Thursday, August 9, 2007
I Even Lost My Cat
I was going to write something about the ending of THE LONG GOODBYE, both book and film, but I hesitated because maybe there’s somebody who hasn’t read or seen it. No reason for me to ruin it for those people. But it is an important ending and Robert Altman’s brilliant 1973 film of Raymond Chandler’s book is one of those touchstones that I feel I have to pull out again every few months. In some ways, it’s about an L.A. that is no longer there yet the L.A. in it is still very much present. And in reading back over that sentence, I’m not sure if I’m referring to how it played when first released or how it plays now. Which, considering the movie, makes perfect sense.
I was having dinner with someone the other night and we got to talking about someone we mutually know. It came up that we were both let down by how this person had behaved at times. My dinner companion told me some things that made what I was going to say seem petty by comparison, so I stayed quiet. I was surprised by those things, by the revelations about somebody I had once thought was a pretty solid individual. Friendship is a delicate thing, especially in this town. There are a few people right now who deep down I can trust implicitly but there are others who I know I’ve been close to in the past but they…I don’t know what to say about them. Sometimes it’s just tough to really know what happens to certain friendships.
The history of the friendship between Phillip Marlowe and Terry Lenox in the book of THE LONG GOODBYE is thoroughly explained, but what about the movie? What drew these two guys together and what sort of friendship was it? They’re close enough to have some pretty obvious inside jokes between them (“Who were the three DiMaggio Brothers?”) but there’s also the slight feeling that Terry is the one with the upper hand, as revealed when they compare serial numbers on their dollar bills—Marlowe could have easily won the bet, but Lennox bluffs and comes out ahead. In spite of this slight tension that exists, Gould’s Marlowe is willing to go to the mat for his friend when accusations rear their ugly head. Marlowe’s the one who suffers for this, but he does it because it’s what’s right and as he says, “it’s ok with me”. Until, of course, it isn’t. The potency of the choice he makes at the end—a very different one from the book, which I love, but it’s not one of the best endings ever—is one of the things that proved most controversial in 1973, but it remains a key reason that the film still feels alive today. What really makes a friendship can’t be fucked with. And both sides should always remember that. Terry Lennox couldn’t remember it. He never knew it.
Lying in bed last night, I felt like Phillip Marlowe in the opening moments of the movie, lying in bed, adrift somewhere in Hollywood. I wasn’t woken up by a cat and I didn’t get an unexpected visitor asking for a drive to Tijuana. But that feeling of wondering just what I was doing here in L.A. burned through me and all I could do was fall asleep, hoping that when I woke up the sun would be shining and there would be another chance for things to become right. Hooray for Hollywood.