Cut the patch, then cut the hole

I have been taking time off writing to repair and paint the house. I don't like not writing but I get satisfaction from fixing things. And although I am not the best or fastest tradesman, my rates are excellent.

I live in a 60s weatherboard house almost the same age as the one in which I grew up in south Auckland, which was almost the same age as me. I have a lot of memories about how a house like this was put together and what needs to be done to maintain it. This house, like my parents', is woodframe on concrete piles but its hill location and exposure to wind and sun over the decades has hardened the frame like steel. The builders who replaced the roofing were surprised that they didn't have to replace any beams; the technician who installed the fibre connection blunted a drill trying to put a hole through a stud. (You're not a real tradesman until you cut a supporting beam. Being an amateur I got him to drill a hole in a corner of the floorboards instead.)

One of the good things about doing work like this is being taken away from my keyboard. But researching technical matters has reacquainted me with the best of the internet, which is its repository of DIY information, in particular the forums (bulletin boards at their best) and videos. You could characterise the videos as amateurish or funny or sometimes just weird (the one on replacing plasterboard has an art school quality), but I can watch these things for hours.


Spies like us

I wouldn't wish a Bond movie on anybody. Locked in the very early 60s the character and stories have been preserved in aspic. Each element of the branded franchise must be ticked off in the movies like a nursery rhyme we all dimly remember. The Bond movies are panto: look out behind you.

Having said that, my pick for Bond has always been Wesley Snipes by the simple math that of all the younger male movie stars who shared a bill with Sean Connery in the 90s (Costner, Gere, Baldwin, Cage, Lambert etc) Snipes was the only one who held his own. In Rising Sun Snipes could do action, comedy, be vulnerable, be seduced, mess up, shoot straight and look cool as fuck in a suit -- but most of all stop your gaze sliding towards Sean if he so much as coughed. Connery like Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins is a scene-stealer, but Snipes steals it right back. Idris Elba? Also good. But Snipes should shoot first.

This will not happen. Bond does not need to be updated because the form has been absorbed into a broader matrix, like jazz, westerns and literary novels. But were the character to be retrofitted, steampunk style, with the accoutrements that would enable him to do his job in the syntax of Fleming's original -- a cruel, racist loner who is terrible with women -- a quick mind would cut and paste Peter Quinn from season four of Homeland.

As Quinn Rupert Friend has been a prick from the start, knifing that nice Damien Lewis, killing children, having terrible relationships and not blinking when he shoots a gun. By season four he's the star of the show. The limits of a TV budget makes him more realistic than Matt Damon's Bourne, although again the opening of the third movie of that revived series -- the chase in a London train station observed from all quarters which can be escaped only by use of a cellphone -- is Bond redux: everything that Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ought to be but can't.



Body double

Director Brian De Palma to Rich Juzwiak in 2013:
You know, Body Double is the kind of movie that people always talked to me about. It got massacred by the critics when it came out, but I can't tell you how many people come up to me to this day and talk to me about Body Double. So who knows ... times change.
Peaches, the artist formerly known as Merrill Nisker, to Melissa Leon:
Ugh, I just think it's time for everyone to fucking get naked. What's the point when Miley Cyrus wears two little suspenders or whatever [the outfit Cyrus wore to the VMAs]? "Look, I'm skimpier than you!" Just get fucking naked. Why do we have these problems? Really all we have is our bodies. I'm sorry, designers, I'm sorry you'll be out of a job but why don't we just show ourselves?


Série noire

I am still currently on a Jean-Patrick Manchette jag. It's like finding someone holding the other half of the locket.

Robert Polito writing at Bookforum in 2011 says Manchette sets his Néo-polars "at the convergence of state crimes and individual yearnings":
Manchette crafted a sly rendition of Situationist détournement: a collage of redux plots that emerges as simultaneously a refinement and a travesty of noir ... The situations of the ten books Manchette published during the '70s and '80s, mostly in Gallimard's Série noire, sound so familiar that you're sure you've experienced them already ...
The full article is here.


Into darkness

In an excellent essay on NYMag.com Angelica Jade Bastién asks if the modern noir has "atrophied":
True Detective is the clearest example of the emptiest aspects of modern noir: vengeful, self-centered white men; casual racism; violence without grace or purpose; mistaking the cliché strong female character for something meaningful; lack of levity or humor; labyrinthine plotlines without verve.
Not sure if she's talking True Detective 1, 2 or both; haven't seen the latter, am a fan of the former. Bastién continues:
In the early 1940s, noir began as a movement born of a number of factors: the changing gender and racial landscape of America during and after World War II, the Expressionist influence of European-refugee filmmakers like Billy Wilder, and studio-system economics.
Missing from her list: the novels and short stories on which the movies were based. That's your problem right there: the source material. Look at Michael Winterbottom's version of The Killer Inside Me. Jim Thompson's novel was published in 1952: viewed from this side of the century it's fifty shades of go fuck yourself.

Contrary to any rosy academic spin one might apply now the so-called "classic" noir movies were typically violent, sexist, populated by gender and racial stereotypes, hacked by studios and curdled by portentous public service messages and disclaimers. But they were good because the stories were good, and they remain powerful because their subversive, disturbing messages ring true.

(I'm suspicious of art that tells you how things should be: far more interested in what tells you how things are -- and even better, how bad it can get. There is no rule in the manual that says art should be virtuous.)

If you want to set your tuner to classic film noir pick up a copy of Barry Gifford's The Devil Thumbs A Ride: a film diary by one of my favourite fiction authors.

If you want to see where film noir is going, check out Mr Robot. Show creator Sam Esmail talked to Engadget about his approach to the series:
... I really wanted to do a character piece about one specific character from this world. I wanted to be inside his head as intimately and as close as possible. Then the character of Elliot started to form. Taxi Driver hands down is probably one of the best character pieces in cinema, so of course that was an inspiration. The use of VO (voice over) and the sort of isolation, in terms of the filming and storytelling -- really you're just locked in with this guy.
And if you want the real thing? Go read a book.

(Pic: Jessica Alba in The Killer Inside Me (2010), dir. Michael Winterbottom.)


The devil has the best songs

James Sallis on Jean-Patrick Manchette:
There's much that's quintessentially French about Manchette: his political stance, the stylish hard surface of his prose, his adoption of a "low" or demotic art form to embody abstract ideas. Like any great illusionist, he directs our attention one way as the miraculous happens in another. He tells us a simple story. This occurred. That. But there's bone, there's gristle. Floors give way, and wind heaves its shoulder against the door. His stories of cornered individuals become an indictment of capitalism's excesses, its unchallenged power, its reliance on distraction and spectacle.