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Somos las Bolas

August 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in film | writing - (9 Comments)

Speaking of Fiction Into Film…in 2007 a young film student named Andrew Edmark asked if he could adapt one of my short stories. I told him no, absolutely not, but he did it anyway, and we’ve been locked in a vicious legal battle ever since.

It’s a story called Somos las Bolas, which I thought was pretty good, and he turned it into a short film. Recently, for whatever reason, he felt compelled to assemble a “Director’s Cut” and upload it to YouTube.

Since I wrote the source material I’m not going to run my mouth too much. If you like it, great. If you don’t, that’s great too. At some point I intend to make a collection of my short fiction available for a free download here, but I’ve run into a technical problem doing that, so that’s a story for another day.

The complete film is above. I haven’t watched it yet.

Somos las Bolas

The Simpsons, Thomas Pynchon

The following is a great article on artistic discussions of the deep web, online privacy, social responsibility, and more, courtesy of UK-based reader Patrick Massey. I found this fascinating, worrying, and enlightening in equal parts, and I hope you experience some mix of those three things as well. Take it away, Patrick.

A “Marco Polo” of the contemporary public sphere: “Internet” and “privacy.” The two phenomena are often yoked together in the news: the various problems of data access (who should be denied it? Whose data should be sacrosanct? What justifies access sub rosa?) swap pre-eminence in public consciousness as the Big Three of ‘net privacy–Snowden, Assange, Manning–swap the limelight. (In this essay, “‘net” refers to both the readily accessible surface Web, typically but carelessly referred to as “the Internet,” hence my coining an alternative term— and the Deep Web, the Internet’s large, largely criminal underbelly.)

In this essay, I want to consider how, not the news, but contemporary visual culture (i.e. screen and theatre of 2013/4) visualizes and/or fails to visualize ‘net privacy. I hope to address familiar issues of ‘net privacy via less familiar co-ordinates. Of course, William Gibson and other genre authors have been addressing cyber-issues, crafting cyber-aesthetics for years; but here I’m thinking of a) the real world ‘net in b) mainstream works of c) the last two years.

SCREEN MEDIA, and The ‘Net/Screen Problem

Documentaries aside (though cf. Terms and Conditions May Apply, Citizen Four), Internet privacy is surprisingly scantly treated in ‘13/4 screen culture. The two so bracketed, ‘net-oriented films I remember most readily–Her and Transcendence–privilege online addiction and a deus ex machina Johnny Depp over issues of ‘net privacy. Even Assange bio The Fifth Estate is more reportage, a primer on its subject and Wikileaks, than a meditation on abstractions or themes (and even then, Assange’s relationship to the media is privileged over ‘net privacy).

In mainstream C21 cinema in sum, ‘net privacy is principally a means to emotive ends. In Hard Candy, Chatroom, and Trust, the abuse of ‘net privacy does not itself merit attention–rather, it enables plot-wise the kidnaps et al that define and rather pre-occupy those thrillers. Even in the Catfish franchise [’10 film + current MTV series], any interrogation of ‘net privacy abuse is suborned to affect: to first terror (“who are these people?”), then horror (“look at those people!”). Although Catfish et al can be, indeed have been starting-points for discussing ‘net privacy, that discussion doesn’t happen in the films themselves.

Such scanty treatment of ‘net privacy on screen owes not only, I think, to auteurs’ simply “not having got round to it”, but also to a fundamental, broader disjunction between the ‘net and screen media. The ‘net does not readily lend itself to concrete visualization. One must get figurative, experimental; but screen media tend towards “meatspatial” settings— realities, however fantastical or futuristic. Consider Star Trek’s holodeck: always a real-world milieu, often Earth-historical, never a Tron-scape. Consider too the recent backdoor pilot for CSI Cyber: introducing a series oriented around the Deep Web, yet resorting latterly to “Female (Early 20s)” showing hard copy evidence of her online chat-room ignominy to meatspatial paparazzi in a meatspatial VEGAS: EXT.

Star Trek, Holodeck

I might suggest three reasons for this disjunction. First, the chokehold of corporate network funding and the likelier non-profitability of experimentalism [versus the realism that characterizes the “New Golden Age” of television]; the desire to fully exploit and justify investment in physical sets; and third (and still more tentatively proffered), the Internet’s being TV and film’s unheimlich, uncanny counterpart, perhaps frustrating the interrogation of the former by the latter… Heady stuff. But the bottom line for us is: if the Internet in sum cannot find a screen aesthetic, what hope for its clandestine, its even less readily visualized cyberspaces? And what hope consequently for addressing ‘net privacy?

Happily, ‘net privacy has been better visualized in theatre of ‘13/4— a medium naturally more amenable to the figurative and the experimental.

THEATRE, and Romancing the ‘Net

In The Net Effect, Thomas Streeter posits romanticism as a key co-ordinate in ‘net studies. He primarily argues that neoliberal forces propagate a romantic individualist idea of computing, and that “capital R” Romanticism can help us understand the social meaning of computers.

With this precedent in mind, I turn to ‘net privacy in theatre of ‘13/4. All the plays I’m going to consider deal with perversions, criminal iterations of ‘net privacy. But none less than Keats was ‘half in love with death’; and however perverse their content gets, these plays evince, if not a Romantic aesthetic per se, then something sufficiently akin that I’m going to draw formal Romantic parallels and beg your indulgence.

Jen Haley’s The Nether deals with online pederasty in a private “Hideaway” [Haley’s device]. In fashioning the Hideaway, Haley eschews a complementarily grimy, abject aesthetic for irony: it is an archetypal country estate, with trees, gazebo, and fishing-pond. Notwithstanding its nominally Victorian context, a Romantic aesthetic— Blakeian innocence, a “Lakeland Poetic” idealizing of Nature— surely underpins a milieu that presents like this:

The Nether, The Hideaway

Blakeian also is Iris, the Hideaway’s resident, white-clad sprite–and “willing” victim of virtual child abuse. Innocent prima facie, but horribly au fait with abhorrent experience (“Perhaps you’d like to use the axe first”): Iris embodies the disjunction that hinges Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Note finally how, according to its creator, “it’d upset a balance” in the Hideaway to suggest that Iris could grow older: anyone whose mind went to the Romantic organic conception of nature, give yourself a mark.

Price’s Teh [sic] Internet is Serious Business is a reportage piece about the respective rise and fall of the “hacktivist” groups Anonymous and LulzSec. Its dominant aesthetic is anarchic: a ball pit abuts the stage, from and around which emerge Socially Awkward Penguin and other costumed memes. Bright lights, Harlem Shake: you get the drift. At first sight, privacy is not the word here. But Price also depicts hackers’ private forums— and here, the staging tends towards lyricism. Computer code is recited as poetry (cf. Chandra’s recent equivalence of the two, if intrigued); databyte flow, enacted as dance. Here, literarily and physically, is a lyricism where elsewhere is jouissance: thus is privacy “Romanticized” (cf. Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Dvorak’s New World Symphony…).

James Graham’s Privacy tacks otherwise to Haley and Price. Graham’s is a synoptic approach to ‘net privacy, a condemnation of illiberal governmental/corporate/ security state malpractice as regards ostensibly password-protected public data. Such factuality is not the Romantic way, likewise Privacy’s format: a hybrid of verbatim enactments of his [The Writer’s] interviews with real British Establishment figures (Shami Chakrabarti, anyone? Well, Google her sometime); lectures; and fourth-wall—breaking audience participation. For good measure, Privacy rides roughshod over the Romantic exaltation of the subject: an array of thumbprints is the default [screen] backdrop, and the “subject” of the audience participation (having given prior permission) has her real-world online footprint, herself by proxy dissected onstage.

Privacy, James Graham

Despite all this, Privacy retains a double pertinence. First, it acts as a counter-proof: as its core is non-Romantic, so Privacy does not depict privacy itself [cf. Haley’s Hideaway, Price’s hackers’ forums] but exposes, is an exposé of its absence. Second, its aesthetic rather taps into the “other end” of Romanticism, where rapturous apostrophes fade into disquiet, into sublimity: the awesome dimensions of Big Data, the staging [that screen, those magnified thumbprints] vis-à-vis the actors and the script’s analytical impulse.

So: 2 1/2 proofs and a counter-proof, we might say, of a relationship between ‘net privacy and a quasi-Romantic aesthetic. My humble explanation: that the ‘net (especially the Deep Web) remains so broadly un-comprehended, its depth so untapped, as to inspire from us what “the naked countenance of Earth” [Shelley] inspired from the Romantics.

PYNCHON: A Quick Nota Bene

In another world, where space and time were as playthings, I’d fully discuss Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge: the only “literary” fictional novel that readily comes to mind that not only foreground ‘net privacy as a theme, but actually figures it as a distinct, visualized cyberspace–DeepArcher; conceived of as a ‘grand-scale motel for the afflicted’, for Pynchon’s kindred preterite [cf. Gravity’s Rainbow, or Google judiciously]; variously iterated as train concourse, desert, and galactic Void; and ultimately a Purgatory for leads, lovers, and 9/11 victims all encountered (and killed off) in the narrative. (On a complementary note for that latter point: Kabbalistic imagery and lexis is deployed in descriptions of the Void). Would I could share my MA dissertation with you all; but I’ll highlight simply this: doing what even screen media cannot (at least easily), and in keeping with his typical trickster mode, Pynchon visualizes ‘net privacy chimerically; that one cannot identify a definitive DA-scape is the whole point. A nicely postmodern note, I hope, on which to finish considering contemporary cultural visualizations of the ‘net.

Review: Inherent Vice

January 12th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in film | review - (3 Comments)

Inherent Vice, Sauncho and Doc

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I love Inherent Vice. The novel, I mean. I’ve read it at least six times at this point…possibly more. It’s by no means my favorite Pynchon, but when it was announced that for the first time ever the reclusive author allowed someone to adapt one of his works, I had to admit this was a good choice.

Inherent Vice, the novel, has a clear beginning, a clear ending, and a relatively clear journey between those terminal points. That’s more than you could say for almost anything else the man’s ever written. The fact that it also has a relatively small roster of important characters (again…a Pynchon rarity) and relies heavily on overt comedy makes it seem like the perfect Pynchon to bring to the screen.

I’ve now seen the film. In fact, I saw it with Paul Thomas Anderson in attendance, as he graced the humble Denver branch of the Alamo Drafthouse with his presence. I thought he might provide some insight into the film, or at least give me something that would make for a good story.

Instead he stood up to speak before the film, mumbled what sounded like a flat joke at the theater owner’s expense, and then seemed to lose all confidence. He interrupted himself in the middle of a sentence and said something to the effect of, “I don’t feel like talking. Let’s just watch the movie.”

Nervous laughter. Some shuffling. But, yeah, he was gone. I thought he made his way back to his seat, but when the houselights came up at the end of the film he wasn’t there, so I have no idea if he even stuck around after that.

And, you know, that’s okay. I’m not entitled to any special knowledge by virtue of getting a ticket to this particular showing. Hell, anything he might have said would have colored my impressions of the film I hadn’t yet seen. So my enthusiasm wasn’t dampened. I hope he wasn’t having as lousy a night as it seemed like he was, but other than that, I was completely focused on seeing, for the first time, my favorite author’s words come to life on the big screen.

If anything, that’s actually my complaint.

Or the closest thing I have to a complaint.

There’s too much Pynchon in this film. When adapting it’s not uncommon to strive for fidelity to the source material, but I don’t really see the point. The film should be good on its own merits, and if that means it needs to deviate from the plot, characterization, themes, or anything else that worked perfectly well in the book, that’s fine. Anderson seems — for much of the film at least…read on — to want to be as true to the text as possible, and I think that hampers where it can go, and what it can achieve.

A pleasant surprise hit me early in the movie: this was Pynchon’s dialogue. Not dialogue adapted from Pynchon’s dialogue, but Pynchon’s actual dialogue. And I felt supremely vindicated, as one common complaint from readers is that his dialogue isn’t natural…that he has a tin ear for it. I can’t bring myself to agree with that at all…and Inherent Vice, the movie, should put that criticism to rest. Reading it, yes, it might seem a bit artificial, but that’s because Pynchon doesn’t adhere to textual speech patterns; he adheres to human speech patterns. Hearing skilled actors delivering the same words demonstrates the impact they can have, at least once you tune in to their frequency and stop expecting them to tune into yours.

But it was followed by a much less pleasant surprise: this was Pynchon’s narration. Not scenes adapted from Pynchon’s narration, but Pynchon’s actual narration. And it was overkill. The film by no means needed a narrator. Granted, the writing was solid, but it wasn’t written to be spoken over images of exactly what it’s describing. It renders itself redundant. We see that Doc is distraught, and we’re told that Doc is distraught. It provides an unfair barrier between us in the audience and Joaquin Phoenix playing the character, as though the film itself doesn’t trust his performance.

Now Inherent Vice has one hell of a difficult mystery at its core, and I could understand the desire to keep the narration if Anderson felt that it would help his audience to understand what was going on. But it’s not the mystery that gets narrated…it’s the emotion. The motive. The inner conflict. You know…all the stuff that actors get paid to portray without words. And I found the inclusion of so much narration to be a clumsy and distracting decision.

It’s nice, I guess, that the narration was provided by Shasta Fay Hepworth, a character in the film, but what we see of Shasta doesn’t really convince me that she thinks or speaks like Thomas Pynchon writes. It seems as though Doc might be narrating this entire thing in his head with Shasta’s voice, but I just don’t see the value as making up for the effort.

This does lead to a really nice moment toward the end of the film, however, when Doc asks Shasta what the phrase “inherent vice” means. She replies that she doesn’t know. The narrator version of Shasta then defines it for him, and for us…which is a cutesy touch, but isn’t nearly enough to justify the inclusion of the narration overall.

So, there. Now that I’ve got my big complaint out of the way, I can talk about what I liked…and there’s a lot of it.

For starters, Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay. She not only looked the part…but she was Shasta Fay. She embodied that character deeply and flawlessly…so much so that it was painful to watch. She was an absolutely perfect casting choice, and I can’t imagine any other actor — at any point in time — would have handled it better.

Shasta opens the film by informing Doc — private eye, hippie, and her ex-lover — of a plot to kidnap her current beau, real-estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann. As in the book, Doc follows up on this lead and investigates other cases along the way…each of which seems to feed right back into Wolfmann’s disappearance.

Along the way Doc clashes regularly with his law enforcement counterpart, Bigfoot Bjornson, who is played by Josh Brolin in the film’s other perfect casting choice. Brolin could have settled for making Bigfoot a comic boob, and that would have worked perfectly well. Instead he adds layers of sadness to the character deeper than even the book managed. Whereas the novel plays Bigfoot’s acting ambitions for laughs, the film turns them into a kind of ongoing silent tragedy. There’s little sadder than watching him in the background of an episode of Adam-12, with no lines, hoping against hope that somebody, somewhere, will notice him.

I’ll get back to Bigfoot in a moment, as I have a lot more to say, but the film itself manages to be very good without matching the greatness of Waterston’s and Brolin’s performances. Inherent Vice lags behind them, which is frustrating, because those two seem to have drifted into our world from a parallel one in which there exists a better version of this film.

The rest of the casting choices are very good without being revelatory. Martin Short as Dr. Blatnoyd is an expected comic highlight, even though he’s only in around two scenes, and Owen Wilson handles himself quite well as a regretful saxophonist nobody’s supposed to know is still alive.

Benicio del Toro plays the thanklessly efficient part of Doc’s attorney, a substantial part in the book that gets reduced to an unfortunately paltry series of scenes here. I get the feeling more was shot and we’ll see it on the eventual DVD, but for now Sauncho Smilax turns up a handful of times to sit near or walk beside Doc, and that’s a big disappointment. In fact, I’d have recommended cutting the character altogether if his significance was so severely reduced.

That actually leads to another of my concerns: the concern for fidelity leads to a lot of characters making the jump to the screen without really having much to do once they get there. Sauncho is one of them, certainly. So is Tariq Khalil, who sets Doc on the trail of a man named Glen Charlock. Charlock turns up dead, and Khalil I guess just forgets he ever cared, because we never hear from him again. Later we meet Clancy Charlock, Glen’s sister, for no real reason that I could discern, and then she’s gone, too.

Having Doc meet with so many clients who immediately disappear is a bizarre choice. These characters have larger roles in the book, and while I understand that not everything can (or should) be carried over to the screen, it’s disappointing that instead we get a kind of half-measure. “Here,” the film seems to say. “Remember this guy?” We do, yes, but it’s hard to get excited when the film doesn’t do anything with him. In fact, the end credits are filled with character names that we never actually hear in the film. There was such a commitment to getting as much on the screen as possible that it didn’t even matter if there was any significance to them being there.

This is especially problematic in the case of the film’s main villains: Puck Beaverton, and Adrian Prussia. Puck appears several times in the film, but in the book he had his own entire subplot which helped to establish him as a credible — and ruthless — threat, as well as the kind of guy Doc should have nothing to do with. In the film he has a swastika on his face. Is that enough? Maybe. But if that’s all you get, is he even a character?

Prussia is served even more poorly. The main dark force in the book, we meet him very close to the end of the film. There’s no way to complain about this without spoiling it, but let’s just say this is his only scene. The bone-chilling powerhouse in the book — who draws Doc into a climactic and comic shootout that spills out into the streets — is here, and then he’s not. Some small attempt is made to weave him back into the things we’ve already seen, but it’s too little too late. The scariest motherfucker in the novel is a complete non-entity in the film, and he’s not really replaced by anything else. His a walking signifier of all the things missing from the movie. Not just as an adaptation, but as a movie period.

At one point in Doc’s investigations he turns up the fact that Prussia was responsible for the death of Bigfoot’s partner. It sheds a lot of light on Bigfoot’s behavior in both the film and the book, but we last see Bigfoot in the book still following his desperate need for revenge, and it’s so pitiful that we can’t help but feel for him and hate him at the same time.

In the movie…well, that doesn’t happen. It’s replaced by a scene I’m not even sure I can explain. If you watch it, you’ll know what I mean when you get there, whether or not you’ve read the book.

Inherent Vice will probably grow on me. I’m sure I’ll watch it many, many more times. But as of right now, it feels like I’ve seen half of a film. Having read the book means I can fill in some of the blanks, but really what I wanted was a piece of art that could stand on its own merits…even if it had nothing in common with the novel but its name.

I’d have preferred a simplified plot to a rushed one, and a few different characters combined to loads of characters that have little or nothing to do.

The movie gets a lot right. The casting is never less than great. The soundtrack is perfect. The resolution of the dead saxophonist case — one of the very few things in this film that has a resolution — is genuinely sweet. There are excellent comic moments sprinkled throughout, and glimpses of a great film that somehow only managed to be very good.

I think my feelings about the adaptation can be summed up by looking at the ending. I won’t mention any specifics; I just want to say that at the end of the book, there’s a scene that seems irrelevant…and yet, reading it, I knew exactly how we got to that scene, and why. It mattered. At the end of the film there’s a scene that seems very relevant, and yet I couldn’t tell you why we ended up there. It has to matter, because it’s the end of the film, but that’s about all I can say for sure.

It’s worth seeing, I’d say. But it’s not the film it could have been.

Of course, I’m coming at this as a guy who read the book way too many times. Maybe my expectations, despite my best efforts, weren’t properly aligned. To find out, tune in a little later; a friend who’s never read the book but is deeply passionate about film will be providing a second review of Inherent Vice for Noiseless Chatter. I’m curious to see what he’ll have to say, based only on the merits of what was on the screen.

Analyzing the Inherent Vice Trailer

October 6th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in books | film - (1 Comments)

Inherent Vice trailer

In 2009, Thomas Pynchon released Inherent Vice, and oboy did it feel like we’d slipped into a parallel world. The famously oblique and reclusive author had not only attached his name to a straight-forward (relatively, natch…), overtly comic detective novel, but he narrated his own trailer for the book, compiled a playlist of songs (many of them non-existent) for Amazon, and even, for the first time ever, optioned the rights to a screenplay.

Oh, and he makes a cameo in the film. You know…the guy who refused to be captured on film of any kind and who once wrote the line “A camera is a gun.” That guy.

What’s more, this all came not too long after a pair of appearances, as himself, on The Simpsons. Why was the world’s trickiest living author (or most authorial living trickster) toying with public life all of a sudden?

There’s no answer. At least none that I’d have. None that you’d have, either. But the process of writing and publishing Inherent Vice seems to have shaped, however briefly, another version of Thomas Pynchon. A bilocated, more visible double that had his own agenda.

Whatever it is that sets this book apart in his mind…well, let’s just say it’s fun to think about, but nothing we’ll ever know. So what we need to do instead is focus on what we have…the first film based on the writings of a man who writes the unfilmable.

And I’m going to walk you through the trailer, telling you everything you’re seeing without really seeing it, ya got me? Feel free to fill in my blanks; I’ve read Inherent Vice several times, but I’m bound to miss at least a few things here.

If you haven’t seen it, correct that first:

Spoilers, needless to say, abound…but if you’re turning to a Pynchon story because you’re curious about “what happens,” you shouldn’t be turning to a Pynchon story.

Inherent Vice trailer

We open with a shot of what seems to be (but isn’t necessarily) our protagonist’s house. His name is Doc Sportello, but we’ll get to him in a bit. For now, it’s a few seconds of lovely scene setting, and it’s impossible for me to look at this without dreaming of a Vineland adaptation. This is exactly how I’d picture the neglected, dormant beauty of Gordita Beach from that novel. Of course, there’s some overlap in characters and other details (including Gordita Beach itself) between Inherent Vice and that book, so maybe the comparison is unavoidable.

The narration, it sounds like, comes from Shasta Fay Hepworth, who we’ll see momentarily. She’s an ex of Doc’s, a private eye, and the novel opens with her coming unexpectedly to his home to discuss some impending sour entanglements with her more recent flame, the billionaire land developer Mickey Wolfmann. Specifically, the possibility that his wife is going to have him committed…and that she might want to be involved.

I’m having trouble deciding if this is narration recorded specifically for the trailer or not. I’m leaning toward no. And while it all rings a bit false to me — I’m not a big fan of films or television spelling out the reasons you should find them absurd — the fact is that Inherent Vice, though it’s by a wide margin the least complicated of Pynchon’s novels, is still pretty damned complicated.

That in itself wouldn’t be a problem if director Paul Thomas Anderson wasn’t interested in adapting it faithfully…but as we’ll see shortly, he absolutely seems to be. (At least overall.)

For that reason…yeah. Having a character catch the audience up with what the fuck is happening is probably not a bad idea.

Inherent Vice trailer

Shasta is played by Katherine Waterston, with whom I am not familiar. But I have to say that she looks the part. She’s very believable as the kind of girl you stay in love with long after you should know better.

We see her later in the trailer, too, presumably in flashback, and though our glimpses of her aren’t long enough to sell the difference yet, if you keep your eyes open you can absolutely see the distance between the girl he fell for and the woman standing in his apartment, “looking just like she swore she’d never look.”

With Doc, her life was pot and trippy music. With Wolfmann — and others like him — it was obviously something else entirely.

Better? Worse? Doesn’t matter. Point is, it’s something Doc could never provide.

Inherent Vice trailer

We don’t get much of a look at Mickey Wolfmann in the trailer, which is fitting, because Doc doesn’t get much of one at him in the book. Wolfmann is a presence more than a character, and that’s fine. It keeps his motives — and the motives of others, as they relate to him — at a distance.

Wolfmann in the book is much as he would be to us in real life: an image in the newspaper, a name overheard but not really understood. Doc encounters those who know him personally, but is always on the other side of that camera lens there. It remains to be seen if the film will keep him at a similar distance. I hope it does, because that was quite effective at building character through unexpected angles.

His wife, Sloane, is somebody Doc does get to know in person, and the ignorant vapidity of the character comes through very well both in this photograph, and when we see her in person momentarily.

Inherent Vice trailer

See? I love that she’s wearing a veil of mourning along with a bathing suit and suntan lotion. It really goes to show how much she misses Mr. Wolfmann. A great detail in this scene — and the reason I capped it — is that you can see that the man barbecuing is wearing a policeman’s helmet, and it’s almost as easy to make out more uniforms in the background.

In the novel, Wolfmann’s palatial swimming pool was indeed taken over by the police officers sent to investigate his disappearance, and it’s suggested that they were enjoying this seized luxury before the feds showed up to take the case away from them.

Inherent Vice trailer

Riggs Warbling, here. No idea who plays him, but he’s perfect for the character of Sloane’s “spiritual coach.” The narration refers to him as her boyfriend. That’s not entirely wrong, but there’s more to him as a character than that.

In fact, one of the great moments in the book occurs late in the story, when Doc finds him in one of the structures he talks about here: zomes. They make excellent meditation spaces, he says, and I’m hoping Warbling gets to see his arc through and isn’t just used as a visual punchline for this scene.

Either would be fine…but zomes, man.

Zomes.

Inherent Vice trailer

Now this is interesting. The construction site photo plays a large role in the book, but here we can clearly see that the sign says they’re at the future site of the Kismet Hotel and Casino.

The Kismet is in the novel — with a connection to Wolfmann — but Doc at first isn’t able to make out the name on the photograph. Eventually he finds out it’s the Chryskylodon Institute…which is referenced in the narration here as a “loony bin.”

So this may mark our first significant deviation from the plot of the novel. Instead of the Wolfmanns laying out the funds for Chryskylodon as they do in the book, they lay them out for the Kismet. Yet Chryskylodon (under that name or another) still plays a role in the film, as we see it shortly with the STRAIGHT IS HIP motto above its door.

We also see Coy Harlingen there…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In the book, the photograph also sees Sloane pretending to operate a piece of construction equipment. Here, for logistical reasons certainly, she’s standing with the traditional novelty scissors instead. That’s not nearly as significant as the Chryskylodon / Kismet switch, which interests me to no end.

Inherent Vice trailer

Doc driving through Channel View Estates, a venture Mickey Wolfmann was heading up when he disappeared. There’s a temporary strip mall in the distance, which houses Chick Planet Massage. We’ll see that later in the trailer, too.

The bikers fleeing the scene does indeed happen soon after Doc’s arrival in the book, but here it happens during his arrival. Not as noticeable a change as the Chryskylodon / Kismet thing above, but considering the fact that this is when Wolfmann goes missing — and a homicide takes place taboot — the difference in timing could be significant.

Inherent Vice trailer

The Chryskylodon Institute in Ojai. At least, I think it is. Judging by the robes and its strategic placement in the trailer as Shasta says “loony bin,” it at least fills the role Chryskylodon filled in the book.

Inherent Vice trailer

And now we’ll talk about Doc…played here by Joaquin Phoenix.

I wasn’t entirely enamored with the casting of Phoenix…but that’s less to do with him than it is with my disappointment that the rumored casting of Robert Downey Jr. didn’t pan out. Now that would have been a stellar Doc.

Phoenix, though, seems like he’s going to be a great fit, and this little moment with him walking toward the police station — and being carelessly shoved over by the cops — says a lot about who he is, as well as one of the central dynamics in the film.

Doc’s a private eye, but whatever talent he has for his profession is easily overlooked by those who see only his schlubby, unprofessional demeanor. It says a lot that on his way to speak with the police, Doc would dress exactly this way. He’s not a jerk…he’s just a man out of time.

It’s a great little detail that he’s wearing huaraches, too. I wonder if he’ll lose one like he does toward the end of the book.

His shoddy treatment at the hands of the law — sometimes deliberate, sometimes not, sometimes calculated, sometimes just for fun — informs my favorite relationship in the book. And, come to think of it, my second favorite as well. This shove, and that fall, bring it all perfectly home.

Of course, the cops get shoved around themselves by the feds, which may or may not translate to the film, but it certainly is starting to seem like it might.

Inherent Vice trailer

A nice, good look at our hero. I don’t have much to say here, but I thought it only fair to spotlight poor Doc, as so much in the trailer eclipses him.

Of course, that’s thematically resonant with the book, so…no real complaints.

Phoenix doesn’t look or act much like what I got from Doc while reading, but I’m actually glad for that. It means this interpretation will be a lot less likely to “overwrite” my inner memories.

Inherent Vice trailer

Josh Brolin plays Bigfoot Bjornsen, Doc’s professional antagonist on the badge-wearing side of things. When Brolin’s casting was announced, a friend of mine gushed about how perfect he was for the role. I didn’t have the same reaction. I’d pictured somebody more along the lines of John Goodman. A younger, meaner John Goodman…but not Brolin.

Seeing him here, though? It really is perfect. He plays the consciously square-jawed detective (police detective, that is…) very well, and we even get a glimpse later in the trailer of how well he might play the less self-assured iteration of the character.

Bjornsen’s relationship with Doc is my favorite in Inherent Vice. It seems like a more profound development of the Zoyd / Hector relationship in Vineland, with mutual hatred managing to coexist with sincere mutual respect. These are two characters who despise so much about each other, and yet they each recognize in each other a longing for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe never did.

A different world for each of them, certainly, but they’re exiles all the same.

Inherent Vice trailer

Now this was casting I did flips over. Still am, actually. Benecio del Toro plays Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s attorney. We don’t get much of him in this trailer, but his look is perfect. I couldn’t be happier about del Toro handling this character.

This moment seems to come from the lunch he has with Doc at The Belaying Pin, and I’m sure that drink in the foreground is his Tequila Zombie. This is also, if I’m correct, the scene in which he introduces Doc to the Golden Fang, a ship — or something — that factors in a major way into the events unfolding around Doc.

The clips here also demonstrate that the characters haven’t quite settled on where the emphasis lies in Mickey Wolfmann’s last name. It’s that “man” part that’s causing so much trouble…some pronouncing it like it’s pronounced in “Silverman,” and others like it’s pronounced in “Super Man.”

Some pronounce it as you would the name of a wealthy land developer, and others as you would a super hero.

And I like that. One hell of a lot.

Inherent Vice trailer

A relatively minor moment early in the novel, and something I didn’t expect to make it to film, is Doc tying strips of an old t-shirt into his hair to build up an afro overnight. The movie could have opened with his hair that way, and I find it interesting that they bothered to include this…along with other seemingly minor details.

At the same time, much seems to be left out. Doc’s friend Denis, for instance, doesn’t seem to have a role in the film. And while not every character in the book could be expected to appear on screen, Denis serves two major purposes in the novel. The most obvious is probably the fact that he has a hand in the way it all ends. But in general he serves as comic relief throughout the book.

In the former sense, I have to assume the ending — or at least the way it plays out — has been changed for the film. In the latter…well, look at the trailer. The entire thing is comic relief. Denis might play on the page as some welcome silliness, but Pynchon’s writing is all silliness when translated to the visual.

Or, again, so it seems.

Doc is on the phone with his Aunt Reet, a real estate agent who gives him the lowdown on some of Wolfmann’s business dealings. The “wants to be a Nazi” bit is an actual line of dialogue from the book, and I have to admit it’s extremely strange to me to hear these lines spoken out loud.

Not that they sound bad out loud, but the more you read Pynchon the more you get accustomed to a kind of internal rhythm of dialogue. When that dialogue is brought into our world, spoken with our rhythms, it’s a little chilling. Like waking up next to a krees you found in a dream.

But, yes. With lines like this necessitating delivery like this, Denis might not have stood out as comic relief at all.

We then see a brief shot of Doc speaking with Jade (possibly Bambi…it’s been a while since I’ve read Inherent Vice) from Chick Planet Massage. Not much to say about it, but if you’re wondering: that’s who it is.

Inherent Vice trailer

Jena Malone plays Hope Harlingen, who hires Doc to look into the whereabouts of her husband, Coy. She believes he might still be alive, even though the official story is that he died of a heroin overdose.

All of Doc’s cases in Inherent Vice are interrelated, but it’s still easy to segment them out, at the very least by who hired him. The Harlingen case leads to many of my favorite moments in the book, and it’s second only to the disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann in terms of overall importance. That’s why I’m a little sad to see it play out like this:

Inherent Vice trailer

See? We don’t need comic relief in a movie that takes one of the book’s most affecting scenes and makes a joke out of it. The movie is comic relief.

It’s a funny moment, I admit, but Doc mindlessly screaming, I’m sure, won’t stack up to the emotional relief of the scene in the book. See, Hope, Coy, and their infant daughter Amethyst were all wracked by the horrors of heroin. Hope and Coy directly, little Amethyst by proxy. The story she tells Doc about it is harrowing…and in a moment of small, uncommon cosmic mercy for Doc, he sees Amethyst wander into the room, and she’s fine. She’s healthy. She made it out.

It’s a great scene of tension and release, so it’s a little disappointing that it gets played for laughs here. Not worrying, mind you, but disappointing.

Inherent Vice trailer

…aaaand suddenly I’m not disappointed anymore. Reese Witherspoon looks like a fantastic Penny, the Deputy DA who now and then holds Doc’s heart, and some other things. The awkward exchange here involves her over-protective cubicle mate Rhus, and it’s played with perfect, absurd tension.

In the book, Penny is an attractive, intelligent, uptight foil to Doc’s…well, to Doc’s opposite of all that. Witherspoon absolutely looks the part, and somehow, in a way I can’t quite articulate, fits the mold of the kind of girl who would fall for Doc against every ounce of her better, more reliable judgment.

Of course, Penny’s not entirely trustworthy herself, being as she shops poor Doc to the feds right about…

Inherent Vice trailer

…now.

Agents Flatweed and Borderline, investigating the disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann, shoving the local badges and batons out of the way in order to do so. At least, ostensibly. The book paints a portrait of a vicious cycle, reinforced by the sheer power of an official pecking order.

I’ll be purposefully vague here. At the bottom (arguably) is Mickey Wolfmann, who could use some assistance. Doc is just above him, willing to provide that assistance. Above Doc is Bigfoot (and his colleagues) who shut Doc down so that they can handle the situation their way. Above them lurk the feds, who shut the cops down so that they can keep Wolfmann away from the help he needs.

It’s a peek into the inescapable future that Vineland has already shown us…but Doc’s there, hovering on the brink of a new decade, and that’s why moments like the reveal that li’l Amethyst is a-ok are so important.

Doc knows he’s a lost cause. He knows there’s no place for him in the years to come. But seeing some assurance, however small, however trivial, that somebody, somewhere, might come out of this okay…why, that’s all he can ever really hope for, isn’t it?

That’s why I wish it wasn’t a punchline.

Because it isn’t funny.

It’s all the guy’s got.

Inherent Vice trailer

Owen Wilson is a great choice for Coy Harlingen, the not-exactly-deceased ex-heroin addict, saxophonist, and political turncoat. He has exactly that sort of effortless attractiveness that also feels quietly haunted. And, hey, he’s a pretty great actor in films directed by guys named Anderson.

Doc finds him here renting a large house with The Boards, a band of the undead themselves. One very nice detail is the saxophone on the ledge in the background…Coy’s icon, and what helps Doc to locate him in the first place.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Harlingen saga play out on screen. There’s the potential there for a lot of heart, and unlike the scene earlier, it looks like the emotional holds steady in the Board mansion.

Also, compare the dark, morose environment in which Coy is lost with the bright, airy home Hope still occupies. That’s not unique to the film, but that’s a wonderful visual suggestiveness.

Inherent Vice trailer

A quick flash of Doc in front of Mickey Wolfmann’s tie collection. He’s with Luz, the Wolfmann housekeeper, and they’re about to do what you think they’re about to do.

Doc looks different here because he’s in the Wolfmann residence under false pretenses, looking like he swore he’d never look. Natch.

In the book, the ties are custom painted with very lifelike erotic art, each featuring a different woman Mickey Wolfmann has slept with. It doesn’t look like that’s the case here, but perhaps the imagery is on the back.

Either way, the ties are crucial to Doc’s investigation. Out of his own foolish curiosity he tries to find one featuring Shasta, and fails. Later, in Chryskylodon, he finds that tie…notably not around the neck of Mickey Wolfmann.

The fact that they bother to set up this otherwise irrelevant scene suggests that this detail will still factor into Doc’s investigation. Further confusing the change from Chryskylodon to Kismet in the ground-breaking ceremony.

Inherent Vice trailer

We get a very short glance of Martin Short, out of retirement to play Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd…another in a long (long…) line of untrustable Pynchon doctors. He’s most likely with his dependent patient (and daughter of one of Doc’s old clients) Japonica Fenway, but I don’t know for sure how much of his “Smile Maintenance” we’ll see in the film.

Blatnoyd was a small role in the novel that petered out before it began (with good reason, however), so I’m very shocked Short took it. Either it’s been expanded upon here — which I for some reason doubt — or he was a fan of the book himself.

Whatever the reason, he’s a hell of a get, and I couldn’t be happier with most of these casting choices.

Interesting are the bits of set dressing behind him. An oriental dragon on the coffee table and a ship on the wall…both of which are gold, and both of which passively represent the Golden Fang. Indeed, in the book, Blatnoyd’s very building resembled a big golden incisor.

What is / was / will be the Golden Fang? I’ve read Inherent Vice more times than I could tell you, but like The Maltese Falcon, and, shit, that ol’ muted post-horn even, that’s not what matters. What matters is what it does to the people who seek to find out.

I wonder if the film will retain that mystery. Something I saw in a cast list worries me that it will not.

Inherent Vice trailer

We then flash through scenes of Sauncho picking up Doc from the police station, the younger, original Shasta Fay Hepworth, and Luz overtly seducing Doc (and me…) in front of Sloane Wolfmann.

After that, we get to a very notable image: this Last Supper homage, featuring various members — past and present — of The Boards, having a “heated discussion over a number of pizzas.”

Coy is visible here, and in the book it’s an important clue to his whereabouts. However, in the book it’s a still photograph that Doc is consulting. Here it’s in motion, which means either Doc is present for the scene, or it’s a flashback.

Regardless, an interesting change. This is possibly so that Doc’s photographer friend Spike could be cut out of the storyline without sacrificing an easy visual punch.

Inherent Vice trailer

I love that this scene plays for so long in the trailer. Bigfoot ordering more pancakes (with lingonberries, I hope…) is one of those comic moments that definitely plays better on screen than it does in the book, where it just feels like an amusing incongruity.

Doc’s faltering embarrassment is fantastic, and the comedy is no doubt going to cushion the hard fact Doc learns here: the Mickey Wolfmann investigation is leading him closer and closer to one Adrian Prussia.

Who’s that? The trailer doesn’t answer that question…or, indeed, even raise it. But we’ll discuss it shortly.

We’ve now heard Brolin do his smug, intimidating Bigfoot, and his silly, comical Bigfoot. We don’t really get to hear the fragile Bigfoot, but if the film plays out like the book did, there will be plenty of time for that later.

Inherent Vice trailer

With the exception of a couple of midpoint scenes (such as Bigfoot with his pancakes above), this trailer sticks, understandably, to the front part of the film. Here, however, we get a look at one of the very last plot points.

The dangling handcuffs, the gun, and the “Did I get you?” line all make it clear that the body he’s stepping over belongs to Puck Beaverton. Beaverton doesn’t factor into the trailer otherwise, and neither does his partner Einar, nor his fiancee Trillium.

Theirs was an interesting subplot — and part of the reason Doc went to Vegas (home of the Kismet) at all — so we’ll see. It’s possible that “Puck” here is actually just an anonymous heavy for Adrian Prussia as far as the film is concerned, but I hope not. I really want to hear him sing some Merman.

Doc is asking Prussia, during a brilliantly unprofessional shootout, if he hit him. I’ll spare you the answer, since doing so wouldn’t help identify anything happening in the trailer and would just be a spoiler for spoilers’ sake.

I will say, though, that it’s interesting to me that Prussia is kept out of sight here…just as he is for so much of the book. (And, indeed, in this very gunfight.)

Prussia is Inherent Vice‘s bad guy. At least, within reason. Like Ned Pointsman in Gravity’s Rainbow and Brock Vond in Vineland, we know there are infinite levels above, all working the controls behind the scenes. But as far as what Doc gets to see goes, Prussia’s the one motherfucker he doesn’t want to tango with.

So, yeah. Inevitably, it comes to this. And I can’t wait.

Inherent Vice trailer

Doc outside of Chick Planet — and not at all willingly — with Bigfoot. The trailer ends with a scene of Doc getting knocked out in the massage parlor, and when he wakes up, this is where he finds himself. He gets taken in for questioning, and that’s when Sauncho (as we’ve seen above) comes to get him.

Questioned about what? Well, the homicide. That unfortunate body on the stretcher is Glen Charlock’s, and it’s this murder that sets the gears of complexity really turning. It all interlocks. The only question is…how?

This is when the motorcycles flee the scene. The deed is done on poor Glen, who was working as one of Mickey Wolfmann’s bodyguards, and the bikers hit the road…which Doc hears right before he gets whacked on the head. In the trailer, however, he’s driving to the scene as the bikers leave, which significantly alters the course of events, and doesn’t actually put Doc at the scene of the crime.

It could be nothing, but I’ll be curious how much deviation from the book a change like that will trigger.

Inherent Vice trailer

The LOVE caption is stylized to resemble the cover of the Inherent Vice novel, as are all of the captions in the trailer. This one I’ve singled out, because it’s from another moment I didn’t expect to be adapted: a flashback of a younger Doc and Shasta, caught in a torrential rain as they seek out an address given to them by a Ouija board.

Considering the fact that they asked the board where they could score good weed and the fact that the address ends up connected to the Golden Fang, this is a scene of sweet, unexpected warmth.

It’s no wonder Doc clings to it as control spirals away from him…and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that it made the cut in the film.

God knows the poor guy needs all the happiness he can find.

Inherent Vice trailer

Fragile Bigfoot after dark. His unfortunate homelife is played for both laughs and pathos in the book, and though we can’t hear anything, seeing him cow to his wife while talking on the phone to Doc — his chosen nemesis — is heartbreaking.

Another great, unnecessary element of the book that I couldn’t be happier made it to the screen.

Inherent Vice trailer

Doc and his client Tariq, framed in perfect awkwardness here, in what’s clearly their first meeting. Tariq knew Glen Charlock…and, in fact, has a fling with Glen’s widow once the body gets cold.

Michael K. Williams serves Doc some brilliant, well-deserved bafflement. Their consultation is one of the novel’s funniest scenes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up saying the same for the film.

Inherent Vice trailer

And, finally, we end where things begin: Doc comes to Channel View Estates to track down Mickey Wolfmann, and gets knocked unconscious in the massage parlor. While he’s out, Wolfmann gets kidnapped, his bodyguard Glen Charlock gets killed, and Doc wakes up way over his head.

Maybe, as Shasta herself opened the trailer by suggesting, Doc should have just looked the other way.

Fact is, though, it’s happening.

And it’s happening in December.

I’ll see you there.

Inherent Vice posterThis past week, the trailer for Inherent Vice — the first film Thomas Pynchon has ever allowed to be adapted from one of his books, hit the internet.

If you know me, you’ll know to expect a trailer analysis. And that is indeed coming. While I work on it, though, I thought I’d throw you a little curio: the complete Inherent Vice soundtrack!

…okay, it’s the soundtrack of the book, not the film. But, so what? It’s Inherent Vice, and I spent a lot of time a few years ago putting this together for my own enjoyment. I might as well spread it ’round.

This was my second attempt at compiling a comprehensive playlist of all songs directly mentioned in a Thomas Pynchon novel, but unlike my experience with Vineland, I’ve actually managed to finish this one.

Below is every song mentioned by name (or quoted by lyric) in Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. It was a lot of work on my part (and on the part of a helpful friend or two), but man was it worth it. Many of these are songs I never would have listened to otherwise, and all of them do an excellent job of setting their respective scenes, and I hope the film can measure up to this standard.

Many thanks go to the (sadly incomplete and periodically inaccurate) song list at the Pynchon Wiki. It missed out some very obvious ones, in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there. This was still a helpful resource.

Also, Pynchon himself has compiled a playlist of songs featured in the book at amazon.com. It’s far from complete, though, and it contains a few of the fictional songs he wrote himself, so I think this would be more of his personal — and impossible — mixed CD than anything else.

Oddly enough, Pynchon lists “Telstar” by The Tornados, even though it’s not mentioned anywhere in Inherent Vice (and since it’s an instrumental, I’m sure nobody quoted it either).

My guess is that he just really likes the song and thinks it’d fit somewhere in the background of one of many conversations. I’m cool with that; the song is a pretty awesome rocker, and I stuck it at the end of my playlist. Do with it as you please.

Anyway, enough of that. Enjoy the complete literary soundtrack. Maybe eventually I’ll get the Vineland one done, too. (The Crying of Lot 49 is another possibility, but I have a feeling it’d be very short…more of an EP. And I’ll take notes on music references in Bleeding Edge when I finally get around to a re-read.)

Download the Inherent Vice soundtrack:

https://www.sendspace.com/file/cl5463

1) Can’t Buy Me Love — The Beatles
2) Sugar Sugar — The Archies
3) Runaround Sue — Dion & The Belmonts
4) The Big Valley theme — TV Theme
5) The Great Pretender — The Platters
6) “Bang Bang” (My Baby Shot Me Down) — Bonzo Dog Band
7) Strangers in the Night — Frank Sinatra
8) Oh Pretty Woman — Roy Orbison
9) Wouldn’t It Be Nice — The Beach Boys
10) Fly Me to the Moon — Frank Sinatra
11) The Crystal Ship — The Doors
12) Blueberry Hill — Fats Domino
13) Little GTO — Ronny and the Daytonas
14) People Are Strange — The Doors
15) Gilligan’s Island theme — TV Theme
16) Basketball Jones — Cheech & Chong
17) Wipeout — The Surfaris
18) The Other Side — Tiny Tim
19) Pipeline — The Chantays
20) Surfin’ Bird — The Trashmen
21) Bam-Boo — Johnny and the Hurricanes
22) Tequila — The Champs
23) Leaning on a Lamp Post — George Formby
24) Leaning on a Lamp Post — Herman’s Hermits
25) Donna Lee — Miles Davis
26) Here Come the Hodads — The Marketts
27) Eight Miles High — The Byrds
28) Runaway — Del Shannon
29) Happy Trails to You — Roy Rogers
30) White Rabbit — Jefferson Airplane
31) This Guy’s in Love With You — Herb Alpert
32) Desafinado — Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz
33) It Never Entered My Mind — Miles Davis
34) Alone Together — Chet Baker
35) Samba do Avaio — Antonio Carlos Jobim
36) Crimson and Clover — Tommy James and the Shondells
37) Quentin’s Theme (Dark Shadows theme) — TV Theme
38) Something Happened to Me Yesterday — The Rolling Stones
39) Grande Valse Brillante — Frederic Chopin
40) There’s No Business Like Show Business — Ethel Merman
41) One Fine Day — The Chiffons
42) Wabash Cannon Ball — Roy Acuff
43) Wunderbar — Jo Stafford and Gordon Macrae
44) Haunted Heart — Sammy Kershaw
45) Viva Las Vegas — Elvis Presley
46) El Paso — Marty Robbins
47) The Flintstones theme — TV theme
48) (You’re Not Sick) You’re Just in Love — Ethel Merman
49) Tiptoe Through the Tulips — Tiny Tim
50) Everything’s Coming Up Roses — Ethel Merman
51) All Shook Up — Elvis Presley
52) That’s Amore — Dean Martin
53) Interstellar Overdrive — Pink Floyd
54) Tears on My Pillow — Little Anthony & The Imperials
55) When Somebody Cares For You — The Mike Curb Congregation
56) Que Sera Sera — Doris Day
57) Elusive Butterfly — Bob Lind
58) Yummy Yummy Yummy — Ohio Express
59) Hawaii Five-0 theme — TV Theme
60) Something in the Air — Thunderclap Newman
61) We Should Be Together — Shirley Temple and George Murphy
62) Help Me, Rhonda — The Beach Boys
63) Volare — Domenico Modugno
64) Java Jive — The Ink Spots
65) Super Market — Fapardokly
66) A Stranger in Love — The Spaniels
67) God Only Knows — The Beach Boys
68) Telstar — The Tornados

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