18 April 2010

The Dude Abides!

I love movies.  I remember cleaning out the station wagon when I was about seven, a chore my mom assigned us so we could go to the drive-in to see the Disney classic (?) Song of the South.  (I have since learned that the Song of the South was full of references to the social order of the Old South.  The old order went: white men, white women, poor white men and women, and then black men and women.   I had a Disney comic with Brer Rabbit in it and it's still one of my favorite childhood memories and it doesn't bother me too much that the whole story had racial overtones.  The old Uncle Remus tales actually warned the formerly enslaved and their progeny and really any black people who lived in the South to avoid interacting with white people when they could.  And that doesn't bother me too much either).

Anyway, I love movies and then one day I started loving film.  Movies are paperbacks you buy at the airport; film is literature.  That is not a fair analogy to the writers of paperbacks or "popular" writers but it is what it is.  Transformers 2 is a movie.   Citizen Kane is a film.  Or maybe film is just the study of movies.  I remember once my terrific friend Vicky was over and we were both film nuts and she asked me "When did you start to like movies?  And not just movies, but film?"  She is smart like that and the only other person I know who likes film as much as me.  I think The Dark Knight is a movie that transcended the genre to become a film with some serious Shakespearean overtones.  Maybe films have something teachable to them whereas movies are there simply to be enjoyed.  My point is that I love movies.

I've always had a weakness for detective fiction and today I began watching (again) the great detective movie L.A. Confidential.  Russell Crowe was intense enough to chew glass in that movie and it had just enough of a weirdness factor to be placed alongside the masterpiece Chinatown in the canon of classic films.  The three protagonists investigate separate parts of a criminal web and in the end they put personal grudges aside to unite and do the right thing.  That is a really lame description of the movie but it has some sex, lots of action and the best use of shotguns I've ever seen in a movie.  All the great film noir detective films are set in the 1940's or 50's and L.A. Confidential is no exception.  It has Lana Turner, her soon-to-be-killed-by-her-12-year-old-daughter boyfriend and mob muscle Johnny Stampanato, and references to Mickey Cohen's heroin business.  There is something about Hollywood and California in the Fifties that I really like and it really lends a great backdrop to the story here.  Its weirder and more glamourous at the same time.

The father of the complex, weird, webbed and labyrinth detective movie is The Big Sleep.  It lacked the kink and incest that marked L.A. Confidential and Chinatown as being modern, but only because it was actually filmed in the 1940's, when that sort of thing could barely be hinted at.  When VCRs came out and you could go to the video store (!) and rent any movie you wanted (!!!) I started watching alot of Bogart movies (haha, or films) and The Big Sleep was an especially good one.  It created the template (detective story set in L.A., labyrinth of a plot, corruption, a protagonist who navigates the morally bankrupt waters with nothing to guide him but his personal code) that defined the detective film.

Robert Altman used that template to make The Long Goodbye in 1973 (a post-modern hippified version) but nothing comes close to its implementation by the Coen Brothers in The Big Lebowski.  If you haven't seen Lebowski at least five times, you really haven't seen it at all.  Jeff Bridges' The Dude never completes a sentence and just rolls along with the storyline as he tries to find the kidnapped Bunny and regain compensation for a soiled rug.  When we first see him he is checking the freshness of the half-and-half which he proceeds to write a check for (69 cents!), giving us a sense of where The Dude stands on the socio-economic scale.  If you are a friend of the 4-20, get yourself some, make yourself a tall white russian ("Another Caucasian, Gary"), and sit back and watch The Dude.  He may be the classical anti-noir detective because, despite chronic unemployment (which doesn't seem to bother him too much) The Dude has not given in to cynicism.

So that's it - my four favorite film noir detective movies.  Or films.  The Dude Abides!

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