Monday, December 8, 2008

Ruminating In My Pants #3: The Crime-Centered Art-House-Thriller/Crime-Centered-Literary-Thriller

When perusing the newspaper for movie listings (oh print, you silly antiquated thing, you) for movie times, rare is the instance when you find a noir/crime film to attend. Hell, for that matter you barely even find action movies or straight-up thrillers (and aside from last year's Fracture you almost never see a courtroom thriller anymore - remember when those were HUGE, kids?). But there is one thing you almost always find - and they are usually pretty fucking awesome - and that is what I call the Crime-Centered-Art-House-Thriller or CCAHT.

These are much like the Crime-Centered-Literary-Thrillers you find in the New York Times Book Review every week, only in movie form (wow, that is some redudant shit right there. I apparently think that you, dear reader, are an idiot). Patron authors of these are such critical darlings as Russell Banks, Pete Dexter, Richard Price, James Carlos Blake, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy,and now noir fan fave Dennis Lehane has recently joined the ranks.

These authors write dark, masculine, violent stories that would make any crime fan get a boner, but they manage not to be lumped in with the critically poo-poo-ed "genre writers" simply because they often center their stories around historical events. Basically, you take a crime novel and sprinkle a J. Edgar Hoover here, a dash of Jesse James there, package it in a classy cover and voila! you have a crime novel fit for yuppie consumption.

I'm a big fan of that stuff too and when I'm not reading stuff for the blog, I've generally got my acne-scarred nose in one of their many books because non-fiction frightens me unless it is about filmmaking (Ebert's new book on Scorsese is awesome, but could use some stills or production photos at the very least, by the way.). But the film equivalent of this literature phenomenon works a bit differently, it seems.

Films that I would qualify as part of the CCAHT genre from recent years would be ones such as Shotgun Stories, No Country For Old Men, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The King, Zodiac, In Bruges, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, In The Bedroom, Snow Angels, Transsiberian, and Eastern Promises.

Most of these films feature big stars and have heavy talent behind the camera, and a large number of them are also adapted from CCLTs as well, but they often find themselves strictly screened at your local Landmark Theatre (and unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you're SO-fucking-L until it's available on Netflix). CCAHTs also pop up frequently at the Academy Awards and on the major critics' top ten lists, much like the CCLTs often garner similar awards and critical notices in the book world.

Unlike the CCLTs, CCAHTs don't have to always be historical to be considered part of the pack. Mainly, they have to not just be violent, but explore the nature of violence and blah-blah-bullshit-blah. This is where I roll my eyes until the retinas detach. With both CCLTs and CCAHTs there seems to be this idea that they have higher-minded goals than crime/noir fiction. While this is sometimes true, it is more often not the case.

Can you honestly claim that a Pelecanos novel explores violence any less probingly than The Darling by Russell Banks? Or that Before The Devil Knows You're Dead has more grandeur and tragedy than the goings-on of The Grifters? The answer is no, in case you're wondering.

You can even do the flipside with this argument too. Is the violence any less exciting and lurid in Dexter's Train than it is in Swierczynski's Severance Package? Is No Country For Old Men not as visceral and gory as the Coens's earlier effort, Blood Simple? For answer, see above paragraph.

We do need labels to some extent because, well, shit needs to be marketed. That is obviously what labels and genres and markets and demographics all come down to: reaching the appropriate audience. But I don't see the point of giving these labels and genres "worth," making one or the other greater than/less than. After all, as far as movies go, unless you see the movies mentioned above which are packaged ever so high-mindedly, you're not really catching any decent crime shit at all. Those are practically all there is for crime nerds anymore!

But for books, I'd lat least ike to see more endcaps at Barnes & Noble where some of the CCLT writers are lumped in with folks like Pelecanos, Guthrie, Bruen, and Huston. Somebody's gotta bridge the gap, and since publisher's aren't about to do it, it's apparently up to booksellers and library employees. Well, those folks and certain brilliant bloggers with too much time on their hands.

No comments: