This is a very good piece, but this point - which I’ve seen made elsewhere a few times - got me wondering, are people really thinking this through to what seems to me to be a logical conclusion, that either this is a kind of meaningless point or lots of modern life might well be considered ‘anomalous blips’? Things like labour rights, mass literacy, much of women’s liberation, a broad franchise - innovations for the most part of the 20th century, or at least the ‘long century’ back to 1870 or so. Most aspects of modernity are ‘very unusual in the course of human history’ - that’s why it’s called modernity. Is there a difference, though, in how we think we about social/political and technological change in terms of inevitability, or of conscious, collective control? Are optimism and pessimism applied differently to each on the assumption that progress in one can be objectively measured and referenced, even if its ultimate effects lie in the same subjective sphere that constitutes human relations? Does it make sense to say that we have a ‘choice’ to pursue liberal democracy as much as we have of using digital media, or does each represent a change in an overarching structure that determines the superior course of action?
I guess the standing point of techno-optimism is that the capabilities engendered by technological change sooner or later, and to a greater or lesser degree of predictability of outcome, override political or social inertia. But what is perhaps less considered is the extent to which social and political factors warp technology, determine the form of our engagement with it, and produce a hybrid result (implicit, indeed, in the first sentence of the quote above). All of which is by way of saying that, although I’m not really opposed to the broad shift away from physical media, its existence purely in the period of late industrial capitalism is a pretty weak argument for its distinctiveness, and an even worse one for accepting its disappearance as an inevitability. Because if something else starts disappearing, something you really want to hold on to, there needs to be a better justification available for its continuity than just ‘it existed before the gramophone’…
To celebrate the upcoming collected stories concert series curated by David Lang at Carnegie Hall (April 22-27), we’ll be posting pieces from past issues of the Believer that tie into with the themes of each show. The first concert in collected stories is Hero, for which we’re posting Greg Cwik’s review of Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s film adaptation of The Long Goodbye (from the May 2013 issue of the Believer).
A Review of Philip Marlowe in the Long Goodbye, Directed by Robert Altman
CENTRAL QUESTION: How does a filmmaker make an outdated character relevant?
Number of times Philip Marlowe has been portrayed on film: ten
Age of Elliott Gould when he played Marlowe: thirty-four
Age of Robert Mitchum when he played Marlowe three years later: fifty-eight
Best Hemingway impersonation in The Long Goodbye: Sterling Hayden, allegedly stoned the whole time
Actor Hayden replaced: Dan Blocker, who died just before principal photography began
Film’s tag line: “Nothing says goodbye like a bullet.”
Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe is malleable: literary Play-Doh for the craftily minded. As our sapient narrator, he is a lens through which we see the squalor of modern Los Angeles. We know he’s morally rigid, like an animated slab of unwritten commandments, inextirpable in his personal and political proclivities. He doesn’t take money if he finds a job unethical; he doesn’t respect corrupt police or politicians, regardless of their motivations; he doesn’t sympathize with drunks or wife-beaters; he doesn’t like the rich but he doesn’t weep for the poor. He’s a well-worn scourge of complications and intricacies, his own Osiris.
Maybe my favorite movie. (not a very good analysis though.)