Thursday, September 24, 2020

Jane Bradley RIP

Jane Bradley
died this week. I was a fan of hers. I knew her a little bit. I got to spend a day with her when she read at a N@B event I hosted and she let me know when she returned to St. Louis another time for a conference and we spent a nice evening at a bar talking about all the things. She wanted to help me get some respectability and I very badly wanted to read her current work in progress, a novel she was calling The Snow Queen of Atlanta which sounded awesome.

It sounded awesome because I'd already published a selection from it as a short story titled The One Good Thing in Noir at the Bar Volume 2. If you were on the ball enough to score a copy of that book and read it, Jane's story was almost assuredly among your favorites and if it wasn't fucking go read that shit again - clearly you missed something. Though fiction it felt realer than most memoirs I've read. The characters and places were built from solid material. The ugly baggage and staggering beauty were earned awfully and wrought honestly. 

I don't know if she ever finished The Snow Queen of Atlanta, but she left behind a body of work full of the same qualities The One Good Thing promised. Below is something I wrote about her novel You Believers for another website in 2011. 

**************************** reprint **************************

Is there anything more devastating than the loss a loved one? Perhaps the uncertainty of the loss of a loved one is worse; the terrible not knowing what has happened, and being plagued by a multitude of awful imaginings. I think of the psychological torture the characters in Tim Krabbe's The Golden Egg (also made into the haunting film The Vanishing) or William Gay's short story The Paperhanger or Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Pledge, (again a good film with the same name directed by Sean Penn and Starring Jack Nicholson) suffered and pray I never know it from the inside.

Shelby Waters knows first hand what it's like. Years after the disappearance of her sister Darly she has started the Rescue Effort Volunteers, (REV) and taken on the responsibility of searching for the missing and helping the loved ones of those gone to live again. When a young woman named Katy Connor goes missing, Shelby is called upon to help put together what's happened. You Believers by Jane Bradley is, in Shelby's words, "Katy's story. At least I think it's Katy's story. It's hard to say sometimes where one woman's story ends and another begins," and it features just about the most devastating opening paragraph I've ever read. Warning: if you pick it up and sample that opening, you, like me, won't be able to stop.

And while it's not what I'd call a feel-good story, a neat and tidy mystery or even a pulse-pounding thriller, it packs more feeling, mystery and pulse raising to potential coronary levels than you have any reasonable right to expect from one book. Sure, it's emotionally loaded material that any hack can exploit for instant intensity, (and in the hands of a lesser writer that's exactly what you'd have here), but Bradley has gone far beyond the broad side of barns and nailed her target so precisely, (with character, with empathy and the space to soak it in) I hope never to be caught in her crosshairs. Let me be clear here too - You Believers is not an endless bummer of a novel. The warmth and human kinship found in the pages would bring me around for seconds in a heartbeat.

"I'm trying to tell you the story, but to give you the story would be like giving you the churning blue sea one bucket at a time. You might taste the salt, feel the cold, but the weight and wave of so much water, well, it's lost."


It's been a couple years since I last talked with Jane, but I think about her often. I recommend You Believers any time someone is looking for gems they probably missed and I'd check trade journals for news of The Snow Queen of Atlanta, but as someone with their own long-overdue novel, I quit nagging her about it long ago. Her story collections Are We Lucky Yet? and Power Lines are still available (Power Lines might only be available as an e-book now). 

Goodbye, Jane. I liked you a lot. I was honored to call you a friend.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Gust Wind Dude pt. 1

August is gone and all that's left is the memory of a hundred movies and a handful of books. Here are the notable themes and highlights.

First up - westerns! Watched a lot of westerns for the first time in August. For a couple of reasons: finding one that I really dug and then watching a bunch from the same film makers and looking for unseen movies from icons no longer making movies (Gene Hackman, Oliver Reed, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson - no, wait, not Bronson, more on that later). Anyway - my favorites in historical order are as follows.

Django - Sergio Corbucci - The movie that launched a million movies! Or, more accurately, the international box office sensation that launched a million marketing campaigns to re-title previously released underperformers and add a silent 'D' to fucking anything in some of the weirdest attempts to catch a wave in mockbuster history. Not having been alive, let alone a filmgoer and having no formal film education I'd be hard pressed to explain the quality that elevated this particular movie to pop immortality. Slo-mo sadism, bright blood and dark mud, Franco Nero is always arresting on screen and Corbucci had a fucking eye - a handful of absolutely gorgeously hung frames pop up to attest to that fact - but I think I'm going to have to leave its overwhelming success a mystery until I get a tutorial. Still, I can readily acknowledge its lineage includes personal foundational favorites like TombstoneRobert Rodriguez's Mariachi movies and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained which continues to rise in my estimation (one of the best American-made movies about America. Just... oof). Anyway, here's a video that lists Every Fucking Django film (85! though where the hell is El Mariachi?)

The Hunting Party - Don Medford - Cast made me take notice of this one (Gene Hackman, Oliver Reed, Candice Bergen, L.Q. Jones) and I'm glad because a plot synopsis might've encouraged me to put it off another decade or two - a bandit kidnaps a school teacher so that she can teach him how to read, subjecting her to endless sexual assault from himself and his gang until her wealthy, sadistic, piece of shit husband can come to her rescue... only she finds herself falling in love with her captor despite his illiteracy and tendency to rape her and her husband finds he's really only coming for murder and rather than rescue her he continues to let the gang escape after picking off one or two of them until he's chased and tormented them at least as much as they've insulted him by defiling his bride. I doubt this one could get made today. It's... icky. But it's also fascinating how far the filmmakers were willing to bet audiences would be willing to go to examine the extremities of toxic masculine psychology. Never going to stand in the company of Sam Peckinpah's best (as it most certainly hoped to), but I hope it doesn't get erased from history for its transgressions, it's kinda something to watch Hackman especially turn in such a nasty performance. 

From Noon Till Three - Frank D. Gilroy - Another one that might have some difficulty getting made today, but I'm very engrossed and delighted by it. Charles Bronson plays a bank robber who chooses to pass the titular time frame holed up with a beautiful widow (Bronson's wife and frequent co-star Jill Ireland) rather than participate in the day's planned bank job. The time is spent coercing sexual favor by a variety of means, but turns into a brief, mutual foot-sweeping that comes to an end when news of his compadres' fate and the likelihood of his own demise reaches them. I don't want to spoil anything that happens next, instead I will only encourage you to stick around to the end of this tragi-comic twister that I suspect will take up brain space long after its run time. Loved this.

Comin' at Ya! - Ferdinando Baldi - Bandito brothers break up the wedding of Tony Anthony and Victoria Abril leaving him for dead and kidnapping her into sex slavery. Only - he's not dead! And he's coming for her (and for them). That's the plot. The marketing catch is that the film was shot in 3-D and the result is that THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME. The story is simple, dialogue is minimal and every bit of the budget was thrown at making the visuals pop which they most certainly do even in 2-D. It's is a good example of a gimick movie draped on a generic revenge/rescue thriller's skeleton that I probably would've been bored with when the technology was new, but man, what a treat this one was. A good reminder for me not to be such a 'cinema' snob about the crowd pleasers of today. 

The True History of the Kelly Gang - Justin Kurzel - Based on the novel by Peter Carey this take on the infamous bush-ranger Ned Kelly lets everybody off the hook immediately by claiming that nothing about The True History of the Kelly Gang is true. Look it up later if you're inclined. I'm just here for Kurzel and this cast to fuck shit up. Since The Snowtown Murders Kurzel's been on a short list of directors whose projects I eye suspiciously as he had proved himself capable and perverse enough, but also eager to horrify and unsettle me. Nothing in The True History quite touches the upsetting depths of Snowtown, and I did not come away with a singular impression of the film at all, but there are so many striking and exciting visuals, memorable scenes and terrific performances I'm sure I will be revisiting it for many years to come. I'd like more roles for Russell Crowe to gleefully say 'cunt' and more roles for Charlie Hunnam to be Australian, otherwise the cast standouts are Essie Davis and especially Nicholas Hoult who steals every scene he's in. "Have you ever fucked in a dress?"