There is a certain romance and allure to hitting rock bottom. Stripped of pretension and expectations one is free to discover what is important. Over the last few months we’ve spent time with the degenerates of San Francisco’s notorious TL, courtesy of the newest Rogue, Court Haslett. Gambler, raconteur and writer, Court will be editing The Rogue Reader for the next few months contributing interviews with writers such as Brian Koppelman, Urban Waite, Chuck Greaves and many others, while offering wisdom on poker, boxing and drinking. So stay tuned and check out Court’s kick ass debut novel Tenderloin (A Sleeper Hayes Mystery).
January 7, 2014 by Court Haslett
Continuing our new series, A Fan’s Notes, where authors share some of their favorite cultural gems, George Pelecanos takes the reigns from Laura Lippman to talk about the 1977 film, Rolling Thunder.
For those readers who have been in solitary confinement for the past twenty years, first off, congratulations on your release, and second, let me introduce you to George. Simply put, George Pelecanos is one of the preeminent fiction writers working today. His novels, largely set in Washington D.C., are intense, explosive stories, that often cut across economic and racial lines. George’s books, spanning multiple decades, also provide a de facto history of the city’s many socioeconomic changes. In addition to winning an Emmy and an Edgar for his writing on The Wire, he also wrote many memorable episodes of the recently concluded series, Treme (which the Rogue will be running a feature on later this week). George’s most recent book, The Double, was released in October to rave reviews. Most importantly (at least for me), he is a big hoops fan. All of this build-up is to explain why, when George tells you to watch his pick for a Fan’s Notes, you should listen to him. It’s all yours George:
A Fan’s Notes: Rolling Thunder (1977)
I first saw Rolling Thunder on the big screen at the time of its original release. A review in the old Washington Star, in which the newspaper’s critic had called it the best film of the year (a grandiose declaration that caused the critic to be fired) had intrigued me. I found the film in a second run house in D.C. and was mesmerized. Over the years Rolling Thunder has haunted me, but it was hard to know if it was as good as I remembered it to be, since it rarely showed up uncut on broadcast or cable, and VCR and DVD releases were short-lived and poorly transferred. Recently, the esteemed aftermarket distributor Shout! has released a Blu-Ray edition in high-definition widescreen, which is cause for celebration for cult film enthusiasts. Rolling Thunder is one of the great under-seen actioners of the 1970s.
Written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and Heywood Gould (Fort Apache, The Bronx), and directed by John Flynn (The Outfit), Rolling Thunder concerns a Vietnam veteran, Major Charles Rane (quiet badass William Devane) who returns to an America he no longer recognizes or understands. Damaged by his war experience and inarticulate, he lands in the States with his dead-inside buddy John Vohden (a young, wired-out Tommy Lee Jones) with whom he had endured seven torturous years in a POW camp, and is met by the well-meaning but clueless populace in a small town. Rane’s son, a baby when Rane departed for Southeast Asia, doesn’t recognize him, and it soon becomes apparent that his wife Janet has been sleeping with a cop during Rane’s absence (Janet, by way of confession, says, “Charlie, I’ve been with another man.” Rane’s response is, “I’m just gonna sit here.”) Rane is propositioned by local beauty contest winner Linda Forchet (blaxploitation veteran Linda Haynes, in a wonderfully naturalistic performance) but he’s too remote and emotionally wounded to respond. Soon thereafter, he arrives home to find several men who have come to his house to rob him of a gold coin collection the town has bestowed upon him. The men are unable to get Rane to talk, so they shove his hand down a live garbage disposal. Before they leave with the goods, they shoot Rane, his wife, and son. Only Rane survives.
Rane acquires a hook for his missing hand, and in his tool shed sharpens the point of it, then cuts down a twelve-gauge, pump-action shotgun and goes to work. With his now-lover Linda Forchet in tow, he hunts down the men who invaded his home and murdered his family. When he finds their whereabouts, he swings by the home of John Vohden, who has been eagerly awaiting Rane’s arrival, and, flush with the prospect of the violence to come, suddenly seems very much alive. Rane says, “I found them. The men who killed my son.” Vohden replies, “I’ll just get my gear.” What follows is an apocalyptic shootout in a Mexican whorehouse that is one of the most thrilling, cathartic gundowns ever committed to film. In the bargain, buried in the mayhem, is a deep film about the cost of war.
Produced by Twentieth Century Fox, the studio sold the film off to exploitation specialist AIP after test-screened audiences reacted negatively its extreme violence. Rolling Thunder played briefly in theaters and quickly faded from the public consciousness, but has gained a stellar reputation since. The acting is uniformly excellent; standouts include Luke Askew as proto-heavy Automatic Slim and Cassie Yates as a hooker caught in the crossfire. The lack of expensive special effects and the casting of non-actors enhance the documentary-like atmosphere. When the guns come out, it all seems very real. See this one before it goes away.
Follow George on Twitter: @pelecanos1
December 24, 2013 by Court Haslett
Even Rogues need a break. We’ll be back in January with more original content including “A Fan’s Note” by George Pelecanos, interviews with Megan Abbott and Chuck Greaves, and more dispatches from the Tenderloin. And of course, more great fiction from the bleeding edge. See you then!
December 19, 2013 by Court Haslett
Mark Ellinger is many things to the Tenderloin. He is a historian who has spent countless hours documenting the neighborhood’s history on his blog Up From The Deep. He could also be considered the Tenderloin’s conscience, always there to hold accountable anyone who dares to cause harm to the TL, whether they be politician, developer, or resident.
Most of all, though, Mark is a photographer. After salvaging a digital camera in 2002, Mark has relentlessly combed the streets of the Tenderloin, capturing its many moods, personalities, and architecture, bringing to life a neglected part of San Francisco and its history.
Mark and I came together to present this photo journal of the Tenderloin to correspond with the events of my novel, Tenderloin. Some of the photos are Mark’s, others were culled from his vast archive. This is the 1970′s TL that Sleeper Hayes, the protagonist of the book, would have operated—the bars where he would have gotten drunk, the diners where he would have eaten, and the streets that he would have walked. For each photo, we both offer commentary: Mark’s on the history of the photograph’s subject matter; mine on how it relates to the book (or simply to crack wise). I encourage everyone to click on each photo for the enlarged version to fully appreciate Mark’s artistry. If you like these photos, and I don’t see any way you possibly couldn’t, go to Mark’s website to see the hundreds of other photos Mark has taken, all of which are available for purchase.
MARK: The Tenderloin contains the largest and densest concentration of intact residential hotels and apartments in the entire United States. Clearly seen from this perspective is the uniformity of architectural style. Nearly all the buildings have details that were drawn from Renaissance and Baroque sources, manifesting the influence of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the City Beautiful Movement on the various architects responsible for the district’s reconstruction following the 1906 earthquake and fire.
COURT: It all looks so harmless from above.
MARK: The sex industry that was once prevalent in the lower Tenderloin has in recent years largely disappeared. None of the businesses seen in this ’80s-era photo now remain.
COURT: This is pretty much what the TL would have looked like to Sleeper in 1978. Seedy, but livelier than it would be in just a few short years.
MARK: In the 1930s, the Dahlia Hotel was known as a “vice resort with ten girls.” When hoteliers tried to get it closed down, Mayor Rossi’s secretary told them, “You run your hotels and we’ll run the rest.”
COURT: The city’s hands-off policy toward the TL’s hotels extended to its bars, allowing places like the Round Table, the Square Chair and the fictional “Tipsy Triangle” to operate unmolested. read more →
December 16, 2013 by Court Haslett
Over at The Huffington Post, I talked with Urban Waite, best-selling author of The Terror of Living and The Carrion Birds and just an all-around good guy, about the original Oldboy, the South Korean New Wave Cinema, and having one of your books turned into a movie. And just in time for the holidays, we talked a lot about revenge. Calculated, mean, cold-blooded revenge. Merry Christmas!
December 13, 2013 by Court Haslett
Here you go, an abbreviated edition of the Friday Rogue Links. Impress your friends with all your useless knowledge:
Kirkus Review talked Noir with Akashic’s editor-in-chief, Johnny Temple.
A new Johnny Cash album? Right on.
This video with Ice Cube, Conan, and Kevin Hart will make you laugh.
I always enjoy these email exchanges between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons.
Thomas H. Cook shares his favorite mysteries books.
Jason Segal will play David Foster Wallace in a movie.
Classic San Francisco film locations, then and now.
See you next week with more Holiday Roguishness.
December 11, 2013 by Court Haslett
Today on the Rogue we are introducing a new feature we have dubbed ‘A Fan’s Notes.’ We asked some of our favorite crime and mystery authors to write appreciations about, well, anything they want. These posts are personal love letters about works of art that, for whatever reason, resonate with the author. The more obscure, the more overlooked, the more imperfect, the better.
Kicking off the series is Laura Lippman. Though she needs no introduction, I will offer one anyway. Laura is the New York Times best-selling author of the Tess Monaghan series, as well as seven stand-alone novels including What the Dead Know and Every Secret Thing. She has won the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Nero, the Shamus, the Macavity and the Strand awards (Geez, Laura, save some for the rest of us!). Basically, she’s all that and a box of popcorn.
Take it away, Laura . . .
A Fan’s Notes: Funny Bones
I can’t remember the name of one of my favorite films. Whenever I start to recommend it, my mind darts around like a drunk mouse on the scent of something wonderful. Oliver Reed . . . those eggs . . . Oliver Platt . . . seaside town . . . Jerry Lewis . . . tight rope . . . Leslie Caron . . . that British comic who was in the movie about the mouse . . .
And then I just give up and go to IMDB.com and find it yet again: Funny Bones.
I watched Funny Bones the first time because it was a staff recommendation at the great, now late Video Americain in Baltimore. For ten wonderful years, I lived a half-block from the store, possibly one of the best video stores of all time. (Trivia: Its site was where Geena Davis’s character worked in The Accidental Tourist.) You couldn’t go wrong with the staff recommendations at Video Americain, but I don’t think I ever went so right as I did when I picked up Funny Bones.
Funny Bones, released in 1995, was directed by Peter Chelsom (Hear My Song). Roger Ebert’s review, at three stars out of four, is fair, but the worst possible review one can get, in this writer’s view: It concludes the film is good, but had the potential to be great. I don’t disagree with Ebert. And I realize that Funny Bones doesn’t answer some key questions (What is going on with those damn eggs?).
But it has Oliver Platt, who makes everything better. (The only actor better at making everything better is Steve Zahn; he’s the only thing I like in You’ve Got Mail). It has Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy mode — subtle and dark.
Its greatest strength, however — and you’ll notice I’ve told you nothing of the plot — is that I realized at the climax that I didn’t know if I was watching a comedy or a tragedy, so I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I honestly wasn’t sure. And how often can you say that? Not enough. We’re all fluent in narrative. When we know what type of movie we’re watching, we know the ending. Maybe not the journey to the ending, but we always know where things end up. Funny Bones, watched with no awareness of its story or its genre, just the recommendation of Video Americain, surprised me. I wish I could be surprised more often.
December 9, 2013 by Court Haslett
. . . The Rogue was, too. But we also found time to do a little work over the weekend. Ro Cuzon was featured over at Pulp Curry as one of the five best reads of 2013, and I wrote about two great, overlooked San Francisco crime books at Criminal Element. Now, about that hangover. . .
December 6, 2013 by Court Haslett
Here’s a roundup of the best links of the week.. Impress your friends at happy hour with your knowledge of all things Rogue.
I loved this picture of Nelson Mandela boxing.
I hope True Detective is as good as its poster.
This website posts great old interviews with famous screenwriters.
The essential crime books of the last century.
Vince Gilligan is the kingpin of the year.
Robert Crais and Carolyn Hart will the Mystery Writers Association Grand Masters of next year.
Idris Elba gave a long interview to The USA Today.
Who’s a more fun interview than Noel Gallagher?
Finally, I thought Galleycat’s schematics of famous literary homes was fun.
Come back next week for a new Rogue feature written by one of the preeminent mystery writers working today. Hint: her name is Laura Lippman. Until then, have a great weekend!
December 5, 2013 by Court Haslett
Don Rearden’s The Raven’s Gift was recently named as one of the 50 Notable Books of 2013 by The Washington Post. We are particularly proud of Don here at The Rogue Reader, as his short story Aurora’s Dance was published by the Rogue last year.
I interviewed Don about the circuitous route The Raven’s Gift took to publication, growing up in the Alaskan tundra, and the oral storytelling tradition of the Yup’ik people.
COURT: Don, congratulations on the success of The Raven’s Gift. In a recent blog post you mentioned “the long and convoluted route taken by my novel on the road to getting published in the United States.” Would you mind giving those of us who aren’t familiar with that road a little more background on it?
DON: Thanks for the chance to chat with all the Rogue Readers, Court! And congrats on the success of Tenderloin. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I get finished grading all these damn freshman composition essays. My reading hours now are like sunlight in the Alaskan winter — never enough!
I joked in a keynote speech last October that the convoluted route to this novel finally getting into the US was something like the circuitous route of a raven itself. If you know anything about Alaska ravens, they are a curious and incredible creature, to say the least. Here in Anchorage, they stream down from the mountains at sunrise and fan out into the city, as if going to work. But if you watch one closely it will take a path that is never exactly direct, though they seem to have a destination in mind. For my raven—this novel—I knew in my heart the book would someday be published here in the US, but there were times I definitely didn’t trust my heart.
In 2008 the book hit the desks of editors just at about the same time the bottom fell out from under the economy. Adam Chromy, my kick ass agent, got the book into the hands of the top editors in the States, and many of them liked it, but they couldn’t get it past their editorial boards. Perhaps the marketing folks and other editors didn’t see the value in a book about the world ending, while the world seemed to be ending. One publisher shut down acquisitions company-wide the exact day an offer was supposed to be coming.
When all hope seemed lost for the book in the US, Penguin Canada swooped in and saved the day. They picked up the book and published it in Canada in 2011, and to my surprise, the book was an instant hit here in Alaska. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a US deal and that made distribution here in Alaska expensive and somewhat illegal. Booksellers here were pretty much bootlegging the book. Several stores were selling copies of the trade paperback Canadian edition for upwards of $27.
Text Publishing of Australia and New Zealand did pick up the rights for down under in 2012, but still no US deal. It was exactly like being the dude in junior high who claimed he had a girlfriend, but she lived in another country. My countries happened to be Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And then France. At least France sounded like a more romantic place for a girlfriend, though, right?
Then a funny thing happened. Penguin Canada started a boutique imprint of select Canadian titles to distribute in the US called Pintail. After four international countries and countless rejections, my raven was coming home.
COURT: That is such a great story for any disheartened writers out there. And then to be featured on the Washington Post like it was has to feel amazing.
DON: I still can’t quite believe it, either. It’s been a long road, but an amazing one. The Washington Post accolades make it all that much sweeter for me and for all those who believed in the book. I couldn’t have asked for more, and in the long run, I really think that convoluted route might have made all the difference. I look forward to seeing where this particular raven flies next.
December 2, 2013 by Court Haslett
Brian Koppelman is the co-writer of Rounders, one of the great gambling movies and a personal favorite of mine. He and his creative partner, David Levien, also wrote Oceans Thirteen, The Girlfriend Experience and Solitary Man, which they co-directed. Most recently they directed the “30 for 30” ESPN documentary, This is What They Want, about Jimmy Connors’ run in the 1991 U.S. Open. Koppelman’s “Six Second Screenwriting Lessons” on Twitter (@briankoppelman) have developed a passionate following, and were recently featured in The New Yorker.
With the upcoming release of Inside Llewyn Davis, I exchanged emails with Brian about his favorite filmmakers, the Coen brothers. Among other Coen-related topics, we discussed a few of his favorite Coen brothers’ characters, what aspiring authors can learn from the Coens’ scripts, and what it’s like to write with a partner.
COURT: When did you become a full-blown Coen brothers’ fan?
BRIAN: I became a full-blown Coen brothers’ fan the moment I heard Nathan Arizona talking about Unpainted Arizona in Raising Arizona, which happens within the first ten minutes of the film. I was a college junior, on a date, had never seen Blood Simple and hadn’t really heard of the Coens. But as Nathan Arizona kept talking, I started cackling, loudly, and I didn’t stop until the credits came up. I went back to see the movie the next day, alone, and then found a way to watch Blood Simple. Since then, I have seen every single Coen brothers’ movie on the day of release (or at the latest, by the end of the first weekend). To me, they are the best living American filmmakers, along with Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, and Wes Anderson. And as much as I love all those filmmakers—and I do. I know most of their movies by heart—Joel and Ethan Coen are my favorites. Their movies, even their darkest ones, just leave me feeling better about the world, because somehow, it’s a world that supports Coen brothers movies. I do feel I need to say: Woody is also my favorite. It’s just that his last movie to make me feel that way about the world is Deconstructing Harry, which was made about 15 years ago.
COURT: I know it’s a bit like naming a favorite child, but are there Coen brothers’ movies that you find yourself rewatching more than others?
BRIAN: I have seen every one of their movies at least twice, most three times or more. The ones I have watched so often that I can sing along as they play are, in descending order: The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou, Raising Arizona, True Grit. Also: the Marlon Wayans/Stephen Root scenes in Ladykillers. And, although I don’t rewatch these next two that often, I do consider them to be masterpieces: A Serious Man and No Country For Old Men.
What are your favorites, Court? And why?
COURT: Well, I’m a Little Urban Achiever, the name for those of us obsessed with The Big Lebowski. Don’t think I didn’t catch your nod to Lebowski in This is What They Want, when you said, “This will not stand.” I think it’s the funniest film ever made. It’s so random and yet tonally cohesive at the same time. I really don’t understand how a human brain concocted that movie.
No Country for Old Men is up there for me, too. Tommy Lee Jones’s speech at the end is devastating. And I think The Man Who Wasn’t There gets overlooked when people talk about great Coen brothers movies.
A similar question for you: They have so many memorable characters. As a writer, are there any that you are jealous of that you wish you’d written?
BRIAN: If I start with a “things about the Coen brothers movies that make you jealous” list, we’ll be here a long time, but I love Tom Reagan in Miller’s Crossing for his code of honor and Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother because he’s a Dapper Dan man.
COURT: Why do you think their work appeals to writers so much?
BRIAN: I think the Coens appeal to writers because they use language in a way that showcases their love of language. They create characters who employ very specific idiolects, who can, in fact, be identified by how they use words.
COURT: I have read that every little verbal quirk of every character is written into the screenplay, which blows my mind. I wonder if their ability to write so specifically for their characters is made easier by the fact that they often know what actor they are writing for (whether it’s John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, or Frances McDormand). When you write, do you write with someone specific in mind?
BRIAN: Dave and I rarely write with a specific actor in mind. Obviously, when we were writing Ocean’s Thirteen we did. And in that case, it was inspiring and made the writing more fun. Picturing Matt Damon wearing that silly big nose cracked us up, and we loved imagining Brad Pitt and George Clooney watching Oprah. And when I was writing Solitary Man, I definitely had Michael Douglas in my head, even though we didn’t know each other, and he had no idea I was writing a movie for him.
COURT: One of my favorite combination of actor and character is from your movie Rounders, Martin Landau’s Abe Petrovsky. I find myself quoting his line, “Gin, always gin,” at least once a week (hey, don’t judge me). I have to know, was that line written in the script or did Martin Landau improvise it?
BRIAN: Mr. Landau plays Abe Petrovsky, who is based, very closely, on an old law school professor of mine named Abe Abramovsky. I loved Professor Abramovsky, who died a few years back, far too young, at 60. Professor Abramovsky was one in a million. A true humanist, a great storyteller, and also a man who liked to smoke and drink and hang out all night kibitzing. His cigarette? Pall Mall. His drink? Gin. Always Gin. Levien and I wrote that line, and the entire character, as a way to honor Abe. He was still alive when the movie came out, and we were thrilled that he loved it and the work of his on screen counterpart.
COURT: Like the Coens, you have a writing and directing partner. I’ve read the Coens really are of one mind artistically, that anyone on the set—actor, cinematographer, whomever—can ask a question of either one and know that he is speaking for the other. Would you mind talking about what yours and David’s process is like?
BRIAN: Although David and I aren’t brothers, we’ve been best friends since we met as teenagers in 1982. So we sort of developed our artistic outlook together. Rather than saying we are of one mind, I think we complement one another. There’s no one whose creative opinion means more to me. We have total trust and faith in one another. And the only time we ever really disagree is over ordering lunch. Because he’s getting salad and I’m going for Chinese. And honestly, he’s right. But for that half hour, I’m definitely having the better time.
COURT: Then you’re the clear winner in my book. Thanks for talking with us, Brian. It’s been fun.
May 11, 2013 by Adam Chromy
By MARK T CONARD Ralphie rode in the back of Pete’s Chevy Impala, while Pete steered, and Quentin sat in the front seat next to …
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