Friday, August 15, 2014

In Lieu Of Flowers...

As summer winds to a close and chunks of the world from Ferguson to Fallujah continue to come loose, catch fire and fly apart, Mr. Brooks has decided to sit down at his keyboard and type out the most uncontroversial, inoffensive column one could imagine: a tribute to the late, great Lauren Bacall.

Because who didn't love Lauren Bacall, right?  And so who but a complete, contrarian asshole could possibly take offense at the idea of Mr. Brooks writing a nice column entitled "The Bacall Standard", right?

But between the idea of writing a tribute to Ms. Bacall and the actually typing out and publishing of such a thing, there's a hitch.  Specifically, the ideology which Mr. Brooks spends most of waking hours fanatically marketing -- mealy-mouthed Both Siderism -- is in direct conflict with the entire life and career of the real, flesh-and-blood Lauren Bacall.

In the Lauren Bacall obits I’ve seen, there’s only fleeting glance at her politics. She had the guts and stamina of a classic New York-born Jewish left-liberal. So remember her not only as Humphrey Bogart's sultry siren in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, but also as a kickass fighter, the only child of a divorced, dirt-poor single immigrant mother. During Hollywood's 1950s blacklist purges, when studios denied work to alleged Communist sympathizers and so many in show business ran for cover, Betty Joan Perske Weinstein-Bacal (as Lauren was originally known), pushed her new husband, Bogart, into establishing the Committee for the First Amendment to denounce the blacklist and protect its victims (who were more Jews and liberals than “reds”). CFA was a cross section of the plucky, upstanding Hollywood left: Danny Kaye, John Huston, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn etc.

Bacall, a mere ingénue just starting out, risked her young career to stick her neck out, as did Bogart, who wanted to vote Republican until Bacall persuaded him otherwise...
For the whole of her life Lauren Bacall stayed a true-blue New York left-of-center liberal Democrat, lobbying later on for Adlai Stevenson and Bobby Kennedy. Or as she proudly boasted in a late interview, “I’m anti-Republican. A liberal. The L-word!”
See the problem?

Like so most of the rest of the everyday realities in the real world in which you and I live, the life and work of the real Lauren Bacall (and the real Humphrey Bogart) cannot be reconciled in any way with the Whig Fan Fiction that Mr. Brooks now writes for a living.

And so instead of using his incredibly privileged position at the New York Times to directly take on any of the problems with which we little people out here in the real world are grappling...or even a column which pays honest tribute to the actual Lauren Bacall and the life she actually lived...instead we get a movie review of The Big Sleep.

Five paragraphs about Raymond Chandler:
I believe the really good people would be reasonably successful in any circumstance,” the detective writer Raymond Chandler wrote in his notebook in 1949. If Shakespeare came back today, “he would have refused to die in a corner.”

Shakespeare, Chandler theorized...

Chandler had a tough, urban sensibility...

Chandler was not particularly kind to women, though...

Vivian Rutledge, the lead female character in the movie version of Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,”...
Then three paragraphs about the traits of a Raymond Chandler character which Lauren Bacall played in one movie:
The lead character, played by Bacall, emerges from an ambiguous past...

She projects a hardened wisdom about the way the world works, and an ironic gaze...

The movie’s plot is famously incomprehensible. But you get to watch Vivian meet her equal...
Then five paragraphs of quotes copies more or less directly from from the IMDb, including the most famous exchange in the movie:
Bacall:“So you’re a private detective. I didn’t know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors.”

Bogart:I’m not crazy about yours. ... I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings.”

Bacall: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first. See if they’re front-runners or come-from-behind. ... I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the back stretch and then come home free.”

Bogart: “You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how far you can go.”

Bacall: “A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.”
Then a couple of lines of yadda yadda about "moral sensibilities" and, boom!, you can knock off for the weekend early.

As I have mentioned many times, I am a great admirer of Raymond Chandler's work.  Longtime readers know I have, in fact, used Mr. Chandler as a big fish with which to slap Mr. Brooks around once or twice.  Even longertime readers may also remember this is not the first time we have caught Mr. Brooks trying appropriate the work of a master of the hardboiled detective genre ("Sam Spade at Starbucks") and wham it square-peg-round-hole fashion into his bullshit Both Sides dogma ("I Don't Mind A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble")

(Pro tip:  When Mr. Brooks breaks out word "dappled" -- as in "Every person is dappled with virtue and vice." and "[A noir hero] assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice..." -- keep your hand on your wallet.)

So if Mr. Brooks wants to write a column about Raymond Chandler, well that's fine by me.

Or if Mr. Brooks wants to write a lazy, cut-and-paste review of a terrific 68-year-old movie, well, that's fine by me too.

But don't think for a minute that no one noticed the fact that none of that has shit-all to do with the real life of a real, Liberal person named Lauren Bacall.

Now am I attempting to tell Mr, Brooks his duties?

Golly no!  As Marlowe says in The Big Sleep, I'm just having fun trying to guess what those duties are.

However, as long as I have your attention, I do have one more damn thing to add, which is the same damn thing I wrote two years ago when Mr. Brooks was trying to turn Sam Spade into a "No Labels" spokesmodel:
Chandler was famously outspoken about what a Chandler hero looked like:
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. 
Raymond Chandler, November 1945 
Yes, in the murky, fallen literary universe of the hard-boiled detective, shady, contingent bargains are often quickly struck (and just as often quickly violated) all the time between shady, contingent people.

God knows, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for life-lessons between the covers of books, or even finding a few by tagging along behind Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, but however much Mr. Brooks may delude himself, building a career out of siding with monsters, stooging for the powerful and defending the indefensible, as Mr. Brooks has done, does not a "noir hero" make.

And no matter how dappled the lighting, the is no mistaking the clear lines between the "right guys" who (often reluctantly) end up taking the side of the underdog and fighting for something resembling justice against the deadfalls, stacked decks and moral chaos of the world they live in

and the scuttlefish, gunsels, greed-heads and cold-eyed killers whose first love is power

and who will chase that Black Bird so far down into darkness that they become the creators of the deadfalls, stacked decks and moral chaos

of the world they live in.

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steeve said...

If I were in his spot, I'd be frantically unable to resist the temptation to see how deep the cushion is.

He's got to write a column containing nothing but 5000 or so repetitions of the letter q, with some spaces thrown in for variety. Then go on a national talk show and read from that column. No "boss" will come down to see him. Nobody who encounters him will be short of reverently deferential.

jurassicpork said...

Done. Focus on the clink, not the echo.