09 March 2015

Junk entry (movie & reading)

I’m posting this junk entry because I wrote a comment on the social network which I wanted to archive here. Plus I’ll share a recording of myself reading from my own book, which almost relates to the topic.

Obligatory image

Here is a detail from the movie poster for Cry Danger (1951), which is not the movie that I wrote about in this post. Why am I sharing the wrong image? Because the omniscient spaceman who invented existence itself commanded all earthlings to help increase our world’s sum total chaos. At least, that’s my belief. And the actors depicted below are named Dick and Rhonda.

Before I offer the following “prolegomenon to my own personal take on a movie that I recently saw”, I want to repeat that what I’m about to say has nothing to do with the image that appears above.

Prolegomenon to my own personal take on a movie that I recently saw

I am an intense admirer of at least two people: the writer Thomas Pynchon and the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. So I was excited when I heard that Anderson had adapted Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice. For months, I waited impatiently for the movie to find me – and yestereven, at long last, I got a chance to screen it.

Why did I wait, instead of simply buying a movie ticket? Because theaters make me so nervous that I can’t enjoy the films they show. Or else I have to drink so much nail polish that my eyes forget to focus. So I always wait for movies to be released on disc.

(I used to worry that this preference for home viewing over public theaters would disqualify me as a movie fanatic; but then I heard an interview with the great director Alain Resnais, who’s a hero to me; and he admitted to having exactly the same preference.)

My own personal take on a movie that I recently saw

My take on Inherent Vice was that its so-called problematic aspects were all intentional – the feeling that the plot is incomprehensible translates as good fun to me – the film flaunts its disarray: it’s enjoyably convoluted. And there’s a history of that kind of thing in this genre: I immediately thought of The Big Sleep (1946), whose plot was so perplexing (although unintentionally) that its own director and screenwriters and even the source-novelist admitted being confused about certain details. I assume that Pynchon was cheerfully engaging in this type of madness when he wrote his novel, and then P.T. Anderson approached his adaptation as a chance to add to the ‘noir’ tradition in cinema: to take his place in the line that goes from The Big Sleep to The Long Goodbye (1973). That last title came to mind as I watched, because of its pacing and mood, and its dazed tendency to meander right alongside its dated detective. If The Big Sleep is considered noir, and The Long Goodbye is considered neo-noir, then Inherent Vice is like neo-neo-noir or post-neo-noir or some term equally & humorously far-fetched. To be sure, Anderson incorporates more influences than just those two films; but they’re the most important ones; they provide the key background: Vice deserves to be called their lovechild. (I mean this as high praise.)

Anderson’s movie also seemed true to Pynchon’s style & book – as true as a film can be in this regard – which I think is a real achievement: I always presumed that Pynchon’s writings were movie-proof, maybe even on purpose; so it felt good to be wrong.

An extra, personal reason this film pleased me

An extra, personal reason this film pleased me is that I myself have dabbled with reanimating the elements of old B-movies. Long before I read Pynchon’s novel or saw Anderson’s adaptation, I wrote a short text called The Stickup Continuum, which I describe as “a brief non-story, like a mosaic made from memories of so-called noir films”. On account of this relation, I hope you’ll pardon my sharing of this reading that I recently did at a coffee & wine cafe.

P.S. the full text is also available in my first collection.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I would like your advice about inherent vice. Is it important to read the book before the movie? I usually skip reading the books because I get lazy, but when I watched all the harry potter movies instead of the books JK Rowling got really mad at me. Thanks, I am a big closet fan.

Bryan Ray said...

Hello and thanks for your comment! I say that the movie stands on its own just fine. And you should never read a book unless you really want to. Movie adaptations are independent artworks whose value increases the more brilliantly they DEVIATE from their source texts. In other words: a movie that’s true to its book is a boring movie.

And if an artwork requires us to engage in scholarly research before it is able to arouse any genuine interest, I call that work deficient. Weak artworks depend on outside knowledge for their effect. The strongest artworks, like the books of William Blake, spark an immediate interest in the creative reader: one can enjoy these works without perfectly understanding them; meanwhile, their enigmatic aspects lure the reader to explore related works afterwards – so a reader of Blake becomes a reader of the Bible and Milton, not by way of some overt command, but on account of a loving curiosity that naturally arises.

What I’m trying to say is that an artwork’s enigma should give an instant pleasure that provokes the spectator to discover more of its secrets. The enigma of the movie ‘Inherent Vice’ is pleasant in itself; yet, as a great work, it also entices viewers to seek out its forerunners – those sibling films that I mentioned above: ‘The Big Sleep’ (1946) and ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973). Of course, some viewers will also become curious about Pynchon’s book – I would never dissuade someone from checking out a source text; but, when it comes to deepening one’s appreciation for Anderson’s film, I think that a familiarity with the aforesaid movies is more important than having knowledge of Pynchon. The author and the filmmaker are both excellent artists, but, in this case, Pynchon’s book is raw material to be manipulated by Anderson, whereas Anderson’s film is able to engage in a type of conversation with the foregoing movies: this playful exchange that occurs between artworks in the same medium is most satisfying to me.

To anyone who thinks of checking out the novel, I say: read Pynchon for Pynchon’s sake, and for your own sake; not for the sake of any movie. But if you have the desire, I assure you: Pynchon is DEFINITELY worth pursuing. There might be no better way to spend one’s time than reading the best of Thomas Pynchon. And if asked to name my favorite of his books, I’d have to list two titles, because I love them both equally: ‘Mason & Dixon’ and ‘The Crying of Lot 49’.


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