Thursday, November 28, 2013

Freaky Deaky: Elmore Leonard's post-Sixties trip in print and on screen

Poor 1960s! The decade that gave the world "Incense and Peppermints" does not get the respect it did for a while back there.  Elmore Leonard's Freaky Deaky, to name just one novel, has fun making fun of the decade's self-indulgent excess. An ex-radical recalls a meeting of

"The People's Coalition for something or other." 
"Peace and Justice." 
"Yeah, they had a bunch of celebrities giving talks. It was so goddamn boring, that's why I ripped 'em off."

Another character "didn't look at her again after that, as he collected the checks and left with the Panthers."

A third character recalls how a rock festival--you know, those bastions of freedom from the man, and all that--inspired him:

"I think it was at that moment, driving past everybody in that fucking stretch, I knew I would someday be in the entertainment business."

On Abbie Hoffman:

"I feel sorry for him too. The poor guy hiding out all those years and nobody was even looking for him."

On one of the era's half-assed impresarios:

"Fifteen-dollar admission a bummer. Should be a free concert. The promoter, a smart-ass youth-culture rip-off artist, asks if we give our newspapers away free."

Or this:

"And the guy's dopey girlfriend doesn't get it. She says, `Yeah, well, like there's plenty of freedom. We ball and everything.. ...' She was being used and didn't know it. You saw so much of that. All kinds of dumb kids taken advantage of by guys pretending to be gurus or Jesus..."

My favorite bit of the book, though, may be a blurb from an American newspaper that will likely surprise and amuse British readers:

"Leonard tops himself every time."
Boston Globe
I read Freaky Deaky after watching the 2012 movie adaptation, a film I did not know existed until I stumbled on it on Netflix. It's not a bad movie, incorporating much of Leonard's dialogue and judicious in what it cuts out. Did it disappear quickly, or did I just miss it?

One interesting decision was the casting of Breanne Racano, who was probably in her early twenties at the time, as Robin, who is around 40 in the book and doesn't pretend to be other than that in the movie (unlike, say, Emma Thompson, who changed Elinor Dashwood's age from 17 to 27 for her 1995 screen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility and was not terribly believable playing 27--no shock, since she was around 36 at the time.)

The makers of Freaky Deaky (Walter Matthau's son Charles directed) made the canny decision to have Robin wear lots of makeup and make sure the audience knows she's wearing it. And that makes her look like a woman trying to look younger than she is, which lets her slip rather smoothly into the role of a woman two decades older than she is. She's not a bad actress either, so her casting works better than it could have.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger John McFetridge said...

The movie played a few festivals but I don't think it ever got a theatrical release.

From the one scene I saw I noticed that movie directors rarely follow Leonard's advice to not draw attention to themselves. Of course, movie audiences seem to love that stuff, so I guess in movies it's, "If it feels like moviemaking leave it in."

November 28, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Can you believe these screwy Americans, celebrating Thanksgiving when it's so damned cold outside?

Interesting you should comment, as I was thinking of invoking Tumblin' Dice and Black Rock in this discussion. Like Freaky Deaky they give either an afterlife or a parallel view of a turbulent era, a view that does not generally turn up in pop-culture depictions.

I wonder why the movie never got a theatrical release. It's surely better than lots of movies that did.

What scene did you see? Movie makers, especially these days, leave things in if they feel like moviemaking. But I'm wary of Leonard's dictum that if it feels like writing, take it out, because nothing feels more like writing than Leonard's style, at least in his crime stories. And there's nothing wrong with that. How is it not like writing, for example, to omit an and, the way Leonard often does? Here's a one-sentence imitation that sounds like writing, ELmore Leonard-style: "He reached for the pizza box, said, `Grab a slice.'" Whenever I read a sentence in a crime story that omits a conjunction, I know I am either reading something by one of the Black Mask boys, or else by Leonard or an author influenced by him.

November 28, 2013  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

The scene was in a parking garage and there were a lot of clever camera moves. Now that you mention it, I can't decide if the moves are the filmic equivalent to leaving out the and or not.

I think the Leonardisms are trying to sound like the characters speaking rather than a writer. What Leonard does that rarely gets discussed is extend this beyond the dialogue.

November 29, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

Peter, I never knew the movie had been made. Going to Netflix soon as I finish this comment.

I agree with both of you to an extent about Leonard's style. Few writers are as easy to identify from a brief excerpt, but it's largely because he extends his dialog style into narration. Makes the scene read as if we're reading the POV character's mind.

I'm pre-disposed to like this kind of thing, as Western Pennsylvanians are apt to leave out conjunctions in conversation, as well as any form of the verb "to be." Our grass never needs to be cut; it need cut.

November 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I'm curious to learn hardcore Leonardites' reaction to the movie. I've read less of his work than his real fans have, and I thought the movie was pretty good, not going too far toward turning the story into slapstick.

"Needs cut" sounds weird, but I like the idea of omitting forms of "to be." One of the most frequent corrections I make to reporters' stories is changing, say, "Lawmakers will be working on the bill next month" to "Lawmakers will work on the bill next month." A good copy editor, and a good writers, and, apparently, a person from Western Pennsylvania will always answer "the latter" to Hamlet's famous question.

Dana and John: I noted what I think is an example of Leonard extending his dialogue style to narration in a post I made some time back about Riding the Rap.

November 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John: That scene is the only one can remember that was altered significantly from the novel. In the book, the scene happens in an alley behind a building, I think.

John, I was just going to say that Leonard extends that style well beyond dialogue, to dialogue tags and narration.

November 29, 2013  

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