Huston, We Have No Problem

I have watched 20 or so films directed by John Huston in the last week — most of them as part of a Criterion Channel-themed selection, and the rest hunted down for the sake of being complete. Some of them I have seen before, but unless I can fully recall them I haven’t included them on my watched list on Letterboxd. It’s interesting that from Moby Dick through to Annie and the Bogart films and Wise Blood, and even the propaganda films for the Second World War you can see recurrent themes and stylistic flourishes. I really like all the films, even the ones which don’t really stand up, like Sinful Davey and A Walk with Love and Death, for their energy. Now I have moved onto Randolph Scott westerns, which have a similar drive and energy, and a lean storytelling engine that is not that dissimilar to what you get in detective fiction.

I know my own reasons for liking these movies is not the same as the reasons my dad had for liking them, but there was a simplicity about him too, so I have to wonder if that was an attraction. The westerns were also a bit of a dodge for understanding perhaps what my grandfather went through in the war. My dad wasn’t allowed to watch war films when he was around.

The way time and story unpacks is interesting in these films. The majority of them are pretty lean on exposition, and they just drop you right into the middle of the action. Action and language are somewhat interchangeable, and the internal landscape is often laid bare through the external landscape. Huston wrote a lot of his own scripts. He is a great actor too, and when you watch him act you can see where some of the spare nature of his scripts derives from. He is generally a very forceful character with all the words and the actions pushing in the same direction like a primal force. Do Huston’s films explain him to himself, or are they communications to the world about the nature of the man making the films? I think you could argue strongly for both ideas.

As a writer I learn at every opportunity — overheard conversation on the bus; pop song; movie; interview; comic; what-the-fuck-ever. Listen as much as you spout off; intake as much as you outflow.

I have been around those who look at genre output and sniff at it. I have seen people who try on the clothes of genre but pitch themselves as being from a higher echelon where “literature” exists. It is an arbitrary dividing line and one that doesn’t hold water when you consider the quality of some so-called genre writing versus that from the literary canon. I used to joke about myself that I had a broadsheet mind and a tabloid mouth, but over the years having straddled those two types of literature with my writing I feel like the boundaries are erased.

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