Why Did You Post This On The Internet? #1 Talking to Sophie Benjamin About the Downfall of Tim Lambesis

The downfall of Tim Lambesis, front man for metal band As I Lay Dying, reads like something out an Elmore Leonard novel. In May of 2013, Lambesis was arrested for ‘solicitation of murder’ aka hiring a hit man to kill his wife. In the midst of a messy divorce, and abusing steroids, Lambesis proved himself desperate enough – and dumb enough – to meet with ‘Red’ in a Barnes and Noble. As it turns out, ‘Red’ was an undercover agent and Lambesis went down. On the eve of his sentencing, Lambesis opened up for a looooong interview with Ryan J. Downey of Alternative Press. With all the hallmarks of a confession, Lambesis answered a range of personal questions that gave – at least – his side of what turns out to a brutally weird and brutally sad story. It’s definitely one of the true crime must-reads of 2014. 

I was alerted to the piece by Sophie Benjamin. She included the Lambesis interview in her Monthly Missive newsletter which I’m becoming a bit of a fan of.  I was interested to hear more about what she thought of the whole thing. 


Ian: I want to hear about how  you first came to the story?

Sophie: I saw Lochlan Watt (Triple J Racket host and general good Brisbane metal guy) share it on Facebook. I’d listened to As I Lay Dying a bit when I was a teenager.

I wondered that. So you wouldn’t call yourself a fan now?

No, more an interested observer.

I found Lambesis captivating while reading the article. It’s shameful but he solicited my sympathies at a few points. You, on the other hand, described him as a ‘deluded narcissist’. Did you have an opinion of him going in?

I felt a bit sympathetic for him going in, and a little going out, but for someone to have such little insight  into their own actions and how those actions may affect others seems quite narcissistic to me. Certainly the fact that his marriage seemed to be quite dysfunctional didn’t help. It’s a situation his own vanity and insecurity got him into, I think.

Continue Reading…

Designing the Cover of an Ebook


Designing book covers is difficult. 

I’ve had a bit of practise with design. I did most of the design work for my first band and even after years of posters, flyers, album covers and so on, I found ebook cover design excruciating.

It’s definitely its own thing.

My early experiments were not prize-winning:


Early design prototype for my ebook.

 As you can tell, clear and minimal proved a lot harder than it looked. It also didn’t  suit. My collection wasn’t only about cities and the characters and stories inside were not neat fables. It’s called ‘Everyday Life‘ because I was aiming to depict some of the mess of living.


My next attempt was centred around the idea of the neighbourhood. That seemed like a better metaphor. I pulled the design into a template that felt more homely, something I’ve pinched from the Penguin Crime editions I’m always drawn too in second-hand book stores:


Version 2 was a step closer

I didn’t mind this design. If it had ended up as the final cover, I would have been fairly satisfied.

But I wasn’t.


One of my all time biggest influences is American rock band Guided By Voices (GBV). I love everything about them.

Strangely enough, they had a huge influence on my flash fiction. The idea that you can get in and get out of a story — or a song — super fast and have it still work, have it still deliver something memorable….that idea is their idea. GBV albums have 25+ songs on them, each ranging from scrappy to perfect, all smashed together using whatever tools and ideas front-man Bob Pollard has at his disposal.

And for the cover of these albums? Pollard uses collages he makes himself:

If you pop into the Vibe File tab up above you’ll notice I’m a bit of a fan of the collage medium. So considering my GBV influence and my design troubles, I decided to give collage a go.

It actually didn’t take that long, and you can see elements of the second version poking in:


The finished product

It worked for me. I wanted something that captured some of the weirdness in my stories. This had that in spades.

At the moment I’m working on something else but a second and third flash collection are completely drafted. I’ll be editing up Volume Two some time in the coming month and then it’ll be back to the drawing board, I guess.

Review: Thuglit Issue 11 (May/June 2014) edited by Todd Robinson

Thursday, May 29, 2014 0 , , , , Permalink 0

Thuglit Issue #8

A couple of months back I had my attention piqued by Jedidiah Ayres‘ novella ‘Fierce Bitches‘ (Crime Factory). It was one of the first independently published books I’d found that completely zeroed in on my niche: weird, hard-boiled crime-noir / pulp-fiction.

I can’t remember how I came across ‘Fierce Bitches’ but as soon as I put it down, I just knew it was the tip of something. That book felt like something someone would write when they had the confidence of a community behind them. I dug around online and sure enough, there was more.

A lot more.

One of the things I turned up was Thuglit.


I dived into the most recent issue (#11) and it’s rock solid. Literate, innovative, profane, funny, the lot. And neat as a pin, with high quality editing and layout by Robinson and his team. I was super impressed.

As for the eight stories inside, there’s no better introduction to this than the very first line of the very first story (Sounding by Matthew McBride):

I used to work with a guy named Jim who liked to stick things in his peehole.

If I read a better opening line this year, I will print this out and eat it.

The rest of this crass and coarse volume goes to all sorts of messed-up places: Angel Luis Colón’s story ‘Dinner Rush’ hinges around a restaurant kitchen and constantly hints at total body horror, driving it forward. Scott Grand’s ‘A Bottle of Scotch and a Sharp Buck Knife’ threads suburban coming-of-age narration through with bleak sociopathy. And the Cuban-noir of ‘Ofrenda’ by J. David Gonzalez was completely unexpected. The remaining stories held to a similar line and quality. I found ‘192 Over 110’ by Max Sheridan borderline offensive, which in this genre feels like a compliment.

I’ve been writing in this area lately.

I can’t submit to this fast enough.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014 0 No tags Permalink 0

The agency had Monica on the road, looking at the footage. Back in the eighties, they worked out that serial killers start as arsonists. They tape the crowds at big fires now. It’s nothing fancy, just a quick sweep of the gawkers, hoping to find the next Son of Sam.

These were the videos she was watching. She watched them in Seattle, Sacramento, California, fucking Utah, San Diego. An east coast guy — Diangello something — was working his way down the other side, sitting in near identical rooms, watching the same thing. They were meeting up in Kansas to compare notes.

She spent so much time with the tapes that the main characters came to her in dreams. In the motel bed, they visited her each night. She met Astro in a diner. He was a tall kid in a grey Astroboy shirt. He stood back and took photos of the fires. In the dream diner, she sat across from him and between them were the usual plates and cups, except there were also five green plastic balls on the table as well, like something out of a children’s play set. Astro took the cigarette from her mouth and pushed the ember into one of the balls, making it smoke and melt.

She saw the big man as well, the one the Sacramento guys called The Juggernaut. They had him on a rape but had to let him out. He always stood there at the fires and ate candy. In her dreams he appeared quickly. She’d be in her hometown, by the old pool, and he’d be there behind the chain-link fence, staring at her like an omen.

Then there was Blake from Jawbreaker, or what looked like him anyway. Germanic, wore a jacket, always composed, hair gelled in place, eyes squinting at the fire like it was some big disaster. But he was at all of them. He had a police scanner. He travelled. He loved the fires. He called her from a pay phone in her dreams. ‘I wanted to call you,’ he said down the line. ‘I wanted to tell you I’m a fan.’

She had some training with all this, some skill in it.

She could look at her hands and take control of the story.

Each night, she inched closer to them. She had the flyers she made in another dream. She handed them out and over a few nights she made sure the main three suspects got one. It was a call to arms, an invitation. They did not resist. In a dreamed-up pool house in Vegas, they all came together. They all stood around the steaming water and she said, ‘Okay, let’s not clown around. Which one of you killed Ryan Peters?’

Taken from ‘Everyday Life: Collected Stories‘ by Ian Keith Rogers.

The Rip

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 0 , , , Permalink 0


The wearing of sunglasses inside the hotel room was a new thing. It happened like this: she was sitting on the sofa, the day before last, and the sun was setting. Dust had started to float in through the balcony doors and she sat there — stoned, with the alarm clock chiming in the other room — and took the sunglasses from her shirt pocket and put them on. They helped, so they stayed on.

She did the interview panel in the sunglasses.

One of the other guests asked about them.

She nodded, that was her answer.

Her agent called. He asked what brand of glasses they were. She went to the mirror. ‘They’re black,’ she said. ‘Black with white writing on the side.’


The only problem with the sunglasses was that it made looking through the binoculars almost impossible, especially at night. The binoculars were also important. She decided the binoculars were a type of eyeglass and they became her only concession. She needed the sunglasses but they couldn’t help her spy on the other hotels. She needed both.

She needed to stay abreast of the white family across the street, with their children, one fat and one lean. She had to watch the young lovers who closed and opened their blinds. Then there was the elderly people and their television shows. And the sisters — they looked like sisters — who walked around their suite but never seemed to address each other. Finally there were all the other single men and women. They always did the same thing. They stood out on their balconies, like her, and watched the city. The single people made her want to buy a rifle and she imagined another glass circle then, the neat feel of the scope around her eye.


The rain stopped and the wind started. The ochre dust came back in. She walked to the centre of the hotel room and let it drift around her. It felt like water, like she was moving. Apparently she had everything she’d ever wanted. She was where she always secretly hoped to be. A success. But the dust kept coming. It started to dry in her mouth. She took a scarf from her handbag and tied it around her face like a bandit. There, protected at last, in glasses and scarf, she started to wonder if there was a way around it. There had to be some opportunity coming, some way to sneak past unnoticed.

Taken from ‘Everyday Life: Collected Stories‘ by Ian Keith Rogers.

On Writing with James Ellroy

Thursday, March 13, 2014 1 , , , , Permalink 0


I’ve noticed that giving advice is a huge part of ‘book blogs’ but I don’t have any advice to give. Stay hydrated? Avoid adverbs? Follow up your invoices? That’s it for me.

Still, I’m as curious as the next writer about the creative process of people I admire. I’ve learned everything I know (good and bad) from books about writing and the scraps I can find on specific writers I love.

I’m going to start sharing bits and pieces of this research.


CONVERSATIONS WITH JAMES ELLROY-1You know you’re borderline obsessed with a writer when you drill down to scholarly work about them. In 2012, the University Press of Mississippi published ‘Conversations With James Ellroy‘ edited by Steven Powell. Comprising 22 interviews, mostly conducted as book promotion, this is strictly for Ellroy nerds. Ellroy has a schtick and there’s a lot of repetition here.

There’s also real gold sprinkled in between.

Welcome to the craft of writing according to one of art form’s rogue traders.


#1 Just Start. Just Start. Just Start:

I’m not condoning this behaviour (nor is Ellroy) but there’s no coming at James Ellroy’s writing without his backstory. He was the son of a murdered woman and his father also died relatively early in life (his death bed advice was ‘Try to pick up every waitress who serves you’). From here, Ellroy descended into a life of petty crime, stints in county jail, homelessness and drug addiction. After a mental breakdown at 27, he started to right himself, went through AA and started working as a golf caddy, all the while fantasising about becoming a master crime novelist:

“Finally, on January 26, 1979, he went out onto the green, stared up at the sky, and prayed: “Please, God, Let me start this book tonight.” That night, standing, writing on his dresser, he did.”

His intentions were far from literary. The early Ellroy wrote almost purely to impress women. It comes up over and over again in the early interviews. His creative ambitions were that meagre. I mean, this anecdote from a 1992 piece is pretty telling (and probably untrue, but still):

“With his first check as an author, Ellroy got a hooker, paid his back rent, bought a cashmere sweater and a $500 1964 Chevrolet Nova, and took his girlfriend away for the weekend. By Monday, he was broke.”  (P. 31)


#2 In The Beginning, Look For Answers, Not Style:

From the inside:

Interviewer: Did your reading affect you stylistically? Were you aware of how they (Joseph Wambaugh, Ross Macdonald, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler) were saying what they were saying?
Ellroy: No, not at all. I read inchoately, I read emotionally, I read for a story, I read for milieu. I read because reading crime novels gave me both a tidy sense of resolution and a sense that the ramifications of violent events would go on forever. Of course, I think that this love of crime fiction derives from my mother’s murder. It’s a very simple cause and effect to chart. On one level or another I write crime novels because I’m deeply curious, and the only way that I can sate my curiosity on all matters pertaining to crime and psychosexual behaviour is by writing the books that nobody could write.
Interviewer: Did your reading also provide a sense of closure for the fears caused by your mother’s death?
Ellroy: No. The only closure is that there is no closure.


#3 Develop Your Voice by Planning and Editing:

The thing with Ellroy is that he developed quickly. There’s a very solid fit between what he achieves in his writing and the demons he can quell with his chosen genre. Sensing this early: he worked at it, hard. The early novels come in quick succession. And the story of how Ellroy wrote L.A. Confidential (1990), less than a decade into his career, is amazing stuff.

Reminiscent of Raymond Carver’s editorial relationship with Gordon Lish, Ellroy developed a writing voice by working closely with a trusted ally, and having the endless patience to get it right:

“To keep track of the action, Ellroy first wrote an intricate, chapter-by-chapter outline, in which he mapped out and cross-referenced the action, point by point. The outline also contained meticulous descriptions of characters and their motivations. He handed over the 211-page outline to (editor) Sobel, who scrutinised it, marking twenty pages, to ensure that the plot characters and the themes of the book all came together.
Author and agent then spent two days poring over the outline and Sobel’s notes. “Nat and I looked at every story point for logical flaws and looked for ways to punch things up. We were making sure that it was all cohesive, that there were no loose ends, that plot devices and themes were not repeated and credibility was never strained.
“Then,” says Ellroy, “I wrote the book.” The result though structurally tight, was unwieldy. The manuscript came in at a hefty 809 pages. “Nat and I did another logical, structural overhaul. He said, ‘Everything fits, it’s dandy, but the book’s too long. Cut every word you can.
“I realised there was not one scene I wanted to cut. But I also realised that Nat was right,” he continues. So Ellroy went over the manuscript, line by line, deleting extraneous words and phrases and, in the process, developed a truncated, telegraphic style which speeds the pace of the book. Working for twenty days straight, he cut away 207 pages. (P. 23)


#4 Have A Promotional Schtick: 

Ellroy’s ability to sell his work is virtually second-to-none in crime writing. His schtick is coarse, openly offensive (I’m continuously offended by him, by the way) but he is extremely self-reflexive about this process. He aims to shock, annoy and irritate at all times, but sit him down and ask him about this and he cuts straight to the chase:

“As critical acclaim and response has built up, every interview I give is a chance to puncture the myth I’ve created about my work and refine it.” (P. 60)
“If I’m not performing, I feel rather deferential to people. If I’m going to a party or meeting with a group of people, I would much rather not talk about myself. I can do that in front of a podium and have a blast at it, make people laugh. If this were not an interview, and you and I were just sitting around having a cup of coffee, I’d much rather hear about your life. I like to perform, but when I’m not performing, I’m not performing. I’ve led a colourful life, but Im always trying to demythologise that life. I was terrified as a kid. I broke into houses, how many times did I do it? Thirty, fifty? I don’t know. How much time did I spend in jail? Six month, with months, four months? Mickey Mouse stuff….I was always frightened. I was never a tough guy. Every wild thing that I did was tinged with alcoholic and drug-addicted self-loathing and a large degree of fear. Today I put on such a good show, the story is outrageous, and people don’t want to hear that I’m basicially a reasonable human being. As long as it continues to get me print, I’ll continue to perform in an exuberant manner. (P. 56)

This isn’t even half the book.

It’s a goldmine.

PS: I also wrote about Ellroy here and here.

‘I Don’t Wonder’: On the ‘Shallowness’ of True Detective


True-Detective-Main-Title-Sequence8I don’t think anyone expected New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum to give True Detective (HBO) a positive review. Titled ‘Cool Story Bro,’ her piece on the fledgling crime show amounted to as much, despite a nice accompanying illustration and some neat summation in the opening. 

True Detective “smells like macho nonsense” she writes. Yet despite her reservations — namely that women’s pain is used as plot decoration in the show — Nussbaum seems to like the style of what she sees.       

Willa Paskin over at Slate proved far more forgiving. Paskin appears happy to give show writer Nic Pizzolatto the benefit of the doubt:

“I think True Detective has not triggered my usual response because it is, at least on some level, very aware of how stereotypically and perfunctorily it treats its female characters.”

Her analysis is a close reading and I don’t do it justice with one pull-quote but in short, she writes of how the show’s hetero-normative masculine overload reveals a story about the destructive effects of this stuff. To her, it’s no celebration.

Of course, in the days since, this has all bounced around the internet.

Counter and attack.

Back and forth.


Is True Detective smart and self-reflexive or self-important and misogynous?

These are difficult questions to answer. It presupposes a great deal to assume that Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga have barreled into such an elaborate, layered production withoutpausing to consider the relative absence or quality of their female characters. But who knows?

Obviously, this is not at all how Pizzolatto sees it. On twitter he writes:

One of the detriments of only having two POV characters, both men (a structural necessity). Next season…

And here I have to admit I take him at face value. The reason why is a little more elaborate and personal.



Indie Publishing VS Indie Music: Chuck Wendig and DIY

Thursday, January 30, 2014 0 , , , , Permalink 0


On Monday, American novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig published a post titled, ‘Self-Publishing Is Not The Minor Leagues’. That title is fairly self-explanatory: self-publishing has established itself as a financially and artistically viable way to get a book to market so, in a nutshell, Wendig makes this plea: can indie authors please stop eulogising the very existence of this stuff. He makes a totally rationally, even-keeled (too even I’d argue) appeal to the self-publishing community to be more professional and critical.

Hundreds of comments, a follow-up post and some message board angst later, it appears that not everyone agrees. It gets weird but there is a part of the self-publishing community that seems incredibly resistant to things like:

  • Honing one’s craft in private
  • Professional editing
  • Professional cover design
  • Critical debate about the quality of an ebook

It all scans as ludicrous at first glance. But it’s very human as well.

Some of these people have found and fostered an online community around their writing and it’s important to them. It’s strangely valid in a skewed way: these ebooks are not literature and never will be literature (they’re more akin to pulps) so why labour this community with literature’s standards of excellence?

The point Wendig makes is that a tsunami-sized slush of this stuff online distracts the readership in general. It hurts the brand. His fear is that the worst of this stuff hurts self-publishing as a whole.



What caught my eye while trawling the outrage were various comments comparing the growth of self-publishing (or indie publishing) to that of independent music. The latter is a place where I’m fairly experienced, having played in bands and worked as a music critic since my teens. That was a while ago PS. Decades. Yeah, plural.

What follows is a list of my thoughts on how the digital distribution of these two cultural products compares.

It’s pretty rough and preliminary.



Wendig’s advice on his blog is directed to other writers. This is what his blog is mainly about. Writer’s read and advocate reading so they’re a good demographic to be preaching to. So his advice comes from a good place. He wants to help other writers. If indie music is anything to go by, he’s getting blowback because people are killing the messenger…yet the message is coming anyway.

In music, virtually no one cares if a band’s work is independently released or comes from a major. There are a few top tier outlets that almost exclusively deal with majors but these are the sort of crass mainstream entities that would cover anything if it got big enough…it’s just that indie bands almost never do. I’m talking about commercial radio (for the most part) and most of broadcast television. These are outlets that – to use an ebook analogy – would cover the John Locke’s of indie music but no one else.

Below that tier, no one cares. In fact, for a developing band it is an added advantage to be a fast moving, innovating (or trend-riding) indie band rather than one contracted to a big company. And just like in book writing, the ‘big company’ – in ever shorter supply – would virtually never sign a developing band anyhow. Just like with DIY authors, a big company wants to see that the audience is in place before they invest.

In short, most of the meaningful cultural distinctions that can be made between indie and non-indie music are dead, dead, dead. Most successful bands operate exactly like Wendig: they work in a flexible, hybridised way, depending on whoever has the money and the power to get their shit out to the most people.



For a long time, I figured that ebooks don’t have a Pitchfork.com. And for a long time I thought this was great. But then…I realised Amazon.com is the ebook Pitchfork and instead of 6.8 rated reviews written by a dark cabal of music nerds (actually, many of them are wonderful writers) you instead get you ‘3.2 stars’ from some self-selecting bunch of semi-anonymous yahoos doing free labour for a massive corporation.

There’s also Goodreads.com but, personally, Goodreads to Amazon probably scales the same way as Pitchfork to Stereogum / Consequence of Sound / The Quietus / Mess & Noise. There’s a big drop off after the market leaders.

There is a dominant critical voice in the field of ebooks: it’s Amazon.

And if you think I’m being harsh, ask yourself this: when was the last time someone told you they bought a record because it had good reviews on Amazon? Hopefully never. If someone has told you this, slap them.

Self-publishing may have a growing legitimacy but there’s a lag in the criticism attached to legitimacy.

You can’t really have one without the other. When there’s no critical filter, readers will continue to use the one filter that still exists: legacy publishing.



Compared to indie music, ebooks are in their infancy. Independent music had almost a two decade start on the internet. By the time P2P rolled around, indie music (punk and post-punk, rather) had already paved most of the way: fanzines went online as fan sites, scrappy DIY 7” records went online as MP3s, independent channels of publicity and promotion were already fairly mature in the mid-1990s. There was also a bunch of capital already circulating around indie-music. The Minor Threat discography has sold something ridiculous like half a million copies. That’s the sort of seed-funding that would run a independent digital publisher like Crime Factory for an eternity.

That sort of infrastructure just doesn’t exist yet in indie publishing.

Further to which, by the time online digital distribution rolled around in the mid-90s, there was already the sort massive slush of sub-par music that Wendig talks about / tries to rescue from it’s own mediocrity via his original post.

Does this affect indie music? Nope. That’s just compost on the forest floor. Sometimes good bands grow out of that compost but listeners never really get lost in the forest, flailing away need-deep in the bad stuff.

Instead, they stick to the paths cut through the forest: channels of criticism, coverage, social media and promotion, and that thing that already sells ebooks pretty well, word-of-mouth.



A major difference I can see is that there is a fairly noticeable element in ebook publishing that wants to get rich quickly. With all the attendant shabbiness and shadiness of a gold rush, I notice time and time again the reference back to ‘record sales’ and to ‘passive incomes’ and so on. All that junk.

One of the biggest trends in book blogs is to publish one’s sales figures. People are curious about this stuff. People love any daydream that puts fast money in their pocket.

There’s a fairly constant hum of expectation in ebook writing at this level: I want to make some money writing novels.

It’s weird. I wish I had a more elaborate commentary than weird but that’s almost it.

I can’t think of a single musician I’ve met over the age of 18 who thinks that music is a pathway to financial stability. Sure, you can make some money in music and writing, but if it’s about money, just do virtually anything else. It’ll pay better.

Having written words and played music for money, I can safely say these are the two lowest paying interactions with the marketplace I’ve ever had. I got paid more to be the store cleaner at Big W.

The people I do know who make a living from this stuff, they’re so invested in it they almost don’t have a choice. They’ve been writers or musicians since day dot. They’ve been trying to get good at their craft – any way they can – since day dot. Whatever success they’ve had, appears – from the outside, to me – to be the product of making do. I’m gonna do this, it’s all I want to do and it’s the thing I’m really good at, I have to make it work because I have no options here. A decade later, it does work for some of them.

The rest keep their office jobs.

THESIS: There’s no thesis. These are just some ideas/observations.

Staring At The Ocean: On Miami Vice (2006)


It’s pretty clear with this week’s story that I’m back to my default setting: noir, hardboiled, crime, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve written about this before on the blog so there’s not much else to explain or discuss.

Nor is there a full post to be had about HTRK sitting in my psyche. HTRK are a good band but ‘Body Double’ was just one of those serendipitous tracks I turned on one morning about a year ago and decided, this will do. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about the song’s lyrics.

All I needed was the title, the word limit and the soundtrack.

What does jump out now, a year after I first wrote this story, is that the film Diangello is watching on the television in the story is the remake of Miami Vice. I have no idea why that’s in there, apart from the obvious one:

I love this movie and I try to tell everyone about it. 

Yeah, the 2006 film directed by Michael Mann. Yeah, the one with Colin Farrell where he has a horseshoe moustache:


With lots of powerboats:


(These are not things that typically draw me to a movie)


Nobody likes this movie.

It has a score of 47% on Rotten Tomatoes and 65% on Metacritic, wherein one reviewer called wrote:

It may well be the dreariest and most monochromatic time you’ll have at the movies all summer.

David Stratton was more impressed but noted much the same:

I was a little bit disappointed with this because I was expecting something quite amazing. I was expecting to get blown away by this. And there’s a sort of heaviness about the film. Partly the way it looks – that grainy look – because so much of it is filmed at night…

But this is what I love about it. It really is that dreary and monochromatic.

It’s noir on steroids.

With powerboats.


Sometimes the wiki actually is amazing. Look at the description of Michael Mann’s filmic style in his entry:

Mann’s films often contain one to four deadpan male protagonists who are expert in some occupation…

This is certainly true of Miami Vice, except the ‘male’ part. In 2006, the 80s revival was already in full swing and what many critics seem to hate about this reboot is that it didn’t bare much relation to the original series (for which Mann was a show runner).

Instead of pastel-hued suits and cocaine dreams, the remake of Miami Vice is grisly, technical and dark. In some ways it’s almost a pity. Mann helped lay the foundations of 80s synth-driven crime-noir with Thief (1981). He could have beaten Drive (2011) to the punch by five years!

Instead, we get this grit, all this stuff that peels back the veneer.

We see this time again. There are always consequences. The central relationship of the film is built to fail. We see people’s childless families. There is always that reminder that – good or bad – these characters have an interior. And Sonny (Farrell), Rico (Jamie Foxx) and Gong Li’s Isabella Montoya all wear this ‘deadpan’ bravado pitched as professionalism. But they look terrified. They all sort of descend down into the narrative with a brave face until it consumes them entirely.

This is what I like about it. It’s an action movie where the explosions and killings come at a cost.

I also like that it’s a little bit hard to follow. That feels realistic too. Why would the average viewer understand every sentence that these people utter? Much of this is put down to a blown budget (as much as 150 million apparently) and script rewrites but it works for me.

I get to the end and it all tallies up more so than makes sense.

And the end…oh boy.

I get to the final scene with Collin Farrell and Gong Li, in what looks like hurricane-ravaged Florida – with Autorock by Mogwai blasting out the speakers – and it feels devastating. It looks devastating as well:

All the glamour that came before these scenes is sucked out of the film: Gong Li’s hair is flying everywhere, Farrell looks on the verge of tears, the coastline and sea is this big grey expanse.

What other action movie even lets its characters get this involved with one another?

Let alone strives to show them this stripped of control over the world?

At the film’s end, Rico’s wife is returned to him but Sonny and Isabella lose everything.

This is the noir aesthetic. It’s never a complete tragedy in noir. There are always winners and losers; you need them to create the grey world of compromise that noir inhabits.


Which brings me to Michael Mann’s defining shot, the one that is included in so many of his films:

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It’s odd how Mann’s signature shot, featured in his first movie and most of his work since, can so entirely sum up his vibe. Look at these people. There they sit calmly, in the dark, staring out at the this tranquil mass of chaos.

His movies are about how professionalism – in all its guises – is a way of shutting down and shutting out.

Mann was never going to make Drive in 2006 with the Miami Vice reboot because that’s not the sort of film he makes. In his world, people excel at things, until a type of concrete reality – the messy and unknowable and confusing world – render them more than silhouettes.

That’s where the dramatic tension stems from: Mann fleshes out his characters by throwing them into that ocean, letting the untidy ‘reality’ of his film pierce the crisp veneer of people who initially seemed so far beyond reproach.

You’re All Wrong About ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

Thursday, January 9, 2014 0 , , , , Permalink 6

The Secret History 2


No one understands this book and I think I should be given an award for this post.

The Nobel Peace Prize for Blogging, perhaps.

Here goes…



In ‘The Secret History’ the narrator (Richard) and a group of friends (Henry, Francis and fraternal twins Charles and Camilla) conspire to kill a friend (Bunny) and get away with it. And by ‘get away with it’ I mean, the authorities do not charge them for the murder. Instead the book’s noir-ish nightmare of a final act sees the group live unhappily-ever-after. For the characters, getting away with murder results in all sorts of existential mayhem (suicide, busted relationships, alcoholism, academia!, even fiction writing! Uh-oh).

Yet the motive that sits at the centre of this book has always struck me as extremely implausible. It smells bad, like the work of a very unreliable, very confused and biased narrator, something Richard is proven to be elsewhere in the novel.

The motive/story goes that the group – without Richard or Bunny – start experimenting with their history studies so hard that they wind up performing a bacchanalian ritual in the forest, whereby a farmer is accidentally killed by Henry.

This whole anecdote is almost that low on detail.

The victim, Bunny – an insatiable gossip with sinister motives – endlessly needles the others about this accident and the group decides that sooner or later he’ll blab to the wrong person. After much deliberation, they dispatch him by pushing him off a cliff.

My problem is that the murder of the farmer and Bunny’s needling mostly happens off camera. All of this is explained to Richard more so than witnessed by him. What he does see can always (to my mind) be interpreted differently. I interpret it differently.


Here’s what I think happens:

  1. Later in the book it is revealed that Charles and Camilla are involved in an incestuous relationship. What a friend of mine calls twincest. (Yeah he has a name for it.) I think this is the crime Bunny has snouted out and is the real motive behind his murder.
  2. Henry and Charles are both in love with Camilla. Who kills Bunny? Henry and Charles. Henry pushes him off the cliff. Then those two climb down and finish him off.
  3. This makes way more sense than this elaborate nonsense about a bacchanalian ritual and a dead farmer, which are all so circumstantial that they feel like a lie to me. A lie that Richard buys wholesale, as he too loves Camilla. They all love Camilla (except Francis, who’s into guys) and none of them get her.

Camilla is an incest survivor and an accomplice to murder. It makes sense that she ends up alone and isolated. What else would she do? Her appeal to others – to these men – has only ended in crime and murder? It’s not pleasant (or even accurate) but as a narrative device it’s sound….which is what you’re always aiming for I think. The real world is chaos. Narrative needs much more of a pro-rata of action and reaction. You need to check the balances.

So that’s it.

There’s no bacchanalian ritual.

There’s no dead farmer.

THESIS: To me, the ‘secret history’ of the title is about what happens between the sentences of Richard’s story. How his desire to escape Plano and ascend to greater things comes at a terrible cost that even he doesn’t fully comprehend. This is a cost that weighs heavily on him as he lives his life.

I mean, HELLO: that’s all of Western history! COME ON!