Friday, July 06, 2007

An emminently sensible letter from Fred Blosser

Fred Blosser said...

Ed, I don't read enough contemporary crime fiction to know what may or may not be Tarantino-influenced. I tend to stick with the stuff I know (Block, Westlake, Collins, Leonard, McBain while he was still with us ...)and -- unfortunately -- I'm not as adventurous as I should be in trying unfamiliar writers.

Of the novels I've read in the last 3-4 years, I guess I would point to Bruen and Starr's BUST and Gischler's GUN MONKEYS as two that seem to have some affinity with Tarantino's universe. On the other hand, I suspect that it's more a matter of Bruen & Starr, Gischler, and Tarantino all reflecting a common fondness for the low-life settings of Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, and such.

When I got into reading hardboiled in the late '60s, the field was still dominated by 1) the classic PI novel or similarly macho-oriented variations thereof (JDM and the other Gold Medal guys, Ross Mac, Dennis Lynds under his various pennames, Spillane, etc), and 2) the big caper novels put together by guys like Westlake/Stark and Marlowe -- steely protagonists and clockwork heists.

Into the '70s, the pattern still held, and the young turks like Al Collins and Loren Estleman somewhat modernized the genre but still paid respect to the conventions, more or less. Then into the '80s and early '90s, as the old guys passed away and newer (if not always younger successors) came on the scene, and as Elmore Leonard hit the big time, it seemed to me that the pattern changed somewhat. Fewer take-charge protagonists like Travis McGee and Lew Archer, more goofy or oddball supporting characters, more wacked-out bad guys, and grungier settings. I think the Thompson revival of 1986-96 bolstered this trend, as did SCARFACE and MIAMI VICE. Willeford and Woodrell helped fill the ranks, and Tarantino pulled freight in the movies.

The other big shift in detective fiction, seems to me, is the stuff that derives from Thomas Harris and CSI -- the hunt for effete serial maniac Hasdrubal Manticore by burned out FBI Special Agent Roger Mortis that hinges on Agent Mortis finding Mom's undigested big toe in the stomach of the autopsied cadaver that was pulled out of the Hudson River yesterday.

I've tried to avoid most of the movies that clearly seem to tip their hat to Tarantino but I must admit that of the ones I've seen, some I liked. For example, SMOKIN' ACES, which has a couple of outrageous scenes that made me laugh out loud.

I wonder if the dismal showings for GRINDHOUSE and HANNIBAL RISING suggest that the popularity of Tarantino and Harris has about run its course?

2 comments:

Neil said...

"I wonder if the dismal showings for GRINDHOUSE and HANNIBAL RISING suggest that the popularity of Tarantino and Harris has about run its course?"

Respectfully, please consider that a majority of film critics (or at least the majority I've read)praised Tarantino's work in GRIND HOUSE. In spite of the box office, it's a good movie, and the same can be said of many films.

And which movie broke records at the box office this week? TRANSFORMERS. Utter schlock.

So I can't always equate popularity with good.

Fred Blosser said...

No argument with that statement. It's just that the critics expected GRINDHOUSE to open at $20M at a minimum, it tanked at $11M the first weekend, and unlike PULP FICTION continued to tank. This doesn't necessarily mean that Tarantino is losing his audience, but it doesn't indicate much of a vote of confidence either. Tarantino reminds me of the wiseguys in my long-ago high school class who were fun to be around for a few minutes, after which their personalities began to wear thin.

In Harris' case, I think the decline was a case of going to the well twice too often with Hannibal Lector. Once Lector took center stage in the last two books, he ceased to be an interesting character.

I'd still be interested in some examples of Tarantino-influenced novels.