The Long Goodbye

December 14, 2009

After not having the internet for too long, I’m back, and I thought it is only fair to upload something to make up for the lack of awesome. Here is an unfinished piece I have been working on for nothing.

Robert Altman is an american director, making his major impact in the early 70’s, having a bit of a tough time in the 80’s and then made a great comeback in the 90’s. People refer to his films as “Naturalistic”. Altman examines people, and their interactions, using the plot as a shotty framework, just to bring these characters out into the open. This is definitely seen in movies like “The Player”, “Nashville”, and my favourite movie of the 90’s “Short Cuts”. His execution is very stylish, using what seems like a lot of tracking shots revolving around these characters. Altman was very good as playing up the idea that “Everyone has a dark secret” in movies like The Wedding, and used it to observe the culture of our times, especially on the west coast of America, and to observe the politics of things such as hollywood and country music. He made his splash into mainstream success with “MASH”, and had critical success with “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”, “Thieves Like Us”, “Nashville” and has made other great movies such as “3 Women”, “Secret Honor”, The television mockumentary “Tanner ’88” and so on.

With this obsession with examining everyone under a microscope, it makes for great dialogue along with some exceptional personal commentary. With the range of topics his film career has examined, we see a little bit of Altman in every scene.

From just a mere observation of Tanner ’88, a mockumentary about a political figure running for president in the primaries, it seems Altman wants to drive home some sort of point of an aloofness politicians have, a contrived sense of pride that they feel they’re selling short to get ahead. We look at Tanner’s speeches and his campaign ads, focusing on his handsome face and the quotes of well established historical figures, and we learn that we have no idea where Tanner stands on anything. Perhaps even Tanner himself doesn’t know where he stands on anything. It makes you think about the idea that the candidates are getting further away from the party, and the voters are simply voting for a person, not a platform. Tanner 88 doesn’t just examine the political aspects, it covers a lot of human interactions and exchanges of emotions. Strained conversations between past lovers, current family members. At times we almost see a disconnect from Tanner and his daughter. His ignorance of her ability to drive, leaving the room and closing the door behind him while she asks to watch the news coverage after their release from prison, which we can see she considers one of her finest moments. Of course the best part of Tanner 88 is FUCKING HARLOW PLAYING.

A movie like Nashville, a great movie. From the first dimension, it serves as a tour of the country scene. We then see a candidate running for president, that is, we see his signs and a member of his campaign, and we see the arranging of a concert for said candidate. He is supposed to serve as someone Perrot-like. There’s definitely some commentary over the country scene. It can easily be figured out by knowing that the country scene had quite the frowny face over it. While it does show the tension between race, between fellow musicians, their obvious slant towards the right wing of the spectrum that more than likely passes the centrist radius, I get more interested in the raw interactions between people. One of the best examples of this is a male musician from a folk trio, who is yearning to go solo. His exterior shows a great amount of indifference and a tendency to use women for sexual and carnal release, who he is usually quick to dismiss. One exception is the wife of a local southern man, who he almost begs to stay in bed with him, and to show his cool exterior, he grabs the phone to call another woman, as if he isn’t phased one bit. I’d say he is.

Short Cuts is 3 hours of exactly what i want. Interaction and conversation. I love Short Cuts to the point where I call it my favourite movie of the 1990’s. Its based on the writings of Raymond Carver. Raymond Carver is one of the greatest American short story writers. His stories take a look at blue collar emotion. A lot of the stories are heartbreaking.

I have a friend, and he loves two things. One is long lasting, and one is a current addiction that he can’t quite kick. These two things, are Film Noir and Robert Altman. From these two things we can draw one conclusion: “The Long Goodbye”, is incredible.

Its true, but before we dive in, I’ll give a little bit of background on Noir. Film Noir was born during the Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema. It was more than simple crime dramas. It built on expressionist elements and crime-mystery/detective pulp novels to deliver some of the most intricate and complex movies of its time. These differed from the current wave of crime gangster movies, because films like “The Public Enemy” or any Cagney film for that matter, or something involving Edward G. Robinson seemed a little fluffy compared to movies like Laura, or The Big Sleep. While most films had some sort of detective at the forefront of the movie, usually our protagonist, it wasn’t always needed. One of the greatest noir’s and for that matter, one of the greatest movies of all time, “Double Indemnity”, found us following a man working for an insurance firm, ready to pull off the perfect crime (murdering her husband to look like an accident for one heck of an insurance settlement) in order to be with a woman who shares a wolflike love for him. For a second, I’ll just say, Billy Wilder made some of the coolest noir films without having to use a detective as his central character or premise.

Sunset Boulevard will always be a noir to me, which follows an obsessive and delusional silent film starlet who is trying to make her comeback using a bit of a hack writer who she has grown an unrequited love for. We’ve already touched on double indemnity. Ace in the Hole follows a newspaper writer spinning an accident to make it into a spectacle, to get him back on top of the best new york newspapers. But we can agree, our anti-hero’s are hard boiled, one way or another. These films delivered a slice of lost morality, and tended to be on the very bleak side of life. We call them anti-hero’s because they are not without many flaws that manifest themselves throughout the picture. Some of the most notable noir’s of the golden time were films like Out of the Past, The Maltese Falcon, Murder, My Sweet, The Asphalt Jungle, The Lady From Shanghai, The Third Man, Key Largo, etc etc. Also, see Stray Dog if you can from Japan. My favourite Noir is Vertigo. Whether you consider it Noir or not, its one of my favourite movies, so yeah, go me.

Now that I haven’t really established anything in the world of Film Noir, let me blow it again

Now I’ll talk about The Long Goodbye. This movie is great. Its probably one of the best neo-noir films, and just as a landmark, I’ll use 1959 as the final year of Golden Age Noir, or maybe just the release of “Touch of Evil”. This film is up there and possibly tops Chinatown, or Blade Runner, or Blue Velvet, or Breathless (even though its too stupid to be a noir). It also might be one of the coolest reworkings of a Chandler novel, and for that matter the character of Phillip Marlowe.

Elliott Gould plays Phillip “Marlboro Man” Marlowe, a detective who drives his friend to Mexico due to a fear of being accused for murder. Marlowe, knowing his friend is good people, obliges and enters into a world of hurt. Upon returning home, he’s scooped up, booked, and waits in limbo after finding out Terry Lenox’s wife is dead. At times, it doesn’t even matter what the plot is sometimes, you can just watch Elliot Gould and be amazed. As the Marlowe character, he puts a whole new face to the name. We think of the Marlowe played by Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell, and we think of that mold that’s been cut: A man who is stone, hard boiled. Then we see Gould’s portrayal. A detective, who is almost bumbling, but sharp as nails, with clever wit, and he just doesn’t fit in. His wit often getting him jerked around. It never stops right from the start when the cops show up at his apartment, to in the interrogation room where he tells the Lt. that “its a pleasure” to meet him, rubbing the fingerprint ink all over his face, never taking anyone seriously. Almost childlike, Roger Ebert said he is sometimes more of a hardy boy than a private eye. Placing his nose against the glass, standing near the water on the beach and running away from the water as to not get wet (which can be seen against a glass window if you open your eyes for a second). Its so neat how Altman smacks him against the California backdrop. He is always in dark colours, mostly black, and usually the only one. He is the only one ever smoking, and he is surrounded by free thinking, “Me” Generation people. A great example is his neighbors who are drug using, yoga doing, exhibitionists. He plays off everyone, the woman Eileen who hires him to find her husband, a Hemingway-esque man’s man who makes Marlowe look like such a boy. Their dog barks at him, and only him amongst a sea of people. Why Altman chose to present Marlowe like this is almost clear, but I don’t know for sure. I can think about Altman’s contempt for Hollywood, and possibly just the people on the west coast. Sort of like Steely Dan. Perhaps we are just supposed to feel like Marlowe doesn’t belong, and that would explain alot. It would contribute to the string of betrayals he faces. It makes more sense when he is referred to as a born loser in the film. Maybe we’re supposed to feel a sense of decay of the lifestyle that Raymond Chandler wrote about. If we think like that, there is a bleak element to this movie that is hidden well, but easy to see if you look for it.

Just on a quick side note, there is one thing that makes this movie extra incredible. The constant playing of the song, “The Long Goodbye” and its variations. There’s almost a different version for everyone. The opening scene, we hear the instrumental playing over Gould’s introduction and his hilarious interactions with his cat, to when he gets in his car, which is in contrast to a different version when they cut to Terry Lennox, to when Marlowe walks into the supermarket, to hear an elevator-style version. A version played flamenco style when they drive to Tijuana. The doorbell on the Wade residence that has the tiny melody. Its perfect. Its the only song heard except for “Hooray for Hollywood”, which is played at the beginning and the end, which just gives another hint to Altman’s theme of disrespect towards Hollywood.

Fun Fact: Arnold Schwarzenegger is in this, doesn’t say anything, and has a mustache.

An important thing to remember is that even though Gould’s character is often bumbling and seems like he is too small for the shoes he must fill, these feelings can all be washed away by one of the greatest endings in the history of cinema. As he stares at Lennox as he dribbles his excuses, Marlowe just stares at him coldly. You can feel the fridgidness, like battles in the north or something by Graveland. The coolest thing about Marlowe, is that its never implied he carries a gun. I mean, we assume he does due to his profession, but we never see him fight back, we never see him exert any real force, or any sort of inclination that he is some sort of tough guy. Is he? I don’t know, but when the firing shot rings out at the end, you know the score.

I’m sorry if you read this. There will be a part two probably, once I have more to say.


One Response to “The Long Goodbye”

  1. Adam Says:

    I read it, Derrick. Did you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: