“The Kiss” and Chekhov’s Gun

The Kiss, from 1929, was the last silent movie for both MGM and Greta Garbo.

There’s no to watch it except for Garbo.  That’s because there’s just not much going on in it.  As the web site Silent Volume says:

I got the feeling that The Kiss, Garbo’s last silent film, was acted on the sly, as though everyone knew the Temptress had run its course and wanted to see how little they could build around the character and still make it work. For The Kiss is short: 62 minutes; without a subplot of any kind, one scant scene of comic relief; a barely resolved second act and no real third act at all.

A commenter on the site suggests that the studio just gave up on the film because it knew that talkies were the future and didn’t want to waste time and money on something no one would watch.

I’m always interested in plots that involve Chekhov’s gun, however, and The Kiss includes a very rudimentary implementation of the technique — every bit as rudimentary as the one in The Two Mrs. Carrolls.  In an early scene we see Garbo’s husband dropping some papers, and then opening the bottom drawer of a file cabinet to insert them into it.  Inside the drawer we and Garbo see — a gun!  Later on (spoiler alert!) Garbo is trying to stop her husband from beating up the callow young man he has seen her chastely kissing (Lew Ayres, appropriately awful). The husband thrusts Garbo aside.  She is on the floor — she suddenly recalls the gun in the file cabinet next to her — she takes it out — she shoots!

I don’t know the state of forensics back in the 20’s, but it seems odd that the jury lets Garbo off on the theory that her husband committed suicide.  The bullet, after all, was fired from a gun at least half a dozen feet away, held at the level of the husband’s kneecap.  Such details aren’t worth worrying about in this movie, however.  Better to just look at Garbo.

I am loathe to criticize anyone but . . .

I have a somewhat respectable day job in which I’m supposed to oversee a couple dozen highly experienced writers.  In the past week, two different writers have sent me emails containing a sentence like the following:

I am loathe to make any changes to the content at this late date.

I generally don’t like pointing out mistakes in emails.  We’re always writing fast; we don’t don’t have time to go back and edit what we’ve written.  But for some reason I decided to point out to one of the writers that the word she should have used was loath.  She responded:

I’m so sorry!  I thought both words were one in the same.

One in the same!  I started to get a pit in my stomach.  Was the language changing without my even noticing?  Or should I start getting more persnickety about emails?

My favorite customer review so far

A satisfied Amazon customer writes about The Portal:

Product was sent on time and as expected. Thank you.

You may say that there’s some mix-up here: the satisfied Amazon customer actually thought she was reviewing something entirely different — a printer cartridge or a dog collar or a box of trash bags.  I prefer to think that she likes my novels so much that, when she discovered that the The Portal was “as expected,” she was moved to give it five stars and express her deepest gratitude.

That’s perfectly plausible, right?

Boston accents

I have never lived more than twenty miles away from Boston.  I was born and raised there.  I went to high school in the Boston neighborhood known as Dawchestuh — the same school where Whitey Bulger’s brother, Billy Bulger, also went.  (In Boston, Dorchester Avenue is invariably referred to in speech as “Dot Ave.”)  When I went off to college, I manage to travel all the way to Cambridge, one city to the north, where I once actually did pahk my cah in Hahvid Yahd.  (That’s not really a thing they let you do.)

When people become aware of this sad fact about me, their first response is usually, “But you don’t have a Boston accent!”  And that’s true.  But, like any Bostonian, I’m notice when actors don’t get the accent right.  Which is more often than not.  But it’s never been clear to me that this is because the accent is, well, hahd, or because I’m just so attuned to it.  Do people from Louisiana grouse about the accents in True Detective?  What to folks from Baltimore think when they watch The Wire?

Here’s an interview with a Boston-area casting director (about fifteen minutes into the episode), who says the Boston accent is one of the hardest one to get right.  But I think she underestimates the difficulty in a few ways:

  • She says most actors, like Jack Nicholson in The Departed, are inconsistent about dropping their R’s.  But I think sometimes actors are too consistent.  The casting director herself pronounced lots of R’s, but she was consistent in saying “hahd” and “heah”, which is what you want.
  • She neglects to mention another aspect of the Boston accent — putting in R’s where they don’t belong.  This is the biggest temptation I have: for example, my first instinct is to say “I sawr it” instead of “I saw it.”   (I can remember way back when I was learning to read, being puzzled when I saw that sentence in print for the first time — what happened to the R that I clearly heard everyone say?)  A somewhat lesser temptation is to say “dater” instead of “data”.
  • Finally, there’s more than one Boston accent.  In movies you typically hear the straight-on streets-of-Southie accent.  The actress who plays the wife on Ray Donovan does a good version of this (she’s from Belfast).  The Kennedys, of course, have their own weird version of the accent.  And there’s a different patrician version that you don’t hear much anymore.  But most people I know just have the merest trace of an accent — just enough to make it clear where they’re from.

Although most of my novels are set in or around Boston or have Boston characters, I’ve never been tempted to try to do a Boston accent in print.  Just too distracting for the reader.  You just have to imagine the accent is there.

“Shared Notes & Highlights” for Dover Beach

How come I never noticed Amazon’s “Shared Notes & Highlights” section before? According to Amazon, these are “the thoughts and passages that Kindle readers have shared while reading this book.”

Anyway, here are the shared notes and highlights for my novel Dover BeachFeel free to use them on Christmas cards, print them on t-shirts, etc.

“Solipsistic,” I suggested. “As if he were the only person who really existed.”

And:

“I know I’m dying,” he said, “but you’re dying, too, everyone is dying. All that matters is what you do before you take that last breath.”

And:

“Rituals are what bind us together. They shelter us from the terror of loneliness and death. They give life meaning and shape.”

I know I know, these don’t seem like quotes from a private-eye novel.  But I’m pretty sure they work in context. And Dover Beach is not really a standard-issue private-eye novel.

“Replica” is now free in England and Canada!

I seem to have some readers there.

In England, it’s #7 among technothrillers on Amazon.

In Canada, it’s #8.

You still have to pay for it in Australia, alas.

Here’s a nice short review that just appeared on Barnes & Noble:

What a terrific book!  Richard Bowker is one of my new favorite authors!