Rarely do I give a shit when a celebrity dies, but Dennis Hopper was fucking important. He was important to movies and he was important to anyone who appreciates the art of villainry (is that even a word?)
Hopper's acting and directing efforts on Easy Rider helped (briefly) transform Hollywood into a town run by the artists instead of the business dorks. Easy Rider set off what some call the New Hollywood. It opened the doors for Scorsese, Lucas, Spielberg, Friedkin, Ashby, even Coppola, who was working before, but would never have been able to make The Conversation or Apocalypse Now if Easy Rider hadn't demonstrated to the suits and ties in the air-conditioned offices in Hollywood and Burbank that Americans weren't nearly as stupid as those cynical fucks had previously assumed. Of course, Spielberg and Lucas accidentally ruined the party by revealing America's love for b-pictures done with a-budgets. Ever since Jaws and Star Wars, Hollywood has been giving us the same movie again and again and again and again...
I felt the lack of creativity coming from Hollywood even when I was a young teenager. By 1987, I understood that the gritty, realistic pictures of the 1970s were finished. Then Blue Velvet came along and changed my thinking about all art. Frank Booth was an inspiration of evil. I laughed and laughed at his antics, knowing full well society frowns on people who exhibit freedom in its most honest forms. Frank Booth was like Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange) or Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), he went well beyond society's parameters of acceptable behavior. Twenty-plus years later, I still laugh when I watch Blue Velvet. Since we are confined by polite society in real life, it is always refreshing to have a vicarious surrogate who can walk through the world doing exactly what he or she wants.
Hopper did a lot of work that a lot of people will remember for a lot of different reasons. His character in Apocalypse Now is hysterical, especially if you know how much cocaine he was doing at the time. He carved out a perfect archetype for the movie Hoosiers (my motion picture debut!) that has forever since been imitated (how many sports movies have somebody in a hospital jumping up and down while listening to The Big Game on the radio? Thanks, Dennis.) How about Hopper's role as a young neo-nazi in the original Twilight Zone series? Does anybody out there remember his turn as Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the OK Corral? The guy put some miles on the movie and television screen.
As for me, I'll remember Hopper as Frank Booth. Always. One of less than a handful of perfect interpretations of evil.
My story "A Matter of Time" will appear soon in Powder Burn Flash. The editor hasn't given me an exact date yet. Powder Burn Flash features crime stories that fall under 1000 words. That's known as "Flash Fiction," a development in literature that caters specifically to the short attention span generation. I say that jokingly. Kafka certainly wrote many parables and short pieces that fell under 1000 words and he managed to load them up with meaning. I enjoy writing flash fiction stories because they force you to get right to the point. When you only have a thousand words, you have to choose them carefully. The challenge is to cram something that resembles a story within those thousand words.
"A Matter of Time" evolved as it was being written. It was initially the simple tale of a man shooting another man out of concern that the other man was going to become a child molester. Hence, saving the man by killing him. It was based on several experiences I had in Los Angeles where I would go to the Internet Cafe on Wilshire and Normandie, sit down at a computer and see that the person who had been sitting there before me had been looking at kiddie porn. I always felt bad that I couldn't track down the perverts and turn them over to the police. Child molesters, as you may know, can't be cured. Even if you cut their dongs off, they still find a way to damage children. I have no sympathy for them. While they have no moral center, their lack of a moral center is not a philosophical protest, it is a genuine lack of consideration for other human beings. Since there is no cure, death is the only logical punishment. Of course, we live in a spineless society that protects anybody, no matter how repulsive they might be. Anyway, as I wrote and revised it, a more cohesive plotline developed and the result is a nice, tight story that would make the dorks in Hollywood salivate (of course, since it's not a remake of a movie that was successful thirty years ago and not based on an old television show, they'd never actually make it into a feature motion picture...)
As soon as I know when the story will be published I will post notice here.
My favorite American writer is Jim Thompson. I dig Henry Miller, but even old Henry didn't cut to the chase of the American Nightmare like Jim Thompson did. My absolute favorite book by Thompson is Pop. 1280. Some see it as a retread of his much better known book The Killer Inside Me. I disagree. As much as I dig The Killer Inside Me, I think Pop. 1280 is a example of a writer taking an idea once explored and refining it with the benefit of time and reflection. In that light, Pop. 1280 strikes me as a rewrite of The Killer Inside Me. Like most good rewrites, it is a stunning improvement. Here's an example of the narrator (and Thompson, by extension,) telling it just like it is:
What I loved was myself, and I was willing to do anything I god-dang had to to go on lying and cheating and drinking whiskey and screwing women and going to church on Sunday with all the other respectable people.
That's America, folks. At least, far as I've seen it, which has been from coast to coast. The narrator drops that bit of philosophy just before shooting Uncle John, a black man who thinks he can convince the narrator he won't drop a dime on him. Thomspon's psychotic sheriff gives him the most honest, blunt reminder of America's deep racial wounds, telling him he ought to know better. And then he shoots him. Wouldn't see that in a Hollywood movie today, would you? Of course not. Most artists have gone soft and refuse to be honest with their audience. Thank God Thompson lived in a time when his novels could be shoved off to the pulp shelf and exist without the wagging finger of "political correctness."
I will recommend Thompson novels (hopefully) on a weekly basis. I started with this one because it's a pretty good test for the uninitiated.
If you're in the mood for a really amoral story, try Michael Hemmingson's "I Paid the Whore," over at Beat to a Pulp. You can tell from the title that the ladies on "The View" won't be asking Mr. Hemmingson on for a schmooze session any time soon.
For those of you who are slightly more sensitive, you might try Nancy Sweetland's "The Hit Man," which can be found at A Twist of Noir. Sweetland draws us a picture of a 21st Century hit man who kills with a conscience.
If you read and enjoy either of these stories, make sure you leave comments for the author to let him and her know you appreciated the work.
One of the greatest examples of amoral behavior comes to us in the classic film Double Indemnity. Fred MacMurrary and Barbara Stanwyck cook up a nice murder plot that goes awry. The movie itself takes a moral stand, as all Hollywood movies have to (because money people are wimps..,) but the characters themselves never apologize. Even after he's been shot, Fred MacMurray tries to make a break for Mexico. Admirable.
One of the reasons this film noir stands out is the combination of writers involved. The book was written by James M.Cain. The script was written by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. If you were putting together a basketball team of ace noir writers, all you'd need to round it out would be Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson.
The movie is also enhanced by one of the greatest soundtracks ever. The music revolves around a tough, original theme motif, and a variation of "I'm in the Mood for Love." Pretty cynical, when you consider the love is all about murder and money.
Finally, the photography is awesome. Black and white. Shadows a
nd light. It puts all the absurd fast-cutting and constant camera movement of today's lame cinema to total shame.
This is good stuff. If you want to learn how to be properly amoral, Double Indemnity is a great primer.
The second is a hilarious story about a preacher who has no morals and a teenager who figures it out long before anyone else in his small, Indiana town. It's called "Intelligent Designs" and it appears in the NiteBlade anthology Nothing To Dread. You can purchase it at LuLu.com:
The story is called "My Kind of Town" and details a group of people who can't find so much as a crumb of morality among them. Sounds like it should take place in Washington D.C., but it doesn't. It takes place in a small Indiana town just across the border from Chicago.
This one, according to the comments left for it, was not predictable at all. I always found that strange. The story ended exactly the way I felt a hardboiled story should end. With no moral center, of course!
The most recent, "Cermak, Near Chinatown," involves a couple of idiots from Chicago who stumble across the wrong wallet. To avoid confusion: Yes, it is humorous. Yes, the narrator is a moron! This seemed to confuse a reader who left a snide comment.
The next story is "Local Gods," a retelling of a Bible story involving a grocery store owner and an old Irish gangster in Los Angeles. It's not one of my better stories, but the writing is good enough to keep the reader interested.
Next is "Patience." I'm pretty sure this was the favorite of the tough crowd there at A Twist of Noir. It's a tender tale of passion and revenge. It also takes place in Los Angeles.
Finally, the first story of mine published in A Twist of Noir, "Pitch Street," is a basic noir yarn about a hitman and a hitwoman. Again, the writing saves the day. Again, the action happens in L.A. (What can I say? The town was made for stories lacking a moral center!)
Hi there. I write crime stories. I write horror stories and what the hoity-toities call literary fiction. To be honest, though, I prefer crime stories. Not really mysteries. I've tried a few and they always feel stale because everybody writes mysteries. No, I like writing about criminals and the criminal things they do. I like exploring the criminal mind because it represents true freedom. Once you are free from the binds of moral repression, anything is possible. Criminals make lesser people nervous. That's always fun. I guess, deep down, I have no moral center myself. If I wasn't a writer, I'd certainly be a professional criminal.
Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker. His work has appeared in several journals and anthologies. His most recent novel, Breaking Glass, is available from ABC Group Documentation. He is the editor of the fiction journal, Pulp Modern.
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DOWN ON THE STREET
Mr. Cizak's tender novella about a cabbie who decides to become a pimp
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Mr. Cizak's classic collection of crime stories from the Golden Age of the online pulp fiction movement
Between Juarez and El Paso
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