The escape of Mr. Flitcraft

From Claudia Roth Pierpont’s “Tough Guy: The mystery of Dashiell Hammett” (The New Yorker [11 February 2002]: 70):

There is one section of “The Maltese Falcon” that could not be filmed, and for many readers it is the most important story Hammett ever told. A dreamlike interruption in events, it is a parable that Spade relates to Brigid about a man called Flitcraft, dutiful husband and father of two, who was nearly hit by a falling beam while walking to lunch one day. Instead of going back to work, Flitcraft disappeared. “He went like that,” Spade says, in what may be Hammett’s most unexpected and beautiful phrase, “like a fist when you open your hand.” His narrow escape had taught this sane and orderly man that life is neither orderly nor sane, that all our human patterns are merely imposed, and he went away in order to fall in step with life. He was not unkind; the love he bore his family “was not of the sort that would make absence painful,” and he left plenty of money behind. He travelled for a while, Spade relates, but he ended up living in a city near the one he’d fled, selling cars and playing golf, with a second wife hardly different from the first. The moral: one can attempt to adjust one’s life to falling beams but will readjust as soon as the shock wears off.

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1st book written to be filmed

From Claudia Roth Pierpont’s “Tough Guy: The mystery of Dashiell Hammett” (The New Yorker [11 February 2002]: 70):

In March, 1928, [Hammett] had written to his publisher, Blanche Knopf, about his plans to adapt the “stream-of-consciousness method” to a new detective novel. He was going to enter the detective’s mind, he told her, reveal his impressions and follow his thoughts … But a few days after sending the letter, Hammett received one himself, from the head of the Fox Film Corporation, asking to look at some of his stories. He promptly fired off a second letter to Knopf, informing her of an important change in his artistic plans: he would now be writing only in “objective and filmable forms.” In the finished novel, Spade is viewed from the outside only, … we are granted no access to his mind. “The Maltese Falcon” may have been the first book to be conceived as a movie before it was written.

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Movie studios and their genres

From Neither the Power Nor the Glory: Why Hollywood leaves originality to the indies, on Slate:

Back in the old days of the studio system, the brand of a Hollywood studio meant something to the moviegoing public. Each studio, with its roster of stars under contract, came to be identified with a particular genre of movies: MGM (musicals and romantic comedies); Paramount (historical epics); Warner Bros. (gangster stories); 20th Century Fox (social dramas); Universal (horror movies); Disney (cartoons).

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Lowbow vs. highbrow

From "Culture Club" by Louis Menand in the 15 October 2001 issue of The New Yorker:

Things take their identities from what they are not … The concept of a highbrow culture, the culture of great books and the like, depends on the concept of a lowbrow, or popular, culture, whose characteristics highbrow culture defines iself against. Of course, there have always been good books, and bad books, serious music and easy listening, coterie art and poster art. Making these distinctions is easy if you just put everything on a continuum, and rank things from worst to best. The mid-century notion of highbrow culture required something different – it required a rupture between the high and the low, an absolute difference, not a relative one. …

[Dwight] Macdonald’s contribution to the criticism of popular culture was [that] he supplied a third category – middlebrow culture, or what he called Midcult. Midcult was kitsch for educated people. Rockwell Kent, Walter Lippmann, Ingrid Bergman, Archibald MacLeish, and Dorothy L. Sayers were among the practitioners of Midcult …

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