Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

09 August 2016

Meet Me in St. Louis

by Paul D. Marks

Meet me in St. Louie Louie, meet me at the fair…

No, not the St. Louis of the title song, Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and the cakewalk, but of the darker, more cynical St. Louis of Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.

Fellow SleuthSayer John Floyd and I think alike, or at least we both have stories in one of the new Akashic Noir books that were released on August 2nd and wanted to write about them here on SleuthSayers. And I want to congratulate John on his story Pit Stop in Mississippi Noir, which I’ve ordered and am very much looking forward to reading.

I’d also like to congratulate fellow SleuthSayers Art Taylor (Best First Mystery), Barb Goffman (Best Short Story) and BK Stevens (Best Short Story) on their Macavity noms! Good luck to all of you! — And I hope I haven’t missed anyone.


Now to my noir tale:


Lights. Camera. Action.
Apparently there were lights over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis a few days ago. Everybody’s trying to figure out what they were. Kansas City TV station KMBC says “Mysterious light over Gateway Arch stumps St. Louis.” (http://www.kmbc.com/news/mysterious-light-over-gateway-arch-stumps-st-louis/41052670 ) I have an idea about what it might have been, which I’ll get to later. In the meantime, how’s this for a segue, from mysterious lights over the Arch to Akashic’s new St. Louis Noir anthology, which was just released last Tuesday.

The book is edited by Scott Phillips. Among several other great books, Scott is the author of the terrific The Ice Harvest, which was also made into a movie starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. I’m honored that my story Deserted Cities of the Heart is included among the many impressive stories in this collection, along with such talented writers as: John Lutz, Scott Phillips, Calvin Wilson, Lavelle Wilkins-Chinn, Colleen J. McElroy, Jason Makansi, S.L. Coney, Michael Castro, Laura Benedict, Jedidiah Ayres, Umar Lee, Chris Barsanti, and L.J. Smith.

In the intro, Scott says, “Amid all this is a rich, multicultural history of art and literature both high and low, stemming from conflict and passions running hot...This collection strives for some of that same energy that the collision of high and low can produce...All these writers come at their work with different perspectives and styles but all with a connection to and a passion for our troubled city and its surroundings.”

The Akashic Noir Series
The Akashic Noir series, begun in 2004, takes one to dark corners all around the world, literally. From Baltimore to Barcelona and Mumbai to Memphis. Even Prison Noir and Wall Street Noir—hmm…is there a connection there?

Like other Akashic noir books set in a certain locale the stories in St. Louis Noir take you on a Magical Mystery—or should I say Noir—Tour of the city and its surrounds, from Dogtown to downtown, from Gaslight Square to Glendale. And everything in between.


Gateway Arch 2001 by Rick Dickeman
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Deserted Cities of the Heart
My story, Deserted Cities of the Heart, is set at the Gateway Arch, or at least begins there. The reason I chose the Arch as my setting is because I see it as aspirational, thrusting into the heavens. The promise of a bright future and bigger and better things. So, when my protagonist, Daniel, meets a hipster girl who shares his love for all things high-tech and geeky, including computer gaming, we think things are looking up for him. Then we start to wonder who’s ‘gaming’ who?

One of the things I like to do in my writing is to capture the mood or feel of a place. And I tried to do that with this story, which moves from the Arch to the Washington Avenue Historic District, the hipster-joint Atomic Cowboy and even Meramec Caverns, said to be one of Jesse James’ hideouts and deep into the core of cyberspace.

Here’s an excerpt:

Daniel looked up, thought he saw a mourning dove flying through the Gateway Arch, heading out in the direction of Route 66. It was gone now. He wasn’t sure if it was even there in the first place. Like Route 66, there but not there at the same time. What was left of that legendary highway passed right through St. Louis. Once America’s Mother Road, much of it now decommissioned, it existed more like a ghost or a shadow on the land. Daniel had always looked on it as an escape route. But escape to where? Besides, escape was nothing more than illusion. Wherever he went he’d take his baggage with him.

He wanted to forget the last three months had ever happened. Yeah, he wanted to shut those memories out. He didn’t want to think about yesterday. Didn’t want to think about today. And he definitely didn’t want to think about tomorrow. He never thought it would turn out like this.

Do you have to be from St. Louis to write about noir there or be in this volume? No, though I have been there. And I like absorbing the local color and history of a place. I hope I’ve expressed that with St. Louis. The fact is, I consider myself an LA writer, but I’ve been here and there, if not everywhere, and enjoy writing about many locales.

We probably all have goals that we’ve set for our writing careers. They might not be the same from one person to another, but we all have things we want to achieve. One of my goals has been to have a story in one of the Akashic Noir anthologies. I think that’s my major point here: that we all have goals and that with hard work and perseverance we will eventually achieve many of them, if not all.
And I’m happy to say that the book has been getting good reviews, and my story as well:

“…[I]t’s no surprise that the most notable tales are the work of three genre veterans…” including “…‘Deserted Cities of the Heart,’ by Paul D. Marks (‘White Heat’), [which] charts the fall of loner Daniel Hayden after he meets femme fatale Amber Loy at the Gateway Arch.” 
—Publishers Weekly

“Joining Seattle, Memphis, Phoenix, and other noir outposts, St. Louis gets a turn to show its dark side in Phillips' collection of 13 dark tales and a poetic interlude...[A] spirited, black-hearted collection.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Among my favorite stories in St. Louis Noir is one called ‘Deserted Cities of the Heart’ (by Paul D. Marks) in which a loner of an IT nerd with a security clearance is convinced to hack into a witness protection data base with disastrous results by the attractive young out-of-towner who suddenly comes into his life. …The bottom line: St. Louis Noir is another worthy addition to what is perhaps already the best series of short story collections to be published in decades.”
—Sam Sattler, Book Chase


Lights over the Arch 
So what were those mysterious lights over the Arch? I think I know: they were the lights for the premier launch of Akashic’s St. Louis Noir!



***

www.PaulDMarks.com

Click here to: Subscribe to my newsletter 

28 June 2016

Sometimes The Movie Is Better Than The Book – Case Study: In A Lonely Place

by Paul D. Marks


A classic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, based on a book by Dorothy B. Hughes. In a Lonely Place is one of my favorite film noirs. Hell, it’s one of my favorite movies of any genre. But there are two In a Lonely Places. The book and the movie. Some people are fans of both. Others fans of one or the other. I’m the other. I’m a much bigger fan of the movie than the book. That said, I like the book, but I don’t love it. I know a lot of Hughes fans will take what I say here as sacrilege, so get the bricks and bats ready. Uh, for those literalists out there I’m talkin’ figurative bricks and bats.

And that said, the focus of this piece is pretty narrow, dealing mostly with just one aspect of the movie vs. the book. But a major one.


***SPOILERS AHEAD – DO NOT TREAD BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE OR READ THE BOOK***

There are several differences between the novel and the movie. But the main thing is that the book is a pretty straight-forward story about a psychopath who murders for fun, if not profit. In the book, he’s a novelist who sponges off his uncle…and worse. The movie (written by Andrew Solt and Edmund H. North, and directed by Nicholas Ray) is about a screenwriter with a temper and poor impulse control, to say the least. He’s a war hero. A previously successful screenwriter trying to get his mojo back, though I doubt that’s a term he would recognize.

He’s up to do a screenplay based on a book that he doesn’t want to read. So, he brings a woman home to his apartment to read the book to him. He gives her cab money when she’s done. She splits…and is murdered that night. Naturally, he’s a suspect. His alibi witness, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), just moved into his building. He’s charismatic in his own special way and after they meet at the police station, a romance buds between them. But, as the story progresses, she sees the negative sides of his personality, his rage, his jealousy, the way he treats his agent, and she begins to doubt his innocence.

In the book it’s pretty straight-forward. He’s guilty—he’s a psychopath who gets off on killing. In the
movie, we’re not sure because we haven’t actually seen him kill anyone, though we have seen him lose his temper, get into fights, and nearly kill an innocent kid. So, like Laurel, we, too, begin to doubt his innocence.

The novel is, to me, a much more straight-forward story about a serial killer and a more overt bad guy. He’s a psychopathic killer, no doubt about it. In the movie, we’re just not sure. That makes all the difference, especially in his relationship with Grahame. The movie is more ambiguous and with a more ironic ending. Because of this, in my opinion, the movie works much better and seems to strike a fuller chord. However, maybe when the book came out dealing with this psychopath it was more shocking and in turn seemed to have more depth than I see in it today.

Also, in the movie, Dix Steele is much more complex with many more layers to his personality. We like him or at least want to like him. But it’s hard, just as Laurel finds it harder and harder to like him, and especially trust him as time goes on and she sees the dark sides of his personality. We relate to Laurel’s dilemma and find ourselves going along with her and doubting Dix’s truthfulness. We start to believe he really is the killer. We judge him and convict him in our heads just like Laurel does. And we eventually realize how wrong we were as we and Laurel discover the truth.

In the end, Dix and Laurel’s relationship is destroyed by doubt, fear and distrust, even though he’s innocent, because she’s seen that other side of him. And even though Dix Steele doesn’t turn out to be the killer, this is far from a Hollywood happy ending. Very far from it.

The movie takes the basics of the book and adds an ambiguity that leads to a much more bittersweet and poignant story and ending than in the book. So this is a case where the filmmakers did change a certain essence of the story, but it works out for the better.

The movie is noir in the sense that Bogart is tripped up by his own Achilles Heel, his fatal flaw. To me, the thing that most makes something noir is not rain, not shadows, not femme fatales, not slumming with lowlifes. It’s a character who trips over their own faults: somebody who has some kind of defect, some kind of shortcoming, greed, want or desire…temper or insecurity, that leads them down a dark path, and then his or her life spins out of control because of their own weaknesses or failings. Here, Dix is innocent, but a loser, at least in a sense, and will always be a loser. His personality has driven away the one woman who really loved him. Love loses here too, as does Grahame’s character. Her inability to completely trust and believe in Dix leads to her losing what would have been the love of her life. It’s this ambivalence that make it a better movie than book, at least for me. There is, of course, much more to say about this movie, but my point in this piece is just to point out why I like the movie better than the book.

Dix and Laurel love each other, but they can’t be with each other—summed up in some famous lines from the film:

          I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a
          few weeks while she loved me.

Ultimately both versions need to stand on their own and they do. But for me, the bottom line is: I’d say: Good book, great movie.



***

As a side note, a long time ago I bought a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio (lead singer and songwriter of the Smithereens), who did a great song based on the movie called—of all things—In a Lonely Place. The lyrics paraphrase the famous lines from the movie above. So, every time I look at the poster I think about him sitting under it, writing that song. Doubt he’d remember me, but for me that’s a cool memory. Click here to watch the YouTube music video.





***

Also, here are some pictures from my book signing last week with Pam Ripling at The Open Book in Valencia:



And my radio interview at KHTS AM 1220. Click here for the podcast.




14 June 2015

Ransom

by Leigh Lundin

Today’s article will be a short two minutes —or— two hours long— if you wish to take the whole trip.

John Floyd and I’ve mentioned that Mel Gibson has returned to making movies and we’ve enjoyed a couple of his recent films. He seems to have begun a rehabilitation as a man and an actor. While many feel Gibson has not paid for his sins, he's kept his head down and his nose to the grindstone. People love it when a lost soul finds their way back on track and into our minds and hearts, and it would be good if he manages to dig his way out of the hole he dug himself into.

While not thinking of Gibson at all, I found myself reading about a 1954 United States Steel Hour teleplay “Fearful Decision”. It spawned a loosely based 1956 film, Ransom! starring Glenn Ford. That spawned a loosely based 1996 film, Ransom, starring Gary Sinise and our friend, ta-da… Mel Gibson. The central thread of the plots centers upon fathers forced to deal with the kidnappers of their sons, making tough decisions condemned by others, but with method to their madness.

I’d seen the 1996 film and thought it brilliant. Frankly I’d forgotten Gibson was in it and it was nice to reconnect. If you haven’t seen Ransom, the plot is superb. It’s so well done, SleuthSayers is bringing it to you here.

This is the full film which you can stream to your television or watch on your computer. I highly recommend it.