Brave and Contradictory Rulings (Twitter Files 2)

More from the past….the Twitter past. (See previous installment.)

Many of the more interesting things I’ve tweeted have ended up here on DTM or on my newsletter Transitional Technology. However, when I downloaded my Twitter archive, I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten. 

Most of my tweets were about music, but there were also quick thoughts about crime fiction, movies and TV. It’s all related, for the idea of “genre” is crucial to my aesthetic as a practitioner. (Indeed, I believe that my compositions “Bill Hickman at Home” and “For Ellen Raskin” are the first jazz tributes to these genre icons.)

Taking the tweets out of Twitter and editing them into a highlight reel is bad for the content. It would be better to post photos of all the tweets (like the one at the top of this post) and hyperlink the references from the images. But that would simply take too much work. While paging through this diary, these are simply the snippets I don’t want to forget.

Early on, I tweeted covers of somewhat classic Peter Rabe pulp novels. In the 1950s, Rabe was almost a contender, and had some continued relevance thanks to Donald E. Westlake’s critical overview several decades later (now collected in the posthumous Westlake collection The Getaway Car edited by Levi Stahl). When I write about Hall Overton or Mel Powell on DTM, I am well aware that I am imitating Westlake’s survey of Rabe.

Westlake considered KILL THE BOSS GOOD-BY one of Rabe’s best
even more to my taste is MURDER ME FOR NICKELS, which has a comic touch

When I visited Westlake’s home, I didn’t see any Rabe on his shelves, but Westlake did have first editions of all of Eric Ambler. While slimming down for the pandemic, I gave away the Hall Overton and Mel Powell, but kept the Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell.

Speaking of Westlake, I tweeted this photo of a choice passage from one of his last, Dirty Money (written as Richard Stark).

A few years ago I settled in for quite a lot of Columbo, tweeting, “I love the endings: When the murderer is brought to heel, the show ends. Nothing further is required.”

It was great fun for a time but at some point it was enough. There was no need to see every single episode; instead I merely took in the dozen-plus classics that turn up on the Columbo internet lists. Death Lends a Hand (starring Robert Culp), By Dawn’s Early Light (Patrick McGoohan) and Any Old Port In a Storm (Donald Pleasence) are my favorites.

My feed offered choice quotes from three other episodes, all with Peter Falk wryly responding to the killer. These are the moments when the screw tightens, and Columbo is transformed from bumbler to nemesis:

Abigail Mitchell: I’m beginning to be very fond of you, Lieutenant. I think you’re a very kind man.

Lt. Columbo: Don’t count on that, Miss Mitchell. Don’t count on it.

Dr. Mark Collier: “Am I to presume that I’m currently your chief suspect?”

Lt. Columbo: “I’m not sure ‘suspect’ is a strong enough word.”

Milo Janus: You know something, Columbo? You’re a devious man.

Lt. Columbo: That’s what they tell me.

I also posted this photo of Gretchen Corbett (from that Milo Janus episode, An Exercise in Fatality). If I’d had it back then, I’d have hung this poster in my high school locker…

When I was barely in the double digits, a few televised crime stories took over my whole inner life. Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first crack at an action film, can still click through my mind one still frame at a time thanks to endless re-runs on Channel 9.

A bit more obscure was the Charles Bronson/Lee Marvin collaboration Death Hunt, whose unimaginative title hides a pretty idiosyncratic film. Quentin Tarantino recently said Death Hunt was a movie that was better than you remember. At one point in my teens I could dream the entirety of Death Hunt during uneasy nocturnal slumbers.

On Twitter I posted about two other shows that made a lasting impact. “Dying Day” was an installment of ITV’s Armchair Thriller starring a young Ian McKellan. One of My Wives is Missing was a made for TV movie with the old hand Jack Klugman. Having finally tracked them down again as an adult — the internet really shines brightest at moments like these — I’m hard pressed to say why they impressed and terrified me so much in the early ’80s, although both have a stylized production with great music and visuals. Both also feature long confidence tricks culminating in shocking twist endings. (Merriam-Webster has selected “gaslighting” as their word of the year, a word tailor-made for “Dying Day” and One of My Wives is Missing.)

My posts about these minor shows drew sympathetic comments of recognition, a tribute to the power of B-level entertainment in an era when there was only four channels. I tweeted about One of My Wives is Missing because Joss Whedon tweeted about it. Probably Whedon admires it for the same reason I do: he saw it on re-run one weekend when he was 11 years old and there was nothing else to watch.

Speaking of Armchair Thriller, the “black nun in a rocking chair” cliffhanger in “Quiet as a Nun” haunted me like a ghost, I was almost physically ill. If you tweet about that little piece of ITV drama, the support group will gather soon enough. Maybe it is the organ music that makes that clip so damn scary.

Other tweets from the past decade…

I should really go 4 walk this morn but I’m halfway through THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS by Edgar Cantero and biting my nails

Janet Malcolm has passed. THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDER is definitely one of the greatest works I’ve ever read

Just enjoyed THE REVISIONISTS by Thomas Mullen. The modern sci-fi thriller done right: time travel and its discontents

“Like everyone else, including you, I frequently make assumptions on insufficient grounds.” — Archie Goodwin in A RIGHT TO DIE

“Sometimes even the experts had a hard time distinguishing between justified suspicion and paranoid symptoms.” — Ross MacDonald, THE DOOMSTERS

“Did you know Professor Haggerty well?” “Hardly. I did escort her to one or two college functions, as well as the opening concert of the fall season. We discovered a common passion for Hindemith.” — Ross MacDonald, THE CHILL

From THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS by Agatha Christie:

“It began with a combination of circumstances, but what doesn’t?” – Rex Stout, first line of “The Zero Clue.” (Terry Teachout’s response: “Boy, did he ever know how to push off from the starting line.” Miss you, Terry!)

“Heloise long ago reconciled herself to the idea that all is fair in love and war, which is just another way of saying that nothing in life is ever fair, because life is love and war.” — AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD by Laura Lippman

“The Virgin’s death is optional, as long as it’s last.” (from CABIN IN THE WOODS)

“Good night! This is where my tax dollars go?” (from THE X-FILES)

The two scenes of Max von Sydow and Robert Redford together in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR are two of my favorite things

Just watched TRAINWRECK…totally hilarious and touching movie. Wasn’t hip to Amy Schumer, now a big fan

Watched SAY ANYTHING for the first time last night. Great movie!

This past week I read INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE by Anne Rice (1976) and watched the movie adaptation (1994) directed by Neil Jordan from script by Rice. Both great!

KLUTE. 70’s Americana is my bread and butter! God bless the music of Michael Small: Modernism made commercial for smart thrillers

Somehow never saw THE LATE SHOW w Art Carney and Lily Tomlin until tonight. Dang I love 70’s movies

DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is on Netflix if you are into that kind of thing

Just pulled THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE from shelf. What makes Lovecraft great is the depth of his belief…….he sees the unnamable horror in his mind’s eye with acute clarity

Although it is a fairly bad movie overall, Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella have one mesmerizing scene together in UNKNOWN (2011)

“The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.” — THE RULES OF THE GAME

“In real life, people don’t have archenemies” — SHERLOCK

Watched RUN LOLA RUN at last. Wow! Loved it. Experimental thrillers that actually work are so my thing

ROMY and MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION is a hell of a movie

Asimov’s centenary…completing the novelette “Nightfall” as a young teen was an unforgettable moment

Watched DRUG WAR directed by Johnnie To: One of the best genre films I’ve seen in a long time. A goddamn serious crime film

Rewatched BLADE RUNNER. A fav acting moment is when Joe Turkel realizes that Hauer has come for him, looks down at floor, and accepts fate

The novelization of ALIEN by Alan Dean Foster is good

The movie DRIVE is in my pantheon. It’s also a comparatively rare instance where a film makes me love certain tracks from pop music: Kavinsky “Nightcall” and College & Electric Youth “A Real Hero”

Great sign off: Malcolm Reynolds in FIREFLY: “See you in the world.”

Mal: It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.

Jayne: Don’t make no sense.


Ah, yes, “It’s the Bishop!” The first time I saw that Python skit (starring the late Terry Jones) it drilled straight into my chest and set off a chain reaction of uncontrolled laughter

I just had my mind melted by “Me Ol’ Bamboo”: Dick van Dyke and company in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. The (dance) canon at the beginning!!!

“Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.” Poirot in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD

MEMENTO Joe Pantoliano is fantastic, what a great performance. Rest of movie is OK; Nolan has flair but I suspect his oeuvre won’t age well

[but then, many years later after above tweet] Watched Nolan’s INCEPTION on the plane home. Maybe my taste is getting worse, but I liked it a lot more this time. Amoral rich-person’s fantasy, perfectly cast. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it does what it wants, and what it wants is to be is Nolan’s INCEPTION

“Practically all sentries were less than perfect. It was any army’s most persistent problem. Boredom set in, and attention wandered, and discipline eroded. Military history was littered with catastrophes caused by poor sentry performance.” — Lee Child, WORTH DYING FOR

Newish Target novelization of DW “City of Death” is very good! A high pressure assignment for Mr. Goss but he delivered a fun and convincing take on one of the most popular episodes. A few plot holes were fixed gracefully, a few sentences recalled Douglas Adams. Bravo

RIP to Dave Prowse, the shirtless Minotaur in “The Time Monster” (DOCTOR WHO) and the tough yet amusing bodyguard to Hotblack Desiato in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY [this was a bit of joke, for Prowse was trending because he inhabited the costume of Darth Vader]

In the same awesome music for British serial category: Michael Kamen w Eric Clapton for EDGE OF DARKNESS — Barrington Pheloung for INSPECTOR MORSE — Geoffrey Burgon for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Watched ANGEL HEART (1987). I love the first half, but when the movie goes down to New Orleans false notes begin to intrude. interesting score by Trevor Jones, with a sensational deconstruction of torch song “Girl of My Dreams” or Courtney Pine in full “Brecker w. Ogerman” mode

“I have more than 20 cups a day,” Nyberg said.  “To keep my energy up. Actually, maybe just to keep going.”

“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallender said. 

“No work would be possible without coffee.”

They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.

— from the Wallender series by Henning Mankel

Tarantino is 55 today. I remember going to RESERVOIR DOGS in east village w no idea what it was: there was just a cool-looking ad in the Village Voice. One of the significant art experiences of my life

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014, dir. Doug Liman) is an exemplary movie of its kind

About to watch MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991, dir. Gus Van Sant) ….Hadn’t seen since theatrical release — was edgy at the time, now seems more like a college theatre workshop. Some (intentionally) hilarious moments. Great score

I’m almost done with a re-read of 9-book series by Len Deighton: Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match — Spy Hook, Spy Line, Spy Sinker — Hope, Faith, Charity. How I wish Deighton had ended the series early: the first trilogy is perfect, then there’s an epic decline

We are just two episodes in, but sincere kudos to Ben Frost for his evocative score to DARK 

It’s 5:30 AM and I’m watching a compilation of Tom Selleck looking straight at the camera 

There are some books I just read and re-read. HOPSCOTCH by Brian Garfield is so great every damn time. RIP.

The old BBC serial I, CLAUDIUS is great. Jacobi of course, many other actors, but Sarah and I were perhaps most astounded at Brian Blessed as Augustus, a complex portrayal indeed. Gorgeous theme by Wilfred Josephs

Just finished RECURSION by Blake Crouch; A thrilling modern sci-fi novel that — true the title — keeps folding back on itself

Idly discussing with friends the TV show COMMUNITY, which made me laugh as hard as any show ever has. Some *brilliant* episodes and pitch-perfect cast

John le Carré would have been 90 today. His greatest work remains his novel TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. The BBC television adaption is equally great; just rewatched the astounding quiet opening sequence 

The phrase “brave and contradictory rulings” has been wandering through my mind this morning. Looked it up: it’s from THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY. Tempted to make it my Twitter bio

About to watch HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016, dir. David Mackenzie) — People like to say, “The don’t make ’em like they used to” but this solid crime flick with a Western tone is straight out of the past. Gorgeous to look at and many fine performances

About to watch TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967, dir. James Clavell) — This was a great movie. I am floored. I expected it to be mostly of historical interest but wow. Sidney Poitier! What an astonishing performance. The song is also remarkably beautiful

Thanks to my buddy Anna Wayland I watched the first episode of JOHNNY STACCATO last night. Much camp value and a lot of famous musicians on the set

Today I re-read Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST and re-watched Joss Whedon’s BUFFY episode “Once More, With Feeling.” In my personal pantheon, nothing ranks higher than these two

I’ve seen every Hammett adaptation, and MILLER’S CROSSING is one of the best. Probably Coens should have credited Hammett more clearly

Controversial take: I’d surely enjoy the conflicted yet ultimately sadly terrible protagonists of Sopranos and Breaking Bad for the length of a movie or two, but for all those many episodes…nah. Frankly I want clear good guys vs. bad if I’m gonna put in that kind of time. I watch TV to escape

About to watch ROBOCOP (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven) — just remembered that Miguel Ferrer is in this (“Albert” on TWIN PEAKS), which is truly cause for celebration — I watched ROBOCOP once before about 20 years ago. While the obviously satirical/political parts are brilliant, the many action sequences lack style and emotional complexity. Perhaps part of it is simply a budget issue (although the design team certainly did inspired work). — While many regard ROBOCOP as Verhoeven’s finest hour, I think perhaps TOTAL RECALL is more in balance overall — although the high points of ROBOCOP, especially the television news/ads and malfunctioning ED-209, are still sublime today

About to watch RISKY BUSINESS (1983, dir. Paul Brickman) — I adore this movie’s complete lack of morality. So fresh compared to almost all other “teen” movies. Shame Brickman didn’t do too much else

The (intentionally) godawful theme music of THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW is a snippet of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus leading into a wanking guitar blues. #perfect

Love this scary Junot Díaz story from a decade ago, “Monstro.” Post-Covid it is even more chilling

“Even the most promising clues usually only lead to illness. So many corpses roll away unrevenged.” I’m not really sure how I feel about the lurid fantasia of SEVEN, but upon rewatch I admired how every external shot was in the rain until the final scene

R.I.P. Jean Merrill. THE TOOTHPASTE MILLIONAIRE was my absolute favorite book in 6th grade. I can still recall selected sentences.

RIP E.L. Konigsburg. I read FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILIER thirty or forty times.

RIP Herbert Lom. As a kid, there was nothing greater than when one of the Clouseau movies came on.

[capsule reviews of my recent pop culture intake] PREDESTINATION: Good performances by Ethan Hawke and especially Sarah Snook, and I love time travel paradoxes, but the Heinlein short story “—All You Zombies—” sticks the landing better — CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER: I liked this! Of course, anything from the Tom Clancy universe is going to be at least a bit jingoistic and banal, but for what it is, a pleasing thriller with some good villains (especially the White House villains) — THE MEG. Nope, not for me, the sets and effects look great but the characters are too trite. I’m not against Jason Statham in the abstract, but I’ve never seen a good movie that stars Statham — GODZILLA (2014). CGI is getting there. Again, I doff my hat to the production team. But honestly I needed more screen time from the title monster and less human backstory…”Let them fight” gave a chill though. — CAPTAIN MARVEL. Brie Larson is refreshing, but “youthful” Samuel Jackson creeped me out. Comic book movies aren’t really for me but at this point I guess they can’t be avoided — (book) WORLD WAR Z. I loved this the first time, second go round was a bit less exciting. H’mm. Still a modern classic but now I see some of the stitching in the seams I guess — THE MIDDLEMAN. Olen Steinhauer can write a damn gripping thriller. Like many, he’s having trouble fully digesting our political moment quickly enough. The Cold War took decades; Deighton and Le Carre had time in a way moderns don’t — CROOKED HOUSE. I’ve been on an Agatha Christie binge, maybe I’ll write an overview for DTM? At any rate, of the dozen I’ve re-read, this is the one, a masterpiece of plotting and style

[I critiqued Statham in above thread, but then] WRATH OF MAN is quite good if you like that sort of thing

Nice to hear about a guitar being destroyed on SNL last night (I’m serious, things are way too squeaky clean in “big entertainment” these days) — .One of my touchstones is HAPPY TO BE HERE, an early humor collection by Garrison Keillor. This book is overall more esoteric and fierce than later Lake Wobegon material (although I love Lake Wobegon too) — 2nd story is from 1977, “Don: The True Story of a Young Person,” where 17-year-old Don, lead singer of Trash, becomes famous for *eating a live chicken* on stage. GREAT story that simultaneously honors and critiques punk modalities like “destroying a guitar” —- I first read “Don: The True Story of a Young Person” when I was about 17 myself, it made a life-long impression

Note to self: Fredric Brown, Frédéric Chopin, Frederic Rzewski

I took the night off and read ATLANTA DEATHWATCH by Ralph Dennis. Total fun! I’d say the book is somewhere between John D. MacDonald and Robert B. Parker. But unlike Travis McGee or Spenser, Hardman knows he’s a low level sinner first and foremost. I like that — I woke up thinking that there’s also an older echo found in the book. Depression-era gangsters and down and out families: W. R. Burnett, Edward Anderson, Paul Cain. Dennis is nowhere near as slick as MacDonald or Parker. I like that too

from the reissue of ATLANTA DEATHWATCH

My general take on action movies is predictable. THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) is a fav, partly because the creative team re-imagined the politics of the source material (Originally Ludlum saw the CIA as total good guys). On repeat viewings Damon remains mysterious and charismatic.

In THE ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998) you get to have your cake and eat it too: enjoy all the high tech fun and critique it at the same time. This is Tony Scott at his best, it all comes together for him here. Will Smith does the “confused man trapped in a strange maze” perfectly.

THE FUGITIVE (1993) is sort of the template for many movies since. For what it is, reasonably perfect. The acting performances still mattered in those days, with H. Ford and T.L. Jones as perfect antipodes.

And then there is THE MATRIX (1999). Brilliant plot, but abandoning the laws of physics reduces the bandwidth for the actors; almost into merely props. Most 21st action movies are pretty interchangeable. It’s THE MATRIX’s fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great. It is great.

Offhand, I can’t think of another action movie that I’ve seen that is quite at the level of these four. Maybe 1993-2002 was the peak: quite flashy but not yet a constant blare of CGI?