Monday, November 19, 2007


On the recommendation of faithful reader and good-natured contrarian Bill, I’ve finally picked up Theodore Roszak’s Flicker, which promises to be time well spent with a good novel, a rare-enough experience for me, sad to admit. At the rate I read, it’ll be a while before I can report on it, but what I’ve absorbed so far has me excited. So do some of the blurbs on the dust jacket:

“Theodore Roszak’s Flicker is a fantastic novel of suspense and ideas. It reminds me at once of favorite books by H.G. Wells, John Fowles and Raymond Chandler. That is to say it successfully weds the novel of philosophical, political and religious ideas within a popular genre—in this unique case, noir disguised as film criticism. Everyone from film buffs to fans of detective novels should love Flicker.

---Robert Ward, author of Red Baker

”For the film buff, this is not only a chilling metaphysical tale of darkness lurking in the cinematic apparatus, but also a fascinating excursion into the world of true film devotees—filmmakers, critics, scholars, and the denizens of the repertory theater world.”

---Ernest Callenbach, Editor, Film Quarterly

”This book is n absolute necessity for those of us whose lives are based on the movies but who are nevertheless trying not to go too overboard--- and for those who don’t care and have gone overboard anyway. Since nobody else is left, I think this book will be handled around by all those who still read because it is really great, mean, contagious, and true.”

---Eve Babitz, author of Slow Days, Fast Company and Eve’s Hollywood

“On the surface it’s an insane account, one that reaches back to the twelfth century ‘invention’ of the movies and predicts Armageddon in the wake of PlayStations and iMacs. It tests the suspension of disbelief when introducing a few real Hollywood luminaries to the brew, but Flicker is a powerfully seductive tale, an eccentric tour de force by Theodore Roszak. Jam-packed with film references, it seduces through a bizarre conspiracy plot committed with diabolical patience…
Now back in circulation after being out of print for more than a decade, it’s required reading for anyone with a passion for cinema. The new edition… taking a cue from DVDs, (has) been expanded in the literary equivalent of a deluxe director’s version. ‘Novels, like movies, have their outtakes,’ the author explains, ‘passages and chapters that never make it into the final cut.’ Is Flicker the first novel to come with bonus features? It’s a tie-in for the upcoming screen adaptation written by Jim Uhls (Fight Club) and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Considering the stifling interior worlds of his Pi and Requiem for a Dream, however, Aronofsky seems less a carrier of Roszak’s warnings than one in cahoots with the novel’s shadowy heretics.”

---Ray Young, Flickhead (Click here to read Ray’s entire review.)


I may have to trade in the 1991 library-loaned edition I’m currently reading for that spiffy new version Ray talks about. But until I do, I’ll keep reading the old model. Here’s a great passage I soaked in while waiting for Southland Tales to begin last night. The narrator is speaking of the start of his personal voyage toward an obsession with an Ulmer-esque director of film noir:

“How diabolically ironic it was that I should have been summoned to the serious study of film by these French and Italian sirens. As I remember them now—Gina Lollabrigida, Simone Signoret, Martine Carol—they brim with the bright promise of love, the insurgent fertility of life. But the hunger of the flesh as I learned it from them was only the beginning of a darker adventure; though I could never have guessed it, beyond them lay the labyrinthine tunnel that led down and down into the world of Max Castle. There, among old heresies and forgotten deities, I would learn that both life and love can be bait in a deadly trap.

Still I must be grateful, knowing that the awkward desire these few fleeting moments of cinematic seduction quickened in me was the first early-morning glimmer of adulthood. Through them, I was learning the difference between the sexual and the sensual. Sex, after all, is a spontaneous appetite; it bubbles up from the adolescent juices of the body without shape or style. We are born to it like all the simple animals that mindlessly rut and mate. But sensuality—raw instinct reworked into art into a thing of the mind that can be played with endlessly-- that is grown-up human. It idealizes the flesh into a fleshless emblem.

Plato (so some scholars believe) had something like the movies in mind when he wrote his famous Allegory of the cave. He imagines an audience—it is the whole sad human race—imprisoned in the darkness, chained by its own deceiving fascinations as it watches a parade of shadows on the wall. But I think the great man got it wrong. Or let us say he couldn’t, at that distance, know that the illusions of film, when shaped by a deft hand, may become true raptures of the mind, diamond-bright images of undying delight. At any rate, that’s what these beauties of the screen became for me—enticing creatures of light, always there, unchanging, incorruptible. Again and again, for solace or inspiration, I reach back to recapture their charm, the recollection of something more real than my own experience.”



Uncle Gustav said...

Happy reading, Dennis. This, like a DVD copy of Varda's Simon Cinema, should be owned by anyone who's into movies.

Anonymous said...

I know another well-known book of the moment:

"Fucker", by Dick Brown


Sguffalo Bill

Anonymous said...

...and there you have it.

Greg said...

Well Bill, here's your chance. Start up a book blog then I can finally link to you.

I've not read this but if Bill and Dennis like it I may have to give it a go.

Anonymous said...

Wow, my name, right there in the first sentence! I am humbled, Dennis.

I'm really glad you're finally getting around to reading this. When you're done, you'll find it hard to shake off. I could say much more about why it will be hard to shake off, but that would sort of ruin everything, so I won't. But it's a book that really was written for guys like you, me, Jonathan and pretty much everyone else who hangs out here.

I have the "special features" copy, incidentally, and those features, while worth reading, don't stick with me the way the actual novel does. Also, I don't know why they continue to proclaim that it will soon be a major motion picture from Darren Aronofsky, as that's not looking too likely these days, unfortunately.

Anyway, enjoy it, Dennis. I suspect you might find yourself reading "Flicker" a little faster than you think.

Jonathan - I have considered that, actually. Books are at least as important to me as movies. I'd hate to have to pick between the two, but if forced into, books might win out. I'd really like to be able to see "No Country for Old Men" first, though.

Anonymous said...

Read this about a year or so ago, and absolutely loved it. The blending of the real and the fabricated is such that I found myself on more than one occasion turning to IMDB to confirm.

Great, great fun.

In a similar vein, I recently picked up Paul Hoffman's The Golden Age of Censorship, a novel set in the age of the 'video nasty' in Great Britain. (Hoffman was a BBFC censor himself.) Mark Kermode raved about it, which is good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Filmbrain - Oooh...that book sounds good.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I read Flicker years ago and to say it floored me would be an understatement. It was like getting knocked down a flight of stairs. I'll second what Bill says about it being hard to shake off. I never quite looked at movies the same way again.

Anonymous said...

Just what I need ... another book to add to my stack.

And the library has a copy!

OK, I've put it on hold.

I blame all of you. Each and every one of you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, to everybody here who has read "Flicker": have any of you read any other books by Roszak? I haven't, but I own copies of "Bugs" and "The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein". Despite my dislike of the general idea of one writer piggy-backing on the success of a classic (which happens all the time these days), the latter book sounds especially interesting. Anybody have an opinion on either one, or any of his other books?

Anonymous said...

Bill --

I tracked down the same two books after reading Flicker, but never found the inspiration to dive in to them. I guess it's a case of not wanting to be let down.

Anonymous said...

I actually think "Bugs" isn't supposed to be all that good, but I believe "The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein" has a pretty solid reputation. I'll read them someday.

underdog said...

And to think that for years I naiively and arrogantly thought I was one of the few people who had read, or even heard of, Roszak's "Flicker." I loved the hell out of it, it floored me, years ago when it first came out, except for a few parts where I found my attention wandering, eyes glazing over, but overall I remember it really seeped into my consciousness. Now much time has passed, and after reading your (re)introduction, I want to read it again. Enjoy!

tb said...

My book group read FLICKER, oh, about 10 years ago, and nothing we ever read caused nearly the commotion that FLICKER did. In short, we all HATED it, but hated it so passionately that I've never forgotten it. It' still on my shelf, daring me to re-evaluate it one of these days.