I’ve felt a little at loose ends this week, partly because I was completely blown away by a novel I finished reading called Contempt, by Albert Moravia. It was made into the movie of that name by Jean-Luc Godard, but the original title of the book was A Ghost At Noon.
The book encompasses questions like the nature of love, the absurdities of the mid-20th century movie business, but most of all it takes us into the head of a young screenwriter who is devastated when his wife decides, after two years of seeming devotion, that he is despicable. At first he thinks it’s due to a misunderstanding, but as the story proceeds it seems clear that the problem is far deeper and more complex.
Some of the book is quite funny, as when a German film director expounds on a psychological angle on The Odyssey, the story of the Greek hero Ulysses. Funny, but provocative and profound too.
Amazing descriptions of the Italian landscape and the screenwriter’s enigmatic wife make this book a sensual experience as well.
This is the edition of the novel that I read:
As if reading this book wasn’t enough to knock my socks off, I watched the movie He Ran All The Way, with John Garfield.
It was the last film that Garfield made, and although I’ve seen it before, I think the combination of finishing Contempt and seeing this movie on the same day made me more aware of its many nuances. Garfield plays a cop killer on the run who forcefully holes up in the apartment of a family. In ninety minutes it suggests a novel’s worth of tragedy–and indeed it was based on a novel of the same name by writer Sam Ross.
What made the movie so powerful was how Garfield’s unstinting characterization shows a criminal life brutalized by parental abuse, emotional immaturity, poverty, lack of education, and an absence of intelligent introspection. You feel pity for his character, even empathy (Garfield’s performance is mesmerizing) but you understand why he must be stopped before he strikes again.
His scenes with Shelley Winters, as a love-starved girl who works in a bakery, are tinged with forlorn and desperate sexual hunger. What she is willing to do to feel wanted is one of the most shocking elements of this film.
I recommend both Contempt and He Ran All The Way.
But what do these things have to do with my trade being erotica? Simply, that great works like this are the fuel and inspiration that make me want to write the best stories I can, stories that perhaps go beyond being stimulating into something deeper, something haunting.
Like this European poster for He Ran All The Way, which has an atmosphere of danger and eroticism…
The colors of the European poster remind me of those of a pulp magazine from the 40s. And when I edited adult magazines such as Leg World or Cheeks, I always worked with my art director and photographers to get the most vivid colors in the images and typography.