Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Thinking about AI Bezzerides

I’m currently having another look at the work of AI Bezzerides (1908-2007), the Hollywood screenwriter and noir novelist, born in Sampsounta, Pontos, to a Greek father and Armenian mother, whose family emigrated to California when he was two-years-old.

Bezzerides wrote the screenplays for several seminal film noirs, On Dangerous Ground (directed by Nicholas Ray, 1951) and Kiss Me Deadly (directed by Robert Aldrich, 1955), while he adapted his novel Thieves’ Market for the film Thieves’ Highway, which was directed by Jules Dassin in 1949.

Thieves’ Market is the bleak story of immigrant Nick Garcos, an independent trucker hauling produce around the markets of California, in futile pursuit of the American Dream of honest hard work, self-sufficiency and prosperity, thwarted by corruption, deceit, ruthlessness and violence.

The novel is based on Bezzerides’ own experiences of riding with his trucker father in the fields and packing houses of California’s Central Valley and in the markets of Stockton, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. ‘Long, long ago,’ Bezzerides wrote of this formative time, ‘when I saw what the produce dealers did, I knew that the world was going to end.’

Indeed, this sense of despair permeates Bezzerides’ work. Writing in the foreword to Thieves’ Market, Garret White says that the themes that obsessed Bezzerides were: ‘Man’s self-destructive programming (“tragedy is etched into the genes”); the destruction of nature; the mystery and superiority of women; the exploitation of labor; addiction as a metaphor for American consumer culture; the “sanity of the insane and the insanity of the sane”.’

(Bezzerides’ critical approach to American ideology provides an interesting contrast to that of another Greek-American filmmaker, Elia Kazan, who I posted on recently).

Bezzerides also wrote the screenplay for The Angry Hills (1957, also directed by Robert Aldrich), which is set in Greece at the time of the Nazi invasion and involves Robert Mitchum as an American journalist in possession of sensitive information trying, with the help of the Greek resistance, to escape the clutches of the Germans. It’s a flawed and messy film, but there are several interesting scenes – particularly, the village massacre – and the dialogue is good: at one point the Gestapo chief (played by Stanley Baker) tries to persuade a resistance leader to hand over Mitchum by heaping derision on him for not being a soldier, but a ‘journalist, a foreign correspondent. Do you know, Leonidas, what a foreign correspondent is? It is that brand of intellectual coward who observes while others die in order to publish his own version of events in a manner that will sell newspapers. This is the man you’ve been sheltering.’

I’ll see if I can somehow upload the film to the net, or, if you know how to download rar files, go here for the rapidshare links. (Download each rar file separately, place them into a single folder, then open the first with an extraction program – I use UnRarX – which will then convert all the files as an mkv file, watchable with VLC).

The above video is an interview Bezzerides gave to French TV in 1982.