Saturday, August 27, 2016

LA Dreamscape: Inherent Vice, The Big Fix, The Big Lebowski, The Long Goodbye

When did the 1960's end in California? Or more accurately when did the optimistic spirit of the 60's end? With the election of Richard Nixon? With the assassination of Robert Kennedy & Martin Luther King? With the deaths at the free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont? With the murder of Sharon Tate? Whenever it happened the mood in the 1970's was quite different from that of the 60's. The naive hedonism of the baby boomers was cured by Watergate, the oil crisis, recession and defeat in Vietnam. The 70s was a disillusioned cynical age. To be honest I'm not a huge fan of the baby boomers. The Greatest Generation won World War 2 and put a man on the moon but the boomers don't seem to have done much of anything have they? No cure for cancer, no mission to Mars... Still they did give us good movies and the 1970's might well be the greatest decade that there's ever been in American cinema. The other day for a bit of fun I curated a little film festival for myself watching 4 movies set in Los Angeles in the post 60's hangover. 
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Inherent Vice (2014) dir by Paul Thomas Anderson is based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. Its about the misadventures of a stoner private eye who gets mixed up in a complicated missing persons case after doing a favour for his old lady in and around Manhattan Beach circa 1971. A funny diverting novel has been turned into a kind of dull movie by LA native Anderson. Without a budget to film exteriors this is basically a chamber piece. Joaquin Phoenix does his usual terrific job as the lead and the supporting cast is good but the story bogs down badly in the second act. Paranoia, betrayal, police corruption, the little man fighting the Man are the themes of IV. The film like the book is a shaggy dog story and loses even more momentum in the final act... Still I think its pros weigh just a little more than its cons and its probably the only Pynchon film we are ever going to get...
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I followed Inherent Vice With The Big Lebowski (1998) which I've watched and written about many times before. Although it is set in 1990 Lebowski is about the 60's generation's attempts to cope with a world that has moved on. I know it divides people but I love this movie and Jeff Bridges's boomer Lebowski is a lot more sympathetic than than the 'goldbricking' blowhard millionaire greatest generation Lebowski. Joel and Ethan Coen have said that the biggest literary influence on Lebowski was Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and you can certainly see what they are talking about: both works are classic visions of Los Angeles and both films follow similar trajectories: a foil gets involved with a disabled rich man, the rich man's daughter, and a runaway from his family who gets mixed up in pornography. Paranoia, police corruption, betrayal, the little man fighting the Man are the themes of TBL. Joel Coen has also said that he was influenced by Robert Altman's 1970's remake of Chandler's The Long Goodbye which I saved for last in my little film festival. Next up however was a film I hadn't seen before: 
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The Big Fix (1978) was directed by Jeremy Kagan and based on the novel by Roger L. Simon. Richard Dreyfuss plays private detective Moses Wine who gets mixed up in a political corruption scandal connected to the California governor's race. Divorced Dreyfuss's troubles begin with his old lady (very much a move of Vice and Long Goodbye) and get worse as he uncovers the layers of a conspiracy. Moses Wine is a good if unconventional PI who - adorably - brings his kids on various stakeouts because he cant get a baby sitter. This movie doesn't have much of a following on Rotten Tomatoes but I thought it was really good with a kind of low rent Rockford Files vibe. Paranoia, corruption, betrayal, the little man fighting the Man are the themes of TBF. 
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Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) was the last on my list of films. A slightly baked version of Marlowe played by the excellent Elliot Gould drives around a duplicitous (can a landscape be duplicitous?) sun-baked decadent Hollywood encountering the kind of people we meet at Paul Simon's party in Annie Hall (1977) or the rich folk who realise they've been out-generalled by Columbo (which began filming around the same time).  Although largely panned on release The Long Goodbye has aged well. Beautifully filmed, chock full of crazy characters (wearing fantastic early 70's clothes) and reasonably faithful to the book The Long Goodbye is a gem of a movie that captures a time and place to perfection. Chandler purists hate the ending and Gould in the role but I loved this film. Paranoia, betrayal, police corruption, the little man fighting the Man are the themes of TLG.
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Chinatown (1974) which came out a year after The Long Goodbye wasn't on my little self curated film festival list but you might consider it for yourself. Although it's set in a dreamily shot 1930's it was filmed in the 1970's and shares many of the themes, actors and ideas of the films above. And finally you might also want to check out Cutter's Way (1981) a noir classic filmed in the same milieu. 
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Hope this little list has given you some ideas for your own 1970s LA movie party as an escape from these troubled times. As always additional suggestions appreciated in the comments below: