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In honor of the start of summer yesterday, my Kindle novel Bloodbath will be available free today, Sunday, 22 June.
Bloodbath is a neo-noir pulp thriller — short, violent and dirty. At the center of it is Tim Holt, a battle-scarred vet, now a soldier of fortune working the darker byways of Latin America in 1954. When a job in Guatemala goes way wrong he’s thrown together with a beautiful young woman who, like him, is bent on revenge — but the cost of it is going to be higher than either of them could possibly imagine.
The book has no redeeming moral or social message whatsoever. It’s sole ambition is to resemble the sort of lurid paperback thriller you might pick up at a drugstore or train station in the 1950s, read quickly and think, “Well, that was fun.”
Check it out here:
If you don’t own a Kindle, you can read it on almost any computer or portable device with one of the free Kindle reading apps available here:
Had a great dinner with Scott Bradley around dawn yesterday at McMullan’s Irish Pub, a most reliable local open around the clock every day of the year, serving first-rate pub food and a fine selection of beer and ale on tap.
When the smoking laws arrived in Las Vegas, McMullan’s walled off one of its several dining rooms, called it the gaming room — it has a lot of video poker machines — defined it as a separate establishment from the rest of the place, and kept the ashtrays out. It doesn’t serve food — because smoking is not allowed in establishments that serve food — but it “delivers” food to the gaming room from the kitchen next door.
I had some shepherd’s pie for dinner. I ordered the “lunch size”, which is enormous, but was accidentally served the “dinner size”, which could feed a regiment of Irish pipers. I washed down as much of it as I could with Murphy’s Stout and took the rest home.
I ate some of it for breakfast around midnight tonight — cold. Sounds gross, right?
When Terrence Malick’s first film Badlands came out in 1974, Pauline Kael wrote a withering critique of it, finding it to be so self-consciously arty and metaphorical, so “preconceived”, as she put it, “that there’s nothing left to respond to”. It’s a fair comment, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really go far enough.
Malick was a protegé of Arthur Penn, and Badlands is in some ways a gloss on Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, a film Kael loved and helped to find an audience. Jay Cocks summed up the difference between the two films well. Badlands, he said, “might better be regarded less as a companion piece to Bonnie and Clyde than as an elaboration and reply. It is not loose and high-spirited. All its comedy has a frosty irony, and its violence, instead of being brutally balletic, is executed with a dry, remorseless drive.”
In other words, Badlands is a story about serial killers without the fun and visceral energy of a superior Hollywood entertainment, elements Kael valued highly, and rightly, in cinema. But a film doesn’t automatically descend into what Kael called “draggy art” just because it’s meditative and emotionally cool.
Kael said she found the “cold detachment” of Badlands offensive, but cold detachment is not the only element of the film. Indeed, Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are such appealing screen presences, and their dialogue is so funny, that the film starts out warm and engaging. It’s only as the narrative proceeds that Malick asks us to take a step back from them, to see them as stupid and evil — to see the charm of Sheen’s Kit as repellent.
Malick wanted to play with our expectations about films of youthful rebellion, to make us slowly but surely self-conscious, even a bit ashamed, of those expectations. It’s a somewhat cerebral approach to filmmaking, perhaps, but not necessarily pretentious. Hitchcock made grand popular entertainments out of the same ambition to undermine our identification with his protagonists, keep the ground of expectation and sympathy shifting beneath our feet.
I would also argue that the film is not quite the metaphor for modern American society that Kael and others have seen it as. Kael said, “The movie can be summed up: mass-culture banality is killing our souls and making everybody affectless.” It can be read that way, I guess, but it seems to me that Malick wasn’t trying to be so dogmatic, so obvious.
Although Sheen has the active and showy part, the film is really about Spacek’s Holly. She’s the narrator of the film, and there are suggestions that she may not be a reliable narrator. Towards the end of the film she recounts an event she wasn’t present at, tells us what she thinks might have happened, and Malick shows it happening that way on screen.
It makes us wonder, in retrospect, how much of the story Holly’s been telling us is really true and how much reflects her adolescent fantasies of how it might have been or should have been. It’s yet another way of Malick distancing us from the story, but it also invites us to move closer to Holly, to try and get inside her head, and this is really quite far from the “cold detachment” that Kael accuses Malick of.
And though Holly reads celebrity gossip magazines, she’s also fascinated by antique stereographic pictures she’s brought from her home. She reads from Kon-Tiki, a popular book, but one that was ten years old at the time the movie is set and not an artifact of teen culture. Her head is filled with fairy tales and dreams of adventure as much as it is with images derived from romance comic books.
It’s Kit who sees himself as James Dean and spouts platitudes that seem to be lifted from The Reader’s Digest. He represents the banality of mass culture, but Holly wants to see him as something finer and more romantic. You begin to doubt, when you think about it, if Kit and Holly’s dreamlike idyll in the forest ever happened at all — to suspect it might just be something Holly made up out of images from Swiss Family Robinson.
Kael was right to note that there’s something overly calculated about the film, but wrong to see that calculation as simpleminded. I think Malick had subtler and deeper ambitions for the film than creating metaphors about modern society. He had begun, haltingly and vaguely perhaps, his investigation of the imagination’s role, love’s role, the beauty of nature’s role, in reconciling us to life — even a life as bleak and hopeless as Holly’s.
Our culture doesn’t set much value on the beauty of older women. As a result of this many women as they age resist the work of time, dye their hair, take knives to their faces, in a ghastly, hopeless effort to keep looking young.
It’s madness, of course, because older women can be extremely beautiful, and not just beautiful the way an old faded photograph is beautiful, but beautiful the way an old wine can be beautiful — intoxicating, and arousing.
I once ran into Tanaquil Le Clercq at a party in New York in the 1980s. She had been a principal dancer at The New York City Ballet in the 1940s and 1950s, wife and muse of its founder George Balanchine. She was still stunningly beautiful. My friend Kevin Jarre was with me at the party and he leaned over to me and said, “Look at that woman, Lloyd. She makes me . . . tense.”
He meant that she aroused him as an erotic being. She was at the time about 60 and confined to a wheelchair.
Elizabeth Warren is ancient by modern standards — in other words, my age, 64 — but her volatile intellect and energetic idealism make her erotically alive, a desirable woman, while the exhausted cynicism of Hillary Clinton is reflected in the crumbling of her face, which is starting to look like the crumbled face of Jan Brewer, the mean-hearted governor of Arizona. These are not women you’d want to take home with you, even at 3am after a long night of drinking.
I just saw an interview with Sissy Spacek from 2012 and felt that she was far sexier at the age of 62 that she had ever been in her so-called prime.
Let’s be frank here — I’m not talking about the beauty of older women as an abstract value, I’m talking about fuckability. Our culture has a sick and perverse notion of what constitutes fuckability in a woman. Many older women, who grow bitter and cynical and desperate before their time, pass beyond fuckability. Tant pis. Others keep their fuckability alive. Our culture needs to be more alert to their erotic power.