what she does. The case study is so singular that it could hardly be useful in inspiring a budding writer.
Highsmith outlines the evolution of the novel, which ‘was not inspired by any specific story idea but evolved simply out of the desire to write such a book–which is perhaps no bad reason for writing a book’ (chapter 10). She traces the idea from a prisoner’s fan letter (‘I don’t think my books should be in prison libraries’), to reading a book about convicts, to developing intellectual rather than emotional’ threads ‘none of them spectacular’. After that she tries to add some motivation for the characters. A key turns into a dog. What ifs multiply. A wife becomes unfaithful. The first two versions were rejected by her publisher.
‘I thought my story was not bad, but perhaps it could be better. When one thinks this, even faintly, it is best to write it over.’
The interesting part of this book is of course her voice, the anecdotes and the little insights that she may not even realise she’s offering. Speaking of her admiration for Graham Greene Highsmith makes plain her pleasure in reading him. ‘There is no doubt that a study of the whole field of “the best” in suspense writing, whatever that is, can be of benefit professionally to a suspense writer, but I would just as soon not pursue this study.’
Highsmith, in all her ambivalence there — and it’s entertaining.
See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.
Yeah, it’s all Ida this week. Impressing on my students the genius that she was. They watched this clip as an introduction. We discussed what they assumed to be going on in the scene based on their knowledge of noir now. They did pretty well. If you haven’t seen the film, it can be found in its entirety on the ‘tube.
‘She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!’
How’s your #Noirvember going? Got a favourite noir tune?
Can’t let go of Babylon Berlin: the two-disc soundtrack is the bomb. The score is very drum and percussion heavy which you know suits me down to the ground. The songs by Bryan Ferry and the fabulous Severija, including this Russian version of Rezső Seress’ Szomorú vasárnap (Gloomy Sunday) with its alleged history (internet loves its myths) make for great decadent musings in this afternoons of this too-hot summer.
Yes, I’m aware of the irony of making ‘Gloomy Sunday’ a Song for a Saturday.
I’ve got the novel now, too. On the summer pile. Maybe I’ll take it to Edge-Lit. Always good to have something to read on the train.
Join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and agonise over your art. Ken Russell directs a fabulous cast, full of eye-searingly vivid images. Just what you need.
You need this. I’ve reviewed Guillorn‘s work before. This new EP hasn’t left my car since I got it. This is so right for this moment in so many ways, starting with the title song. It’s hard to improve on The ‘Oo but this version hits the right balance between homage and innovation. The guitar sound offers a jangly mid-60s authenticity but the sweeter backing vocals reveal a complexity to the gender confusion that makes it feel entirely up to date.
‘Something’ highlights the plaintive quality of Guillorn’s voice, with lyrics of loss and heartache that twist into disappointment with ‘Why did you falter? Why?’ The stripped down simplicity of the track has the guitar matching her voice, until gradually the keyboards fade in to lift the sound and the backing vocals echo the despair of ‘Why’ perfectly.
My favourite track at the moment ‘Nothing To It’ seems like the anthem of this insane time where we are all feeling ‘defeated and deranged’:
I heard echoes in the hills of the ones who survived,
who wrote what they knew and stuck to it.
I hovered in a cave a philosopher drew
and spoke of Socrates.
Plus asides about calculus: I love the sheer playfulness of this song that’s really about despair and fear and maybe even apocalypse. I haven’t said enough about Riccio’s drums: taking on Moonie’s rolls shows he’s got courage. He matches the rolling guitar sound impeccably here. I can’s say enough about Guillorn’s amazing guitar playing on this disc. So urgent here: showing the emotion the vocals try to skate over. She’d probably say there’s nothing to it.
‘Boylesque’: marvel at that title. The alternation between ‘Heavily kohled eyes’ and ‘Heavenly cold eyes’ is Guillorn at her most playful. The crystalline purity of the mix: vocals front and back, guitars, keys. It’s all so right. Complexity that sounds utterly simple.
What’s written in the space left blank
at the bottom of the page?
A view of the future hidden away.
Oh the psychedelic guitar in ‘M.K.’ is just so gorgeous. You need like early Pink Floyd video projections or lava lamps to play in the background. But utterly contemporary: it’s like she might have a time machine to go back to the 60s to liberate lost guitar riffs that weren’t appreciated at the time to give them a new home. The alchemy of music with masks:
I wasn’t happy as a child.
When on Halloween a neighbor saw me smiling,
it was the mask that freed me,
if you get my meaning.
I’M A BOY: released March 24, 2017 Little Cowgirl Records
Lys Guillorn – vocals, guitars
Peter Riccio – drums
Julie Beman – keyboards, organ, vocals
Eric Bloomquist – bass, vocals
Produced by Lys Guillorn & Her Band
Recorded by Tom Boudreau at Bonehead Studios, Cheshire, CT
Mixed by Tom Boudreau with Lys Guillorn & Her Band
Mastered by Jim Chapdelaine
Cover photo by Pete Brunelli
Dedicated to gender rebels everywhere.
Two films I caught recently in a fit of end-of-term madness (when I ought to have been grading) were both adapted from novels. As I’m thinking of adapting a couple of my things into scripts, I’ve been musing on the technique involved.
Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is a twisty-turny tale that from the start tells you that things are not what they seem. Sook-Hee, daughter of a family of thieves has been hired by a con man masquerading as ‘Count Fujiwara’ to work for Lady Hideko, the heir of huge fortune, kept more or less prisoner by her uncle, the creepy Kouzuki. The plan is for Sook-Hee to use her intimate position to sway the twitchy lady to romance with the fake count, but to her surprise, Sook-Hee begins to feel first protective of her lady and then unexpectedly to feel something much stronger.
I thought I’d had a plot twist spoiled for me but there was so much more going on that I was captivated the whole way by the layers exposed. Yes, Park’s male gaze leers at the lesbian sex a little too obviously, but Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee are so magnificent and joyful that they are magnetic. It made me want to go read Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith which ought to be the point. And to see the film again. Gorgeous. Dark.
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals has been repeatedly called noir, so let me tell you: it’s not noir though it traffics in some of its trappings. It shocks at the start with indelible images that offer a great litmus test: I’ve heard people call them disgusting. I thought they were mesmerising and beautiful. However, since the movie begins by telling us how jaded Susan (Amy Adams) is about crap art, I guess we’re supposed to hate it. The ‘art is horrible’ subtext is completely undone by Ford making everything look beautiful and sad. I actually found a new appreciation for works like Koons’ balloon dog (was that the one recently broken?) which suddenly looked like a fragile attempt to hold onto a childhood happiness, or Hirst’s Saint Sebastian which, relegated to a stairwell in the tony gallery, gave me a sudden stab of sadness for its hidden pain.
I’m not going to be able to write about this without SPOILERS, so don’t look if you’re planning to see it. Sad Susan is sad; smarmy Armie Hammer is clearly so over her from the first moment he appears and is completely uninterested in her distress that you wonder why it takes her so long to catch on to his affair. There’s distracting stunt casting of Michael Sheen as half of the Holt power couple, with Andrea Riseborough as the other half, perpetuating the myth that women aren’t really interested in sex (just the women who are willing to marry wealthy gay men, Mr Ford) because they’re BEST FRIENDS! ‘You never really had that,’ Alessia tells poor Susan.
Then she gets her ex’s galley of his novel that he’s finally finished after twenty years (wow) and she begins reading it and is totally captivated, flashing back of course to why she left him and her mother Laura Linney predicting it. Maybe the best thing in the film, Laura Linney with gigantic Texas hair (as Angela says, the higher the hair, the closer to god): it made me immediately wish that 1) she had more to do in this film and 2) that there could be a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Linney and Adams because it would be magnificent.
Because of course the ex, Jake Gyllenhaal, is a weak man. And like all weak men in recent years, he dreams of being an uncaring raping, murdering psychopath because that’s strong, I guess. The novel within the movie that Susan is riveted to and disturbed by is really the kind of ‘literary crime novel’ Guy in Your MFA would write. Gyllenhaal’s character says something to the effect of ‘all writers write themselves’ at which I nearly shouted at the screen, ‘But the good ones disguise that rather well.’ His novelist doesn’t. The novel-within-the-film has him play the role of the protagonist as well. He has a wife and daughter who are only there to be killed and raped to provide him with a crisis and pretty, well placed corpses on a photo op ready sofa.
Because that’s what violent mad killers do. Town & country horror films have made much of the wild locals going after city folk at least since Texas Chainsaw Massacre or maybe Spider Baby or before. I think what has made people overlook the clichéd form of the tale is Michael Shannon, giving incredible life to the clichéd cop-with-nothing-to-lose and Aaron Taylor-Johnson channeling Tom Hardy into the clichéd amoral killer. Both work hard to bring some freshness to tired tropes.
But tired they are. Some belated attempt to make this a crisis of faith with the sudden importance of clutched crosses at the end, the ‘horror’ of the break-up having something to do with the abortion Susan had at some point with smarmy Armie and her emerging from the hospital at the exact moment when Gyllenhaal appears horrified (apparently there’s only one place to get the procedure in the whole metropolitan area. I was confused because after reading of the mother and daughter’s demise in the novel, Susan calls her daughter to make sure she’s alright. She is of course filmed sensuously naked in the same pose as the daughter in the novel. And never mentioned again.
So Susan robbed him of a child is supposed to be the thing for which he needs REVENGE (which of course I hear in K-K-K-Ken’s voice), but she had a child? Was it with smarmy Armie? Is that why he kills her in the novel too? Perhaps. I like the REVENGE painting, explained by stunt-cast Jenna Malone as something Susan bought months ago.
I do like the punch in the gut ending. Several people around me vocally did not. But it totally fits the childishness of the character who would write this novel. So, yeah, not interested in reading the source novel. But I didn’t hate the film: it was rather interesting but not in the ways I suspect it was meant to be.
Congratulations! If the rest of you would like a commemorative badge, shoot me your address via email [victoriasquid at gmail] and I’ll send you one.
Thanks so much for entering — and just look at the fabulous image by the lovely SL Johnson. Get her for all your design needs and she’ll do you right.