This masterpiece in the history of cinema was released fifty years ago, a hard-boiled apparently without too much tension but with an unrepeatable freedom, melancholy and irony inside. A film without which there would have been no other great works such as The Big Lebowski and Form Vice.
The Big Lebowski you all know it, don’t you? Jeff Bridges, the Dude, the carpet, the nihilists, the White Russian, bowling and Walter’s ashes. The Big Lebowski it’s a masterpiece, a cult movie, and I think we can all agree on that.
Perhaps you are not all present in the same way Form defectwhich is bad, because too Form defect is a masterpiece, one of the peaks of PT Anderson’s cinema, and in its own way a cult movie.
Ecco. Neither The Big Lebowski nor Inherent Vice, nor Jeff Bridges’ Dude nor Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc Sportello would exist if The Long Goodbye and Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe hadn’t existed before them.
Actually, that’s not the point. Obviously.
But putting The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice, Jeff Bridges and Joaquin Phoenix, the Coen Brothers and PT Anderson up there, on top of the piece, was just to get your attention. A publicity move, like the boobs on the covers of Espresso and Panorama when I was a kid.
Because we admit: it wouldn’t have been as easy to get your attention with The Long Goodbye, Elliott Gould, and Robert Altman.
Yet it should have been, because The Long Goodbye is a masterpiece. One of the greatest films in the history of cinema, Gould a great actor, here probably at his best, and Altman an extraordinary director.
We are in the early seventies, and someone in Hollywood takes it into his head to make a film from a novel by Raymond Chandler from 1953, one of those starring the detective Philip Marlowesymbol of hard boiled cinema, the one with the cigarette always in his mouth, the disillusionment always on him, who works for 50 dollars a day plus expenses and who, for practically everyone, is theHumphrey Bogart of the Big sleep.
That someone would have wanted to direct Howard Hawks (director of the Big Sleep), or maybe Peter Bogdanovich, but they said no. She would have liked Robert Mitchum o Lee Marvin as the protagonist, but Robert Altmanto whom the production had approached at Bogdanovich’s suggestion, and who wasn’t particularly interested, said no. I make the film, said Altman, who already had films like M*A*S*H and The Companions behind him, but only if you give me Elliott Gould as the lead.
We have said that Chandler and Marlowe, in the cinema, had always been synonymous with noir and Bogart. Of a very precise imaginary. Of precise rules, of well-defined styles, to use a critic’s word. Here you are.
Robert Altmanwho has always been anarchic and very free, in his approach to cinema, that stuff there, the classic noir, the imagery of Bogart, of those stories made up of intrigues and shadows, of tough guys, guns, babes, and the rough coolness of Marlowe, takes it and doesn’t throw it away, but thereor he dismantles and reassembles it as he likes, as he feels like doing, as is in line with the times.
Los Angeles is still Los Angeles, of course, but Bogart’s Los Angeles is certainly not that of 1973who still lived on the long wave of Summer of Love but that he was already seeing the first signs of an ebb made up of health-consciousness, suntans, hedonism and greed.
In 1973 Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had been dead for three years, Jim Morrison for two, Pink Floyd spoke of the dark side of the moon, David Bowie retired Ziggy Stardust, Tom Waits made his debut with “Closing Time”. To say.
So then the Los Angeles of the Long Goodbye is very sunnya, the predominantly daytime film, even if the colors are weak, and often characters and actions are shown through the filter of glass, windows, reflections. Everything is illuminated, but everything is unclear, a little opaque, mysterious.
So then the Marlowe has some hippie neighbors who do yoga on the terrace and play the bongos and are always half naked, but the rest of the people with whom it will have to deal with peace and love and spirituality are of little interest, and they all think , or almost, to money.
But, again, that’s not really the important thing.
The fact is that Altman cares very little about the plot, the yellow, the noir. As it will matter very little to Anderson in Form defectwho is Cohen Grande Lebowski. Chandler’s novel, Altman, reduces him and betrays him, if anything refers to a collection of letters and notes of the writer, but it is quite clear from how he manages his story that what he wants to do is tell a character, his going almost adrift dragged by mysterious, unclear events, which are just a pretext to explore the absurdities of the world, and of cinema, and observe them with ironic disenchantment.
Gould’s Marlowe is not tough, it is not cool. That is: he is, but not as Bogart could have been, but as the Dude and Doc Sportello will be.
Gould’s Marlowe is sly, light-hearted, calm. Very calm. Almost bordering on indifference, that indifference that he seems to demonstrate in the face of the graces of his uninhibited neighbors.
Always smoke, light your matches on any possible and imaginable surface, his recurring phrase is “It’s ok by me”. A shrug and off we go. After all, what does it matter? What does it have to lose? The life? It’s ok by me.
Altman introduces him to us trying to find food for his cat. Coury Brand Cat Food. The only one who eats. As she wrote Roger Ebert, Marlowe cares about his cat more than anyone cares about him.
And Marlowe is a cat himself. Indolent, lonely. He wants to be quiet, he doesn’t bark, he’s not a dog. Even if the claws, he has them, if he wants.
In the supermarket where he wanders in search of Coury Brand cat food, like the Dude he will wander in search of milk, and where he had entered leaving the car lights on, shrugging his shoulders in front of anyone who points it out to him, the clerk teases him: “What do I do with a cat, I have a girlfriend!”. Talking to himself as he will throughout the film, ironically disassembling and reassembling noir clichés, Marlowe will say “He has a girlfriend, and I have a cat”. That’s all.
Yet Marlowe, Marlowe the calm, Marlowe the sarcastic, Marlowe the indifferent, doesn’t just care about his cat. He cares about friendship, for example, so much so that he helps that friend who knocks on his door at night asking to be taken to Mexico, and who puts him in the big mess of dead wives, bookies, alcoholic writers and opportunistic psychiatrists in which he ends up. . He holds to justice, in his own way. It’s about morals, as evidenced by a dazzling and magnificent ending, in which Marlowe will also be condemned to be a loser, and has also lost the cat, and yet. However.
No spoilers. Claws.
Altman narrates Marlowe, and Los Angeles, and all the other characters, and what happens, with that absolute and total freedom, with that fluidity of storytelling that seems to break down the very limits of the cinematographic image, those of the frame of the shot, which then it will lead to the maximum expression in Nashville.
Altman follows Marlowe, as he is jolted by a mysterious plot from one encounter to the next, from a beachfront Malibu mansion to his run-down apartment, and then to a boss’s house, and on to Mexico, and as he follows Marlowe he rambles, frames reflections on the bodies of cars, girls doing yoga, dogs mating in the street, Marlowe walking on the beach seen through a window.
At the end of Long goodbyein that calm and explosive ending together, that ending that, exactly like at the beginning, cheerfully takes the piss off of Hollywood on the notes of “Hooray for Hollywood”, and which reaffirms how everything we have seen has also been a satire on cinema, its rules and its city, what remains on us is a state of mind, a feeling. What they call over there in America “mellow”.
A sweet and calm softness.
The softness of Marlowe, of his rumpled suit, of his ironic expression, of the harmonica he plays as he walks away, after giving the spectator a unique blend of freedom and disenchantment, memorable jokes and moments of unexpected tension, the feeling of being able see everything and meet anyone, without haste, without anxiety, without the desire to prove anything to anyone, with a melancholy and ironic smile on his lips, aware that the world is neither clean nor linear, that the cat has disappeared, the car lights are still on, no money in his pocket there are, friends not only such but, hey: “It’s ok by me”.
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