Monday, February 06, 2012

The line king

My reading has been scattershot this week, so this post follows suit. Instead of my usual rigidly systematic thought, here are a few good lines from that reading:


“From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.”

Raymond Chandler, The High Window
***

“The scene would be an `execution-style' shooting. That meant a guy would get shot in the head. Morton figured that pretty much anytime a guy shoots another guy he’s trying to `execute' him. Not much style in it.”

John McFetridge, Scott Albert, Below the Line 
That line is moderately clever in its puncturing of a journalistic cliché, not side-splittingly funny, but it has special appeal for those of whose jobs include looking out for such clichés. (Other such well-worn expressions, beloved of well-worn journalists, are "blue-ribbon panel," "eleventh-hour vote," "impromptu roadside shrine," the star athlete who says it's the team that matters, the killing that leaves an anguished neighborhood asking "Why?", the local people who call the killer "A quiet man ... We never dreamed he could do anything like this.")
***
And, with apologies to two of this blog's more outspoken readers, a bit more from Claudio Magris, this time a passage that has much to say not about how we know or interpret history, but how we experience it:

“It seems to us impossible that what for us is still an arduous present is for our children already an irrevocable, unknown past. ... Anyone ten or fifteen years younger than I am cannot understand that the Istrian exodus after the Second World War is for me part of the present, just as I cannot really and truly understand that for him the dates 1968, 1977 and 1981 are milestones marking off different and distinct epochs; periods that for me are superimposed in spite of their considerable differences ...”

— Claudio MagrisDanube
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

That's my favorite Chandler line.

Anyone with even a passing interest in how movies get made should enjoy BELOW THE LINE. It's worth reading the the hockey game scene alone.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I didn't realize until I picked up that book that John had done location work. I haven't got to the hockey-game scene yet.

The High Window line is one of Chandler's better ones, and it may carry more weight than most. It's witty, but it has its touches of pathos and even disgust, too.

February 07, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Whether or not to go for a headshot seems to me to depend on distance. The intentions of the killer are a separate matter, though we can assume that he has no qualms about killing. If he has qualms, he would aim at limbs instead. You need a bit more information before assuming every headshot was an execution-style killing.

As for Margris, he acknowledges that our own background colors how we interpret history. He's northern Italian. Trieste, you say. That city was a football for centuries between the Habsburg dynasty and whoever was in power in the area (Italy was a country consisting mostly of tiny principalities until recently). Do people of his generation (now Italian) resent Austria? Do they applaud the annexation of the Sud-Tyrol, a German-speaking section of the Alps that was always part of Austria until WW II?

February 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

The line king (ho, ho, ho)!

There's an interesting albeit lengthy article on the Raymond Chandler website about how the Cassidy case from The High Window is the real-life Doheny case from 1929 LA.

A rich oil man (I don't suppose there's any other kind) and his confidential secretary were found shot dead in Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The official verdict blamed the secretary for shooting the oilman and then himself. However, there were many who believed it happened the other way round and that the official verdict was bought and paid for by the Doheny family.

And as an entirely useless piece of trivia some scenes from that somewhat Chanlerian movie The Big Lebowski were filmed in Greystone mansion.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I don't know the answer to those rhetorical questions. I do know that somebody once said in the 1860s that "We've invented Italy. Now all we have to do is invent Italians."

I do know that parts of Northern Italy speak German. And where did Brahms receive the degree that was the occasion of his Academic Festival Overture? Breslau? (or is that Wrocław? Or Vratislav?) And Magris reserves some mournful thoughts over the draining of German populations from Central Europe. I don't think it's at all necessary to take sides in any nationalistic debate to appreciate what he has to say. An attitude of humility before the vicissitudes of history is appropriate, though.

I have had the experience of asking reporters who tried to sex up their stories with references to "execution-style" killings to explain exactly what they meant. Asking them why they used the term was beyond my purview.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, that bit of trivia is not entirely useless. Adrian McKinty's blog includes a recent discussion of Chandler and The Big Lebowski, though he stresses the Hammett influence more.

February 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

the dates 1968, 1977 and 1981 are milestones

I'm confused by that Magris quote. Everybody knows about '68, but what the hell happened in '77 and '81 to make those years milestones?

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, my guess would be Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland.

February 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

periods that for me are superimposed in spite of their considerable differences

My last comment on Magris: superimposition is jargon borrowed from what might be called the graphics industry.

I thought you disliked jargon, Peter.

I read shit like that and I think I am being super-imposed upon.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo: I liked what you did with super-imposed upon. Beneath your querulousness lurks no small wit.

I probably would not use superimpose the way Magris did, but I've never regarded the word as jargon. But look at the bright side. At least he didn't call Central Europe a palimpsest.

February 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

my guess would be Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland

That's the problem with Magris. You have to guess what he's trying to say.

Your guess might well be correct. But Charter 77 and Solidarity are two events pointing in the same direction. They don't mark off 'different and distinct epochs'.

There's something comical about suggesting that there were three epochs in the thirteen year period between '68 and '81. Two maybe, but three is pushing it.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Magris who write that passage would agree about the strangeness (to someone of his generation) of suggesting that each of those years marks an epoch.

My guesses may be right, but that's beside the point. Magris might as easily have substituted the years of the Sex Pistols' U.S. tour, Nelson Mandela's release from jail, and Steve Jobs' birth in a manger somewhere, and his point would have been equally valid. I don't think he's saying, "Isn't it strange that younger people regard Solidarity as epochal, and people my age regard it as just one more event in the endless dlow of history." Rather, I think he's commenting on the general tendency to see events of one's one time in microscopic detail and on the divergent perspectives on history afforded by time.

February 07, 2012  

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