Skip to main content

Review: Ask The Dust

Somehow I missed the classic LA-set Bukowski-inspiring novel Ask The Dust by John Fante - despite being a sometime-lover of the sun-soaked- "place where people go to die"-LA-deadbeat-and-eccentrics novel subgenre - N. West country, you could say, dropped in on the wings of Chandler's slumming angel.

I also missed the film version, until last night. It was written for the screen and directed by Robert Towne, whose Chinatown script best captures, on film, the same rough sun-blanched time. Towne is not known as a very good director, but he seems the ideal fit, here. Cast as the struggling, Mencken-mentored Italian writer, Arturo Bandini, is pretty boy Colin Farrell, and the mercurial edgy gorgeous Mexican waitress is played by Ms. Hayek. Both leads are pictorially perfect - Hayek literally embodying the key aspects required of her part - Mr. Farrell with his boyish black bangs and badly-shaved neck, and slowly-declining sartorial confidence, is at once a dreamer and a dreamboat.

I found the film beautiful, for the reasons that many viewers may consider it a wooden nickel thrust in the outstretched palm of an orphan: it is both "realistic" in evocation of time and place (the Cape Town location - how many "towns" can one film possess?) and yet, its mise-en-scene, and particularly, stagy, barroom and hotel room sequences, are "artificial".

It brings to mind, in this respect, the directorial work of another 70s master screenwriter, Paul Schrader, whose Mishima, for instance, or Light Sleeper, are great but flawed versions of their possible selves. The reason is the theme of identity vs. idealism. In this case, Bandini and his Mexican Beatrice both dream the big American one - and the happiness entailed is impossible, so long as they remain who they actually are (non-WASP). In order to render the element of immigrant desire, the element of fiction's yearning, to find a home in a world that is solidly based, Towne has allowed the movie to move, in dialectical fashion, between very complex realistic moments of disrupted character development, and achingly lovely film noir set-pieces. It has the poetry of O'Neill in it.

Those who crave scenes of writers smoking and typing out stories on Underwoods (and stealing milk - under milk wood?), shuffling along dusty, palm-tree lined streets, and young, doomed lovers trying to make something of themselves in a socio-politcally waste land (an arid land where one of the characters ends up buried) with small, confused acts of tenderness (for the night can be tender) and aggression, will find the story moving. It made me want to finish my novel, that's for damn sure.

As an aside, there's a fun cameo by Donald Sutherland, as a drunk who haunts the cheap hotel, his lungs gassed in the war; Sutherland played Homer Simpson in the film version of West's The Day of the Locust, the fullest treatment of similar themes of displacement and a quest for permanence, in the impermanent, empty world at the edge of the West Coast - and it's good to be reminded of that here.
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!