Genre revisionism in these post-Tarantino days is about as close as you can get to armchair activism without having a Facebook account. It wasn’t always this way. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, reverse engineering the symbolism in a genre film meant subverting the expectations that decades of studio programming had groomed. It meant unpacking the myths that were sold to the “masses” – who were rather falsely assumed to have swallowed the illusions whole. Audiences may not have believed the myths, but they enjoyed the comfortably structured fantasies and accepted them, and to the counterculture who saw that acceptance culminate in racism and violence, this was a dangerous delusion. Genres were stand-ins for conventionalism, which was itself a stand-in for authority – albeit one that seems quaint and almost benign in retrospect. The remedy, it was believed, was to respond in the same language – with Westerns featuring cowboys as mercenaries (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) or as butchers of Indians (LITTLE BIG MAN) or gangster films about criminals who were less objectionable than the authorities they fled from (BONNIE AND CLYDE). These winks of subversion would later fall under the umbrella of “culture jamming.” But the sad truth of the matter – from a political though not an aesthetic point of view – is that disrupting people’s fantasy lives is not always the same as changing their behavior.
Tag: The Long Goodbye
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – dir. Robert Altman
Based loosely on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye fits somewhere in the film noir repertoire, even if it’s not clear exactly where. Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), suspects foul play in the suicide of his old friend, who is also alleged to have killed his wife. In another film noir trope, the most seductive woman around is also the shadiest: Director Robert Altman hints to the audience that there is a connection between the beautiful Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and Marlowe’s dead friend long before Marlowe himself figures it out.
By Melvin Cartagena
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – dir. Robert Altman
“If being in revolt against a corrupt society constitutes being immature, then Philip Marlowe is extremely immature. If seeing dirt where there is dirt constitutes social maladjustment, then Philip Marlowe has inadequate social adjustment. Of course Marlowe is a failure, and he knows it. He is a failure because he hasn’t any money…A lot of very good men have been failures because their particular talents did not suit their particular time and place.” – Raymond Chandler
In the first shot of The Long Goodbye, Marlowe (Elliott Gould) wakes up as if from a deep sleep. In time he demonstrates he is a stranger in a strange land, an intruder from a different time attempting to grok the free-floating morality of the sprawling city of twenty-four hours supermarkets and Laundromats, and neo-flower children practicing yoga naked, and new-age healers. Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) punctuates this temporal dislocation in Marlowe when he refers to the gumshoe as Rip Van Marlowe, the victim of a long sleep that has thrust him into a time and place that has no love for a man of ethics, a man who cares. This is more than can be said for the police, who in typical noir-pulp fashion first arrest Marlowe, then grill him relentlessly for three days about Terry Lennox’s (Jim Bouton) escape to Mexico hours after the brutal killing of his wife Sylvia, and finally cut him loose after Terry’s confirmed suicide down in Mexico. One more for the books in the precinct, but this makes no sense to Marlowe, so it’s up the world-weary knight in tarnished armor to set things right in his mind.
The Long Goodbye – 1973 – Dir. Robert Altman
The late, great Robert Altman once again lends his distinctive, experimental style to what has come to be regarded as this definitive interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s a winner! Thirty-six this year, the film still plays as fresh and as contemporary as it did the year it was made. The tale of a double murder and the unfortunate detective who gets dragged, kicking and screaming, into the thick of it is filled with a permeating cynicism, underhanded absurdities and shattering acts of violence. Crime author Raymond Chandler, like his contemporaries Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald, created glamorous worlds of danger and intrigue where a usually hapless, albeit decent guy, finds himself way over his head in the soup. Here, Chandler’s anti-hero, Phillip Marlowe, is helmed by the underrated Elliott Gould. A huge star in the 60s and 70s (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, M.A.S.H.), Gould brings a bizarrely effortless spin to a role played in more traditional ways by everyone from Bogart to James Garner. His dopey, befuddled schmuck look assists him ably in Altman’s clever conceit of placing a 1950s-style detective into a 1970s-style world. It is as if this “Rip van Marlowe”, waking from a long slumber, has been transported via some private eye time tunnel twenty years into the future — a future he does not understand and is more than a little bit lost in.
by Paul Monticone
“See, death is the only ending I know. A movie doesn’t end; it has a stopping place. That story, those people don’t die then: they live on and have terrible lives if it’s a happy ending, or if it’s a sad ending, they may survive it and recover and have happy lives. So death is the only ending and I deal with death as an ending. The people I have die are usually the wrong people, the ones you don’t expect to die. That’s the way it seems when people die.” (Robert Altman, 1992)
Altman’s quote, initially describing his resistance to narrative closure before digressing into the sort of modest wisdom that marked all of his interviews, sprung to mind on November 2oth. To anyone who takes American film seriously, the passing of Robert Altman was the sort of news that makes the world seem a little smaller and dimmer. Whether one thinks Altman the greatest American filmmaker since John Ford or a self-indulgent provocateur, the vitality and exuberance of each of his films is beyond dispute, to such an extent that the death of a frail, old man, who had just made the perfect swan song, Prairie Home Companion, came as something of a shock. The prodigious output of the indestructible Hollywood rebel had inexorably stopped, and a world without future Altman films is still hard – if not downright depressing – to imagine. To quantify what it is that we’ve lost, we can look to the works he left us, and his films of the 1970s – a decade of filmmaking that many identify with Altman – is the most obvious point of departure.