Friday, November 22, 2013

Tough Guys Don't Dance

The late Norman Mailer was one of the most important American writers in the 20th century who, despite what misgivings you may have about his vanity, arrogance, and odd sense of the masculine imperative, wrote some masterpieces. His novel, “Tough Guys Don't Dance", wasn't one of his master works, but it was a first-rate entertainment, a noirish murder mystery that combined Mailer's career long themes--the nature of courage, the search for knowledge through sexual encounters and violent challenges--with a wonderfully presented atmosphere and a cast of skewed, tortured, characters.

 The tale of an alcoholic, would be writer who tries to recover from a black-out exactly how a woman's head showed up in his marijuana plant stash is an intoxicating read. A tale of improbable events and impossible characters made plausible by the poetry of Mailer's writing. As a film director, however, Mailer is quite awful, being someone with notions of how a film ought to look and how it should achieve its effects but with no idea how to get anywhere near the mark he set for himself. 

 The dialogue, acceptable in the context of the dark and brooding world of Mailer's novel, is preposterous here, revealing a tin ear for the rhythms of how people actually sound. Good actors seem stiff and embalmed, and bad actors come off as automatons. In a more forgiving light, one might say that his is an art film, an avant gard production that just happened to have some money behind it, but that would be wishful thinking. The movie is just odd and awful.

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