It’s the new Lunar Year–the Year of the Snake! San Francisco has been celebrating all weekend, particularly in Chinatown with the New Year’s parade … but you can feel the spirit and smell the incense in the air practically everywhere. We’re leaving behind the Year of the Dragon.
Snakes signify transformation, renewal and rebirth. I’m hoping to enjoy renewal by the end of this month when (fingers crossed) I can stare at a finished manuscript of CITY OF GHOSTS.
So … I’m going to cheat a little and leave you with a video, while I conserve my words for my deadline. Below is a Happy New Year song–enjoy and have fun! And by the way … what’s your sign? I’m a Dragon.
As a life-long film fan–at one time I harbored ambitions to become a director, following the footsteps of noir stalwart and fan favorite Ida Lupino–I both look forward to and dread the list of nominees lined up for the Golden Boy.
Inevitably, I’m disappointed.
This year, it’s the omission of Ben Affleck for best director (Argo). The film was one of the best and most incisive thrillers I’ve seen in a long time … it held me spellbound and suspended from first scene to final credits, and that’s a tough act to pull off when you’re dealing with historical record (see Spielberg’s Lincoln, another tour-de-force).
Film, particularly film noir, has shaped my style, my vision and the type of books I write as much as any novel, play or poem. I take this stuff seriously, even if (as an American), I tend to most appreciate films that both entertain as well as elucidate.
So, if you’re planning an office pool or an at-home party, making book on whether or not Sally Field can pull off a third Oscar, I thought I’d remind you of some of those above-mentioned disappointments: some superlative talents that never won a competitive Oscar.
The list may surprise you.
1. Barbara Stanwyck.
One of the greatest, most versatile actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She could play anything, from a screwball stripper (Ball of Fire) to an ambitious working girl who sleeps her way to the top (Baby Face) to the prototype for all femme fatales (Double Indemnity).
2. Charles Chaplin.
Seriously. One of the founders of film as we know it, the genius behind City Lights, the Great Dictator and Modern Times. Politics, politics, politics.
3. Judy Garland.
Quite possibly the most talented entertainer of the twentieth century, Judy could do everything and anything well–dance, act, and of course, sing until your heart broke. She should have won for A Star is Born, but the Oscar went to Grace Kelly.
4. Cary Grant.
He was always more than an icon. Check out Suspicion and Penny Serenade.
5. Rosalind Russell.
From Mourning Becomes Electra to Auntie Mame, she was perennially robbed at the Oscars.
6. Orson Welles.
Welles won an Oscar for the Citizen Kane screenplay … never a nod for Best Director or Actor. Yet he remains the benchmark of directorial genius in Hollywood’s Golden Era. My personal favorite? Touch of Evil, a film that rounds of the film noir era with a definitive bang.
7. Gloria Swanson.
She should have won for Sunset Boulevard–a sublime performance in a very challenging role. She lost out to Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday), who was fetching and wonderful, but not in the same calibre.
8. Montgomery Clift.
Should have won for A Place in the Sun and Best Supporting in A Judgement at Nuremberg.
9. Carole Lombard.
The brightest comedienne of her era, Carole influenced generations of actresses. She should have taken home the Oscar for My Man Godfrey. Instead, she lost out to Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld.
10. Robert Mitchum.
Never properly recognized for his talent. Check out Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear.
So … how many films and performances from this year’s nominee list have you seen? Who are your favorites? And, even more importantly–whom did they overlook?
By Kelli Stanley
(with apologies to Clement Moore)
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and alone in the room
The writer sat facing a deadline of doom.
Note cards were hung by the PC with care
In hopes for a sentence or even a pair.
The household was nestled, all snug in their beds
but the writer paced onward with crime in her head
And try as she might, no keys could she tap
To write her way out of a vicious plot trap.
When out on the roof there arose such a sound–
Like old fashioned type keys that pound-pound-pound-pound!
Away to the window she flew like a tweet,
Remembering how typewriters used to sound sweet.
The moon on the pavement was noir, black and white
While rain dripped down windows, no snowmen in sight
And just as she turned, her hopes again dashed,
Came a strong whiff of bourbon and another loud crash.
A wizened old elf, on the roof top he sat
Drinking Old Taylor whiskey and wearing a hat.
His fingers curled over a giant machine,
While he typed on the keys and cursed loud in between:
“Now Chandler, now Hammett!
Now McDonald, now Cain!
On Parker, on Woolrich,
On Mickey Spillane!”
“To the end of the page!
To the end of the book!
Forget about writing for Kindles and Nooks!”
His fingers flew over the keys like a train,
And the paper caught fire despite all the rain.
A curse and a shout and he looked up to see
The writer’s face–frightened–and he chortled with glee.
Then, in a heartbeat, she heard from on high
The banging and pounding of keys from the sky!
Like thunder they sounded, the claps and the drums
And down the poor chimney came the wizened old bum.
He was dressed in a trench coat from head to his feet,
With a stogie clamped firmly between yellowed teeth.
His voice–how like Bogart’s! His nose–like Durante!
And he gave out a wink and said, “Call me Santy.”
Not as chubby as Greenstreet or pop-eyed like Lorre,
His fingers were gnarled and his gray hair was hoary,
But his fedora gleamed gold and his eyes twinkled too,
And the manuscript under his arm looked brand new.
All in all, he looked a noir-jolly old elf,
and the writer smiled at him in spite of herself.
A wink of his eye at the cookies and cream,
he pulled out a bottle–this time old Jim Beam.
He drank down the whiskey and went straight to his work,
Sitting down in the chair with his stogie and smirk.
His fingers flew faster than coursers that night,
Filled with noir magic and pulp writers’ might.
Then laying a hand on the swell of his girth,
He burped up the whiskey, and cackled with mirth.
And placing a finger on broken-veined nose,
He doffed off his hat and up the chimney he rose.
“Keep writing your books! Crime fiction lives on!”
I’m just back from Bouchercon (and for the uninitiated, that’s pronounced Bow-cher-con, not Boo-cher-con, as I originally thought when I first heard of it eons ago).
Bouchercon is America’s largest mystery writing and fan conference, where herds of writers graze near pools of liquid (yes, that’s a metaphor for the hotel bar), swap news, see old friends and meet new ones, connect with publishers, agents, editors and reviewers, and spend time signing books and meeting readers. Awards are given (Macavity, Anthony and Shamus); parties are thrown (Norb and I ran into each other at the party given by our publisher, Minotaur Books); and most importantly, we are collectively thrown out of our solitary writing cells and thrust into hyper social connectivity.
I love Bouchercon; it never fails to inspire me, spark new ideas, and generally make me feel warm all over, because honestly … the crime fiction community is such a wondrous, wonderful bunch of people! We are, in fact, a family … like the original Algonquin, except on a larger scale.
The conference changes location annually. This year, we got a chance to meet Cleveland (a lovely city with great hospitality); in 2013, it’s Albany. Last year, we gathered in St. Louis, where I had the great good fortune of meeting our own Douglas Corleone.
See what I mean? It’s a table.
This year was made particularly special by the launch of BOOKS TO DIE FOR — an anthology of which I’m extremely proud to have participated in. Billed as “the world’s greatest mystery writers on the world’s greatest mystery novels”, the book has been a labor of love for its editors, John Connolly and Declan Burke, and certainly for the contributors. The US version released at Bouchercon, and we signed more than 500 copies for more than two hours … giving many of us a chance to feel like Michael Connelly (who is a contributor and was sitting across the room from me). We missed Declan, who was originally slated to be there, but hope to cage him next year in Albany.
I had the opportunity to write about one of my more unexpected influences: Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express in particular. Every one of the essays was a labor of love, modern writers writing about authors they admire, authors that taught them something, authors that convinced them to try it themselves.
And our honorarium … well, as if getting to foist our opinions on an unsuspecting world wasn’t honor enough, we had a choice of money or rare Irish whiskey. Guess which one most of us chose.
John and other East Coast-based authors will be touring the area in support of BOOKS TO DIE FOR, so make sure you pick up a copy. It’s an entertaining, insightful reference/recommendation work that will have a place at “the table” for many a year to come!