Joseph Gores, 1931-2011.
From the Contento index:
Speak of the Devil: 14 Tales of Crimes and Their Punishments Joe Gores (Five Star 0-7862-2035-X, Nov ’99, $20.95, 200pp, hc)
· Speak of the Devil · ss
· The Second Coming · ss Adam Aug ’66
· Raptor · ss EQMM Oct ’83
· Plot It Yourself [“Detectivitis, Anyone?”] · ss EQMM Jan ’88
· Smart Guys Don’t Snore · nv A Matter of Crime v2, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli & Richard Layman, HBJ, 1987
· Watch for It · ss Mirror, Mirror, Fatal Mirror, ed. Hans Stefan Santesson, 1973
· Quit Screaming · ss Adam’s Reader Nov ’69
· Killer Man [“Pro”] · ss Manhunt Jun ’58
· Faulty Register · ss Two Views of Wonder, ed. Thomas N. Scortia & Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Ballantine, 1973
· You’re Putting Me On—Aren’t You? · ss Adam Bedside Reader, 1971, 1970
· The Andrech Samples · ss Swank Sep ’70
· Night Out · ss Manhunt Oct ’61
· Sleep the Big Sleep · ss EQMM Apr ’91
· Goodbye, Pops · ss EQMM Dec ’69
Joe Gores died the other day, and I have seen nothing but fond remembrance of him as a person, as a pro's pro, as a guiding light of a man. Of course, few run around insisting what a bastard the recently deceased might be, unless they are inarguably so, but this outpouring bespeaks of the kind of person one is utterly glad to have known. I tend, at least sometimes, not to want to disturb such folks with fan letters and such, assuming (probably incorrectly) that they might not need any more affirmation from random folks off the street. But a number of the stories collected in this volume are among the most influential fiction I've read, at very least "The Second Coming," which I read at about age ten in one of the adult Hitchcock Presents: anthologies, probably one of Harold Masur's (I could go look it up, and probably will). I hadn't thought too hard about capital punishment at that point, but was not fond of the concept; this story, about would-be hipsters thinking they're about to have a kind of strange lark in weaseling their way into being among the witnesses of a state execution, and how that experience affects them, certainly affected me. I have been a confirmed opponent since.
Other stories here have stuck with me over the decades, as well..."Watch for It" and "Goodbye, Pops" were also in AHP: volumes, and made Gores's curiously upfront name (he certainly knew how to hook up into one's gut) one to look for; I can't remember for the life of me where I first read "Quit Screaming" all those years ago. Sitting down with the Contento/Ashley and/or Stephensen-Payne indices would probably tell me that, too.
But for now, I'm just ready to buy a copy of this collection, and remind myself of some of the talent and compassion, the anger and grace of the writer we just lost. And, again, condolences to all those folks fortunate enough to know the man, as well.
My greatest obligation is to what, correctly or incorrectly, I perceive as the truth. It is also a genuine satisfaction to express the truth as you feel it should be expressed.
--John Simon, "The Art of Criticism (No.4)," The Paris Review, Spring 1997.
I've recently been re-reading Movies into Film, the first John Simon book I read, and the relatively recent (and still in print) John Simon on Movies, and it remains an enjoyable and compulsive pastime...to read a critic who is not wedded to a specific ideological framework, who is so clear in esthetic judgments and open about his biases but nonetheless strives to take the work in question on its own terms...if those terms are in the pursuit of what he sees as actually achieving art, or at very least intelligently-assembled amusements. His criteria can be questioned, of course, as every Barbra Streisand idolater will insist, but not his commitment; his wit and elegance and open-mindedness are models for me that I only infrequently begin to emulate.
It’s wonderful to be hated by idiots. A German writer whom I love and whom I’ve translated, Erich Kästner, gives advice in one of his poems to a would-be suicide. He tries to give this man various reasons for not blowing his brains out. The man remains unconvinced, so Kästner says, in essence, all right, the world is full of idiots and they’re in control of everything. You fool, stay alive to annoy them! And that, in a sense, is my function in life, and my consolation. If I can’t convince these imbeciles of anything, I can at least annoy them, and I think I do a reasonably good job of that. --ibid.
As with all good critics, even when you find yourself disagreeing with his conclusions, you can see where he's coming from. He mildly enjoyed Tootsie, a film which rather bores and annoys me; he utterly dislikes The Rapture and Before Sunrise, films I see virtues in, particularly the former. But his reactions are well-explicated and only very rarely wrongheaded--there is one instance in the newer collection where he clearly misunderstood what was being suggested by the film under review, but I don't have the book at hand and don't remember which it was (I'll slip that in later), but this instance is surprising in its near-uniqueness, in my experience. More often, part of what he so very good at is in isolating what is wrong with a deeply flawed film, whether it be Midnight Run or In the Company of Men, without losing sight of their strengths; in thoroughly castigating the dishonest film, such as Smooth Talk (where the greatest dishonesty is in how it traduces the career-making short story by Joyce Carol Oates that it supposedly seeks to adapt, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?") and celebrates the great, nearly perfect attempt to crystallize truth, such as Badlands. And he is not afraid to turn his analysis to the work of other critics, often demonstrating more virtues in Pauline Kael, for example, or even Andrew Sarris, than I might otherwise credit them with.
I think it's time I finally dug out his Acid Test, and picked up my own copy of Private Screenings, which I believe I've read but am uncertain. Dwight Macdonald's introduction to the first is probably worth the cost of admission in itself, or so I hope.
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog for a roundup.