Thursday, September 27, 2007

Introduction to "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles"

Intermittently throughout the blog, we have posted pictures that were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward. We have pasted the book's introduction below.

Sternwood Mansion and Greenhouse

"The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. the knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying." (3-4)

In this opening passage, Phillip Marlowe automatically sets a role for himself as not a hero in the traditional sense but as a helper. Throughout the novel, the detective shoots down any tangible connections with other characters, especially with women, resisting the urge to submit to a world of which he does not want to be a part.

"There were French doors at the back of the hall, beyond them a wide sweep of emerald grass to a white garage, in front of which a slim dark young chauffeur in shiny black leggings was dusting a maroon Packard convertible." (4)

Marlowe scours the city, always on a mission, but he seemingly does it for the purpose of keeping the social lines intact. In order to maintain a sense of justice, Marlowe tries to sustain a dieing hierarchy.

"The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. the light had an unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium tank. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket." (7)

Marlowe's graphically morbid response to General Sternwood's 'jungle' embodies the Depression Era's disdain towards the broken promises of a Los Angeles conceived as paradise. Paradoxically, Marlowe feels compelled to shield the General from facing the hardships of the times in order to promote his oblivious existence.

Pictures of the Doheny Mansion and Greenhouse were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Lido Fish Pier

"Taylor had the motive, jealous rage, and the opportunity to kill Geiger. He was out in one of the family cars without permission. He killed Geiger right in front of the girl, which Brody would never have done, even if he had been a killer. I can't see anybody with a purely commercial interest in Geiger doing that. But Taylor would have done it. The nude photo business was just what would have made him do it." (110)

The picture of the Malibu Pier was taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Palisades Park and Del Ray Beach Club

"We drove away from Las Olindas through a series of little dank beach towns with shack-like houses built down on the sand close to the rumble of the surf and larger houses built back on the slopes behind. A yellow window shone here and there, but most of the houses were dark. A smell of kelp came in off the water and lay on the fog. the tires sang on the moist concrete of the boulevard. The world was a wet emptiness." (149)

"There was a winking yellow light at the intersection. I turned the car and slid down a slope with a high bluff on one side, interurban tracks to the right, a low straggle of lights far off beyond the tracks, and then very far off a glitter of pier lights and a haze in the sky over a city. That way the fog was almost gone. The road crossed the tracks where they turned to run under the bluff, then reached a paved strip of waterfront highway that bordered an open and uncluttered beach. Cars were parked along the sidewalk, facing out to sea, dark. The lights of the beach club were a few hundred yards away." (150)

Pictures of Palisades Park and the Bel Air Bay Club were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Bullock's Wilshire

Selected passage from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles":

This extraordinary Art Deco Building was the first "suburban" department store in the United States. John and Donald Parkinson were the architects for what has been called their masterpiece and what is still the "Flagship" store of Bullocks' Southern California mercantile empire. Even before Wilshire Boulevard was cut through MacArthur (then Westlake) Park to become the most prestigious business boulevard in the city, John Bullock put his new store close to the shoppers he desired. Sandwiched between Los Angeles's newest exclusive residential area, Hancock Park, and expensive mid-Wilshire apartments, it was completed just months before the 129 stock market crash. Display windows and an impressive doorway face the Boulevard. The real entrance to this building, the first department store dedicated to the auomovile-driving shopper, is off the parking lot, where a glassed-in porte-cochere features a ceiling mural by Herman Sacks depicting modes of "modern transportation" complete with a zeppelin. Unfortunately, the tower's "violet light" no longer shines."

"The motor of the gray Plymouth throbbed under her voice and the rain pounded above it. The violet light at thte top of Bullock's green-tinged tower was far above us, serene and withdrawn from the dark, dripping city." (180)

Pictures of Bullock's Wilshire were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Geiger's Home at Laverne Terrace

"The flash bulb was the sheet lightning I had seen. The crazy scream was the doped and naked girl's reaction to it. The three shots had been somebody else's idea of how the proceedings might be given a new twist. The idea of the lad who had gone down the back steps and slammed into a car and raced away. I could see merit in his point of view." (36)

"Don't kid me, son. The fag gave you one. You've got a nice clean manly little room in there. He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors. He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men. Think I can't figure people like him and you out." (100)

From afar, Marlowe witnesses the murder of Geiger within his house in the Hollywood Hills. Later we see that it is the so-called sordid images of the characters that condemn them more so than their crimes.

The picture of a house in Hollywood Hills was taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Rare Books and De Luxe Editions

"A. G. Geiger's place was a store frontage on the north side of the boulevards near Las Palmas. The entrance door was set far back in the middle and there was a copper trim on the windows, which were backed with Chinese screens, so I couldn't see into the store. There was a lot of oriental junk in the windows. I didn't know whether it was any good, not being a collector of antiques, except unpaid bills." (22)

Geiger's pornography syndicate, which poses as a storefront for rare and exotic books, will come to symbolize the facades created by the morally ambiguous. As embodied by the sense of false history perpetuated by the ornateness of the Sternwood mansion, and the cover up of the oil fields that are turned into public parks, Los Angeles can be seen as the victim of its own self-mythologizing.

The picture of Bennett's Bookshop was taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

The Sternwoods' Oil Fields

Throughout the novel, the integrity of Phillip Marlowe is tested by the corruption, or perhaps reality, of his environment. Sacrificing himself to serve a higher code of honor, Marlowe acts as the modern-day counterpart to the knight on the Sternwoods' stained glass window. While he follows the old fashioned ideals of the past, he is willing to immerse himself within the subterranean world of Los Angeles to do so. Yet by the end of "The Big Sleep", motives to propagate such outdated and seemingly naive notions of justice are put into question. In a world where crime is the pervasive feature of a society in decline, as accentuated by the blurring of social borders within a sprawling Los Angeles, how can one pursue a life of meaning? In the final passage, Marlowe comes to the strikingly nihilistic conclusion that such pursuits are meaningless as we are all going to be dead soon enough anyway.

"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep." (230-231)

Pictures of the Baldwin Hills Oil Field were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

House on the 101

Has anyone been following this story?,0,4997994.story?coll=la-home-local

Remember it when we read Tropic of Orange...


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Santa Monica Pier

As a voice from the courtroom condemns him to death, Robert Syverten recounts the events that led up this sentence. The story is located, for the most part, on the Santa Monica Pier “in an enormous old building that once had been a public dance hall” (15). This is where the dance marathon takes place. This is where he kills Gloria Beatty.

The pier juts out over the Pacific Ocean: “It was built out over the ocean on pilings, and beneath our feet, beneath the floor, the ocean pounded night and day” (15). It is an emblem, an exaggeration of westward movement. California has drawn the dancers west from Texas and Arkansas and Pennsylvania, but they continue to move west, pushing even against the geographical boundaries of the land. They were drawn by a dream of Hollywood and sunshine, but the dream has become a degraded lust for “‘free food and a free bed’” and the possibility of a thousand dollar prize (13). They themselves have become degraded, have submitted to running in circles like horses on a track and to sleeping on cots in ten-minute increments (16). Robert calls it an “amusement pier” (15), but here amusement becomes perverted, entertainment becomes a spectacle of violence and inhumanity. And the ocean keeps “pounding, pounding against the pilings all the time,” (16) mercilessly, relentlessly, indifferent to what goes on above it. In this way it mirrors the monotonous repetition of the dance marathon itself.

The dancers are confined, always, to the dance hall, where they can feel the ocean but cannot see it and where only a triangle of sun breaks through the window for a few minutes each day (36). The are over the beach but not at it; they cannot enjoy the waves or see the sunset. Ironically, the beach becomes distant, unreachable—ever present as a pulse beneath them, but always unattainable, impervious to their fate. Their dreams begin and end at the ocean’s edge.

The dance marathon “‘attracts the bad element’” (85); the pier becomes tainted by violence: a fight, a stabbing, a shooting, and finally, Gloria’s death: “I shot her. The pier moved again, and the water made a sucking noise as it slipped back into the ocean. I threw pistol over the railing” (121). The pistol contaminates the water, and through McCoy’s novel, death contaminates the Santa Monica pier.

The Park

Here Robert and Gloria discuss where they are from (Arkansas and Texas, respectively) and we are able to get a sense of how far they have come.

The park is also a kind of escape for Robert. Even though it is in the middle of a giant, bustling city, he is able to relax there under false pretenses of "security." The contrast between the safe seclusion of the park and the urban aura of the city around it is another juxtaposition that we see continuously in Robert's life. His idea of a "private island" is really just another deflated dream; in reality he only has a tiny, public park.

"I was glad she wanted to go to the park. It was always nice there. It was very small, only one block square, but it was very dark and very quiet and filled with dense shubbery. All around it palm trees grew up, fifty, sixty feet tall, suddenly tufted at the top. Once you entered the park you had the illusion of security. I often imagined they were sentries wearing grotesque helmets: my own private sentries, standing guard over my own private island..." (9)

Robert and Gloria's Meeting Place

Robert and Gloria meet on Melrose, in between Paramount Studios and Western Ave. As mentioned in class, the word “Western” and its repeated use (7) show a significance beyond the street name. Robert and Gloria’s walk to Western reminds us of the larger journey both have made from unsatisfying homes to “the West” (aka Los Angeles.) The fact that the “Western” they actually reach is just a street brings up the theme of dream deflation and disillusionment. Just as Robert can picture himself driving down Melrose in a fancy car when he is actually on his feet, his dream of gaining the wealth and fame from the West is a stark contrast to the Avenue that is actually no different from the one he is walking on. Los Angeles is, for some, not the name of a city but the symbol of a good life. Just as Western is just a street name, Los Angeles is just a city and not the answer to every flighty vision.

In the first two pages of the couple’s “relationship” (whatever that may be), the reader is given an image of both the ideal life of riches and prosperity (Paramount Studios, which Robert is appropriately walking away from in dejection) and the century-old way of seeking the goal (heading to the West). It is significant that Gloria is trudging along with the still hopeful Robert only because she missed her bus. (“I may as well walk on down to Western,” she says on p.7.) The dynamic between Robert’s optimism and Gloria’s lack of faith is maintained throughout the novel.

“It was funny the way I met Gloria. She was trying to get into the pictures too, but I didn’t know that until later. I was walking down Melrose one day from the Paramount studios when I heard somebody hollering, ‘Hey! Hey!’ and I turned around and there she was running towards me and waving. I stopped, waving back. When she got up to me she was all out of breath and excited and I saw I didn’t know her.
‘Damn that bus,’ she said" (7)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Murder of Nick Papadakis

Did James M. Cain visit this specific area? Later in the book, the name of the road is supposedly Malibu Lake Road--a place which may have existed then but doesn't now.

Frank says there were two roads following the coast: they took the one 10 miles inland. We've determined that this was likely the 101, which parallels the PCH and intersects it in Ventura, as described by Frank on page 41. Past Malibu Lake, as described in the novel, there are several mountainous roads leading towards the beach, any of which could have been the site of the murder. Cora turned here under the guise of seeing "where the movie stars live". But as Frank says, "The real idea was that this connection is about the worst piece of road in Los Angeles county, and an accident there wouldn't surprise anybody, not even a cop." (pg. 41)

The Murder:
"He got in, but shoved his face out to the window and let go one. I braced my feet, and while he still had his chin on the window sill I brought down the wrench. his head cracked, and I felt it crush. He crumpled up and curled on the seat like a cat on a sofa. It seemed a year before he was still. Then Cora, she gave a funny kind of gulp that ended in a moan. Because here came the echo of his voice. It took the high note, like he did, and swelled, and stopped, and waited." (pg. 43)

Twin Oaks Tavern

Frank Chambers first encounters the Twin Oaks Tavern after being thrown from a hay truck on the first page of the novel. "It was nothing but a roadside sandwich joint, like a million others in California." (pg. 3) At first, it acts as just another place to steal a free meal, but Frank's pursuit of Cora changes everything, including the tavern itself: "It's a beauty, believe me, it is. And it's important. A place is no better than its sign, is it?" (pg. 10). From Nick's perspective, it is a way for Frank to start anew, "Air. Is a nice. No fog, like in a Los Angeles. No fog at all. Nice, a clear, all a time nice a clear." (pg. 4) To Frank, Twin Oaks is a catalyst for the affair, the first murder attempt, and much later, revenge against the blackmailer Pat Kennedy. It also is frequently associated with cats: the cat who electrocuted itself in the fuse box, the neglected puma which helps convict him, and Frank's ongoing comparison of Cora to a hellcat.

The tavern evolves from a common restaurant for people passing through into a unique and dangerous place.

Cora wants to settle down and build a beer garden, but the more she invests in the tavern, the more difficult Frank finds it to stay.

Extraneous quotation:
"We kept the place open all the time, and went after the business, and got it. Of course it helped, that day when a hundred Sunday school kids showed up in three buses, and wanted a bunch of stuff to take out in the woods with them, but even without that we would have made plenty." (pg. 28)