Friday, March 24, 2017

Movies Inspired Me to Read the Book

by Paul D. Marks

Reading—What authors particularly inspire you? Do you read them when you are working on a book?

To the second question, I’d say I have and can read some of the following while working on something, but I don’t necessarily do so on purpose. Sometimes that’s just what I happen to be reading at the time.

Now to the first question: I’m inspired by a lot of authors and a lot of individual books where maybe the writer’s oeuvre doesn’t hit me but they have that one book that’s a knockout. And my two favorite books, both of which inspire me in different ways, are not mysteries or hardboiled novels.

My favorite book of all time is The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. But I have to admit that I saw the movie first, the original Tyrone Power version, and that’s what inspired me to read the book. I couldn’t relate to everything in it of course, but I related to a lot of it, mostly the main character, Larry Darrell’s search for meaning in an insane world. I relate to the character of Larry on a lot of levels, his disillusionment after the war (WWI), and his search for peace and meaning in life. I found the book inspiring. Still do.

Later on, I saw the Bill Murray film version when it came it out. I didn’t like it nearly as much as the Power version, though it’s grown on me over the years. And it was my understanding that Murray wouldn’t do Ghostbusters II unless he could do his version of The Razor’s Edge, because he also found it so inspiring. Not sure if that’s true though. And, as a sidenote, the day after it was released (I think—hey, it was a long time ago) I saw him on the Warner Brothers lot (though I think then it was called the Burbank Studios, it’s kind of like the song “Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople,”—well, it used to be Warner Brothers then it was The Burbank Studios now it’s Warner Brothers again, so a studio by any other name…). He was leaning on a car in one of the parking lots, reading a review of it—everybody has to check their reviews.

My other favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo. Who doesn’t love a good revenge story and this is the best of all, especially the way the Count hoists the villains on their own petards. It's the ultimate revenge story and revenge is so satisfying, served hot or cold. As such, it almost counts as a mystery or hardboiled story. Almost.

And while I’ve read books, both fiction and non-fiction, since I was a little kid, I’m a movie guy at heart, so I came to a lot of writers and their books via the movies. This happened with my favorite mystery writer, Raymond Chandler. And he is the top of the heap to me, bar none. I love his style, his turn of phrase. His depiction of a Los Angeles that still existed to some extent when I was a kid. And I came to him through the Bogie-Bacall version of The Big Sleep. His prose definitely inspires me and I keep trying to write my own version of the opening to his story Red Wind.

When it comes to noir, David Goodis is the man. And guess what, I came to him through the movies too, another Bogie-Bacall movie, Dark Passage, based on Goodis’ novel of the same name. I’d seen that movie several times and finally decided to check out the guy whose book it was based on and I was hooked. I devoured everything by him and back then you had to find used copies of his books cause there were few, if any, new production books out there like there are today. My fave Goodis novel is Down There, which was made into the movie Shoot the Piano Player by Francois Truffaut. I’m not a big fan of the movie, but the original book is terrific if you like down and dirty noir stories. This one’s about an ex-GI, a former Merrill’s Marauder, now a piano player who finds more trouble back home than in the war and he had plenty there. Goodis has been called the “poet of losers” by Geoffrey O’Brien and his stories deal with failed lives and people who are definitely on the skids. They’re often people who weren’t always in this position though and the interesting part is seeing how they deal with their downfall—not always so well. Goodis inspires me so much that I wrote a story that might be considered an homage to him. Born Under a Bad Sign was originally published in Dave Zeltserman’s Hard Luck Stories magazine, but is now available in LA Late @ Night, a collection of some of my previously published stories.

Along with film noir, the early hardboiled writers (though there is some crossover) have influenced and inspired my mystery-noir sensibility: Chandler, Cain, Hammett, Dorothy B. Hughes, etc. Along with these writers comes John Fante, although Fante doesn’t fit in either the noir or hardboiled categories. Nonetheless his thinly disguised autobiographical tales of a struggling writer's life in early 20th century L.A. made enough of an impression on me that I wrote to him shortly before he died.

Farther down the time-line road, I was drawn to Ross MacDonald with his psychological insights and stories that constantly double back on themselves and James Ellroy with his corrupt and sultry grittiness. Of current writers, Walter Mosely, Carol O’Connell, Michael Connelly and Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source help to inspire me.



But for me Chandler, with his elegant descriptions, metaphors, characters, depiction of the mean streets and his ville fatale relationship with Los Angeles, will always be on top.

What draws me to many of these writers and the noir and mystery genre in books and films is that they're about the other side of the American Dream, the dark side. There's an inner core of darkness and corruption in society, a feeling of fear and paranoia. There's a moral ambiguity in the writings of most of these writers and in these films. They are the equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting (another major influence on my writing) with its cold light and shadows, filled with a sense of loneliness, alienation and angst.

In much of noir and some hardboiled writing (and there is often, though not always a difference between the two) there's no sense of redemption, but much betrayal. No good guys, just bad guys and worse guys. The hero is flawed. People's own flaws and weaknesses create their fallibility and ultimately lead to their downfall. I think this appeals to me in the sense that it's a realistic, though often pessimistic and cynical, view of society. And in my own writing, both in my novels White Heat and Vortex, and many of my short stories, the characters are flawed, the situations ambiguous.

So my inspirations seem to go from the heights of the Himalayas (Razor’s Edge) to the gutter (Down There), which is kind of noir in itself.  What about you—what/who are your inspirations as a writer, as a person?

***

And now for the usual BSP:

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at Amazon.com and Down & Out Books.


21 comments:

Art Taylor said...

I haven't read Count of Monte Cristo OR The Razor's Edge! I need to catch up. Great post as always. :-)

Cathy Ace said...

Super piece - makes me want to read more and watch more movies (or, I should say re-read and re-watch!)

mmgornell said...

Excellent post! Like Cathy says, want to read more and watch more movies. Need more time and better eyes (get tired!) Your posts are sooooooo interesting, keep 'em coming (smile)

RM Greenaway said...

Another great post that makes me want to explore noir. Kicking myself because I asked some writers for input lately on a noir post I submitted, and I should have asked you as well.
Also I had to look up ...petards, and that's an idiom worth remembering!
Finally, I thought Ghosts of Bunker Hill was a gem, and it's got my vote.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Art! And both books are great but of course in different styles than we’re accustomed to today.

Thanks, Cathy! As we know, sometimes the movies are different than the books, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. But they did get me reading a lot of things.

Thanks, Madeline! And I agree, definitely want to read more and watch more movies. Now if we could just invent more time.

Thanks, RM! And thanks for the comment on Ghosts of Bunker Hill, I appreciate it. And your vote! And petards is one of those archaic words, but still kind of fun to use. As for the noir stuff, maybe next time :-).

Susan C Shea said...

I think I like noir, then I read your piece full of noir I have never heard of. Time to get cracking, Susan. Thanks for the shove!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan! Hope you find some things you like.

Morgan Mandel said...

Lately, I've drifted toward cozy mysteries, romantic suspense, or ones that contain unusual heroes or heroines. Ages ago, I started out reading Dick Francis, and read all of his books, but never felt the urge to write any books about horses or racing. I really got into Gothic novels for a while, but then Mary Higgins Clark captured my attention. Her books were more relatable to me. For my own writing, I set my first few mysteries in the Chicago area, where I live, and certain aspects of my life crept into them, sometimes consciously, other times unconsciously.

George Lehrfeld said...

excellent article...movies have inspired me many times to seek out the novels and vice versa....talking about flawed heroes-one of my favorite books is Under the Volcano...seriously flawed but nevertheless heroic...besides the usual suspects in classic noir i have read everything that Cornell Woolrich wrote including the many under aliases. Modern writers to check out: Joe R Landsale (especially his non-Hap and Leonard novels), James Lee Burke, and Dennis Lehane.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Morgan. I find it interesting to see how we all got where are and who influenced us on the way. And, of course, it makes perfect sense that your life and the city you live in would enter into your work, both consciously and unconsciously.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, George. It definitely goes both ways, read a book, then watch the movie or watch the movie then read the book. Either way we expand our horizons. And I agree about Under the Volano and the other writes you mention as well.

GBPool said...

I'm reading some of the old writers now on a CD (Ultimate Library 10,000 books on CD-ROM) and finding some gems. Will read Razor's Edge sometime this year just because i liked the movie, too. A stimulating post, Paul.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle! I really do love The Razor's Edge. And that CD ROM sounds terrific. I'm going to have to check it out.

Danny Gardner said...

Solid post, Paul! We share many of the same loves and influences.

David Bennett said...

Paul, your articles always teach me something new and leave me wanting more. Thanks.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Danny! And one of these days we'll have to get together and talk about our mutual interests.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dave! I appreciate your comment.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Paul,

An excellent discussion. After first seeing The Maltese Falcon many years ago, I devoured the book and went on to read the rest of Dashiel Hammett's writing. So movies do inspire reading. The film version of King's Carrie also got me to read his work.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. And I think it works both ways, sometimes we read the book and then see the movie, sometimes vice versa. Either way, isn't it great to be exposed to all this great work?

Janet Lynn said...

Great ideas and discussion. My fav is Ross MacDonald. I discovered him a year a go and read all his books I could get my hands on during my convelesant period. Great reads, all of them.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Janet. I love Macdonald too. And did sort of the same thing after I discovered him, just devoured all his books in a very short period of time. And I still re-read one or two a year.