Thursday, April 26, 2018

No Way Giovanni

Watched Jean-Pierre Melville's Le deuxime souffle this week and was, again, fucking rocked by it. Such a terrific hardboiled crime flick full of the best themes and made with such understated elegance and style. I get why the Melville flicks with Alain Delon at the center are so iconic, but c'mon Lino Ventura deserves all the recognition - as I told my son when he sat down to see what dad was engrossed in: whenever you see that guy on screen, it's probably a really good movie.

Delon does the smooth criminal thing better than maybe anyone, but is such a mythically cool presence, so suave and pretty whereas Ventura looks fucking tough and grounds those stylish Melville flicks in a recognizable reality that Delon's presence can't share - Ventura might be Humphrey Bogart to Delon's Cary Grant (that's too simple, but maybe points in the right direction).
Take that opening jail break for instance. Ventura is going over the wall with two other, younger, stronger cons and wouldn't have made it if he hadn't been helped over or onto the train, but, as James Caan's Joe Sarno says in Way of the Gun - the only thing you can assume about an old man like me in this business is he's a survivor (or something like that) and this tough older guy struggling to jump the train? He's gonna outlast everybody.

Afterward I looked up the author of the source novel, José Giovanni, and noted two fucking impressive things: First - Le deuxieme souffle is not the only one of his novels to be made into a top-notch crime flick. Classe tous risques (also starring Ventura alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo) and one of the all-time great prison escape flicks Le trou are also based on his novels.

Second, and even more astonishing, I can't find any of his books available in English (and see no previous, now out of print translations).

What the actual fuck? How could that guy not have been snatched up by Gold Medal, Black Lizard, Serpent's Tail, Soho, Melville House, Orion, Hard Case Crime or... NYRB?

Please somebody get on translating this stuff to English.

Born Joseph Damiani and using the name Giovanni in his work as an author and film maker, his life prior to his celebrated creative output includes criminality and prison. The results of my very brief online searching vary quite a bit in accounts and implications. Take the Wikipedia entry that accuses him of Nazi collaboration and consider it against this obituary in The Guardian (Giovanni died in 2004 at the age of 80) where no mention is made of Nazi collaboration and in fact it claims that he was a member of the French underground resisting the occupation.

What remains untouchable and undiminished is the work... that ridiculously good trio of films that I've seen (I've also seen Deux hommes dans la ville - directed by Giovanni and starring Alain Delon as an ex-con trying to go straight and relentlessly harassed by a cop who doesn't believe he can change - but I don't hold in the same esteem that I do the others... it's good, but not on the same level).

And I've only begun to scratch the surface of his body of film adaptations (as well as films he directed himself). I made this Letterboxd list of flicks based on books, stories or scripts written by him (and check other lists I've made there with the tag 'author' for films based on the work of other crime writers).

I'm currently reading the work of another ex-con - Sin Soracco's Edge City - and I just finished former prisoner Massimo Carlotto's Poisonville... People who've been through the shit (whether it was foist upon them or they had it coming) tend to write crime fiction that I find particularly stirring.

I'll also be publishing a piece soon on Roy Harper the convict and author of Shank and Heist FYI.

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