Lately a fair bit of traffic has been coming to this blog for a posting from 2013 titled “Pedestrianizing With Pynchon,” my response to Thomas Pynchon’s novel Bleeding Edge, wondering whether the great man is a New York flaneur – conclusion: probably. That post can be found here:
And maybe that traffic is arriving because of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie of Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice, which I saw at the weekend. It’s a noirish tale, and there are a cool cars a plenty – the hero Doc Sportello (played by Jaoquin Phoenix) drives a 1964 Dodge Dart, and it’s definitely not a walking movie per se, but there’s some interesting walking in it: stoners detectives, cops, hippie chicks, dodgy dentists, dodgy doctors, dodgy lawyers, all moving in their own special way.
One big problem the movie had to overcome was to make sure that Doc didn’t resemble the Dude from The Big Lebowski too much – and I think it pretty much succeeds in that. Did the Dude do any walking in the Coen brothers movie? Surely he must have, but I can’t immediately recall much of it. Does walking in a supermarket count?
For most of the 160 minutes of the movie of Inherent Vice, I was gently bored, then sometimes I was savagely bored, and occasionally I was quite entertained. I have no desire to be a film critic, but I’d say (and my fellow scribe and psychogeographer Anthony Miller said this first and put into words exactly what I was thinking but hadn’t quite verbalized) the movie manages to be utterly unPynchonesque.
Still, seeing the movie did remind me how little I remembered of the novel. I deliberately didn’t reread any of it before seeing the movie, but returning to the book now, I see some very interesting mentions of walking, pacing, wandering and strolling.
Within the first ten pages Doc meets up with his pal Denis (it’s pronounced to rhyme with penis): “They walked up to Dunecrest and turned left into the honky-tonk part of town. Pipeline Pizza was jumping, the smoke so thick inside you couldn’t see from one end of the bar to the other. The jukebox, audible all the way to El Porto and beyond, was playing ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the Archies.”
A little later Doc meets up with Hope Harlingen, the wife of a missing sax player:
“She got up and started pacing. She was not a weeper but she was a pacer, which Doc appreciated, it kept the information coming, there was a beat to it.”
I think this is a very shrewd observation about walking, talking and pace. In the movie the actors just sit there and deliver the lines.
About a third of the way into the book Leo and Elmina (full disclosure - I had absolutely no memory of who these characters were – they turn out to be Doc’s parents) are staying at the Skyhook Lodge, “which did a lot of airport business and was populated day and night with the insomniac, the stranded and deserted, not to mention an occasional certified zombie. ‘Wandering all up and down the halls,’ said Elmina ‘men in business suits, women in evening gowns, people in their underwear or sometimes nothing at all, toddlers staggering around looking for their parents, drunks, drug addicts, police, ambulance technicians, so many room service carts they get into traffic jams, who needs to get in the car and go any place, the whole city of Los Angeles s right there five minutes from the airport.’”
Yes! Hell yes! This is why we love Pynchon (if we do).
And then in Vegas Doc goes into The Kismet casino: “Doc got out and strolled under a Byzantine archway and into the seedy vastness of the main gaming floor, dominated by a ruinous chandelier draped over the tables and cages and pits. Disintegrating, ghostly, huge, and, if it had feelings, likely resentful.”
Sure, it’s going to be really, really hard to put that idea on film, but if you’re going make a version of a Pynchon novel, I think you really ought to try to find some filmic equivalent.
Oh, and another, not really all that relevant thing, I did find this very sweet picture of Bridges and Goodman doing some fancy walking at a Big Lebowski event.