April 11, 2010

Hardboiled in a nutshell

The lobby looked like a high-budget musical. A lot of light and glitter, a lot of scenery, a lot of clothes, a lot of sound, an all-star cast, and a plot with the originality and drive of a split fingernail.

A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pyjamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.
A cigarette girl came down the gangway. She wore an egret plume in her hair, enough clothes to hide behind a toothpickm one of her long beautiful naked legs was silver, and one was gold. She had the utterly disdainful expression of a dame who makes her dates by long distance.

- Marlowe. Drink while waiting?
- A dry martini will do.
- A martini. Dry. Veddy, veddy dry.
- Okay.
- Will you eat it with a spoon or a knife and fork?
- Cut it into strips, I said. I'll just nibble at it.
-On your way to school, he said. Should I put the olive in a bag for you?
-Sock me on the nose with it, I said. If it will make you feel any better.
-Thank you, sir, he said. A dry martini.

'You're a man named Marlowe?' she asked, looking at me. She put her hips against the end of the desk and crossed her ankles.
I said I was a man named Marlowe.
'By and large,' she said, 'I am quite sure I am not going to like you one damned bit. So speak your piece and drift away.'
'What I like about this place is everything runs true to type,' I said. 'The cop on the gate, the shine on the door, the cigarette and check girls, the fat greasy sensual Jew with the tall stately bored showgirl, the well-dressed, drunk and horribly rude director cursing the barman, the silent guy with the gun, the night-club owner with the soft grey hair and the B-picture mannerisms, and now you - the tall dark torcher with the negligent sneer, the husky voice, the hard-boiled vocabulary.'

Passages from 'The High Window', by Raymond Chandler.

Another sunday rolled around, and I started another detective story. I read, eat some popcorn washed down with a glass of pepsi and accompanied by the American Graffiti soundtrack and some Sinatra. A top-notch sunday really, maximum excitement with minimum exertion.

Chandler's writing is exciting enough. I find myself rereading passages and experiment reciting them in my head, with inflections on different words, some parts sped up, others slowed down. In my head I feel like I am almost spitting the words out, and my voice is scathing and rambling and rude and witty and charming all at the same time. I love how the descriptions of people and places are so sharp and original and lyrical. I begin to test out phrases in my mind from my everyday life in Chandleresque prose . And its intimate, you know, written in the first person. Sometimes I find it hard to pick up what is dialogue and what isn't. The way you feel that it is only you who can understand Marlowe's jargon and insults, and the puns and wisecracks float over the other characters' heads (sometimes this happens, sometimes not).
Raymond Chandler, I feel, could be a man to agree that 'the pen is mightier than the sword'. Then is it strange that he writes hard-boiled fiction? Perhaps not.

We watched 'The Big Sleep' last night, with Bogie & Bacall. It was great, it is great, a staple of the film noir genre, major stars acting well, snappy dialogue, all that jazz. Its presevered by the Library of Congress, for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and all.
But Chandler's lyrical descriptions couldn't quite be transformed to celluloide and
the film just didn't quite get there. Its nice to think some books still come out trumps over cinematic adaptation.

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