Thursday, February 02, 2012

8. Forever young: the Marilyn myth

The following passage is from the radio adaptation of a novel called Dark side of the street which takes place in Los Angeles.

[Now, what is amazing indeed is that Harry Patterson, the writer, is a prolific author of some sixty best-selling thrillers published under pseudonyms like Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe, James Graham, Jack Higgins, and himself. Dark side of the street belongs to the Paul Chavasse series in his Jack Higgins authorship].

The Woman without a Name
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A man and a woman are sitting in an expensive restaurant in Beverly Hills, not far from Hollywood.They are looking at a photograph of two people, which the woman has brought  with her.


A: You know who she is, I suppose.
B: Of course. And the man? Who's he?
A: Carl Earlham. Ever heard of him?
B: No, I'm afraid not.
A: He was one of her favourite photographers. He was her friend...he spent a lot of time with her just before she died, in '62.
B: Where is he now? What's he doing?
A: He's dead. He died last year. I knew him well. Very well. Do you understand?
B: I think so.
A: Well? Are you interested?
B: In what?
A: In using the information in the book you’re writing about her, of course. You are doing some research into her death, aren't you?
B: Yes, but . . . I'm not sure. How did you know I was writing such a book?
A: Someone told me.
B: Who?
A: Just a friend. I have a lot of friends.
B: What's the name of your friend?
A: That doesn't matter! The only thing that matters is whether you want the information or not.
B: What information?
A: It's all in the letters.
B: Letters? What are you talking about?
A: She wrote Earlham several letters before she died. She told him all about things like her relationship with someone very . . .
B: Look. A lot of people say they've got letters like that. And just about everyone in Hollywood can tell stories about what happened just before she died.
A: What I've got isn't a story. I'm not making it up! It's the truth. In her own handwriting. I can prove she wrote the letters. And what's in them is dynamite. Pure dynamite.
B: Are you sure? It isn't exactly news any more, is it? It happened more than 25 years ago.
A: It's still dynamite.
B: How did you get hold of these letters?
A: I told you. I was Earlham's friend. We were . . . very close. He gave me the letters before he died. Well? Do you want to see the letters?
B: That depends.
A: On what?
B: On what you want in return.
A: Money, of course.
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B: I thought so. How much?
A: $100,000.
B: That's a lot of money.
A: Yes, and it's worth it! Every penny. Look, I hope you understand what I'm offering you. Letters. Her letters. Some of which she wrote only a few days before she died.
B: Yes.
A: Yes? Yes, what?
B: Yes, I understand.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

7. To bug the bugger

It's time to unveil the secrets of the twenty gaps.

Harry Caul (Hackman) is a paranoid surveillance expert running his own company. Caul is obsessed with his own privacy; his apartment is almost bare behind its triple-locked door, he uses pay phones to make calls and claims to have no home telephone, and his office is enclosed in wire mesh in a corner of a much larger warehouse. Caul is utterly professional at work, but he finds personal contact difficult. He is exquisitely uncomfortable in dense crowds and withdrawn and taciturn in more intimate situations; he is also reticent and secretive with work colleagues. He is nondescript in appearance, except for his habit of wearing a translucent plastic raincoat virtually everywhere he goes, even when it is not raining. Despite his insistence that his professional code means that he is not responsible for worrying about the actual content of the conversations he records or the uses to which his clients put his surveillance activities, he is in fact wracked by guilt over a past wiretap job that left three persons dead; his sense of guilt is sharpened by his devout Catholicism. His one hobby is playing along with his favourite jazz records on a tenor saxophone in the privacy of his apartment. 
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Caul has taken on the task of monitoring a couple's conversation as they walk through crowded Union Square in San Francisco. This challenging task is accomplished, but Caul feels increasingly agonized over his doubts about the actual meaning of the conversation and about what may happen to the couple once the client hears the tape. He plays the tape again and again through the movie, refining its accuracy (by catching one key — though crucially ambiguous — phrase hidden under the sound of a street musician: "He'd kill us if he got the chance") and constantly reinterpreting its meaning in the light of what he knows and what he guesses. 
Caul avoids handing in the tape to the aide of the man who commissioned the surveillance; he then finds himself under increasing pressure from the aide and is himself followed, tricked, and listened in on, the tape eventually stolen from him in a moment when his guard is down. Caul's appalled efforts to forestall tragedy ultimately fail — because, it turns out, the conversation doesn't mean what he thought it did, and the tragedy he anticipated isn't the one that eventually happens. In the final scene of the film, Caul discovers that his own apartment is bugged and gradually takes it to pieces in an unsuccessful effort to discover the bug, eventually destroying everything there (even, after a moment of hesitation, his plastic figurine of the Madonna) except for his beloved tenor saxophone: at the film's end he's left sitting amidst the wreck, blowing a solo.