Saturday, July 06, 2013

"Sort of an anarchist with syndicalist tendencies," plus William McIlvanney

Elisha Cook Jr.
38 years before
This post's title is a bit of dialogue from Wim Wenders' movie Hammett, based on Joe Gores' novel of the same name. That the line is uttered by Elisha Cook Jr., such a memorable presence in The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Phantom Lady, still zesty at age 78 in 1982, makes a fine line even more delicious:
"Are you really a Wobblie?" 
 "Ah, no. That's just Hammett talking. What I am now is sort of an anarchist with syndicalist tendencies."
Cook appeared in Hammett forty years after he began making his name as a Hollywood fall guy. What are your favorite late-career cameo appearances?
Speaking of good lines, Canongate's rerelease of William McIlvanney's three Laidlaw novels (Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch, Strange Loyalties) may be the happiest event since this blog started, and one of the very few that deserve the name of event.

Laidlaw appeared in 1977, the other two in 1983 and 1991, and their author has since become recognized as a father figure to Scottish crime writers who have followed.  He has begun appearing at crime fiction festivals, including Crimefest 2013, celebrated by all and a genial presence for a literary demigod.

The Laidlaw books are the answer to anyone who needs proof that literary fiction can be tough, gritty, and unpretentious, or that crime writing can be beautiful, affecting, and a portrait of its time and place that deserves to last. (The place is Glasgow. That Glasgow is McIlvanney's adopted city is of interest. Does being a nonnative sharpen his perception?)

In addition to the books, McIlvanney has a website called Personal Dispatches, where bits of his writing appear from time to time, including a recent discussion with Sean Connery.

 © Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger seana graham said...

I remember seeing Laidlaw around for years, but never picked it up. Which is odd because I have some friends named Laidlaw.

But I'll try to correct that error soon.

July 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's very much worth reading. Read the first two scenes, notice that they would sound in outline like what many crime writers have done, then see how much better McIlvanney does it.

John Connolly has said that crime fiction fans and practitioners who sneer at "literary" fiction are doing their genre no favors. He should point them to McIlvanney.

July 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Which is odd because I have some friends named Laidlaw.

But I'll try to correct that error soon."

No need to drop your friends on account of a book.

July 06, 2013  
Blogger verymessi said...

Good post Peter!

Never heard of this film. Will look for it.

Its amazing how something like anarcho-syndicalism which was once well known and understood in working class culture is now gone and unheard of. At least in the USA. If you say you are an anarcho syndicalist, of which i am a fellow traveler, people look at you like you have two heads!

I remember Cook from an old Star Trek episode where he plays a lawyer defending Kirk, I think. Have not watched any old Treks in well over 20 years or so.

July 07, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

When I think of cameo appearances and crime films/TV, I think first of Alfred Hitchcock. Who didn't enjoy spotting him in his walk-on appearances?

As for McIlvanney, I am disappointed that he has not yet made to my library. And he has not been made available via Kindle, which leads me to admit (with embarrassment) that I have become something of a Kindle fan ever since my daughter-in-law sent me one as a Christmas gift. I swore in the past that I would never give up ink-and-paper books, but my weakening eyesight has been mitigated by the Kindle. (Damn, there is the word "mitigated" again!)

July 07, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

BTW, I ought to mention something I have neglected in the past: I always look forward to your blog postings. Keep it up!

July 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Verymessi, first things first. You must be pleased with Barcelona's signing of Neymar, though I wonder how a team can fit so many stars into its lineup.

The anarcho-syndicalism line is in the movie because of a biographical fact about Hammett. (I don't remember if the line is part of Joe Gores' novel) Right after the taxi driver speaks the line, Marilu Henner's character says to Hammett: "I thought you were a strikebreaker when you were a Pinkerton," to which he replies, "I was. That's why I quit."

But yes, the idea of activism centered on workers is exotic in America these days.

July 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., Canongate is British, and the new editions of the Laidlaw novels are available as e-books and on paper in the UK. I don't know if there are U.S. publication plans for the editions.

I had previously read the books in earlier editions. I don't recall having too much trouble finding them, one in Hay on Wye, where one can find anything. I probably found the others on ABE.

And thanks for the compliment.

July 07, 2013  
Blogger verymessi said...

Hello Peter,

Yes and no regarding Neymar. Yes, he is a terrific talent and I think he will fit in well with Barca. He seems like a very humble kid and I think he will help Messi greatly by providing much needed space for Messi which he never has anymore. Neymar is natural goal scorer and a good team player from what I have seen. He should provide another consistent goal scorer for teams to worry about and not allow Messi to be surrounded with the normal 5/6 players the often is near the box.

Barca still need to address bigger issues. Mainly defensive problems from the lack of a true center back-as opposed to a midfielder turned into a center back-to play along with Pique.

By my bigger issue with Barca is the lack of rotation within the team and the apparent loss of faith in the youth system. A supremely gifted talent like Thiago is going to leave and head to Man U-by all indications-because of a lack of playing time with Barca. He sat on the bench for most of this year only getting fill in time and occasional starts while the same midfield trio-Xavi, Ineista and Busquets, were played to death throughout the season. Because of this they were running on fumes as the season came to and end. The lunacy of this was best shown in the dismantling Barca received from Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Not to take anything away form Munich. They were clearly the better side and deserved to win. Even with Messi, who was hurt, Munich would have won. But Barca to me really needs to rotate the lineup better and give the kids more time to play. Thats what made Barca great to begin with. Development from within, not spending a fortune on big name big money signings.

Barca is not Madrid, thankfully, and I hope they don't start looking to just buy their way to championships, especially given how well they have developed players through the youth system.

July 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You zeroed in on why I asked about Neymar. I learned from you about Barca's reliance on bringing players up through its own youth system, and I wondered how a star from abroad would fit in with that way of doing things.

If teams worry about one striker being surrounded by defenders, why don't they go back to the old way of playing, with multiple men up front and exciting, high-scoring games? (I learned all this from Eduardo Galeano.)

July 07, 2013  
Blogger verymessi said...

I think Neymar will be good for Barca. He seems to have a good relationship with Messi and he will certainly help create more space. They really should be terrific for one another.

As for Messi being surrounded by defenders this has more to do with no one else on Barca scoring consistently. Every team knows that to beat Barca you have to stop Messi. Even with the swarming defense on him, messi still lead Europe in scoring and will probably win his 5th straight Balon D'or as the best player in the world. He is a genius and there is only so much you can do to stop him. The barca attack should get much better and more open wirh Neymar on the team,

As far playing a more traditional attacking formation with a big center forward, the results are mixed with Barca. Their style dictates that the striker has to be more mobile and be able to press the ball when Barca loses possession. This was another noticeable failing of Barca this year as the year wore on. Their pressing style of ball pressure when they lost it really disappeared. The cause was simple exhaustion. Again, the same players play all the time. They also start for the national team. They were just worn out near the end of the season. The loss to Bayern was predictable, which I did do in the NY Times soccer blogs before the match. I said Barca had no chance against Munich given how weak the backline was and how tired the team looked.

You cant win forever and Barca will always be a great team as long as they keep developing their own talent. Even with their troubles and the supposed "end of the cycle" Barca won the league by 15 points!

July 08, 2013  

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