Saturday, September 15, 2007

James M. Cain Tells It Like It Is

Perhaps James M. Cain's words below can serve as a partial answer to why the hope of the previous post is such a tall order. This feisty, fun quote is from the novel Serenade (1937) by James M. Cain (which, incidentally, is a fantastic book).

I didn't like Hollywood. I didn't like it partly because of the way they treated a singer, and partly because of the way they treated her. To them, singing is just something you buy, for whatever you have to pay, and so is acting, and so is writing, and so is music, and anything else they use. That it might be good for its own sake is something that hasn't occurred to them yet. The only thing they think is good for its own sake is a producer that couldn't tell Brahms from Irving Berlin on a bet, that wouldn't know a singer from a crooner until he heard twenty thousand people yelling for him one night, that can't read a book until the scenario department has had a synopsis made, that can't even speak English, but that is a self-elected expert on music, singing, literature, dialogue, and photography, and generally has a hit because somebody lent him Clark Gable to play in it.

Since we're having fun with quotes, here are two more, which are not about film, but espouse philosophies on art or literature that can be applied equally as well to any art:

Literature, as I see it, is good to the extent that it is art, and bad to the extent that it isn't, and I know of no other standard by which it may be judged.
- Dashiell Hammett, 1924, quoted in the introduction (by Robert Polito) of the Everyman's Library edition of The Maltese Falcon/The Thin Man/Red Harvest.

By the way, in addition to the various film adaptations of his novels, Hammett wrote one original screenplay in Hollywood (I intend to check this out at some point): City Streets (1931, Rouben Mamoulian) starring Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney. (The IMDB gives Hammett a lesser credit than "original screenplay," so I'm not sure if the introduction that mentioned this is correct or not.)

If the poet is pure in his habits, he will be pure in his verses as well; the pen is the tongue of the soul, and his writings will be as are the concepts engendered in his soul;
- Don Quixote
(1605, Cervantes) Part II, Ch. XVI, pg. 589
(Just combine that with Alexandre Astruc's caméra-stylo theory and you get the idea.)

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