Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BOOK TALK Radio Interview with Jake Hinkson

At the Arkansas Literary Festival last month I sat down with Stephen Usery, host of Book Talk on FM 89.3 WYPL in Memphis for a discussion of my novel HELL ON CHURCH STREET.

Our talk was great fun and touches on a wide range of subjects: my novel, the history of crime fiction, film noir, Flannery O'Connor, Jim Thompson, Shakespeare, transgression, ruination, fundamentalism, and why Arkansas lends itself to stories about Jesus and corrupt law enforcement.

You can listen to our discussion at Book Talk.

Or you can find it on iTunes by searching "Book Talk.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, May 25, 2012

NOIR CITY Annual 2011

The new NOIR CITY Annual is out, and it is a thing of beauty. It's packed 317 pages of articles and glossy photos. I'm thrilled, as always, to be included in the thing--thrilled, as always, to have such a great forum for my work. In this book, I have essays on:

Orson Welles
Mickey Rooney
Robert Ryan
Richard Quinn
The Devil Thumbs A Ride book-to-film comparison,
and The Art of the Subjective Camera

My fellow contributors include:
Vince Keenan on "Songbirds of Noir"
Carl Steward on "Boxing Noir"
Imogen Sara Smith on Wallace Ford
And much much more, including extensive, multi-author retrospectives of Robert Ryan and Joan Bennett

Check it out here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beat To A Pulp Round Two

My story "Night Terrors" appears in the new anthology BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND TWO. As with the first volume of BTAP, this book is packed full of some of the best pulp writing around. I'm happy to be included in a collection that includes legendary vets like Vin Packer, Ed Gorman, and Bill Pronzini; big timers like Charles Ardai and James Reasoner; and badasses like Patricia Abbot, Glenn Gray, and Bill Crider. It's a hell of a crew, and I'm stoked to be along for the ride.

I must also admit, I'm proud of my story in this collection. "Night Terrors" is hardcore noir about a man who picks up a strange woman in a bar and finds himself plunged into a nightmare when she turns up dead the next day. I hope you'll check it out and let me know what you think. BTAP: R2 is the only place the get this brand new story. Here's a little preview:

Night Terrors
When the stranger next to me screamed in her sleep, I tumbled out of bed and smacked my face on her nightstand. Darkness and exploding red suns spun around me as she shrieked like someone was killing her. I struggled to my feet and steadied myself against the wall, trying to let my vision clear. When it did, I saw her thrashing about in blue moonlight and clawing at the sheets like she was possessed. Finally she twitched, curled into a ball, and began gently snoring.

For a moment, I just stood there naked listening to the angry thump of my heart.

Then I realized I was bleeding. I inched my way across our clothes piled on the carpet and searched for her bathroom in the dark. When I found it, I closed the door and turned on the light

In that sudden glare, I looked like hell. Three bright streams of blood ran down my face from a gash on my forehead. Blood dotted my chest and arms and dripped on her sink and floor. My hands still shook with adrenaline as I tried to wash up, but I finally got the job done. When everything was clean, and I was calmed down, I turned off the light.

As quietly as I could, I dressed in the dark. Normally, I wasn’t the type to sneak out in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t going to stick around with a screamer. I thought about leaving a note, but I decided against it. What was there to say? Nice to meet you? Thanks for the sex? Do you know you shriek in your sleep?

Outside, the temperature dropped fifty degrees, and I considered going back inside where it was warm. Maybe crash on her couch. But, of course, the door was locked now. The Metro had stopped running, so there was nothing to do but hike home through the cold.

I was still thinking about her. What was her name? Lynn? Yes, Lynn, after Loretta Lynn she’d told me. Her dad was a big country music fan even though they weren’t from the south. I nodded. That’s right. Lynn. I couldn’t recall her last name. She had honey-blonde hair and calculating green eyes, eyes that were always thinking. Nice girl. We’d had a few drinks, talked about music and movies, and then we’d come back to her place, tipsy but not too drunk. A couple of condoms later, we kissed goodnight and fell asleep. I was going to give her the usual fake number in the morning.

Walking home before the sun had even begun to rise, though, I started to feel bad for not at least leaving a note.

I shrugged and braced myself as a truck rumbled past me. I’d be lucky if I didn’t get mugged. And I was freezing my ass off. I didn’t feel too bad for her.

Two days later, I was standing at my kitchen counter waiting on the coffee to brew when I read in the Washington Post that she’d been murdered. Her name was Lynn Byers, and she was an assistant manager at the Apple store in Arlington. I stared at her name, and my stomach turned to ice. She had been murdered the night I was with her. I tried to sit down, but my knees collapsed beneath me...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mug Shots #6: Sterling Hayden AKA The Nothing Man

Click here to read my new essay on Sterling Hayden over at Criminal Element.

He is as subtle as a scalding cup of coffee. His art is, as they say, in his artlessness. Gruff and bellowing, his art is actually found in his artifice, his lack of “reality” making him as perfectly suited to noir as black and white cinematography. Three great performances (as a thug in Huston’s
The Asphalt Jungle, as a mastermind in Kubrick’s The Killing, and as a surly cop in De Toth’s underrated Crime Wave) are his claim to fame. He also gave some purely awful performances, but who gives a shit? Even more than Charles McGraw, Hayden is a man with almost no subtext. What you see is what you get, and what you get is wonderful. One of the true icons of the genre.

Offscreen, Hayden was a truly fascinating character, a free spirit who loathed Hollywood and the profession of acting and eventually quit, grew a wicked beard and sailed around the world writing books. Here's an interview.

And here's a snippet of a French television program about Hayden. It's short, but it features some footage with the man himself. What a character. They don't make actors like this anymore.

The Killing
The Asphalt Jungle
Crime Wave

Best of the Rest:
Naked Alibi
The Come On

Non-Noir Work:
Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
The Godfather
Johnny Guitar
Terror In A Texas Town

Not My Favorites:
The Long Goodbye
Crime Of Passion

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gosling and Penn in GANGSTER SQUAD

Here's an upcoming release that looks like it could be fun. GANGSTER SQUAD is a hardboiled shoot-em-up starring Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn. That's an amazing cast by any estimation. I'll post a link to the trailer below so you can take a look at it. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see it when it comes out to develop an opinion about it, but here are a couple of observations about the trailer.

1. Looks like the film will cover much the same ground as Ellroy did in LA CONFIDENTIAL, namely the epic battle between rogue members of the LAPD and Mickey Cohen's criminal empire. In Curtis Hanson's adaptation of Ellroy's novel, the Cohen storyline provides a framework for a larger story but Cohen himself is a minor character (if memory serves he only has a line or two of dialog). GANGSTER SQUAD looks like it will move Cohen to the center of things, with Sean Penn chewing the scenery in badass mobster-mode.

2. Subtle it ain't. GANGSTER SQUAD was helmed by ZOMBIELAND director Ruben Fleischer, and on the basis of the trailer (which could be deceiving, but sure feels like it's not) this movie will be more action flick than gritty crime drama. Again, I'm only talking about the trailer, but what is being sold here is not a noir, but something more akin to a hardboiled comic book. Lots of guns, lots of pumped up sound effects of walloping punches and spraying machine guns. So if you want another LA CONFIDENTIAL, this probably won't be it. But we don't need some knockoff of that great movie, anyway. If this is a well-made over-the-top action movie with a bunch of great actors spitting out hardboiled dialog in between gunfights, I'll walk out of the theater a happy man. I'm open to something else, but that's what I'm expecting from the trailer. 

Opens September 7th.

Check out the trailer here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

HOMBRE (1967)

Hollywood was built on Westerns. For most of cinematic history--which is only about 120 years or so--the Western was king. Read criticism from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, even most of the 70s, and you'll note the prevailing notion that the Western's popularity would never diminish.

That's ironic now, of course, because the Western has become a marginalized genre. To say you like Westerns now is to tip your hat toward nostalgia and rural machismo. By the 1980s, Westerns had become politicized. Reagan sold himself as a cowboy (and, of course, had done his share of oaters back in his Hollywood days), and George W. Bush followed suite, selling himself as a Texas good old boy and explicitly invoking wild west images in talking about tracking down bin Laden. Meanwhile, the actual film genre itself has diminished in standing.  Fewer and fewer Westerns are made, fewer still are successful (something like the Coen brothers' TRUE GRIT is the exception rather than the rule). 

What's sad about this is that the Western is a rich and fascinating genre of film. In form, most Westerns are as prescribed as a sestina, yet the repetition of themes and motifs can often achieve fascinating effects. Despite the politics associated with Westerns now, the films themselves are by no means monolithic. Starting today, I'm writing a semi-regular feature over at Criminal Element in which I'll be looking at different Westerns from the 1960s. This is the period where the Western--like nearly everything else in American society--was subjected to a reevaluation. 

First up, I'm looking at Martin Ritt's HOMBRE starring Paul Newman. This is a wonderfully gritty film, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. It has one of Newman's best, most laconic, performances; a deeply evil turn by the incomparable Richard Boone; and, as an added bonus, some of the greatest ass-kicking in the history of movies. The scene of Newman smashing a racist cowboy in the face with the butt of a rifle is one of the most deeply satisfying moments of screen violence you can experience. Read my full essay on the film here.    

Friday, May 4, 2012


above: Gary Oldman being all Gary Oldman in STATE OF GRACE

Eric Beetner has a good piece up at Criminal Element about the underrated 1990 crime flick STATE OF GRACE. It's one of those movies you vaguely remember hearing about in the nineties--something about Sean Penn and Gary Oldman and the Irish mob in Hell's Kitchen, right?--but Beetner digs it out of the video archives, dusts it off, and makes a good case that you should Netflix it this weekend. Not a bad idea.