Analyzing the Inherent Vice Trailer

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.


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


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.

Download: The Inherent Vice Soundtrack

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 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:

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

ALF Reviews: “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” (season 2, episode 19)

Well, Jodie’s gone and she’s never coming back, which means it’s time to return to the weekly parade of distracting guest stars so that the writers don’t have to bother developing their main characters.

That’s not to say that “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” is without merit, but it is to say that it’s much closer to a standard episode of ALF than it is to…you know. Something good.

We do open with a real surprise, though: Brian.

Yep, that’s him! On screen! Saying and doing things! Of course, it’s not a very reassuring sign that he’s taken to wearing a shirt with his name on it. I guess it helps keep his family from forgetting who he is, but it’s still kind of sad.

This is tremendously funny to me. We don’t see Max Wright wearing a WILLIE shirt, but 19 episodes into season two the writers haven’t done enough with this kid to feel secure that we’ll even recognize who he is.

Anyway, “Brian” (if his shirt is to be believed) has found a dog. ALF somehow fucked up the Tanners’ chimney, so he’s cutting hedges as punishment. At last we can add asphyxiation to the list of ways ALF has thrust this family into mortal danger.

Brian shows ALF how to play fetch with the dog, and ALF responds by lightly lobbing a stick over the fence. It travels at a speed and angle that couldn’t possibly connect with the Ochmoneks’ window, but we hear it shatter in an explosion of glass as though a fucking horse just ran through it, so what do I know about physics? Remember back in “Isn’t it Romantic?” when I hoped that, for Benji Gregory’s sake, ALF had a great foley artist? Well…now we can officially dismiss that possibility.

Willie comes running out, and Mr. Ochmonek shouts that he’s coming over. Of course, Willie yells loudly at ALF, calling him by name, telling him to run off and hide, and reminding him that he’s always taking the fall for ALF’s antics. All good points, Willie, but is this the best time to be bringing them up? So loudly? When you know your neighbor is within earshot? And when you also know he’ll be stepping into the back yard in a matter of seconds?

Sorry, but that’s stupid on a number of levels excessive even for ALF.

Willie hands Mr. Ochmonek $20, but Mr. O says that he’ll need $80 this time, because he’s putting in Plexiglass. He explains to Willie, “It’ll be cheaper for you in the long run.”

See? However many times this family of assholes smashes up Mr. Ochmonek’s property, he’s still nice to them, joking around and saving them money. Tell me again why we’re supposed to see him as the bad neighbor?

Jack LaMotta does this great little physical flourish when he comes over, flipping the stick ALF threw into the air and catching it as he walks. This is a major part of the reason I came to love Mr. Ochmonek: Jack LaMotta knows who he is. I can guarantee that almost none of Mr. O’s physical business was in the scripts; the writers, we can say conclusively, weren’t that interested in developing any of these clowns. Which means LaMotta, like Anne Schedeen before him, made these decisions for himself. He saw what was on the page, figured out what kind of character would say those things, and fleshed out the character himself.

Did the writing staff know how Mr. Ochmonek would carry himself when stepping onto Willie’s property with the stick that broke his window? I promise you they did not. But Jack LaMotta knew, and I have a massive amount of respect for that. From what I understand he didn’t enjoy working on the show any more than anyone else did, but based on his performance alone, I wouldn’t be able to find evidence of that.

Anyway, Willie says they can keep the dog, wherever the fuck it came from, the dog growls at ALF, and we get our credits. That has to be the longest opening sequence yet. In fairness, though, it managed set up a lot of things that could be explored in the rest of the episode: the broken chimney, Mr. Ochmonek’s windows, Brian enjoying his new dog, the dog hating ALF, Willie at wit’s end…

Oh, who am I kidding. None of this shit pays off in any way. The opening scene isn’t long because it’s establishing things we need to know; it’s long because it’s padded.

I miss Jodie. :(

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

ALF is under the table or something who cares.

He’s feeling around for a plate of raw steaks, which Kate moves out of the way. She then places her hand on the table instead, and when ALF feels it he hesitates for a moment…then stands up, shakes it, and introduces himself. It’s a cute little moment, and the sort of thing I’d like to see more often on this show.

Kate then notices that a steak is missing, and blames ALF. ALF says he didn’t do it, but…well…he was clearly going to do it, so I’m not sure we can feel too sorry that he’s being falsely accused.

She doesn’t believe him, and she tells him he’s not getting dinner as punishment. Now this seems like a good angle for the episode; the new dog misbehaves, doing all the things that ALF has done often enough in the past (eating food that isn’t his, ripping up the furniture, shitting on the rug) so that ALF keeps getting blamed, even when he’s innocent.

That sounds like a pretty good half hour to me, and it could lead to some fun, character-based comedy. But then Lynn walks in with the dog explaining that the dog ate the steak so…I guess that’s that. Why bother setting up the “ALF is wrongfully accused” angle if they’re going to dismantle it with the very next line?

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

There’s a very well-observed moment next, though, when Kate walks over to the dog to scold it. She kneels down, says, “Bad dog!” and then immediately starts fawning over it and apologizing.

Schedeen absolutely sells the comedy of that instant reversal, but even without her that would have probably worked as a smart gag. Dogs absolutely have the innate ability to defuse their own punishments with their big eyes and their droopy tails.

There was nothing my old dog could do wrong that I wouldn’t feel terrible about scolding her for. She could spill the trash, eat my dinner, knock something fragile over…and I’d send her to her bed, but then I’d always — always — melt when I saw her apologetic eyes staring back at me.

Usually I could hold it inside and let her stew, because that really would be the only way she’d learn, but even then I’d be dying inside. Yes, she knew what she did was wrong, and yes, she had to learn that certain behavior was not acceptable, but she is SO CUTE AND FLUFFY AND OHH COME HERE. OHHHH WHO’S A BAD DOG. OHHH YOU ARE. YESSS YOU ARE. OHHHH WHO WANTS A TUMMY RUB

ALF, understandably, thinks this is bullshit.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

Kate tells ALF not to sulk. It’s just a dog, and it doesn’t know any better. ALF says, “Ignorance is no excuse.” Then Kate shoots perfect daggers directly into his soul and says, “Ignorance is your excuse all the time.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably my favorite exchange the show has had yet. Both sides have perfectly valid points, and both sides are willfully overlooking things. It’s an intelligent way to structure this conversation, boiling the entire dialogue down to two very potent lines, and in this case it only works because of Schedeen.

The scolding / apology a moment ago was a strong enough concept that even the worst actor on the show could have probably pulled it off. Here, though, it only works because of Schedeen’s commitment to it. She delivers her rejoinder perfectly, and the bemused tone of voice she adopts is spot-on, as is her body language. I cannot stress enough what an asset she is to ALF. Often, she’s its only asset.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

We then get another well-observed moment of dog ownership: Lynn tells the family to watch as she issues commands. She tells the dog to speak…and it doesn’t. After a moment, though, it lies down, and the Tanners laugh and coo.

ALF, of course, doesn’t join in* but the reactions of the rest of the family are perfect. Dogs are indeed adorable when they do tricks. Dogs are exactly as adorable when they fail to do tricks, or misinterpret commands. People end up fawning over every little thing a dog does, from sneezing to snapping at a fly to twitching its little feet while it sleeps. They get so much credit for doing literally nothing more than being themselves that it’s an inherently funny thing to draw attention to.

Sadly, we find out later in the episode that that’s not what’s going on here at all. The dog’s real owner taught it, for some reason, to respond improperly to voice commands, so this well-observed moment is turned retroactively into a brainless throwaway gag. Well done, ALF.

Also, we learn that Brian named the dog Alfina, which almost seems like my wish for “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert,” in which Uncle Albert was instead Uncle Alfred — a human double pulling the same shit ALF pulls — might be coming true here, with a misbehaving dog in his place. Especially with the whole dog-eating-the-steak setup earlier. This would be a chance (arguably an even better one) to filter ALF’s normal behavior through an outsider, and reveal to the alien how dickawful he is.

But, no. It’s a decent little suggestion that the dog is replacing ALF…but even that doesn’t pan out. I’ll get to why shortly.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

The evil mom from The Goonies comes over and says she saw one of the Lost Dog posters Brian hung up. She swears it’s hers, even though she doesn’t know its gender, doesn’t recognize it, and doesn’t know its name. (“Come here, dog,” doesn’t get a fake audience laugh, but I liked it.)

It’s a little sad to see Anne Ramsey here, especially since she’s in overtly poor health. Looking up the spelling of her name I found out that this was indeed one of her last roles, and that’s upsetting. Her walk is clearly pained and her line delivery barely this side of comprehensible. The joke is supposed to be that this is a stingy old argumentative coot, but with the state she’s in it feels a lot more like we’re supposed to be laughing at her for being at the brink of death.

I can’t express just how much this shakes me up, but I can’t blame ALF for this. It happens on great shows, too. Elaine Stritch toward the end of 30 Rock was so obviously ailing that it became uncomfortable to watch. Richard Dunn always looked like he was at death’s door during the run of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job, and even though that was offset somewhat by how thrilled he was that he found such popularity with an audience so late in his life, the fact was that he could clearly go at any time.

And then he did.

So, no, I don’t blame ALF. But this is heartbreaking to watch. Especially since we’re supposed to hate her here. (Something that admittedly wasn’t true of Stritch or Dunn.)

It’s a genuine shame we didn’t get a rewrite (or a re-casting, as much as I hate to say that) once Ramsey’s rapidly declining health was seen by the production staff, because as it plays out we end up with Willie being a raging dick toward a woman who doesn’t seem ornery so much as she seems lost in the hallucinations of a fading mind.

The dog growls at her, and Willie tells this dying old lady to go fuck herself.

Then she gives him her number in case he changes his mind and leaves, at which point we watch Willie carefully shit his pants. At least that’s the only explanation I have for what we see him do here:

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

I don’t know. I guess he’s flinching from her, but Max Wright forgot to do it until after she turned around and left, making it look unprovoked and like an untreated symptom of St. Vitus dance.

Brian takes Alfina for a walk, and then ALF pops up through the plot window, moping that the boy is no longer interested in “the alien they left behind.” It’s not a joke, because the fake audience of dead people doesn’t tell us it’s one, so we’re actually supposed to feel sorry for him.

I’d like to.

Really. I would. But since ALF has made literally no effort to bond with this kid ever, I don’t know what he thinks he’s bitching about. We’ve seen them watch Gilligan’s Island together. We’ve seen him put Brian to work on his backyard plantation. And he talked some rambling bullshit to the kid about how he was once Don Quixote. I might be forgetting something, but I certainly can’t be forgetting much. ALF simply has never given much of a crap about Brian. Period.

Of course, this too could be a great inroad for the plot. ALF never bothered to bond with Brian…and now Brian is bonding with something else. ALF’s jealousy could play out in several ways for comic effect, and the episode could end with ALF realizing that he is the one to blame. The problem isn’t that Brian is sick of him…the problem is that ALF himself never put forth any effort, so the kid moved on. It’d be a bit like the realization at the end of “Cat’s in the Cradle,” except instead of the kid having a father who realizes what a mess he’s made of their relationship, he has an alien who rapes him a bunch.

Whatever. The point is that there are an infinite number of ways to handle this setup…and nearly all of them would be better than what we actually got.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

Very early the next morning, ALF brings Willie his paper in bed, Kate tells him to fuck fucking off, and ALF complains that dogs get treated better than aliens around here. Which would probably have been a more compelling argument in an episode that didn’t open with this alien smashing up their neighbors’ windows.

He then finds that the dog has taken his bed. Fortunately it hasn’t truly taken over ALF’s place in the family, though, because it’s just lying there and not masturbating to Lynn’s unmentionables.

The dog yawns or licks its chops or something, and those masterful foley artists lay a totally incongruous growl over top of it. Startled by the dog’s impressive display of ventriloquism, ALF shits everywhere.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

The next morning Willie and Kate cook ALF his all time favorite Sunday breakfast: naked pictures of Brian.

Sorry. They make his second favorite: French toast, Jell-O, and spaghetti. They’re doing this by way of apology. You know, because they busted up some windows and blamed him for it, broke his chimney, woke him up in the middle of the night for no reason…

Oh, wait. That’s all the crap he did. Why are they apologizing to him? Because he’s jealous of the dog? Fuck you, ALF. You send Willie to Gitmo without batting an eye, but they’re supposed to drop everything and kiss your feet because a better behaved animal is getting attention more attention than you?

This happens a lot in this show. ALF fucks some shit up and / or places the family in mortal danger, then they either apologize to him or thank him. Granted, in some cases he does actually save them (“Come Fly With Me”), but that should hardly get top billing over the fact that he’s the one that endangered them in the first place.

Anyway, they ask where the dog is and ALF reveals that he murdered it with a screwdriver.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

A little girl comes over with one of Brian’s posters and says it’s her dog, Francesca. I don’t know how she knows that, since there’s no picture of the dog on the flier, and in fact has nothing printed on it apart from Andrea Elson’s next lines, but, whatever. Lynn, not knowing yet that ALF has disemboweled the dog in their bathtub, invites the girl in.

Where’s Brian in this scene? Seriously, why wasn’t he the character who answered the door? We could have had a scene between two little kids who are attached to the same dog. They both want it…they both feel entitled to it…but it rightfully belongs to the girl, and Brian has to learn to let go.

I like that idea. I don’t even care if you do, because the main point is that this episode about Brian bonding with the dog, which hinged a seemingly pivotal moment on ALF’s realization that Brian was bonding with the dog, is almost completely devoid of Brian.

It’s bizarre, and it has to be a joke at this point. Right? Not only are they making a point of not integrating him into stories that don’t need him, but they’re crowding him out of the stories that do need him.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

Willie and Kate go into the kitchen to fist ALF to death. He admits he gave the dog away, but defends himself on the grounds that Brian was getting too attached to it.

See? This is a Brian episode, and he’s barely in it. The only thing we’ve seen him do with the dog is take it out for a walk, and the camera stayed behind while they were gone because fuck Brian. This kid isn’t even getting invited to his own parties anymore.

The dog is currently in the home of that woman who is going to be dead in a few weeks, so Willie heads over to throw her from the train.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

I have no idea how much time is meant to have passed in this episode. I thought the whole episode up until ALF tries to sleep in his bed is the first (and only) day that the family has the dog, judging by the fact that their outfits don’t change and the dog doesn’t seem to have found anywhere else to sleep. The next morning is when they try to cook ALF breakfast, but that’s also the morning on which he reveals that the dog is gone.

Fine. But there’s also some worry during that scene because Willie and Kate know that the dog “usually” comes running when they’re cooking. It’s a bit early to say that if it’s only the next day, and way too early to be worried that the “usual” routine — of, what, 15 hours? — has been interrupted. So I have no fucking clue what’s going on except that this lady has the dog and who the hell cares how quickly time does or doesn’t pass in this dumbass show.

She demands $500 for the dog, and man is it hard to watch this. Ramsey’s speech is noticeably slurred, and she’s barely mobile. Then it gets even more unintentionally heartbreaking when her ex-boyfriend starts pounding on the door. We don’t see him until later, but we hear his voice, and IMDB informs me that the ex-boyfriend is played by Logan Ramsey, her real life husband. Anne died the same year this episode aired, and Logan died in 2000, twelve years later.

The running joke that these two hideous people could be in any way attracted to each other sure is a sour swansong for their lives together. In fact, the mere suggestion that this lady has or ever had a sex life is enough to make Willie do this:

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

Your social worker, ladies and gentleman.

Ugh. They really, really should have changed this script once they saw how poorly Anne Ramsey was. It’s not in good fun when she spends her time between scenes making funeral arrangements.

Her ex threatens to beat the piss out of whatever guy she has in there with her, so Willie jumps out the window and this show sucks.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

Back at the ranch, ALF is trying to console Brian, who might as well be in the episode again, I guess. He’s not successful at talking the kid out of his funk, but ALF does get a good line when he suggests they go shoot some hoops: “I’ll get the pea-shooter. You see if the Hoops are in their back yard.”

Yeah, yeah. Sue me. I liked it.

Brian isn’t caving, though. He’s inconsolable, which we can tell from the fact that he sits in emotionless ignorance of anything going on around him. Just like every other episode.

Willie comes home and apologizes that he couldn’t get the dog back. Brian stomps off, pissed, but why? Had Willie gotten the dog, it still wouldn’t be Brian’s. It belongs to that little girl, and Wilile was getting it back for her. I can understand the idea that he’d be upset on her behalf, but that’s not what’s happening here. He’s mad because he doesn’t have the dog anymore…but no matter how things went with Mama Fratelli, that dog wasn’t coming back to the Tanner house.

Speaking of which, why didn’t Willie just cough up the $500? Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but he pays ten times that amount monthly to keep his alien happy. He won’t set some money aside — taking it out of ALF’s damage allowance, natch — to help this little girl get her dog back?

Fuck. You. Willie.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

ALF feels bad so he sneaks up to the old lady’s window dressed as Sarah Portland. I don’t know what his plan actually was, because the phone conveniently rings, she leaves the room, and he’s free to just waltz inside. We never find out who was on the phone, so I guess the writers didn’t know what the plan was, either.

While ALF is in her living room, her ex-boyfriend comes back. ALF hides, Mr. Ramsey talks about how much he wants to fuck her. Mrs. Ramsey talks about how much she wants to be fucked by him. Then they head into the other room to fuck. HAVE I MENTIONED THIS WAS AN EXCELLENT SHOW FOR FAMILIES

Then ALF starts to lead the dog out the front door. Seriously, what was his plan? If the phone didn’t ring and / or she didn’t get her hands on the treasure of One-Eyed Willie, what exactly was ALF going to do to get the dog out of there?

Whatever. ALF hears the two hideous creatures porkin’ the night away, and starts walking over with the intention of spying on them.

“No,” he says, stopping himself. “Some things are best left to the imagination.”

What a seriously perverse fucking show. And what a horrible way to cap off Ramsey’s career. I’d have been less disgusted if they just dug her up and peed on her.

ALF, "You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog"

In the short scene before the credits, the little girl gets her dog back. Brian doesn’t seem to give more than a quarter of a shit at most, further confusing the issue of why he was angry before. And everything else that happened in this episode, for that matter.

The little girl tells him that he can come over and play whenever he wants, and his boner at being invited to participate in anything for the first time in 44 episodes can be seen from space.


MELMAC FACTS: ALF played Camille in his high school play. One of the common expressions on Melmac was, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it gets run over by a car, you don’t want it.”

* He does make gagging gestures in the background through, and there’s a remarkable show of restraint on the part of the editors for not cutting to an extreme closeup of ALF doing this, a rushing crescendo of fake audience appreciation carrying us through to the act break.