Charles Willeford is mentioned along with Jim Thompson and Charles Williams as among the best writers of paperback originals, a publishing phenomenon that started in 1950.
The Woman Chaser was published in 1960, the sixth of his eighteen novels. Its hero is devoid of empathy. He interacts with others only to entertain or enrich himself. This recalls the heroes of Williams' The Hot Spot and Thompson's The Killer inside Me.
The Woman Chaser is the story of a used-car salesman who moves from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and takes a break from making money to write and direct a film. On this level, he is a spoof of every guy who has "a great idea for a movie" and thinks that's all he needs.
Along the way the salesman has an Oedipal relationship with his mother and uncaring sexual encounters with two other women. These characters are barely tethered to the plot. They are included so the author can check off requirements of the genre.
Willeford has a lot of fun experimenting with form. Instead of chapter breaks, he uses movie scene headings such as "Dissolve To:" The flow of action seems at times as arbitrary as the hero's brainstorming.
The Woman Chaser may not be a lesson in how to construct a narrative, but it successfully brings a sociopathic narrator to life.
San Francisco is famous for fog. Tony Bennett sang about it: "the morning fog may chill the air, I don't care." Lots of black-and-white suspense films, mostly film noir, have used it to great effect.
I took this photo in Tiburon, not far from the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. If it weren't for Angel Island and fog we'd be looking at the city of San Francisco across the bay. This small town has turned its waterside into a walkable park. I was mighty impressed by the way someone used that natural rock as the base for a fishing pedestal at the end of that pier.
Decades ago, when I was reading Popular Photography magazine, I saw an article which said not to wait for sunny days to take pictures; some of your best opportunities are in "bad" weather.
Blood Simple was a revelation for me when I saw it in a theater. It was scary and funny at the same time.
Ray is having an affair with his boss's wife (Abby). The boss (Marty) hires a private detective (Visser), to get proof of the affair. Ray and Abby prepare to run away together. Marty hires Visser to kill them.
Ray, a nice guy, winds up acting like a cold-blooded fiend. Marty, the vengeful husband, loses everything. Visser, a paid killer, ends up looking like a clown. Abby, a dependent woman, becomes the toughest of all.
Since everyone is keeping secrets, they sometimes work at cross-purposes. And accidents happen. Sometimes the surprises are scary, sometimes funny.
The filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Cohn, were certainly not the first to combine suspense and humor. Hitchcock always looked for humor in his stories and sometimes abandoned an idea if there was no humor in it. But the Cohn brothers made the scary parts scarier and the funny parts funnier.
I recently published a novel entitled The Con Man's Son, but I've just discovered a book which is apparently an important source of information on the type of criminal called a "confidence man."
First published in 1940, it offers a detailed study of con artists and their trade based on extensive interviews with practitioners.
It gives a historical survey of how simple street games like three-card monte developed into more elaborate "long cons" requiring establishment of a "store," a rented space set up to look like a betting parlor or stock brokerage.
There are also chapters on the crooks themselves, their social norms, the psychology of their victims, their cooperative relationships with law enforcement, and more.
Since the author was a linguist, the book makes use of the con-man's vocabulary ("rope a mark," "cop a heel," "steer against a store," etc.) and a glossary is provided.
I have no doubt The Big Con was a source for another book I have consulted, The Confidence Game. And anyone familiar with The Sting will recognize pages 31 through 52 as a description of the game operated by Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford).
More and more I am convinced that when writing fiction, it's helps to know the facts.
Run is the latest thriller from writer-director Aneesh Chaganty, who made Searching, which played in theaters in 2018. Run made its debut on Hulu, November, 2020.
Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) does everything for her daughter, Chloe (Kiera Allen). Everything includes among other things managing a long list of medications, caring for a teenager bound to a wheelchair and motivating her to high academic achievement through home schooling.
The story begins, as so many good thrillers do, when Chloe notices some things that don't quite make sense. When she looks for answers, her mother restricts her access to those things. The exciting part of the movie is watching this "rebellious" teenager outwit her mother in her quest to take control of her life. The scary part of the movie is watching the mother go to ever greater lengths to control her.
Ultimately Chloe learns, as we've suspected all along, that her mother needed to do things for her more than Chloe needed to have them done. The ending is dark, but stops just this side of horror.
Like Searching this is a well-crafted machine that works through an average person's struggle to regain what matters most.
Since 1915, the station next to the Bay Bridge has been home to the San Francisco Fire Department's boats and firefighters who respond to fire alarms near the water's edge and calls for water rescues.
Last week it's replacement showed up, a new fire station built on a barge and brought to town from Treasure Island by a couple of tug boats.The new station is permanently moored and will float up and down with the changing tides. The old station will be maintained and used for storage.
In a way this is the latest phase of a process that began with the Gold Rush in 1849. A long wharf was built to cross the mud flats that separated dry land from the deep water where ships could anchor. Over time oyster shells and other refuse were used to fill in the flats and create dry land between the shore and the ships. Today, about seven city blocks separates the sea wall from the former shoreline.
Even in recent decades there have been proposals to fill more of the Bay to create valuable real estate next to downtown. They have all been rejected. But occupying more of the Bay by building barges looks like it may have a future.
The Undoing is a murder mystery driven by the strangeness of the victim, a young mother, whom we get to know in the first of six episodes. In her scenes with Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman), she seems to call out for understanding, help, and affection.
Jonathan Fraser, (Hugh Grant), is a suspect because he was the oncologist for the victim's child and had an affair with her. He is arrested and held on $2 million bail. The case seems open and shut, but Grace, Jonathan, and Grace's father (Donald Sutherland,) behave in unexpected ways.
As I write this, I've watched four of the six episodes. The suspects are multiplying and I'm eager to find out who done it, but I'm more eager to find out what would explain the things the victim does in those early scenes. The Undoing generates all the suspense of a traditional murder mystery without sticking to the usual formulas. It puts more emphasis on the characters than on the logistics of how the crime was committed.
One week in 2018, I checked the listings of movies, saw there was a new thriller called Searching, found the nearest theater showing it, and went with friends. Back then, we did that.
I was not particularly drawn by the idea that the story played out entirely on electronic screens. The hero (John Cho) searches for his missing daughter on her laptop, and later on a phone and through TV news broadcasts. We never see the characters directly. Mostly I hoped this gimmick would not get in the way.
For me at least, the gimmick adds a little to the suspense. Best of all, it's a good story. I cared about the teenager in distress, I was pulling for her father to find her. The dark twists the story takes in the second half were satisfying.
Writer-director Aneesh Chaganty has a new suspense film about a disabled, home-schooled teenager whose mother may not have her best interests at heart. Since theaters are not up and running, it debuts on Hulu today---Friday, November 20, 2020. The title is Run.
Based on Searching, Chaganty is good with parent-teenager relationships and he tells a good story. You might want to watch both Searching and Run this weekend, in either order.
The National Cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco looks over San Francisco Bay to Angel Island and feels like the heart of this army post turned national park. .
Starting from the Main Post, with its barracks, Officers Club, and office buildings, housing of all kinds fans out over the hillsides: houses, duplexes, unit blocks, apartment buildings. To the west are the stables that were once home to the equine members of the cavalry. To the north is the strip of land along the bay that was once a busy military air strip .
In the center of it all is this resting place for veterans of the War between the States, the Buffalo Soldiers, War in the Phillipines, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and more.
My family has no military history, and I am not a veteran, but this place fills me with awe. If being part of something larger than yourself means anything to you, it will affect you the same way.
After visiting the well-advertised exhibit of Frida Kahlo's personal effects at the de Young Museum, we wandered into a wonderful exhibit called, "The de Young Open." As described on the museum's website:
"Works of art in The de Young Open are hung 'salon-style,' installed edge to edge and floor to ceiling, which enables a maximum number of works to be displayed. The de Young filled the 12,000-square-foot Herbst Exhibition Galleries with 877 artworks by 762 Bay Area artists."
It was exhilarating to walk through room after room of paintings and one room of sculpture. Each room was devoted to a subject (portraits, landscapes, social satire, etc.) Because the exhibit was curated by a panel all the works were at least competent and some were inspired.
Over the years, I've enjoyed marvelous solo exhibitions---Salvador Dali, J. M. Turner, Elsa Schiaparelli, etc.---and shows focused on a theme such as Impressionism, Expressionism, and others.
To see this volume of work and such variety in a single visit is a different and wonderful experience.
The Lumiere Theater used to be our preferred venue for seeing the Oscar-Nominated Shorts each year. We were never attracted to anything else in this neighborhood on the western side of Nob Hill. Seeing the shorts here was like a two-hour vacation from our usual orbit. I always liked the idea that its name referred to those pioneers of Cinema, August and Louis Lumiere. Since it closed, another Landmark Theater, Opera Plaza Cinema, has become the place to go for the shorts.
The building started as a firehouse and at different times housed restaurants and retail stores. It opened in 1975 as the Lumiere Theater and showed its last film in 2012. It had a room seating about 300. At different times in its history, it had a second and a third screening room according to San Francisco Theatres .
As the marquee says, it is now the Marine Layer Workshop. Marine Layer is a designer clothing label based in San Francisco. Reviews say the workshop is a combination workplace, retail outlet, and entertainment venue. Apparently they still offer popcorn and run movies on the wall as kinetic art.
You might think the apartment building on the left and its pedestrians are victims of erosion. But the nearby wall of rock has been that way since the Gold Rush days.
Starting in 1849, ships came to San Francisco (known then as Yerba Buena) from around the world bringing mining equipment and people who wanted to get rich by filling their pockets with gold nuggets.
Since the town was a small fishing village, there was nothing for the ships to carry away. Some were anchored offshore and used as housing. When more than a hundred blocked the port, some were burned.
Some of the ships managed to sail on to other ports by replacing their cargo with ballast in the form of rocks created by dynamiting Telegraph Hill, leaving it with a flat side.
So it would seem that apartment building and its pedestrians are the victims of building too close to a known hazard.
Not to worry: management has "solved" the problem but installing a sign.
Like most people, I can't say I have a single favorite movie. But, if I had to make a short list of favorites, this would be on it. Mostly I am awed by the story in the original screenplay by David Peoples.
William Munny (Clint Eastwood) hears of a bounty offered for killing two cowboys who have cut up a prostitute's face. Though he was a thief and a killer in his younger days, Munny reformed and swore to his wife he would never go back to his evil ways.
But his wife has died, he has two children to care for, and his farm is failing. Also, the cause is just: the law (Gene Hackman) has compensated the owner of the brothel but has done nothing for the prostitute. Munny decides to make one last score.
A lot goes wrong. Through it all, Munny and his friend (Morgan Freeman) prove themselves deeply flawed men who behave with honor while carrying out a mission they don't believe in. Sometimes life is like that.
A bright light flashes in the sky. Shortly after, everyone's power goes out, and cars won't start.
When the neighbors on a suburban street compare notes on what might be happening, a teenager says he read a story about aliens who take over earth by first sending spies who look like humans to live among us.
His mother says those are just silly comic books, but people start to speculate whether any of the more eccentric residents on their street could be aliens. Things do not go well after that.
"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" aired in 1960 as part of the first season of The Twilight Zone. Many episodes are scary. I found this one disturbing because it seems so familiar: unusual events are "explained" by a far-fetched theory and people start hunting monsters. If we re-wrote this to include social media, we would have a story from today's news reports.
This is what we call normal traffic on San Francisco's one-way streets. There are lanes for parking on either side. There are lanes for double-parking on either side. There is one traffic lane in the center.
San Francisco has pairs of one-way streets, one east bound, one westbound. The lights are timed to keep traffic moving at around twenty-five miles per hour. Used properly they would be efficient means of moving around a city with the worst traffic congestion in the USA (yes, worse than you, NYC).
They are not used properly. People try to drive forty miles per hour on them and end up creating stop-and-go traffic. And people double-park. Delivery trucks double park because alleys for making deliveries are extremely rare. Also, Uber and Lyft started here, seemed to assume they could double-park, and no one ever told them they couldn't.
When I call this "normal traffic," I am not exaggerating. Mid-day, you cannot drive more than three blocks in any direction without encountering the kind of situation shown here. Doesn't this make you want to ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk?