Showing posts with label Vortex. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vortex. Show all posts

28 January 2020

MGM: More Stars Than There Are in Heaven – Part II


by Paul D. Marks

We're back for Part II of my interview with Steven Bingen, co-author with Stephen Sylvester and Michael Troyan of MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT.  If you missed Part I you can find it here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2020/01/mgm-more-stars-than-there-are-in-heaven.html .

Enjoy:


Paul: Welcome back, Steve. What are your and your co-authors backgrounds?  Tell us a little about your personal as well as Hollywood backgrounds.

Steve: There are 3 credited author's on this book, "MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot."

Years ago our agent was told by a publisher that there could never be a "unified vision" on a book with 3 perspectives.  That publisher didn't understand that we all felt exactly the same way about Hollywood's backlots and shared exactly the same odd obsessions.  Whatever the book's virtues and flaws, I defy anyone to figure out where one of our voices stops and another's starts.  Our collaborating was just like the production of most Hollywood movies.  The book's very existence is a sort of 2-Dimensional denial of the auteur theory.   Creativity by committee, if you will.

Mike (Troyan) and I both came out of Warner Bros. Corporate Archive – although his background is more academic than mine.  I have a background rooted in film production while his is more literary.  Mike is the author of "A Rose for Mrs. Miniver," about MGM star Greer Garson – which I can't recommend highly enough, by the way.

Steve (Sylvester), my other partner is in possession of vast amount knowledge and a vast collection of materials relating to MGM as a physical place.  He's the only one of us who was actually able to boast of visiting the MGM backlot before it was all destroyed.  In some ways, in visiting the studio he was able to do what I've aspired to do for my whole life. Because I was too late to see the place, the studio always seemed almost mythical, like Shangri-La or Camelot to me.  But it was real and Steve was there.  I wanted that perspective in the book.  It just seemed like a good fit for the three of us to coauthor – and it was.

Who have you contacted (MGM old-timers, etc.) and have they been willing to help?

I don't know if it was a conscious decision, but we tended to avoid talking to movie stars because their stories have been told so often, and because their worlds at the studio were so insulated.  Elizabeth Taylor was at MGM for decades, but her experience on the backlot would have consisted of being driven through the sets in a limo to her particular location.  I doubt if she would have had much opportunity or interest in exploring a place which wouldn't have seemed at all unusual to her because of the odd circumstances of her life.  It would be like asking a coal miner what was extraordinary about a mine shaft!

On the other hand we spoke to a lot of "regular people," some of whom worked on the lot for their entire careers who had amazing stories to tell, and who realized, even at the time what a bizarre and wonderful place MGM really was.  Some of our best stories were from people who grew up near the studio who used to climb the fences and explore inside as children.  I really do envy those people.

How many backlots were there?  Where?  What did they have on them?

MGM wasn't a single lot. Lot One contained the soundstages, corporate offices and post production facilities.  The backlot was literally at the rear, or back, of the plant.  As the studio grew it expanded across the street onto a property known as Lot Two.  Lot Two contained a small-town street, residential districts, railroad stations (with working trains) – the largest of which replicated New York's Grand Central Station.  It also had European and Asian villages, a jungle with a bridge, man-made lake, gardens, pools, castles, Southern and English estates, and a half dozen blocks, built full scale, replicating New York City and all its Burroughs – right down to the last street sign, man-hole cover, and fire escape.


Up the road a few blocks was Lot Three, which was even larger and contained three distinct old western settings, two more waterfront districts, a tropical rainforest, rock formations, winding roads, a Mississippi steamboat, a circus set, military bases, a POW camp, a vintage era New York Street, farms, ranches, an Arabian Knight districts and the world's largest process tank for shooting miniatures.

Lot Three was itself surrounded by the satellite lots; Four, Five, Six and Seven – which collectively housed zoos and stables, more sets, storage sheds, partial fleets of aircraft and locomotives, a peat farm….   whatever there wasn't  room for anywhere else.  When L. B. Mayer, the boss, took an interest in horse racing in the 40's, people used to suggest that the Santa Anita racetrack should perhaps be rechristened  Lot Eight!


What are your philosophical thoughts about the loss of the backlots?

I've always been haunted by and interested in Hollywood's backlots in general.  The idea that there exists places in the world where there are entire phantom towns constructed to mimic the real world – and yet where no one has ever lived, could ever live, is fascinating and mysterious and a little creepy.  Backlots are supposed to duplicate our lives, our homes, and the city streets we move thorough every day, and yet although they can be as familiar to us as places we've lived in our actual lives, they remain unknowable, untouchable, just out of normalcy and of recognition.

Backlots are like the purest form of architecture.  They really are designed just for aesthetic reasons.  The backlot architect doesn't have to worry about service elevators or building codes or faulty wiring.  A backlot just has to look good and to set a mood in order to do its job.  There are no real world considerations involved. Find an architect and ask him where else in the world that happens?

During the writing of this book it occurred to me that Hollywood's backlots are responsible for an awful lot of the defining non-movie architecture of the last century as well.  Think about it.  If Hollywood hadn't started designing sets to suggest moods or foreign settings would we really have shopping malls, or theme parks, or places like Las Vegas today?  All of these places, for good or bad, came out of backlots and the people who designed them.

I used to give tours of Warner Bros. Studio in my capacity as historian for the company.  Once I was showing the family of some executives an artificial lake out on the backlot and describing how that lake had been dressed as India for a film which I'd seen shot there.  I was going on about how the set had looked exactly like the real India when all of a sudden it occurred to me, and I told my bemused guests this, that I'd never personally been to India at all.  That my entire idea of what India is, in fact came not from the real thing, not from India at all, but rather from movies, some of which had undoubtedly been made right where we were standing right at that moment!

You should talk to my wife, she grew up in India for a time – but yes, she does have an American birth certificate....  But changing elephants in midstream now, What is your next project?

I can't speak for my partners…but…I will.  Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to shake off the current project!  After all, I'm doomed to see the MGM backlot every time I sit back to relax and turn on the TV!

We'd love to make this book the first volume in a series about all 7 of Hollywood's major studio lots – the Seven Sisters.  I'm just not sure if logistically, and legally it's going to be possible to do so.  To look at it from the viewpoint of the other studios I can't really blame them for not wanting someone from the outside to come around and start rooting around in their past.  We were able to "do" MGM because so many different hands have been running the company and the people who owned the copyright on the materials we needed weren't the original owners. But I don't know if that set of circumstances could come up again in regards to another studio.  We'll see…

Thank you, Steve, for joining me here at SleuthSayers.  And good luck with the book. "MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot" is available in bookstores and at Amazon.  Click here:



~.~.~

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


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12 January 2016

Made to be Broken


by Paul D. Marks

Well, it’s January 12th. If you haven’t already broken your New Year’s resolutions you’re running late. So get to it. Start by eating that Snickers bar or cutting back your daily jog from twelve miles to a quick walk to the corner store...to buy that Snickers bar.

A couple of years ago Writer’s Digest put out 5 resolutions for writers (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/5-new-years-resolutions-for-writers ). I’d like to comment on them.

1. Resolve to make time for writing: This would seem pretty obvious. We all have busy lives, but are they really any more busy than when we had to till the ground working from dawn till dusk, before there were dishwashers and washing machines to do our dishes and clothes? Generally speaking we are as busy as we want to be. True, there are things that have to get done like work and dealing with kids or critters, but if one wants to write they will find the time. I hear a lot of people who claim they want to be writers. They have great ideas for the next best-seller or Academy Award-winning screenplay. They want to share them with you, have you write them while they take half the credit...and money. But they never write a word. So, apropos of Resolution five below, are they writers?

2. Resolve to embrace your personal writing style: The WD piece talks about embracing your style of being a pantster or an outliner. But I would look at this differently. When I first saw their resolution I thought they were talking about “writing style,” as in your voice, not how you go about your writing. And I would say, find your own voice. We all borrow from things we’ve read but you have to make it your own. The “worst” part about finding your voice is when some editor or someone else wants to water it down. That’s why I never use grammar checkers. They’re way too didactic, and some editors are too. They often want you to change your style to fit some mold or template that they like, which may be fine. But it’s not you. So you have to resolve to stick to your tone, your voice. Your style.

3. Resolve to self-edit as you write: They’re talking about “revising as you write in order to produce a cleaner manuscript that requires less revision on the back end.” I couldn’t disagree more. I’m not saying one shouldn’t do a little minor editing as you go along, but that often turns into major editing and going over the same ground ad infinitum. The best piece of writing advice I ever got was not to rewrite as you go along. If you do rewrite as you go you’ll just get mired in that quicksand and often never move ahead, or move ahead so slowly that it hardly seems like progress.


4. Resolve to step outside your comfort zone: Here the folks at Writer’s Digest suggest we branch out from whatever genre we mostly work in to other things outside of our comfort zones. For example, if you write fiction, try freelance articles, if you write cozy try hardboiled. Like that. I don’t have a real problem with this one...except to say who has the time to branch out? I have several “branch out” works in progress, but I rarely have time to work on them, much as I want to. And why not just try to break out of your comfort zone within your own genre/sub-genre? Sometimes the best novels are the ones that change the genre and stretch the boundaries of that genre. They also mention reading books you normally wouldn’t read. Fine. I like reading a variety of things anyway. As they say, variety is the spice of life, one just needs the time to enjoy those spices while trying to meet deadlines, earn a living, etc.


5. Resolve to call yourself a writer: Writers write. If you write you’re a writer. You may not be a professional writer, but you are a writer. Go for it. I’ve seen various arguments here and there as to who is and isn’t a “writer”. But why rain on someone’s parade? If they write, if you write, you’re a writer. Just do it. Learn as you go. Trial and error. We’re all at various stages of learning to write and we’re all still learning as we go. I come from a screenwriting background. Making the switch to prose writing had various learning curves, particularly in description and transitions. In screenplays/movies description is sparse at best. A beach is a beach. No glorious crimson sunsets dancing on the edge of a knife (well, you know what I mean...). And transitions are usually cuts from one scene to the next. The audience can figure out what’s happening. In prose writing one needs smoother transitions and more “transcendent” descriptions. In some quarters there’s a certain snobbery as to who’s a writer and who isn’t. But mostly I’d say you’re a writer when you put the words on the page, keep writing despite setbacks of one kind or another, including “endless” rejections. When you persevere and believe in yourself, then you are a writer.

6. And now a resolution of my own: Resolve to watch more shows on the Murder Channel, Discovery ID: like Homicide Hunter (Lt. Joe Kenda), Momsters: When Moms Go Bad (w/ Roseanne Barr), Wives with Knives, Web of Lies, Evil Kin, Vanity Fair Confidential, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, On the Case with Paula Zahn. In fact, I plan to do nothing but watch murder shows on Discovery ID 24/7 to escape the horrid realities of everyday life.


7. And one more resolution of my own: Resolve not to do much BSP in the coming year: But wait, it’s time to break all those resolutions, so please check out Vortex, my noir-thriller novella (which means it’s short—you can finish it quickly!). And if you’re eligible to vote for the Lefty Awards from Left Coast Crime, I hope you’ll consider it for—here it comes and it’s a mouthful: “Best mystery novel set in the Left Coast Crime Geographic Region (Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii)”. Vortex definitely fits the bill. Set in L.A., Venice, CA, Hollywood, the Salton Sea and on/at the Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz/L.A. Ballots are due by January 15th. And right now the book is still on sale at Amazon/Kindle for a mere 99 cents, which means it’s cheap—it won’t break the bank. Hell, you probably have 99 cents in change in your pants or purse or on the dresser right now that you just don’t know what to do with. I know what you can do with it—Vortex calls.

And Happy New Year to all ye merry SleuthSayers and our Cherished readers.


Hour glass credit: photo credit: Grains via photopin (license) 

08 September 2015

Noir and the Returning War Vet Sub-Genre


by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a film noir addict.

If I don’t get my fix of noir “I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up in a dark corner, and I don't know who's hitting me.”*

Fodder for another piece is why I’m so addicted to noir. For this piece I want to talk about a specific sub-genre of noir, the returning veteran. My latest book, Vortex (released 9/1), comes under this category.

The story originally went to a different publisher, a publisher of mystery-thriller novellas. somewhere_in_the_night_xlgUnfortunately they went belly up. But in talking with that first publisher, my pitch was to do a story—homage might be too strong a word, but yeah, let’s call it an homage—about a vet returning from the war in Afghanistan a la some of the classic film noir movies like Somewhere in the Night, The Blue Dahlia (written by Raymond Chandler), Ride the Pink Horse, and Act of Violence, etc., and books like David Goodis’ Down There, whose main character had been one of Merrill’s Marauders, or from later, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone and James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, both inspired by the Viet Nam War.

Hey, even Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins is a returning World War II vet, who helped liberate the concentration camps.

47694-devil-in-a-blue-dress-0-150-0-225-cropMy favorite short story of any genre is Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home, about a disaffected WWI vet returning home and how he can no longer relate to anyone or anything. Close to that is Mayday by Fitzgerald. Both were written in the aftermath of World War I. Neither could be classified as noir, but they have a sort of hopeless noir sensibility.

When the vets in all of these stories come home it’s usually not all mom and apple pie.

There are arguments in some circles as to whether film noir is a post war movement or whether it was a result of (mostly) homefront conditions during the war. I think both sides are right, but ultimately I don’t think it matters. For me, the quintessential film noir is Double Indemnity, which came out on September 6, 1944, almost exactly 71 years ago from today. As the war still had a good year and half to go, this would preclude it from being a post-war movie.
But, of course, the Neff charac20_robert_stone_dog_soldierster (Huff in the book) is not a returning vet. Still, this film is (for me) the pinnacle of all noir movies and the jumping off point for the true noir cycle. Then, with the war ending, came a string of movies about returning vets, including those mentioned above. But not all were noir. The Best Years of Our Lives, Till the End of Time and others dealt with the difficult adjustments many vets faced on returning home in a non-noir way.

The war changed American society in a variety of ways. We lost our innocence as a country. Soldiers had seen things no one should have to see. Many came back cynical. Black soldiers came back wanting full rights for the country they had fought for. Women, Rosie the Riveters, weren’t so sure they wanted to be only housewives anymore.

And the Hells Angels motorcycle club (gang) was formed in Fontana, California (not far from LA, the noir capital of the world), in 1948 (just three years after the war) by disaffected World War II vets.

Many soldiers came back from the war who, if not physically wounded, were psychically wounded. Shell shock, combat fatigue, PTSD, “invisible” diseases but diseases that, nonetheless, tear at a man’s soul. Soldiers coming back from Korea were “forgotten,” those returning home from Viet Nam were often called “baby killers”. Those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are often depressed and alienated. One recent study says that roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day, more than any previous generation of war vets.

It’s from there that the creative process began and I started to create characters and situations in Vortex. Call it an updating of the returning war vet noir genre.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex is the story of Zach Tanner, a recently returned Afghan war vet, who finds more trouble here than there. In his words, he went to “hell and back and back to hell again,” upon returning home. But that latest hell is one of his own making. A quagmire of quicksand that he’s sinking deeply into and struggling hard to get out of. And that predicament is fueled by his own greed. He’s also bringing his girlfriend, Jess, down into the mire with him. They’re on the run, careening down Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, being chased by a flashy red Camaro, when Jess says to him:

“What’re you doing?” Jessie said, clutching the handhold.
“We have to get out of here.”
“Talk to them, Zach.”
“We can’t go back, Jess. Don’t you understand, they’ll kill us.”
“They’re your friends.”
“Yeah.” The first rule of war is know your enemy. And I knew mine, too well—or maybe not well enough.

They’re on the run—from Zach’s best friends, or should I say former best friends. And now it’s up to Zach to get himself and Jess out of trouble, while at the same time trying to make sense of a world that has changed radically for him. A world that he now perceives differently because of what he saw and did in the war.

Zach and Jess are part of a generation that’s grown up on unreal reality shows that give them a false expectation of what success is and how to achieve it. A generation that watched the Bling Ring climb to fame and success by breaking into celebrities’ homes and stealing from them. And though some got minor  punishments they also got movies made about them and a couple starred in their own “reality” shows. That’s the quick and easy way to the top of the American Dream that many of Zach’s friends feel entitled to. They fall out when Zach realizes that getting something for nothing isn’t meaningful and when he wants more meaning and purpose in his life now.

Unfortunately, that’s what Zach’s friends still want when he returns home, that quick ride to the top at any cost. But after recuperating for some time in a hospital with plenty of time to think it’s no longer what he wants. Still, he’s part of their plan and even though he wants out, like quicksand they pull him in and under and won’t let him escape.

But what is escape? Zach and Jess hide out down at the Salton Sea, in the desert near Palm Springs. A once promising resort community that’s now dilapidated and going to hell, the underbelly of the American Dream. Built to be a waterfront paradise, it’s now a wasteland of dead fish and dead end streets.

As Zach, the narrator says, “The American Dream crashed and burned right here at the Salton Sea.”
And that’s where Zach finds himself. Now he must extricate himself from a mess largely of his own making and find some kind of equilibrium in a changed world. Will he?

I hope Vortex does a decent job of carrying on the returning war vet sub-genre.  I think these two quotes from Robert Stone and Ernest Hemingway epitomize that genre, even if they’re not noir per se.

“At first Krebs...did not want to talk about the war at all.  Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it.” ―Ernest Hemingway, Soldier’s Home

“If you haven't fought for your life for something you want, you don't know what's life all about.” ―Robert Stone, Dog Soldiers

*Quoted from “The Dark Corner,” written by Jay Dratler, Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Leo Rosten, directed by Henry Hathaway


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18 August 2015

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me


By Paul D. Marks

The fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Riots was last week. It was an earthshattering event in this country. Around the same time, the Sixties exploded on the scene, not just the various riots and protests, but the music, the counterculture, the war in Viet Nam, civil rights. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Things changed. They’ve never been the same.

I was young when the riots happened, but not too long after them I had the experience recounted below. It’s been printed/published elsewhere but I think it’s worth another look. And since this a crime writers and crime writing blog, I think I can tie it in since my Shamus-Award winning novel, White Heat, takes place during the explosive Rodney King riots of 1992.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers—and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.
~.~.~.~

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is theWattsriots-burningbuildings-loc -- Public Domain chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

     Los Angeles is burning.

~.~.~.~


1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown isrodney_king_riot__1992 -- Free to share and use per Bing Licensing caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting. Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.

     Los Angeles is burning.

 ~.~.~.~


I was in Los Angeles in both '65 and '92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in my summer school class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park (now I believe Ted Watkins Park) in Watts and sat under a shady tree, a bunch of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping—in the vernacular of the time—talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity—a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"

Jordan-Downs_4-Edited-1024x576 -- Free to share and use commercially per Bing License
Of course we did. So he took us to the projects—Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that had not so long ago had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.

Watts Towers 11400919376_747ed8aa89_z
We returned to our cars and, to our relief, they hadn't been stolen. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life—one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

~.~.~.~.~.~.~



And now for some delightful BSP—remember, there’s a P at the end of the BS!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]
Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella coming September 1st. Available for pre-order now.

“...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.”
      —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review




Akashic Fade Out Annoucement D1d--C w full date
http://www.akashicbooks.com/fade-out-by-paul-d-marks/


Fade Out: flash fiction story—set at the infamous corner of Hollywood and Vine—came out Monday August 17th on Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder, Monday (big surprise, huh?), and still available, of course.









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