Thursday, April 12, 2012


So I had seen the movie FAT CITY when it came out years ago and remember it as looking colorful, feeling dark and desperate, and kick ass acted (Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges and Susan Tyrell directed by John Huston). But I either didn't remember the book it was based on or never read it when my old friend Dale Herd gave me a copy of the new paperback edition a few days ago and said I should read it. So I did.

It's set in the late 1950s in Stockton, California, and was written by Leonard Gardner, who grew up there, and was first published in 1969 to great acclaim for it's depressing take on the world of lushes and SRO hotel occupants and basically the denizens of most skid rows back then, but the main milieu is the world of prize fighting, the lowest layer of that world.

It reads like the pulp fiction of that time but closer to the mastery of Elmore Leonard who wrote the book OUT OF SIGHT the movie is based on, which I caught on cable and am posting about for probably the third or fourth time since I started this blog, because every time I stumble across this caper flick on TV I can't stop watching it, it's so well constructed and directed (by Steven Soderbergh). It stars Jennifer Lopez at her most appealing and in her best role ever for my taste, and George Clooney, as he finally found his stride as the handsome charming bumbling n'er-do-well hero.

It's a classic to me because I always dig watching it. And then late tonight I caught a sci-fi flick (at least in that it has an attack by aliens) I'd read about and meant to catch when it came out last year ATTACK THE BLOCK. Set in a London working-class or out-of-work-class high rise which are called "blocks" (but are much nicer, at least in this flick, than comparable working and unable-to-find-work high rises in say Newark, called "projects" in the USA) a gang of mixed race, and mixed races, young teen boys fends off an attack by aliens in a story with some terrific twists, and a lot of engaging acting as well, even though some of the actors playing the teens are total newcomers with no previous acting experience.

I don't usually like these horror style sci-fi rampaging aliens flicks, but this one's so clever and fresh and successfully plotted and directed (by Joe Cornish who both wrote and directed it) it's another "classic"—i.e. a film I will be able to watch anytime and dig even though I know the ending. I don't want to see the movie of FAT CITY again, which Tyrell stole and now reading (or rereading) the novel I can see why, she brilliantly embodied the character from the novel in a way Bridges and Keach despite their acting chops could not.

The novel is violent and mostly depressing (and I believe shortchanges the kinds of poor and working people it's about to paint too bleak and hopeless a picture, for the most part) but the writing is so tight and quick and easy to register it moves along like each chapter is an old 45 record capturing the mood of a certain place and time in a way that somehow, despite the almost one dimensional characters, still brings that time and place to life and keeps you interested. Or it did me.

So, not bad for a few days of reading and viewing, three classics, in their various ways.


Robert Berner said...

Lal--Probably the best alcoholism movie since "Lost Weekend" was "Barfly," a truly sobering film about alcoholics. Why does "Attack The Block" strike me as a pale avatar of "Clockwork Orange?" And why are so many flicks, especially dystopia escapist fantasies of power and control like the "Iron Man" series now coming out of video games? That and the vampire/zombie axis bespeaks a paucity of imagination in pursuit of the 18-49 dollar. He said, gnashing his teeth while settling back to watch another screening of "The Maltese Falcon."
Bob B.

-K- said...

First of all, it's so odd that Bob B. should make a reference to "The Maltese Falcon" as I put it on very early this morning. I was sort of dreading a trip to the dentist and it never fails to take me out fo the present moment into a completely different world.

But as for "Fat City," it might be a barometer of my state of mind when I see it. Sometimes I watch it and it seems like there's not a camera, it's just real life Sacramento, circa 1970. No "acting" whatsoever. Hollywood is a million miles away.

Other times, its just maddening slow, a drumbeat of lowlife aimlessness.

Lally said...

Bob, I found BARFLY a little less than realistic since the Bukowskiesque "hero" never has the kind of "accidents" alcoholics I've encountered often have, and not just puking, etc. I can't remember the movie FAT CITY except for Susan Tyrell's indelible performance, but the book is definitely one of the most realistic depictions of the later stages of alcoholism I've ever read or seen anywhere. Should have probably made that point in the post.

And K, a good old black and white '40s flick is my drug of choice these days.

Robert Berner said...

Lal--Maybe the best exploration of what alcoholism does to you is the memoir of his own struggle with it by John Berryman.It's excruciating to read his account of what a shit he was when he was on the sauce.
Bob B.

Lally said...

Bob, I never read the Berryman, but remember sitting on a couch at a party in Iowa City with hair down below my shoulders and he sat down next to me while I was looking in the other direction and started drunkenly sweet talking me like I was a coed until I turned around and then he got all flustered and apologetic.

Robert Berner said...

Lal--Something tells me I'm glad I wasn't at that particular party.We all of us did enough dumb things of various sorts when we were juiced back in those days.
Bob B.

JIm said...
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