Monday, August 03, 2009

Sort-Of Related: Get Real, by Donald E. Westlake (2009)/Made in U.S.A. (1966)

That there’s not a pall hanging over Get Real, the last novel completed by Donald E. Westlake before his death last year, is a testament to how funny the book is, how sharp Westlake’s eye was. Only when it ended did it truly sink in that we won’t get another John Dortmunder book.

The sad-sack criminal mastermind and his gang of misfits are between heists when the strangest of all opportunities comes along – their own TV show. A company that produces reality television has the brilliant idea of following the crew while they plan and execute a job. Dortmunder agrees to play along as cover for an actual caper. There are a few snags, naturally. Like, how do you put professional thieves on salary? How do you steal something and get away with it while cameras are rolling? But the biggest problem is one that Dortmunder doesn’t see coming: Andy, Tiny, even Dortmunder himself kinda like being on TV.

The reality genre – which shapes the truth, into entertainment – takes plenty of well-deserved hits. There are some sly observations about the acting life, which crops up often in Westlake’s books, plus a few bits of business that will only be funny to New Yorkers. Things don’t exactly work out – that wouldn’t be Dortmunder – but they go less wrong than usual, and our last glimpse of the hangdog burglar is him rounding a corner with something that’s almost but not quite a spring in his step. It’s a nice sendoff for the character.

Coinciding with Get Real’s release was the debut of Made in U.S.A. on DVD. Jean-Luc Godard’s film was based, theoretically, on The Jugger, one of the Parker novels that Westlake wrote as Richard Stark.

I knew going in that the film bears no resemblance to the source novel, that it was made hastily under bizarre circumstances, that Westlake himself hated it. Here, I’ll quote him: “it’s such a rotten movie.” Godard films, even ones I like, leave me a little cold. But I’m a Westlake completist, so I had to check it out.

Or at least I had to try. I tapped out after forty minutes, and only lasted that long because of Anna Karina. I did watch the entire 20 minute short film on the new Criterion disc cataloging Godard’s many political and cultural references. A writer in the movie is named David Goodis. Daisy Kenyon is paged at a health club. It’s eighty-five minutes of meta-rib-ticklers and preening self-regard.

Rosemarie’s review: “Movies like this make me appreciate the Jonas Brothers.”

Say what you will about Kevin, Joe and Nick – and if you talk trash about Joe, I will so NEVER SPEAK to you AGAIN – you can at least understand how some people find them entertaining. Made in U.S.A., on the other hand, exists simply to make those who “get it” feel superior. That’s not true to the serie noire spirit Godard claims to be honoring. It’s certainly not true to the ethos Donald E. Westlake embodied. I’m fairly sure I know whose works will stand the test of time better.

Westlake is having quite a few weeks. Also out now is Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation of the first Parker novel The Hunter. I ordered myself a copy as a birthday present. Speaking of my birthday ...

Miscellaneous: Meaningless Milestones

... it’s today. I’m not picky. Making the check out to cash is fine.