Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Anecdote of the Week: "I think Nathanael West was a creep."



Two excerpts from Eve's Hollywood, billed as "a confessional L.A. novel by Eve Babitz." James Wolcott wrote about Babitz not too long ago and the Siren, fascinated, managed to borrow a copy of the out-of-print and damn-near-unavailable book from a trusting and generous friend.

This little post is for that friend, and for Kim Morgan, who loves Los Angeles and who makes the Siren want to love it. And after reading this book, the Siren's smitten with Eve Babitz, too. The woman is a natural writer--unforced, unfussy, funny as hell.

First, a picnic by the L.A. River. Los Angeles has a river? wondered the Siren, as she read. Well, of sorts...


Vera Stravinsky once told me that in 1937 she went on a picnic, in a few limousines, that Paulette Goddard had prepared ("because she was quite a gourmet..." Vera said). On the picnic was the Stravinskys, Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, Greta Garbo, Bertrand Russell and the Huxleys. They got into the cars to drive to a likely spot, but there were no likely spots and they drove and drove. There had been a drought and everything was dry, there was no grass and so finally they spotted the measly L.A. "River" and decided to spread their blanket on its ridiculous banks and make the best of it. The "L.A. River" is a trickle that only looks slightly like a river if there's been a downpour for three months but even then it doesn't look like a river. Anyway, they spread out the food, the champagne, the caviar, the pate and everything and sat on the banks of the "river" beneath a bridge over which cars were going.

"Hey!"

They looked up and there was a motorcycle cop with his fists on his hips, looking cross.

"Yes?" Bertrand Russell stood up to inquire.

There was a sign that said people were not allowed to picnic by the "river."

The cop pointed to the sign and looked at Russell and then said, "Can't you read?"...

The cop only relented when he recognized Garbo.

The Siren is quoting this next bit because first of all, the Siren loves people who love their cities. Second, the Siren likes Nathanael West--and despite that, this made her laugh and laugh and laugh. Especially the kicker.




"Nathanael West is the best writer about Hollywood there ever was."

"No, he isn't."

The first speaker is someone from Chicago, the second is me, born in Hollywood. People from the East all like Nathanael West because he shows them it's not all blue skies and pink sunsets, so they don't have to worry: It's shallow, corrupt and ugly.

I think Nathanael West was a creep. Assuring his friends back at Dartmouth that even though he'd gone to Hollywood, he had not gone Hollywood. It's a little apologia for coming to the Coast for the money and having a winter where you didn't have to put tons of clothes on just to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes or a beer. And so people from New York and Chicago say, "Nathanael West is the best writer about Hollywood there ever was."

All the things that Nathanael West noticed are here. The old people dying, the ennui, the architecture and fat screenplay writers who think it's a tragedy when they can't get laid by the 14-year-old doxette in Gower Gulch, the same 14-year-old who'll ball the cowboys any old time. But if there had been someone, say, who wrote a book about New York, a nice, precise, short little novel in which New York was only described as ugly, horrendous and finally damned and that was the book everyone from elsewhere decided was the "best book about New York there ever was," people who grew up knowing why New York was beautiful would finally, right before dessert, throw their sherry across the table and yell, "I'll pick you up in a taxi, honey, and take you for a fucking guided tour, you blind jerk."

The Siren's been under the weather, but she'll be back to her old, erratic self in no time.

96 comments:

Greg said...

I like Mr. West as well but I never thought of it that way, quite frankly. The New York analogy is a great one. I'd be properly pissed, too, if that were the case.

Eddie Selover said...

Small world department: when I met my wife Rebecca in Hollywood in the early 80s, she lived next door to Eve Babitz and her parents... her mother Mae was an artist and we have a painting she gave Rebecca hanging in our dining room to this very day.

Eddie Selover said...

p.s. I agree on Nathaniel West and "Locust" -- some kind of weird great book but hardly the definitive L.A. novel.

Pordenone said...

There is a book that describes the decadent New York area life style and I don't hear it savaged by the East Coast Critics. It's called The Great Gatsby.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I save my ire for filmmakers who get it all wrong when a movie supposedly takes place in Denver, as well as those who blithely make assumptions about "flyover states".

Get well soon.

shane013a said...

Chicago is not "in the east" by a long shot. Leave it to self obsessed Californians to be a blind as to lump all the world around them as 'anyone but us'. Funny I hear tell there is a designation there setting L.A from the rest of the state...LMFAO, that figures.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Nathaniael West was not a creep. J.D. Slainger was a creep. Nathanael West was merely testy.

Hate to take issue with Eve Babitz on this as she's the author of one of my all-time fave quips: "Death is the last word in other people having fun without you."

That's right up there with Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Dean.

Greg said...

But Pordenone, DAY OF THE LOCUST is about the fringe trying to work its way in. The wanna-be starlet, the travelling salesman, the set designer, the simpleton outsider, the cockfighters and the boy/girl taunter. THE GREAT GATSBY is about the 1 percenters and their sheltered life. I think something like TAXI DRIVER is more the "everything is shit in New York" kind of movie/story that would fit. If someone said Paul Schrader had written a great movie, I'd agree. If they said it was the definitive New York movie, I'd say they're crazy.

X. Trapnel said...

Then again there is a NY novel whose denizens are broken down, freakish, pathetic, mentally and emotionally stunted. It's called Miss Lonelyhearts.

Feel better Siren.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Schlesinger's film of The Day of the Locust is truly magnificent

The Siren said...

Ha, XT FTW!

I knew it was risky posting that West bit, funny as I found it. But I'm a city girl, by choice, and truly I do feel a bond with people who are passionately attached to the city where they live, even if it's one where I don't want to live myself. And let's face it, LA gets dissed an awful lot, so the sheer cussedness factor appealed to me too.

And yeah, Day of the Locust is -- hm, not sure I'd say it reaches all the way to great, it has some self-conscious and awkward moments to me, but it's unforgettable for sure.

Greg said...

I'm with David. I love Day of the Locust. I wrote it up at TCM several months back after watching it for the first time in thirty something years and concluded the lackluster critical response in 1975 was due to something in the water supply. And this coming from someone who went into the re-watching thinking, "Oh man, this is going to be a chore."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Conrad Hall captures the light in L.A. like no one else in a scene where Faye (Karen Black in the role she was born to play) is lolling around at the door to Todd's (William Aesthetic Realism Atherton) flat -- moving in and out of the glare.

All that plus Billy Barty (in the role he was born to play), Lelia Goldoni looking unspeakably gorgeous in Natalie Schaeffer's whorehouse, Paul Jabara doing "Hot Voodoo" in drag in an L.A. nightclub, and of course Donald Sutherland stomping Jackie Earle Haley to death (see above clip)

This was what Schlesinger got to do after the surprise success of Midnight Cowboy -- and it's a zillion times tougher and more uncompromising.

VP81955 said...

There was -- and is -- a lot to like about Los Angeles. It's a far more literary city than it's given credit for, and its rise to becoming the economic behemoth of the Pacific Rim, with its interaction with both Latin America and eastern Asia, is making it to the 21st century what New York was with Europe in the 20th. The eastern writers who headed west with the coming of sound, believing their "only competition is idiots" (as Ben Hecht famously wrote), underestimated the city and the film culture that arose from it.

VP81955 said...

And to be fair, the Los Angeles that West experienced was a radically different city than it is today, far less multicultural and almost completely dominated by the culture of its dominant emigres -- midwestern Protestant piety.

Yojimboen said...

Personally I never forgave West for killing Sister Eileen. I’ve often wondered what went through his mind the nanosecond before his, and poor Eileen’s death; I suspect it was along the lines of: “Great! Everybody’s going to remember that Scotty F croaked yesterday, but it’s ‘Nathanael Who’ from here on out!”

Plus, between these, I’ve always preferred the latter.
Homer #1, Homer #2

Not, I hasten to add, the fault of Mr. Sutherland who was (as more often than not throughout his career) badly served by his director.

Sorry, David, with the possible exception of Jackie Earle Haley (the mere fact that Karen Black and William Atherton had careers as actors remains a complete mystery to me), I think Locust is a perfectly dreadful film. (Rule number one: You can’t hope to make an ‘A’ movie about ‘B’ movie denizens.)

Waldo Salt’s script – I’ve read it – is forced and strident; completely the opposite of his Midnight Cowboy adaptation – also for Schlesinger. Salt’s Cowboy script is calm, reasoned and intelligent; not so his Locust adaptation, which reeks of added condescension and suppressed rage, as if Salt was in one fell swoop trying to get back at Hollywood for his years on The Blacklist. Talk about shooting the messenger…

(Please… feel better, dear lady.)

Ben Alpers said...

(Rule number one: You can’t hope to make an ‘A’ movie about ‘B’ movie denizens.)

An exception (IMO): ED WOOD (which I happened to see again last night).

Also, I wanted to mention A COOL MILLION, which is my favorite West novel.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, oh Y, oh Y! Alright no forgiving West, but their's was a happy marriage (emotional salvation for both) and the former was deeply grieved by Fitzgerald's death. Of course FSF was by far the greater writer, but in one week the bright future of the modern American novel was darkened forever.

Juanita's Journal said...

Yep, there is an L.A. River. It's man made, of course. But there are parts of it that make the river look as if it is a natural one.

As an Angeleno, I say hooray to the woman who defended her city. I know that L.A. isn't perfect. Hell, my sister and I used to have our own nickname for the city (I'll have to remember it), which might be viewed as somewhat disrespectful. But we love it. I've never been to New York (although I would love to). But I have visited Chicago on a few occasions. And I enjoyed it, too.

By the way, I have seen "THE DAY OF THE LOCUST". Honestly? I don't love it. Actually, I don't like it at all. I found it a bit frantic, especially the finale. But I must admit that in its own way, it is well made.

Casey said...

I'm an LA native, and I live in Hollywood. It's interesting how attitudes toward LA have changed in my lifetime. In the sixties, people in other cities often dismissed LA as a soulless wasteland. These days it gets a lot more respect, and there's a good deal of interest in Angeleno art, music, architecture, etc.. But as someone else pointed out, the city has changed radically. If I'd been hobnobbing with authors on the New York literary scene in nineteen twenty eight, and was being told how to write by Jack Warner in twenty nine, I'd probably be pretty bitter and angry too.

X. Trapnel said...

Jack Warner or the Manksman...

Yojimboen said...

Set aside the silly (though sometimes pretty funny) circulating lists attempting to define the state of being a New Yorker or an Angelino, my perception is simpler (and probably simple-minded): You become a New Yorker the first time you hit your horn within one second of the light two cars up ahead turning green.

The Los Angeles equivalent (and I like to think it might reach mantra level for Eve Babitz, seen here beating Marcel Duchamp at chess), is the first time you get up, look out your window at the cloudless blue and complain, “Goddammit, another perfect fucking day!”

Noel Vera said...

Hope you're feeling better...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Karen Black's manifest limitations as an actress are the entire point of her performance in . Faye Greener is a dress extra who thinks she's a star. Likewise Karen Black.

As for Atherton the film would be unbearable with a Todd we actually liked.

ALL THIS PEPE SERNA'S FABULOUS NAKED ASS!!!!

Yojimboen said...

"As for Atherton the film would be unbearable with a Todd we actually liked."

Good point.

Dave Enkosky said...

I am so not an L.A. person but I loved those excerpts--the way she dug into West for his cruelty to her town. I kind of feel like I should visit the city again, give it another shot. Los Angeles Plays Itself also gave me a little bit of respect for the place.

X. Trapnel said...

To defend Nathanael West on this point of alleged "cruelty" is to defend modern American literature generally in any given locale. Recall that the working title of Winesburg Ohio was A Book of Grotesques, lives misshapen by dessicated values, provincialism, boosterism, morbid religion, and genteel "culture" there and all along the Spoon River and Lewis's Main Street, in Edwin Arlington Robinson's Tilbury Town, and Dos Pasos's, Fitzgerald's, (and West's) NY. None of these writers were nihilists and each had an idea of a world more attractive or life better lived.

"I must be cruel only to be kind"--Hamlet

Yojimboen said...

Knee-deep in ‘isms’, X, you missed the big one: Jingoism. By my read it was finally taking hold in Merkin Litchah, albeit reluctantly, every one a them was still playin’ defence agin the Europeans (except H James, who decided it was easier to join than lick, and of course Melville who really wasn’t paying attention – read Mencken on Melville – a gigantic hoot); and this, mind you, was 55 years after Huck Finn, when said Merkin Litchah finally, once and for all time, earned the key to the door.

X. Trapnel said...

Jing-o-ism? Dunno 'bout that Mistah Y. Lotsa them fellers an' gals went to Paree or read them dirty books by James Joyce. Heck, a few of 'em even went fer Red Roosha (pause to spit). I 'spect they jest wanted to git away from thet thar lit'rary tradition of Perfijous Albion.

gmoke said...

Eve Babitz was part of the East Village scene back in the day for a NY minute or two. She wrote a little about that.

Here's another voice contemporary to West's and Fitzgerald's time:
_John O'Hara's Hollywood_ by John O'Hara
NY: Avalon Publishing Group, 2007
ISBN-10: 0-7867-71872-2

"The Industry and the Professor"
(66) "Well, not a Commie. But he came out verrrrry, verrrrry strong for Truman. He didn't have to come out that strong. If he wanted to come out for him, all right. That's enough. He didn't have to shoot off his face. I'll bet you'd have a hard time convincing people like Bob Montgomery and George Murphy he isn't a Commie."

"The Glendale People"
(86) When he dies, and the highlights of his career appear in his obituary, there will be people who will say that they thought he was dead; others who will wonder why they never heard of him; others who have heard of him and will say they wish they never had; and a few who will laugh and say unkind thing not unkindly.

"Natica Jackson"
(248) "It wasn't only your eyes. You went around all day with your buttons showing."

"My buttons? In a bathing suit?"

"Your nipples, dear," he said. "you were a woman fulfilled today. You can hardly wait to get back to this guy, whoever he is. Which is all right, as long as you get your sleep."

(274) But there is the real thing, which happens no more than once or twice in a dozen pictures. It is that moment when a performer has finished playing a scene, and for perhaps a count of three seconds no one on the set speaks. There is complete silence on the part of everyone who has been watching the scene. The silence is usually broken by the director, who says - and does not need to say - "We'll print that." Then all the people on the set go about their business once again, the better for having witnessed a minute-and-a-half of unrecapturable artistry.

X. Trapnel said...

Weird that Hollywood zealously filmed so many of O'Hara's clunkers but never touched Appointment in Samarra. (BUtterfield 8 is no clunker but "film" is not the verb to describe what was done to it.)

Yojimboen said...

And when they got ‘over there’, they found that Papa Ernie H already had the best table at the Flore, and/or N West’s brother-in-law Sid was holding the floor (ouch) while devouring the continent in daintily sardonic bite-sized chunks.

Speaking of, did you see HBO’s mini-epic Gellhorn and Hemingway last night. You didn’t? Lucky you.

A for effort in Costumes and Production Design; very good CGI integration of stock and real footage; but a rather hopeless script, with Clive Owen (surprisingly at sea) as Hemingway, spouting pithy, teeth-clenched aphorisms - not all of them his - and poor Nicole Kidman trying to keep up and not appear too tall. Can we have a reaction, Miss Kidman? Just one? Any facial expression? Please?

Nicole? It’s called ‘Botox’; the second half of that word is the clue.
It’s toxic. You know? Poison. Not good for you, lovely lady.
Please stop.

Vanwall said...

Actually, I think the pulp writers got the old H'wood better than most. Even Dan Turner was deeper than he looked.

X. Trapnel said...

I must add my own mite of abuse here. Philip Kaufmann is a sentimental vulgarian who turns every literary property he touches into kitschy celebrations of safe, audience-flattering bohemianism. Scratch the surface (not that there's anything but surface) of Henry & June, Unbearable Lightness, Quills and you'll find An American in Paris (Minelli's, not Gershwin's).

V, there's probably lot's of good Hollywood fiction we don't hear enough about. I have high hopes for Maritta Wolff's The Big Nickelodeon (I'm reading her other [terrific] novels right now).

DavidEhrenstein said...

X -- don;t forget that closet queen Thornton Wilder whose Our Town is little but a candyappled version of Winesburg Ohio

Quite true about Appointment in Sammara and Phil Kaufman. Outside of Fearless Frank my invariable reaction to his work is "You mean -- that's it?"

VP81955 said...

Weird that Hollywood zealously filmed so many of O'Hara's clunkers but never touched Appointment in Samarra.

How many here remember a PBS adaptation of "Natica Jackson" from the late 1980s with Michelle Pfeiffer in the title role? She was wonderful in it, with a luminosity perfect for a '30s star. (It can be found on DVD under the title "Power, Passion And Murder.")

In the early '90s, there were reports that Pfeiffer and Tom Cruise were planning a biopic of the ill-fated romance between Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo. Sorry that project never reached fruition. Pfeiffer would have been an ideal Lombard; I can't think of any actress who could have better captured Carole's charisma.

Casey said...

Gotta step in to defend Kaufman and Wilder. While Kaufman is erratic, Unbearable Lightness has a luminous quality that makes it more than just a literary adaptation. It also has a great cast and the way he uses Janacek's music is inspired. And what's your problem with Quills? It's wonderful pulp, again with a great cast. As for Wilder, Our Town wasn't meant to expose any dirty secrets about small town life. It's a serene poem about the beauty of small town life.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Cruise wasn't ABOUT to "capture" Russ Columbo. The better part of his life has been devoted to threatening anyone who would so much as dare to compare him to Russ Columbo.

Yojimboen said...

FYI, X, Samarra when last heard of (2003-ish) was on the roster for Robert Benton to write and direct (for Producer Scott Rudin IIRC) but clearly nothing’s come of it.

But there was a production for TV in 1953 in the “Robert Montgomery Presents” series (link here – scroll down), which I’ve been trying to find for years - with no success.

Jeff Gee said...

Wow! There IS no mention of Russ Columbo at the other end of the "...dare to compare him to Russ Columbo" hyperlink, yet I quickly ended up on Russ Columbo's Wikipedia page anyway to figure out why. This spectacularly effective rhetorical device / masterful piece of misdirection will hitherto be known as "A Russ Columbo Segue." DavidE, once again I am in awe.

Yojimboen said...

VW – I second your motion; by sheer accident, the first SFS works I read (courtesy of a provincial upbringing) were the ‘Pat Hobby Stories’. My appreciation of his other works, plus much of my perception and understanding of H’Wood spring therefrom.

Re Kaufman… An odd duck. I agree his treatments of Henry Miller and Milan Kundera are mostly pre-digested pap, tailored to the hoi polloi like a Life Magazine article on the counter-culture. Kaufman seems to have a rep of shouldering aside countless writers until he alone remains to take solo credit. (It didn’t work on Unbearable Lightness mainly because Jean-Claude Carrière has more writing credits than god and, one imagines, suffers upstart American directors not too much.)

It did work on The Right Stuff, which stands alone and, strangely, sometimes quite tall in his otherwise unsettling and unsettled filmography. The movie reportedly was a world-class clusterfuck from day one till the Premiere. Writers without number came and went, until that magic point was reached wherein no one knew any longer who wrote what scene and Mr. Kaufman took solo credit for the adaptation of Wolfe’s book. More power to him, that’s the way it works in H’Wood.

P.S. He wasn’t alone in selling other people’s labours as his own. After composer John Barry had had enough melodrama and hit the bricks, Bill Conti was hired to score the picture – in four weeks.
No fool Conti, he demanded and got the contractual right to use pre-existing cues and label them as his own. The crowning irony to the sordid affair was that Conti walked off with that year’s Oscar® for best score – a ‘score’ largely based on (the uncredited) Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major.

Hey-ho, and so it goes.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I'm getting the distinct impression that Robert Montgomery Presents never actually existed but was either a strange collective dream or a fiendish trick of mass hypnosis. There are some alleged Fitzgerald adaptations as well.

David, glad you dislike Kaufmann, but a little fairness to Thornton Wilder. Bridge of St. L R, Ides of March, and Heaven's My Destination are minor masterpieces and if Our Town is candy what would life be without a little of same now and then (Klara Novak would agree). And then there is a certain screenplay... I'm looking forward to Penelope Niven's bio of Wilder due out next fall.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My fave is The Skin of Our Teeth The best bio of Thornton Wilder to date can be found in by Justin Spring. Steward's affair with Wilder stretched on in desultory fasion for a great many years. He notes precisely what Wilder was like in bed -- which as we all know is the essence of character.

I'll be interested to see what Penelope Niven digs up.

Wilder taught playwriting to Edward Albee. And Albee was as fed up with his closetiness as I am with Anderson Cooper's.

You're welcome, Jeff Gee.

Qalice said...

I liked "Day of the Locust", too, but I'm not a believer in definitive portraits of any large city. I don't know if any great portrait of Los Angeles could be written in English, anyway. I live in Glendale, well known to the readers of this blog, I think, and I'm only commenting to defend the fact and the idea of Los Angeles. The weather is Mediterranean. The people are varied, workaholic and some of them are frighteningly beautiful. In Los Angeles, no one will mock your dream. It's really a Latin American city, but more than a hundred languages are spoken in the LA Unified School District. I hear English, Spanish, Armenian and Tagalog just walking my dog. And yes, there is a Los Angeles River, sadly paved for most of its length -- but nevertheless, the fastest river in any American city, because it falls from the mountains to the ocean in such a short distance. As do so many of us.

The Siren said...

I love Thornton Wilder, I don't care what broom closet he holed up in. Bridge of San Luis Rey did not enchant me but Our Town is exquisite, Skin of Our Teeth is extremely funny (and it starred Tallulah on Broadway!) and of course I've often said Shadow of a Doubt is my favorite Hitchcock.

I don't know much John O'Hara but Appointment in Samarra has long had a spot on my "definitely someday" reading list.

Qalice, thanks so much for de-lurking; what a lovely comment. I see so many old movies shot in and around the Bunker Hill neighborhood, and it looks so wonderful. They tell me it's gone now, yes? If LA really is a Mediterranean climate, I guess the Santa Ana winds stand in for the mistral. I am trying to think of old movies that use the Santa Ana winds to great effect and coming up empty.

gmoke said...

I got into an O'Hara binge a decade or two ago and read everything I could get my hands on. Of that generation of writers I've read, he is the most revelatory observer of the American upper middle class. He is seriously under-rated and unjustly forgotten in my estimation.

That PBS version of the Natica story was powerful and well done. Brian Kerwin did a good job as Pfeiffer's love interest.

I enjoy Wilder too, often quoting his definition of an adventure from "The Matchmaker": You know you're having an adventure when you'd rather be home in bed.

A couple of notes from his two earliest novels:
_The Cabala and The Woman of Andros_ by Thornton Wilder
NY: Harper Perennial, 1926 and 1930
ISBN 978-0-06-051857-8

The Cabala
(70) ... while we are in love with a person our knowledge of his weaknesses lies lurking in the back of our minds and our idealization of the loved one is not so much an exaggeration of his excellences as a careful "rationalization" of his defects.

The Woman of Andros
Chrysis' [woman of Andros, hetaera] story of the man who was allowed to relive a day of his life after he was dead.
(149) Suddenly the hero saw that the living too are dead and that we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasure; for our hearts are not strong enough to love every moment. And not an hour had gone by before the hero who was both watching life and living it called on Zeus to release him from so terrible a dream.

X. Trapnel said...

Another sorely neglected chronicler of upper and would-be upper middle-class unease and a fine writer to boot is John P. Marquand.

Vanwall said...

Los Angeles, and it's environs, such as H'wood, isn't really a place, anyway. I'd not say a state of mind, there are too many states of consciousness involved in the sprawling mixture of the real good, bad, and ugly.

My favorite LA of the written kind is found in Raymond Chandler's fever dreams, and also the wicked, sharp sunlight of Ross MaDonald, and in the murderous deviousness of Ross Thomas. Not coincidentally, these are crime novels, which seem to bring out the underbelly of the city, it's actual constant.

There's a great unintentional trilogy of recent films that actual go well together as a period piece about one of the the LA's that was, and they get it quite well:

"LA Confidential"
"Devil in a Blue Dress"
"True Confessions"

In no particular order, but they hang together well.

When I finally made it to LA, it was like a series of completely different places, and they were completely jammed side by side, like a million 110th Streets - also used in an underbelly film, "Across 110th Street" - and I've never really finished gallivanting around, no matter how many times I visit. Looking for a definitive is a waste of time, as is crowning anyone a king of anything in LA, the eternally mutable thing it is.

Bill Coleman said...

One of my favorite Hollywood novels is "I Should've Stayed Home" by Horace McCoy, which is available for download from the Munsey's site: http://www.munseys.com/book/30261/I_Should_Have_Stayed_Home

X. Trapnel said...

Since I've already put in a plug for Maritta Wolff I'll add her LA novel Sudden Rain. I was half way through her Night Shift when it dawned on me that this was the source for The Man I Love. It's also one of the best novels of working class life I've ever read.

Yojimboen said...

Watch the whole clip from the beginning.
Don’t cheat yourself.

When I saw this broadcast in 1989 (Great Performances), I knew what was coming… but was nowhere near ready for it.
I guess Emily’s declaration in the drugstore proposal scene is the high point, the Un Bel Di Vedremo of the piece, and actresses are measured by it as we measure the Hamlet Soliloquy… but I was nowhere near ready for my reaction; a sudden sob/gasp for breath and, just as suddenly, uncontrollable tears.

To this day, I have never been more moved by a couple of lines of dialog delivered by any actor as I continue to be by Penelope Ann Miller’s acceptance.
Watch it from the beginning.

X. Trapnel said...

Very nice, Y. It scores high on that scale topped by Cordelia's "No cause, no cause."

Casey said...

Yeah, Bunker Hill is long gone. Years ago the city demolished the buildings and carted away a huge piece of the landscape to develop what is now Cal Plaza. But if you're interested in Bunker Hill, there's a great film called The Exiles which was filmed there. It's kind of raw, and uneven in some places, but it's a beautiful document of that time and place. It centers on the large Native American community that lived there, one of the forgotten stories of LA history.

I can't think of any older films that deal with the Santa Anas, but Joan Didion wrote a great piece about them back in the sixties. The link below leads to an excerpt.

http://onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.typepad.com/only_the_blog_knows_brook/2007/10/joan-didion-on-.html

Yojimboen said...

Santa Ana?

I gotcher Santa Anas right here!

Crank it up to eleven!

G said...

I agree with some others above, I think Babitz is playing a false equivalency game when criticizing West's bleak portrait of LA.

There is a long history of writers who have portrayed New York City as an unremittingly vile hellhole. An early example occurs in Melleville's "Pierre"- and in a more entertaining context there is popular history "The Gangs of New York" (don't be put off the book by the underwhelming Scorcese film).

I would imagine when West began writing there was an overwhelming amount of positive hype about the glories of LA and about how its sunniness was the antithesis of the dark, corrupt gloominess of NYC.

I'm hardly an expert in the history of literature about LA, but perhaps West was one of the first to capture the paradox of the ugliness and corruption under the sunshine?

During Conan O Brien's short-lived tenure as the host of the Tonight Show, he did a memorable short film about he and Andy Richter paddling a canoe down the "LA River".

DavidEhrenstein said...

Losey's wildly underrated 9when not utterly ignored) M was shot on Bunker Hill, and opens with a shot taken from inside Angel's Flight. Kiee Me Deadl also features Bunker Hill -- and so does (wait for it)

Blade Runner.

Thanks for reminding me about Wilder's participation in , Siren. He gets a rather special screen credit for his contribution -- which I suspect was primarily that of the film's tart, tangy dialogue.

G, I trust you're aware of Leos Carax's POLA X which stands for "Pierre ou les Ambiguities, 10th Draft." It's a marvelously yet faithful modern adaption of the book with the beautiful doomed Guillaume Depardieu i the title role, Catherine Deneuve feautred in the cast and a score by Scott Walker.

Jean-Pierre Grumbach renamed himself Jean-Pierre Melville because of "Pierre."

rcocean said...

I don't hate West, But I read his stuff and thought "What's so great?". Pretty thin stuff, IMO.

West had the standard "High brow" attitude toward SoCal that lasted well into the 1970s. For the intellectuals it was too Midwestern, too middle-class, too "middle-brow".

rcocean said...

I wonder if it was box office or writers like West that were responsible for NYC being portrayed so positively in Hollywood movies in the 30s/40s/50s/60s. I'm thinking of the endless Penthouses, cocktail parties. Broadway, and nightclubs. A few slums of course but even the docudrama "Naked City" pulls its punches.

X. Trapnel said...

Writers responsible? Would that they had that much power. NY was portrayed the way it was for the sake of excitement and drama, licit or illicit, that might not have been available on Main Street (as though the latter were never idealized in American film). Looking to Hollywood for documentary realism is always a mistake.

"There is no realism in American films. No realism, but something much better, great truth." Jean Renoir

Dave said...

"Locust" will always be one of my favorite books if only for one line: Describing a hideous yellow suit Homer is wearing: "No one but a Negro could have worn it without looking ridiculous, and no one was ever less of a Negro than Homer Simpson."

Juanita's Journal said...
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Juanita's Journal said...
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Juanita's Journal said...

"Locust" will always be one of my favorite books if only for one line: Describing a hideous yellow suit Homer is wearing: "No one but a Negro could have worn it without looking ridiculous, and no one was ever less of a Negro than Homer Simpson."

That's your main reason for liking West's novel?


Los Angeles, and it's environs, such as H'wood, isn't really a place, anyway. I'd not say a state of mind, there are too many states of consciousness involved in the sprawling mixture of the real good, bad, and ugly.


Los Angeles is a place. It's a place to me and to millions of others in this city. I was born here. I live and work here. In fact, it's more than a place to me. It's home.

I'm sure there are others who feel the same about their hometown or the place where they now live.

X. Trapnel said...

Just to amplify a bit on the relation of NY writers to the heartland. I've been reading up on the now-forgotten columnist O.O. McIntyre, the most widely read and highly paid of the species back in the 20s and 30s. His column New York Day by Day was framed as a country feller's report on NY glamour to the old folks at home who ate it up.

Yojimboen said...

Chère Madame…
Angel’s Flight… Now and Then.

The first time I saw or heard of Angel’s Flight was in The Glenn Miller Story. I was going to post a clip but that would mean June Allyson and I don’t want to risk any relapse of your ailment. (Who loves ya?)

Link here for a list of movies shot on or around Angel’s Flight.
(Scroll half-way down for TGMS Allyson-less stills and feel better.)

Shamus said...

Great discussion! Since David E. already mentioned Losey in Los Angeles, I just want to put in a word for The Prowler, a very strange movie that, like There's Always Tomorrow, moves from dark LA suburbs to a dazzlingly white desert. With some careful stylization (repeated musical cues and snatches of dialogue, recurrence of certain actions and gestures) and curious inversions (the switching the action from night to day, a prosperous villa to a house with three walls), Losey suggests parallels between his abstracted version of Los Angeles and an abandoned town in the desert- moral environments designed to force an average, somewhat mediocre man to such desperation as to commit murder.

What's also great is that the movie suggests some sort of weird (and, naturally, temporary) collaboration between Jacques Tourneur (the cool abstraction, deliberate framing and symmetry) and Raoul Walsh (the sense of realism at several places, including the relationship between Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes).

Trish said...

Siren, I hope you're feeling better. Hopefully it was only the humidity although sadly that seems to have passed...

David Ehrenstein, you ARE awesome. Don't care if Tom Cruise is gay or straight, but I am put off by his "cruise control". Whenever I'm forced to watch one of his films, I always enjoy the scenes where he's working with a more accomplished actor, and the fear of being found out is all over his face.

I love L.A. and I've never been. My favourite films: Chinatown, He Walked By Night, L.A. Confidential, Kiss Me Deadly, Criss Cross, Blade Runner, The Big Knife...

Yojimboen said...

Only in L.A., Trish…

Last night da house was SRO at the TV Academy on Lankershim in the Valley, when STARZ Channel threw a mighty bash as a joint celebration of 1) their upcoming third season of Spartacus Vengeance and 2) the unveiling of a new book: “I am Spartacus, Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist” by Kirk Douglas; whose presence was the reason for the packed house.

The two Spartaci: (See other pix on IMDb)

Unassisted, 96 year-old Kirk Douglas strode onto the stage and stretched his welcoming arms to the crowd; the standing ovation had to be stopped by the MC.

I haven’t started the book yet (everyone got a complimentary copy) but there were a couple of nuggets from KD’s hilarious reminiscences worth sharing: He explained again his slurred speech as the product of the stroke 20 years ago, admitting it was a thunderbolt at the time: “I lost my power of speech, what does an actor do who has no voice…? (2…3…4…) Wait around for silent movies to come back?”

The second factoid was in response to a question about the most difficult part of making Spartacus? Kirk thought a moment and replied, “Signing Larry Olivier.” The negotiations were far along till a sudden wrinkle: It appeared Olivier thought he was being offered the role of Spartacus and KD had to fly to London to break the news; a “difficult conversation”.

Some nights are better than others in Tinsel Town.

johncarvill said...

Can't agree. This smacks of pure defensiveness. Whatever the accuracy or one-sidedness of West's depiction of LA, there's no denying the quality of the writing, or the singularity of the novel.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Wow that's really great about Kirk Douglas, Yojimb. The Olivier bit is hilarious.

96 years-old and STILL a star in a way the car hops and dress extras who've been promoted to top-liner status will NEVER be.

X. Trapnel said...

Truly, there are still giants on the earth and not just in it.

Kevyn Knox said...

I love the lore of old Hollywood and L.A. - even when it is found in lesser films or books.

I have never actually ever stepped foot in L.A. but I am always mesmerized by anything to do with Hollywood storytelling. Be it something like Singin' in the Rain or Chinatown or even something like Postcards from the Edge (book and movie) even though it can be rather silly at times and isn't necessarily classic Hollywood (though it is on the outer fringe of the backlot era dying off.

Thom Anderson's L.A. Plays Itself is a fascinating doc and just adds to my desire to someday make it to L.A. and see what is left of these olden days of yore.

DavidEhrenstein said...

L.A. is in a constant state of fluc. There are traces of the past everywhere, but you really have to know how to look in order to find them.

gmoke said...

He is Spartacus but then, in Hollywood, you always have to ask how tall was King Kong.

from wikipedia:

Kirk Douglas insisted that Trumbo be given screen credit for his work, which helped to break the blacklist....

In his autobiography, Douglas states that this decision was motivated by a meeting that he, Edward Lewis and Kubrick had regarding whose name/s to put against the screenplay in the movie credits, given Trumbo's shaky position with Hollywood executives. One idea was to credit Lewis as co-writer or sole writer, but Lewis vetoed both suggestions. Kubrick then suggested that his own name be used. Douglas and Lewis found Kubrick's eagerness to take credit for Trumbo's work revolting, and the next day, Douglas called the gate at Universal saying, "I'd like to leave a pass for Dalton Trumbo."

Shamus said...
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Shamus said...

Although Spartacus's role in breaking the blacklist comes across as a tad ironic considering that it was partly shot in Spain, which was then still under Franco.

Casey said...

Thanks to Yojimboen for the link to all the Angel's Flight shots. I'm confused about one thing. The text refers a couple of times to the "Third Street Tunnel". While I'm sure the author has done his research, I don't think a Third Street Tunnel has ever existed, and that it's actually the Second Street Tunnel, which I've been through a thousand times. This is the tunnel we see in Act of Violence, The Exiles, and much later in Bladerunner. Any LA natives out there who can confirm this? Or correct me if I'm wrong?

Casey said...

I might as well correct myself before someone else does. Here's a link to a history of the Third Street Tunnel.

http://blogdowntown.com/2008/09/3589-third-street-tunnel-a-primer

Very embarrassing mistake for an LA native.

Yojimboen said...

Part of the fun is wondering how to find out then suddenly seeing the link that’s been staring you in the face (then smiting your forehead).

I saw Cry Danger just recently (was Dick Powell ever better?) and completely missed the Angel’s Flight/Bunker Hill connection.

I love that car! (I’m a foreigner and no expert, but I want one!)
What is it? Somebody? X? VW?

X. Trapnel said...

By their grills ye shall know them. Even so, I'm going to guess late '40s Packard. (The oncoming car is early '50s Ford.)

Vanwall said...

M X - late 40's Nash Ambassador 2-door.

X. Trapnel said...

M. V, as ever, I am awestruck. Somethink about the design did suggest an extinct species (note as well that on the Ford we can just about detect rudimentary fins).

Yojimboen said...

Grateful to Messrs VW & X, and as always impressed by the depth of the bench of this esotérique équipe.

Vanwall said...

M. Yo and M. X -

I rode around in one of these as a small boy, an uncle owned one. It's ride quality was "floaty", and I remember the overstuffed armchair quality of the seats. Here's an excellent restored example:

Nashing of teeth

There was a short period when Hudson, Nashes, and other bulbous, aerodynamic denizens roamed the streets of H'wood films - the cars of the future...

X. Trapnel said...

M. V, Pity poor M. Y who grew up amidst the lame and halt traffic of puffing Morris Minors while the likes of us sped by in finned luxury. Actually, I grew up in the immediate post-fin period but those cars really did have a futuristic, science-fictiony allure (excepting the 1959 Ford Fairline whose grinning grill suggests the crewcut game show hosts of the period [Bill Cullen, say, or Bob Q. Lewis] while the owlish rear, Janus-like, resembles Alexander Woolcott).

Apart from Laura's Mercedes are there anything but Fords (shades of Quinn/Martin Productions) in North by Northwest?

My family's first car, well before I entered this vale of soulmaking, was a Hudson.

mas82730 said...

David Ehrenstein -- you're funny (said Claire Danes to Kieran Culkin). What would you have Anderson C. do to come out of the vault -- blow Kathy Griffin in Times Square on New Year's Eve?
Incidentally, I always thought Karen Black was too old to play Fay in 'Day of the Locust', but she's perfectly cast as the trannie in Bob Altman's 'Jimmy Dean'.

Yojimboen said...

Messrs X & VW, before we entirely carjack this thread, it occurs that this may be a useful analogy; when the Fords looked at the grill of the Edsel they had to know it was never going to work (nothing that ugly could possibly succeed, even in Detroit); similarly when Disney looked at the script - and budget - of John Carter, somebody in the room had to realize what a fustercluck it would turn out to be. Is it inevitable, one wonders, that the present Studio System cannot afford the luxury of commonsense? Is there at long last no place for a single voice protesting the nakedness of the Emperor?

Sadly, I’ve been in enough meetings where such nudity is rampant way before it gets on the screen. Like most participants of our gracious hostess’s hospitality, I grieve for days past when H’Wood, corrupt and foolish though it was, still managed somehow to produce (small ‘p’) consistently watchable movies.

What/when was the last truly great movie you saw?
For me, nothing since Day of the Jackal (1973) springs to mind.

X. Trapnel said...

Y, a bad culture produces bad art; it's as simple and complex as that. In periods of decay the individual artist make break through the mephitic fug to something breathable and liberating, but film being collective and requiring millions is more vulnerable to the ambient idiocy. Why is our culture so crappy? Ah, that's some question.

The last great American film? I would say Psycho (which is far from my favorite Hitchcock).

X. Trapnel said...

Sh*t: may break through

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'd much prefer Anderson Cooperblowing his boyfriend Ben on New Year's Eve.

Karen Black's age makes her castign as Faye Greener even more perfect. Faye IS too old to be pretending she's a fresh young thing anymore.It ties in with the fact that her fantasy of being a great leadign lady doesn't make her a great leading lady.

Black was excellent in the Altman, though she doesn't look at all like Dennis Christopher.

mndean said...

Apart from Laura's Mercedes are there anything but Fords (shades of Quinn/Martin Productions) in North by Northwest?

Van Damm's Cadillac? The GM bus that Hitch steps off of?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hitch wanted to have a scene in North By NorthWest where we see a car being put together on a Detroit assemly line. When ti's completed someone would open the door and a body would fall ouit. The trouble was he couldn't figure out how to get the body into the car as it was beign assembled in the first place.

mndean said...

Oops! I meant the bus Hitch misses, of course.

X. Trapnel said...

mnd,

Good point about the Caddy, but perhps the Ford folk didn't want the villain driving a Lincoln. I'm always cheered by the alarmed Edsel that just can't believe its headlights at ROT's driving skills.

mischy said...

dog training gold coast

The photo is hilarious. What are the two guys doing? lol They are so weird.

Lemora said...

The L.A. River was across the street from our house in Sherman Oaks, with a sandbar, marshy rushes, and polliwogs. In the late 1950's in became "paved," encased in concrete. In 1938, during a record-breaking rain storm lasting several days, the San Fernando Valley flooded, turning into a giant lake. In 1959, the bridge over the river, connecting Colfax Avenue with Ventura Blvd. was finally rebuilt, having washed out in that flood. The street in front of my childhood home, Sarah St. was repaved --also washed out during the flood-- in about 1954. There is definitely a river, and in severe storms it becomes a raging torrent.