Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kevin Burton Smith for President-Part Two

Well, as I thought, I got several responses to last night's post. I still want to vote for Kevin Burton Smith for President. In other words, I still agree with pretty much everything he said abou noir taking some unfortunate turns.

On Rara-Avis last night Alan Guthrie, a very good writer whose books I enjoy and admire, mentioned the name of Russell James who is, to me, the epitome of everything I like in noir. In case you haven't read him, he's a Brit who sometimes writes in the style of Ted Lewis, whose novel Get Carter became what is, for me, an exemplary hardboiled/noir novel.

"A vicious London gangster, Jack Carter, travels to Newcastle for his brother's funeral. He begins to suspect that his brother's death was not an accident and sets out to follow a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders through Newcastle's underworld, leading, he hopes, to the man who ordered his brother killed. Because of his ruthlessness Carter exhibits all the unstopability of the android in Terminator, or Walker in Point Blank, and he and the other characters in the film are prone to sudden, brutal acts of violence. Written by Mark Thompson {}"

I'd agree with Mark Thompson. It's one of the most violent films I've ever seen. There is no possibility of spiritual redemption for anybody in it. Looked at objectively, Jack Carter is no better than the gangsters he's killing--he's one of them. And yet we give him his vengeance because he's honoring his brother. And in the meantime the director (the excellent Mike Hodges) is showing us the environment in which all these people grew up. He isn't excusing them but he is explaining them to some degree.

I'm not sure who "gb" is but he wrote one of the letters I received abut last night's post. And I think he made some excellent points:

"The violence in the work of some of the classic authors like Thompson or Dan Marlowe never seems gratuitous or over the top in the manner of so many contemporary noir writers who think an exploding head and a blood-splattered windshield is the modern-day equivalent of a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel. One culprit behind this trend, in my opinion, is none other than Quentin Tarantino. Just as you say that many of the new novels are books based on other books instead of life, Tarantino's films mymic his predecessors' work behind a faux ironic smirk instead of expressing a genuine outlook on life.

"His influence on the rest of popular culture (from the ever more gross films of people like Eli Roth to many of the recent noir novels) is likewise tangible. The characters in these neo-noirs usually conform to the stereotype we have of what a hitman or a tough guy is supposed to be like -ruthless, insensitive, sadistic - even if they're nothing but walking punchlines. It is clear to me that many of these writers have never experienced anything even remotely close to violence in their lives. This is why their fake and sadistic depiction of it in their novels is more like a childish enjoyment of the forbidden rather than any meaningful statement. I believe this reliance on the gross also operates as a distraction from their obvious lack of storytelling skills. This is particularly evident in the new crop of novels where it is mandatory to include an action scene on every single page of their three-page chapters."

Ed here: I also got an off-line letter saying that given how dark many of my own books she's surprised that I don't like a lot of today's more violent novels. The answer is contained in gb's letter. And in what Patti Abbott said: "I'm working through an argument that first 9/11 and our response to it has produced writers and books that are nihilistic and despairing. This is certainly true in the literary fiction. Crime fiction was always dark but is perhaps even darker now. I'd like to think I just need prozac but I don't find too many optimistic people out there."

Absolutely true. Even a lot of so-called cozy writers are producing much darker books these days. In many respects this is a grim era. I fear for my grandchildren, the world they're growing up in. As Patti said it's difficult to go back to the old "likeable" protagonist, meaning the near-perfect hero we grew up reading about. But even in these times, even in a novel/movie such as "Get Carter" you find a grim but true meaning, a bitter dignity in existence. One of the off-line writers mentioned "Dr. Strangelove." That's black comedy with a pretty universal theme--hilarious, ridiculous, profound. The day Tarrentino and his followers come close to it, I'll buy a ticket to one of their movies.


Anonymous said...

I know nothing about noir, but I do know that this discussion of the coarsening of American fiction is critically important. Thank you for exploring these things.

Richard Wheeler

Gonzalo B said...

Thanks for the kind words. I read Kevin Smith's and your own commentary on some of the excesses of "neo-noir" and thought they were so spot on I couldn't help but chime in.

-Gonzalo Baeza.

Kevin Burton Smith said...


Will I have to wear a tie? And what the hell do I know about clearing brush, anyway?

But thanks for the vote of confidence.

Happy Canada Day.

Ed Gorman said...

Here I try to make a guy the president of the United States and all he worries about is if he has to wear a tie? Ed