' ' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam: Elmore Leonard

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Memoriam: Elmore Leonard

When I penned a review of what I personally still consider the seminal Steven Soderbergh film, “Out of Sight”, here on Cinema Romantico many moons ago I indicated – in this blog’s typically understated way – that if I was afforded the opportunity to watch a quintet of movie scenes before I died that the scene between George Clooney & Jennifer Lopez in the hotel bar would be among the five. I stand by that statement. And while the images of the scene wreck me as much any in the medium, well, who am I kidding? It’s the scene itself and its construction and its words that truly reel me in. (Note: I also once pretended Sienna Miller & I had our own version of that scene. Yes. I have a problem.)

The scene was written by Elmore Leonard. Well, the screenplay for “Out of Sight” was adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel by Scott Frank and Frank re-sculpted the sequence as he saw fit, but the silver screen version really does not differ all that much from the page. Federal Marshal Karen Sisco (Lopez) is still at that hotel bar in Detroit all on her lonesome having a bourbon. She still has to deal with those three idiot ad guys.

The film gets a kick outta Karen dismissing ad guy Andy’s unwanted advances in the form of arguably Jennifer Lopez’s greatest line reading: “Beat it, Andy.” The book gets a kick outta Karen’s internal monologue about having to dismiss Andy’s unwanted advances. Here is that internal monologue, Leonard’s terse, immaculate prose describing the sort of thing that I imagine runs through any solo woman’s head when she sees a few jackass guys sizing her up.

“All she had to do was give in and they’d ask her to join them and she wasn’t in the mood. Sit there and smile. Okay, what DO you do if you aren’t in sales? I’m a deputy US marshal and you assholes are under arrest. No, they’d like that, so she’d have to keep it simple: tell them she was in law enforcement, a federal marshal, and they’d say, wow, no kidding, and act sincere, interested – You’re packing? – and play off whatever she said, show her how clever and entertaining ad guys were, finally getting to: Are you staying at the hotel?”

Karen is in Detroit in the hopes of tracking down Jack Foley (Clooney), the charismatic bank robber with whom she was entangled earlier. He’s got a thing for her and doesn’t hide it, actively pursuing her – well, in so much as a bank robber on the lam can actively pursue a federal marshal. She’s got a thing for him and does hide it, as best she can, which is pretty darn good, though not quite good enough. And there she is with her bourbon staring out the window at the snow falling on the Motor City. And then there he is in the reflection of the window wondering if he can buy her a drink.

He sits down, and at that point they indulge in the fantasy we likely all indulge in from time to time - assuming a different life, being someone else. Those fantasies never last long, of course, never as long as we want them to, and this one is no different. They play at "Gary" and "Celeste" for a moment or two and then Jack breaks character and Karen tries to push that reality back off her and......can't.

The book: "I don't think it works if we're somebody else. You know what I mean? Gary and Celeste, Jesus, what do they know about anything?" 

The Jesus, I love the Jesus. The Jesus isn't in the movie, not sure why and not that it matters, but still. More curious is what follows. On the screen it's a speech delivered entirely by Jack. On the page it's a speech in which Jack and Karen trade off dialogue, back and forth, like a depressed Detroit singing duo. Why the change for the film adaptation? Clooney had top billing so perhaps they wanted the star to have the whole thing. That sounds like Hollywood. Who knows? But like the Jesus, it doesn't really matter.

It works equally well on the screen and on the page. Leonard's style, in fact, meshed so well with cinema that his books read like movies and his movies sounded like books.

Elmore Leonard passed away yesterday at the age of 87. I always think of Jack's speech as some of my favorite words ever uttered on the big screen. But then I suppose Jack and Karen's speech are some of my favorite words ever uttered on the pages of a book. Either/or.

“It’s like seeing a person you never saw before – you could be passing on the street – and you look at each other… You make eye contact without meaning to. And for a few moments there’s a kind of recognition. You look at each other and you know something. That no one else knows. You see it in their eyes. And the next moment the person’s gone and it’s too late to do anything about it, but you remember it because it was right there and you let it go and you think, What if I had stopped and said something? It might only happen a few times in your life. Or once.”

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