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Hollywood Fiction, Non-Fiction Moviehead LitB. Wagner, K. Anger, et elia


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#1 papeetepatrick

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 03:57 PM

Since this board has a very avid, even scholarly core of film buffs as well as ballet fans, I'd be interested to know if you'd share your reading of all kinds on film in case I've missed any. I'm an avid reader of Hollywood lit and have always liked films about Hollywood and Los Angeles.

In fiction, I've explored the Hollywood Novel fairly well. They all fascinate me, even the bad ones to a degree. But good ones off the top of my head are 'The Last Tycoon,' 'What Makes Sammy Run,' 'Play It As It Lays,' 'The Day of the Locust....' At some point, big writers want to start writing about Hollywood frequently enough, as John Updike in parts of 'In the Beauty of the Lilies' or that unusual eulogy in The New Yorker 'Why We Loved Lana Turner.' I can also remember liking John O'Hara's 'the Big Laugh' and lots of parts of John Gregory Dunne novels such as 'Playland'. The best writer of Industry-based fiction today is probably Bruce Wagner. I think his 'Cellular Trilogy' and the other novels are all good, but especially 'Still Holding.' Exceedingly unrestrained language and very graphic 'adult situations,' as they say, but quite a writer. There's a good novel by Dirk Bogarde called 'West of Sunset.' Raymond Chandler is not exactly a 'Hollywood novelist', but that's the kind of Romantic L.A. that makes him one of the owners of the place.

Thousands of non-fiction books, too. Some of my favourites have been 'City of Nets,' both Kenneth Anger 'Holly Baby' books, parts of Didion's 'The White Album,' parts of Dunne's 'Quintana and Friends'. There is fine writing by Aileen Bowser on Griffith and all the 'diva lit' bios. I can't remember nearly all of what I've read, but maybe others will mention some of them--a vast body of writing.

#2 dirac

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 04:38 PM

Thank you for stopping by this forum, papeetepatrick. I’d recommend, however, that we limit ourselves to fiction, for now. There’s so much non-fiction about the movies that it’s simply casting the net too wide -- we can try that on some other thread some time. :) Off the top of my head, my own picks:

Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister
Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge
Peter Viertel, White Hunter, Black Heart
David Freeman, It’s All True

The Little Sister is not one of Chandler’s stronger efforts but I like Chandler and I like the book. I worship Myra as only goddesses should be worshipped. White Hunter, Black Heart is not a Hollywood novel per se but a very good roman-a-clef about John Huston. I agree with you about Bruce Wagner, Fitzgerald, West, et al.

Hollywood novels I didn’t like as much as I thought I would:

Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays.
Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One. Flabby effort, not worthy of him.

Trash-O-Rama:

Tom Tryon, Crowned Heads. (It'll make you a bit queasy in spots.)
Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives.
The Sinatra bits from The Godfather.

#3 papeetepatrick

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 05:13 PM

Dirac--I, too, love 'The Little Sister.' I knew some things would come up from you here that I'd forgotten, esp. 'Myra Breckenridge,' which is crucial (I even enjoyed the movie, although Maltin gives it BOMB status.) Need to take a look at the Viertel, never read any of his things, nor David Freeman either. You've reminded me of Tryon's 'All That Glitters' also, which is confusing, maybe halfway roman a clef, I couldn't always tell, but he was good at producing this febrile star-struck atmosphere.

You're right, non-fiction Hollywood studies is not only tens of thousands of books, but hundreds of categories, so best to limit to fiction. Haven't read any of Mme. Collins's masterworks, and may be able to keep resisting somehow.

#4 dirac

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Posted 15 June 2006 - 01:21 PM

I forgot Gavin Lambert's "Inside Daisy Clover."

#5 bart

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Posted 15 June 2006 - 04:48 PM

I'm chagrined at all the books I've missed. :clapping:

I was wondering, however, what people think of Day of the Locust, both the book and the strange but (to me) haunting movie that was made from it.

#6 papeetepatrick

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Posted 15 June 2006 - 05:05 PM

I was wondering, however, what people think of Day of the Locust, both the book and the strange but (to me) haunting movie that was made from it.


'The Day of the Locust' is one of the Los Angeles classics and very fine in many ways. In a 2001 article in Los Angeles Magazine, Tom Carson wrote about some of the overly feverish types of writing that have been done on Los Angeles, due to its uniqueness in containing Hollywood and the subculture that that has produced. He cites a part of 'Day of the Locust' that I had thought was a little overdone too, having to do with someone trying to spruce up their residence with some 'plaster, lath,' something else (sorry I don't have the book handy) and how there was 'nothing sadder' than this. Carson said he was just 'talking about real estate.' I agree, West was just indulging in despair fantasy in that passage. I've read some of the most ridiculous things that attempted to 'capture Los Angeles,' and they have most often been by New Yorkers being condescending to it. I don't have any more patience with this sort of literature than John Gregory Dunne did, as it's almost always condescension, and always hyperbole. I'm a New Yorker that happens to think Los Angeles is a fantastic and extremely original town--I admit it's scary in some tricky ways, but it's got it's own character, so I get out there usually once a year. Someone once wrote that 'Los Angeles is the horizontal, mobile version of New York', and I am very much in sympathy with this--relaxing, laid-back, but with many (by now) of the cultural attractions of New York.

The movie of 'Day of the Locust' is a pretty good adaptation, I thought, and Karen Black is excellent. But her character was yet more scathing in the book, when toward the end she is singing a song at a lewd party with lyrics 'I'm a vi-pah...' which she was, long before Johnny Depp's Viper Club came into existence.

#7 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 June 2006 - 04:18 PM

I've left out James Ellroy's hard-hitting thick pieces of pulp. I've done 'LA Confidential' (far superior to the movie because the subplots were all chopped up and reattached to other pieces of plot, or just left out, like the smut racket, central to the novel) and 'White Jazz,' which is terrific. By now, I can't remember the names of the other ones, but I think they were 'the Black Dahlia' and 'The Big Nowhere.' Hilarious rips on 50's celebs in there.

#8 dirac

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 11:51 AM

Not much time to type today, but in brief, "The Day of the Locust" doesn't quite come off for me in either medium, but I prefer the book if only because without West's prose to filter the events and show you what he's trying to get at, the film version may not make too much sense. (I read the book before seeing the movie --years ago in both cases, I should note -- but I can't imagine what I'd make of the movie knowing nothing of the book.) The character of Tod is a bit like Issyvoo -- he's the camera, standing in for West, and it's hard to make a real person out of a camera. (And Tod is idealized in ways Issyvoo is not.) My recollection is that William Atherton made as much out of Tod as could be made, Karen Black gave her Karen Black performance, not my idea of Faye (sorry, papeetepatrick), and Burgess Meredith was swell.

I remember being struck by the picturesque, sun drenched quasi-slums that the picture recreated very well. As papeetepatrick notes, it's a good and faithful adaptation. Maybe too much so.

#9 papeetepatrick

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Posted 17 June 2006 - 12:52 PM

Karen Black gave her Karen Black performance, not my idea of Faye (sorry, papeetepatrick), and Burgess Meredith was swell.
I remember being struck by the picturesque, sun drenched quasi-slums that the picture recreated very well. As papeetepatrick notes, it's a good and faithful adaptation. Maybe too much so.

Now that you bring it up, I really was not very struck by the film adaptation, and can barely remember it even though I saw it only a few years ago. I even think the book is overrated--probably the most extraordinary image was of the sets strewn all over town--but again, it was more a portrayal of West's own depression than of anything as it really is: Because that was the business of Hollywood, those sets were supposed to be all over the place to make the movies. Also again, there is literally a 'wrong mythology' literature about LA. In the late 70's, there was a very long VVoice article by the art critic Peter Schjeldahl that gave thousands of examples of what-have-you, concluding with 'what a horrible, horrible city it is.' Who says? Woody Allen? Some people care what his opinion of LA is, there are others who've written about it with a deep understanding of it by living in it, rather than just desires for superior posturings.

'Sun-drenched quasi-slums' is a good phrase, and one of the great LA cliches, not to mention they do exist (and often are more 'un-quasi' than they appear, going right along with the sleight-of-hand and illusionism policy). 'Mulholland Drive' does a particularly good job of these, they are almost a homage to the 'San Berdoo' of 'Locust.' And maybe that one finishes the genre off, because it's profound.

Thanks for 'Inside Daisy Clover.' I hadn't even known it was a book, though once enjoyed the Natalie Wood movie.

#10 dirac

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 10:50 AM

papeete patrick writes:

Who says? Woody Allen? Some people care what his opinion of LA is, there are others who've written about it with a deep understanding of it by living in it, rather than just desires for superior posturings.


In West’s defense, I’d suggest that the L.A. of that era must have appeared especially unimpressive in comparison with New York. Most Hollywood novels were/are written by former or current screenwriters, and for a variety of reasons writers have always been low men on the totem pole in Hollywood, leading to a certain jaundiced view. (If I recall correctly, West wrote mostly B pictures, and the ambiance of your average B picture writers’ unit would certainly have been depressing.)

“Inside Daisy Clover,” the book, is well worth your time. If you’ve seen the picture you know the general outline, although you should try to erase the memory of Natalie Wood. The movie is odd, and if I didn’t know better I’d never have guessed that Lambert did the adaptation himself. He also wrote another Hollywood novel, “The Goodbye People,” which I have not read. (In the nonfiction area, his books on Wood, Lindsay Anderson, and Norma Shearer are all interesting, too.)

#11 dirac

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 05:35 PM

I haven't read much of James Ellroy. I saw 'L.A. Confidential' and was impressed enough to head for the library, and I didn't like what I read there as much as I expected to. I found the prose to be crude, and let's say I found Ellroy's sensibility uncongenial. I bought a book of his novellas, made it through the first one, 'Blood on the Moon,' and that was the best I could do. Maybe I should try again. I should also admit that he once made some peevish remarks about Chandler that annoyed me.

I understand what you mean about the film version leaving so much out, but I thought they did what they had to do short of making a miniseries, and I don't mind having Ellroy cleaned up a bit, frankly. And the actors were wonderful, just wonderful.

I forgot to thank bart for joining the discussion. Also, folks, I find it hard to believe that nobody else out there has read The Last Tycoon, The Loved One, or some of these other titles. Speak up, please. :dry:

#12 papeetepatrick

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Posted 19 June 2006 - 07:09 PM

I found the prose to be crude, and let's say I found Ellroy's sensibility uncongenial. I bought a book of his novellas, made it through the first one, 'Blood on the Moon,' and that was the best I could do. Maybe I should try again.
I understand what you mean about the film version leaving so much out, but I thought they did what they had to do short of making a miniseries, and I don't mind having Ellroy cleaned up a bit, frankly. And the actors were wonderful, just wonderful.


I don't think if Ellroy is a writer you don't like the first time that there would be much point trying again--it's not like you confront problems such as those with Faulkner or Joyce. His mother was murdered and that contributed to his dark fixations (could possibly explain part of his continual cameos of Lana Turner, whose father was murdered, although her ease at producing scandal made it unnecessary to bother adding much to what was already there--Zeta-Jones is going to do her in 'Stompanato', which sounds all wrong, Keanu Reeves as Stompanato completely ridiculous) The actors in 'LA Confidential' are indeed excellent. You did it the reverse way I did. I don't actually object to leaving out, re-inventing, chopping up, or even adding new twists if they have vitality. What they did in the screenwriting here was something I hadn't ever seen before: they attached pieces of plot that Ellroy had written to pieces of other plots and subplots that Ellroy had written--but that were unrelated, i.e., they didn't think up new ways to direct the plot (perhaps too taxing and they could get away with this), they just culled other plots and made new attachments and assemblages. This would not have been particularly noticeable or offensive most likely if you hadn't read the book. It's rare that a book is improved by the film version--I thought Kubrick's 'The Shining' was one example, which got rid of that stupid Disneyfied Stephen King ending and made the horror last past your exit from the theater.

Sometimes a miniseries is the only way to really do justice to something, but it's usually going to be an acknowledged classic, perhaps. I thought the Catherine Deneuve/Rupert Everett/Natassia Kinski/Danielle Darrieux 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' finally got it right even with the 1960's updating--that it was light-years more authentic than Glenn Close and company, not to mention Vadim and Moreau. Another good miniseries but not well-known is 'Lost Empires,' based on J.B. Priestley's novel about early 20th century English music hall. To me, it was also another rare example of a filmed version improving upon the book (which was nevertheless very fine, but had too sentimental an ending.) It's interesting to imagine how many filmed masterpieces would have occurred had sentimental endings been resisted--'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is maybe the worst example of wrong endings, for a movie that is otherwise a poetic gem.

They're going to do 'The Black Dahlia,' DePalma directing and Josh Hartnett, Scarlet Johanneson, and Hilary Swank. Is in post-production now, and might be interesting.

#13 dirac

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 10:47 AM

I don't actually object to leaving out, re-inventing, chopping up, or even adding new twists if they have vitality. What they did in the screenwriting here was something I hadn't ever seen before: they attached pieces of plot that Ellroy had written to pieces of other plots and subplots that Ellroy had written--but that were unrelated, i.e., they didn't think up new ways to direct the plot (perhaps too taxing and they could get away with this), they just culled other plots and made new attachments and assemblages.


This explains certain things that puzzled me when I looked through the book. And I will read The Black Dahlia before I see the movie.

His mother was murdered and that contributed to his dark fixations


It was pretty clear even from mere browsing that Ellroy was an obsessive of some kind. There’s a very good documentary circulating on cable – I’m afraid the title escapes me, it’s “James Ellroy’s Feast of Death,” or something like that, which was instructive.

Zeta-Jones is going to do her in 'Stompanato', which sounds all wrong, Keanu Reeves as Stompanato completely ridiculous).


What spectacular miscasting. Very difficult to imagine that powerhouse Zeta-Jones as a vulnerable aging star in masochistic sexual thrall to Keanu, as opposed to enjoying him as a tasty in between meal snack. Ashley Judd could handle it – she has that pillowy look of the young Lana, it’s very easy to envision Judd opposite Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

(could possibly explain part of his continual cameos of Lana Turner, whose father was murdered, although her ease at producing scandal made it unnecessary to bother adding much to what was already there)


Oh Lana Turner we love you get up :wink:

#14 dirac

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 03:07 PM

They're going to do 'The Black Dahlia,' DePalma directing and Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johannson, and Hilary Swank. Is in post-production now, and might be interesting.


I saw it last weekend. It was indeed interesting, although perhaps not quite as intended.

#15 papeetepatrick

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Posted 15 October 2006 - 05:46 AM

I saw it last weekend. It was indeed interesting, although perhaps not quite as intended.


Yes, it was interesting, but I'm fairly sure that I read 'The Big Nowhere' and got it confused with 'The Black Dahlia,' because I think I would have remembered this story. I do remember most of the stories in 'LA Confidential' and 'White Jazz,' but Ellroy can run together if you read a clump of them at once, as I did in 1998.


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