Saturday, 19 October 2013

DRONES: THE WAR ON TERROR COMES TO THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

In the language of detached warfare, a wife, parents, and three kids can be called 'several unidentified terror suspects' and this is the fulcrum on which Drones balances. The film is largely a two-hander, in which an experienced drone 'pilot', Jack (Matt O'Leary) who is a mere airman, is breaking in a new pilot, Lieutenant Sue Lawson, who not only has 'washed out' of pilot school at the US Air Force Academy because of a detached retina caused while boxing, but is also the daughter of a general. On their first day together, they spot that a wanted Al Queda terrorist Mahmoud Khalil will soon be showing up at a house their drone has under surveillance. Showing up to see his children and celebrate his birthday. And after one false alarm, which irritates the folks at CentCom (central command), they are given orders to kill him when he does arrive.

But killing him will involve taking out his family, in fact, all the people who show up, with a goat to barbeque, for the party, some dozen civilians, or 'potential terrorists'. And as she thinks about it, Sue decides she will not kill innocents, not even to take out a top terror target.

Drones plays out like a play, at times almost as didactic, though the film opens out in a curious way, through the two screens on which the 'pilots' watch the drone's cameras, and the third screen on which their superiors communicate with them. It's interesting the way director Rick Rosenthal handles those screens, because we never see the people from the drone's-eye view in close up until the film's final moments of denouement (I'm not sure anyone actually hits a zoom button, like those crime films where surveillance camera footage always seems to come with a director), which stands in sharp contrast to the closer shots we get of the commanding office, and then of Sue's father.

The film builds its arguments carefully and subtly; although they're in the middle of the Nevada desert, in a trailer, they wear flight suits, as if they were 'real' pilots; Jack is obviously playing Top Gun in his mind. The point that they are conducting war via video game is obvious; they even send out for pizza, which gets delivered at exactly the moment of most tension. The planes flying overhead, from the nearby airbase, remind Sue of what is now out of reach for her. The film plays carefully with chain of command issues; she outranks Jack, but he is the experienced pilot; she is also better educated and tougher, but he is still a man and she a woman.

But the biggest issue is what is acceptable in the 'war' on terror. Sue soon realises that Khalil might not be an Al Queda terrorist at all, but merely a dissenter our Pakistani allies wish to see eliminated. Her father was a bomber pilot in Vietnam; her issue with killing civilians is really a question of sight; were she an actual pilot dropping bombs or firing rockets, she would create far more 'collateral damage', but she would not have first seen the people she was killing. And the film's reversal hinges on what her father tells Sue about the terrorist, and about his connection with the 911 attacks in which, coincidentally, her mother and brother were killed. It is Jack who believes what the audience may suspect: that Sue's father, at this moment of greatest familial candor, is lying to her. Meanwhile, armed MPs wait outside the trailer to storm it, arrest one or both of them, and carry out their mission should either of them, in the end, refuse.

The film ends abruptly, with the decision, and without chasing down the ramifications of it, but that leaves the debate uppermost in the audience's mind. That it is settled by the personal, emotion argument, rather than the moral, political, or military one, is a bit of a cop-out, but its arguments have been made, and the audience is therefore free to decide for themselves, agree or disagree as they see fit.

Rosenthal builds his tensions nicely, and with the caveat about the turnaround, Matt Witten's script is taut. Director Rick Rosenthal was a cinematographer himself; his son Noah's camera on this film sets the outdoor scene lovingly, but does a nice job within the confines of the cabin, and with the two screens: when they are dealing with Col. Wallace (the excellent Whip Hubley) there is more than a slight reminder of Dr. Strangelove. William Russ, as General Lawson, is also excellent in his small part.

But the film depends on its two leads. Eloise Mumford is excellent, only occasionally less than fully convincing; her moral stance at the start would be something you'd expect she would have confronted at some point earlier, growing up in a military family, attending the Air Force Academy, suffering loss in 911. It's a quick conversion, and when she becomes a daughter again, her vulnerability plays against the character she needed to set up, as if she's almost too good for the part. Matt O'Leary as Jack is even better; he nails his role, the underlying weakness, the macho pretense, and, just like Mumford, he needs to present a conversion, based on his experience with own problematic father, which doesn't quite come off. In both cases, praticality, the reality of the military, gets lost within the deeply personal, rather than the personally ethical. It's what stops the film from being something major, rather than just thought-provoking and suspenseful, which isn't bad.


DRONES plays the London Film Festival today and Sunday 20th

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

STEVE HAMILTON'S LET IT BURN

It's the end of summer in Paradise. Paradise, Michigan, that is, on the Upper Peninsula, and Alex McKnight is anticipating another long and cold winter when he gets a call from Detroit, telling him a killer he helped catch, just days before the shootout where his partner was killed and he took the bullet that is still lodged inside him, is about to be released from prison.

It was a hot summer in Detroit, and Alex was still adjusting to being a cop, after his baseball career peaked in the high minor leagues. Darryl King confessed to the murder of Elana Paige, a young black man who'd killed a robbed a wealthy white housewife who was doing a photography course at Wayne State. And although he doesn't really intend to, Alex finds himself drawn back to the city, and to that summer, and finds that the case was perhaps not as open and shut as he'd thought it was at the time.

Steve Hamilton weaves the two stories together—the summer Alex lost Franklin his partner was also when he began to lose his wife as well—and does it well, mostly because this is a story about the city of Detroit as well. It is a catalogue of loss, of the way a city can suffer from exhaustion and become a shell of itself, and the people who once coped with it in its decline can become shells of themselves as well. It's never overdone; in fact, if anything the landscapes are sketched in very sparingly, and the intimate details of Alex's own loss are more hinted at than described in their agonies. But that helps it all work, as the basic plot, the resolving of the injustice done Darryl King, becomes a torturous maze which Alex, in that stubborn way he's exhibited previously, plugs away at until the path through finally appears.

Sadly, there appears to be no path for Detroit, nor to undo or redo the past. Perhaps Paradise, is, in the end, simply where we find shelter, where we can insulate ourselves against the cold of loss, and the loss of things we love.

Let It Burn by Steve Hamilton
Orion £18.99 ISBN 9781409140771

This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

Saturday, 12 October 2013

ENOUGH SAID: JAMES GANDOLFINI AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013

Although Enough Said is nominally the story of a single-mom masseuse in LA trying to have a relationship, and it sometimes fails to make the most of the farcical elements it's set up, what makes it work is the exceptional performance of James Gandolfini as the male lead, in his penultimate film role.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, whose daughter is about to go 'back East' to college, and whose career as a masseuse is an almost endless parade of clients who have bad breath, natter on inanely about their problems, or who seem oblivious to Eva's own problems, like having to lug her massage table up a flight of steep stairs. At a party she meets Albert (Gandolfini—whose character appears to have been given that name solely so Eva can later make a 'Fat Albert' joke) and they get a small sense of attraction when admitting neither finds anyone at the party attractive. Of course, romance blossoms, but Eva is besieged by doubts, mostly because Albert is overweight, messy, and doesn't seem to worry about that. His own daughter, also headed east to college, is obnoxious. But what makes it worse is Eva's newest client, another product of the fateful party, Marianne (Catharine Keener): a poet whose tastes Eva admires and who is constantly disparaging about her overweight ex-husband.

Who of course turns out to be Albert.

Although it is funny, and often written very cleverly, in one sense, Nicole Holofcener's film seems to back away from being the comedy it cries out to be—as if its chops as an 'independent' movie would be at risk were it not to highlight the suburban LA malaise while it sets up a Feydeau farce. In some ways, this is a movie about people who are uncomfortable with themselves, and their roles; people driven by a need to have something else, something better. This is illustrated best by Eva's friend Sarah (Toni Collette), who's dissatisfied with everything from her husband Will (Ben Falcone) with whom she is constantly bickering and comparing to an imaginary new man, to the way the furniture's arranged, to the disorder of their maid Cathy (Anjeleh Johnson-Reyes), whose shortcomings are mostly Sarah's. Her inability to fire Cathy, based on an literal inability to find what she wants because she's so messy also hints at an ominous LA perception: earlier in the film Eva yells at one of her daughter's friends to 'pick up your trash...you're not British!'

This sort of dissection of the mores of LA, the needy daughter whose mother wants to dress like a teen, and whose need pushes Eva's own daughter into the background, to a goodbye dinner for Eva's daughter with her ex and his new wife, and especially in Catharine Keener and her relentless attack on Albert coupled with a sort f lonely name-dropping of her own, is built around self-centeredness, and around perception being mistaken for reality.

The only exception to that, of course, the only character who actually seems comfortable in himself, is Gandolfini, who may have walked into LA from New Jersey just as surely as if this were an episode of the Sopranos. In fact, what made Tony Soprano work was in large part Gandolfini's innate humour and likeability, something hinged to the vulnerability of the less attractive fat man. In that sense, Albert is Tony Soprano without the threat of violence, without the simmering rage underneath. He understands who he is, and if not always happy with his loneliness, can live with that. It has always puzzled me why this wasn't spotted in Gandolfini, after playing Bear in Get Shorty, which was 1995 after all. Instead, when he started getting film roles they were in the George Dzunda class, ignoring his comic potential.

This is important because for most of the film he plays straight man for Louis-Dreyfus, who is far more a television, small-screen, actor than he is. She spends much of the film acting with her teeth, and as if aware of the limitation, Holofcener shoots much of it in extreme close-up, as if we were watching a TV screen. Louis-Dreyfus is good when she has to be controlled, mostly at the moment of breakdown, but it's Gandolfini who reveals big emotions through small gestures, who manages to project the inward, which is the big screen way. His ability helps Louis-Dreyfus find a bit of the screwball touch, and stops her from spinning madly out of control with toothy smiles, which may indicate Eva's uncertainties, and do whenever Gandolfini is on screen with them.

The real moments the film works are not in ensemble moaning, but when it is dealing with the personal, the way love grows, then dissipates, how , which is external, can evaporate if you don't find the kindness which is internal. I so wanted this movie to have an unhappy ending, and there are moments when it could have—and that would have given it independent street cred out the wazoo. But Gandolfini had made us feel Albert deserves better, and Jwe know, in the end, he will be himself. This film is dedicated to him, and well it should be, because it turns a lightweight comedy into something memorable.

Enough Said plays at the London Film Festival 12,13, 14 October, before release from Fox Searchlight.

Friday, 11 October 2013

SCOTT CARPENTER: THE GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of Scott Carpenter went up at the Guardian online today, you can link to it here, and it ought to be in the paper paper soon. I wish I'd had the time to go back and either read through The Right Stuff or watch the excellent movie: although Carpenter's part is small (as evidenced by his being played by Charles Frank), but it's important; the movie makes it clear that Carpenter is the one who's 'stuff' is seen as questionable--I can't remember offhand if he's shown in confrontation with Chris Kraft directly, but my distinct recollection is that he is the pretty boy, all-American face, and it may be that his troubled family life was part of the perceived problem. At any rate, such speculation was probably best left out of his obituary, but I will now go back to the film to see if my memory is correct.

Otherwise, I am always saddened to recall the immense promise of my country in my youth--John Kennedy promised a man on the moon and we did it in less than a decade. Those crew cut guys with horn-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved white shirts, nerd packs and slide rules sent a few equally crew-cut pilots into space and brought them back using computers the size of my house with less power than the one I'm writing this on now. It was an immense achievement.

The nature of Carpenter's shift from space to the bottom of the sea is actually the sort of conversion that would make an epic film itself--and reading between the lines, his personal life would make it even more so. I lean toward the idea he deserved another chance in space, but the film would probably start with his re-entry, and take the conflict, and his response, from there.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

THE REAL DEADWOOD: RICHARD MATHESON'S WILD BILL HICKOK

It's always sad when a writer's untimely death motivates you to find that unread book and, a day late as it were, finally read it. Such was the case for me recently with Richard Matheson, who was better known as an sf writer, or indeed a screenwriter, but who produced a number of westerns that share a clean prose, clear storyline, firm narrative drive, and deft characterisation. The Memoirs Of Wild Bill Hickok is no exception, but it's also a revisionist version of gunfighter myth, a sort of Little Big Man focussed in on just one man.

The excellent conceit of the novel is that it is indeed written by James Butler Hickok himself, and he is no gunfighter, much less a hero. In fact, he starts a sensitive soul, and grows into someone who's more coward than anything else; even his name is acquired through accident and misunderstanding. Fate seems to have a different path for Hickok that the one he might imagine, and in this case, fate deals him tough cards—not least his famous, fatal, aces and eights.

What makes the book most effective is that Hickok's own writing begins to follow the rough-edged frontier talk he has borrowed from the dime novels who've created his legend; the sensitive man proud of being well-read, winds up writing as if he really were the hero he's been written to be, and in that chasm, in that conflict between the man and myth, lies the story. It's fiction as life, and the scenes of Hickok on the stage have a true discomfort, even for the reader. And Bill finds his solace, as he did when he was a boy, in women, or failing that, as a man, in the bottle.



It seems a simple tale on the surface, but it's Matheson's version of Hickok's prose that gives this novel its edge, and makes it memorable. It reminds us of just how controlled, how spare, and how good Matheson was.

The Memoirs Of Wild Bill Hickok by Richard Matheson
Forge (Tom Doherty Associates) 1996, $6.99
ISBN 9780765362278

Friday, 4 October 2013

FREDERICK WISEMAN AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN

Frederick Wiseman's new film, At Berkeley, will be showing at this year's London Film Festival, in the documentary competition. It marks a welcome return of his work to these shores. Wiseman is one the great documentary film-makers; indeed, I put him at the top of a Top Five list which I did for the Daily Telegraph in 2001 or 2002. I originally wrote this interview, in short form for them  in 2000; the longer version which follows was done for Headpress magazine, and is only slightly altered. The hook was Wiseman's appearance at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, to give a masterclass around the debut of his film Belfast, Maine, for which I retain a great deal of admiration. I offer the interview now, because, just as I found Belfast a sort of companion piece to his earlier film Aspen, At Berkeley seems like another film which gets at the heart of America through its education system, as with the two High School films, and what that says about their communities.

FREDERICK WISEMAN: FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN


Thirty-three years ago, when Frederick Wiseman started making the documentary films which shaped our understanding of cinema verite, no one imagined we’d be living in world where fly-on-the-wall filming would engulf us from any and every screen we chose. Reality television, everything from police car chases to the pseudo-reality of Big Brother, captivates viewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Does Wiseman see these programmes as his legacy?

“Actually, I’ve never seen them at all,” he says. “I guess that’s a comment right there. I’m too busy working. But I would hope that I’m in no way responsible. I think these programmes arise simply from the advances in lightweight equipment. The new technology demands to be used for new purposes."

I spoke with Wiseman twice. First from Paris, where he was directing a play at the Comedie Francaise, and then at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, where he presented a masterclass being interviewed by the Guardian’s Derek Malcom. This was followed by a retrospective of his films at London’s National Film Theatre. Such a show was long overdue, because for more than thirty years no one has shone as consistently sharp a light on American institutions as Wiseman. After 31 films, he has become something of an American institution himself. 

His first film, TITICUT FOLLIES (1967), set at Bridgewater State Prison for the Criminally Insane, was banned for 24 years in Wiseman’s home state of Massachusetts. “Actually, it put me in a good position,” he says, “because lots of people had heard good things about the film, but for a long time no one had actually seen it!” 

Educated at Williams College and Yale Law School, Wiseman says his legal background is a 'bit of a gloss. I never went to class, I read novels for three years. I’d been a clerk/typist in the Judge Advocates office when I was in the service.' He was teaching a course in legal medicine at Boston University Law School, and began taking his students on field trips, out which grew the notion to film at Bridgewater.

TITICUT FOLLIES, so-called for the variety show in which inmates perform for the staff, and with which Wiseman bookends the film, breaks down our definitions of sane and insane. The prison doctor, who chain-smokes throughout, asks patients, in an almost-comic accent, about their sexual preferences. You check to see what he’s doing with his hands. When an inmate complains about the doctor to the board, they decide the inmate is “falling apart”. 

“The film was originally banned because an inmate was shown naked,” Wiseman explains, “and then because they claimed I’d given the superintendent and the attorney general control of the film. I never had, but they claimed it was an oral contract. Eventually the State Supreme Court stopped them from destroying the film, but until 1991, when another court overturned the decision, it could only be shown to scholarly film groups. “The banning, of course, was for political reasons. It embarassed them, because they got the point I was making.”

Today Wiseman’s backed by America’s Public Broadcasting System, which allows him to deliver films for network broadcast at whatever length he chooses. Yet in Paris he directed a theatrical monologue based on a chapter of a Russian novel, “Life and Fate”, by Vasili Grossman. It takes the form of a Russian woman doctor who is Jewish, and about to be executed by the Germans, writing a letter to her son. 

“I made a film about the Comedie Francaise, which they liked, so they invited me to direct a play,” Wiseman says. “I’d done that play once before, at the American Rep Theatre, because the subject fascinated me. I learned a lot from my mistakes and thought I could do it better this time.”

It reflects his attitude towards his films, which often seem to veer back towards the same subjects. “All my work is about learning something,” he says. “The subjects interest me, but I don’t know much before I start, and I try to approach them without preconceptions.” Directing a monologue also seems appropriate, because the essence of his documentary technique has been letting people talk. For COMEDIE FRANCAISE Wiseman shot 126 hours of footage, and spent a year editing it down to a three hour forty minute film. Like all his films, it had no narration, captions, or music. One American reviewer complained viewers “had to do way too much of the work”. 

“Well, that’s show-biz,” Wiseman says. “I try to provide the audience with information obliquely, through the structure, so they can draw their own conclusions. You can fall into the Hollywood trap, dilute your material to reach the lowest common denominator, but I’d rather not reach an audience at all than reach them by treating them like morons.”

In his 1991 film ASPEN, for example, Wiseman lingers on scenic views of the Colorado resort town, letting the viewer grow familiar with its natural beauty. As scenes build up, you sense the dichotomy between those who live and work in Aspen and those who come there to play. The editing makes these points subtly, but relentlessly, and you feel a sympathy building for the natives.The rich are simply set against them, not with animosity, but with an eye toward spotting the differences.The key to it all is Wiseman’s own sensibility, showing great compassion, but intensely aware of pretence and hypocrisy. It’s very much a “New Deal” liberalism, tempered with American idealism. Many audiences might disagree with the points he tries to make, but far more seem, in the same way as the subjects he films, to miss the point entirely.

“I try not to approach with ideological blinders,” he says. “When I made COPS, right after the 1968 Chicago riots, the cliché was all cops were pigs. After 20 seconds in a cruiser, I realised piggery wasn’t restricted to the police. So we show see what people do to each other, why they need the police. Which isn’t to say the police never acted like pigs.”

Wiseman’s camera becomes amazingly unobtrusive; people forget its presence and behave naturally. “I work with a cameraman, and do sound myself. If I have a question, I won’t ask it,” he says. “I look for other situations that will answer it for me. Sometimes people do play to the camera, but if I think they are, I won’t include that. 

“The gym scene in TITTICUT FOLLIES, which many people find disturbing, actually happened three times, and I’m filmed it the third time,” he says. “The first two times I was filming other stuff, and the worst thing you can do is stop and start within a sequence. In 34 years, I’ve only exercised self-censorship once.
In HOSPITAL, I cut out footage of a guy who’d touched a third rail—but from the point of view of the film I now regret it.

“I’m not suggesting it’s a style everyone has to work in,” he says. I ask if a film like Erroll Morris’ MR DEATH, which uses many feature film techniques, gets the same result. “Yes, he let Fred Leuchter talk and lots of audiences just didn’t get it,” he says. I mention Morris remarked MR DEATH “would be the first film about The Holocaust not to win an Oscar” and Wiseman laughs. “The changes in the process of choosing documentary Oscars were long overdue,” he explains. “They’ve opened the doors to a wider range of films, but I have very little experience with the situation, because my own films can’t seem to get qualified for consideration.” (Oscar nomination is not open to films shown first on television.)

It’s hard to believe the regularity with which Wiseman’s subjects hoist themselves on their own petards. “Never underestimate the power of vanity,” he laughs, “and I don’t mean that cruelly. All of us like what we’re doing, and we’d like to share our experiences People running institutions are usually trying to do the best job they can.

“The awareness of the camera lasts about five seconds,” he says. “Very rarely do people act for the camera, and very rarely do they object to being shot.”

The rush to share experience defines the avalanche of so-called ‘reality television’. Programmes like Big Brother purport to show ordinary people; but cast all young and attractive exhibitionists, camera-wise as they play-act game-show challenges and soap- opera scenes. Wiseman’s camera shows something far more sympathetic; it’s the difference between watching rats being trained in a maze and watching lions in their own environment. And society’s institutions, the environment in which people live, has always been his theme.
During the masterclass, a clip was shown from WELFARE (1975), in which a pair of ne’er do wells attempt to wheedle money and accomodation for which they likely don’t qualify from the department. “I wanted to show the complexities,” says Wiseman. “The lies, the class closeness between the workers and the clients, the lack of intelligence which permeates the system, the places where ethics and tactics coincide, or don’t.
“Ordinary life is my subject,” he says. “I start with the assumption that people’s daily life provides as much tragedy, comedy, as great drama. I think of my films as dramatic movies, not archival material.” 

There is a pattern in Wiseman’s return to subjects. HIGH SCHOOL (1967) my favourite of his films, deals movingly with social conditioning kids received in the days of the Vietnam war. The school’s microcosm of the adult world outside is seen preparing young people for war, jobs, obedience. The moments when ideals of free speech or human rights pop up are shattered quickly. It catches the mood of disillusionment with the American Dream as well as any film I’ve seen, in large part because it shows the willingness, indeed, the eagerness of the young to accept that dream as reality. 1994’s HIGH SCHOOL 2 showed an educational pendulum swung 180 degrees. Wiseman shows us a world far more sensitive to social diversity, to individual freedom, but at the same time there appears to be less knowledge being passed on. 

Wiseman made PRIMATE (1974) about Atlanta researchers into primate behaviour, and ZOO (1993) where the ‘inmates’ are contrasted with the visitors. COMEDIE FRANCAISE could be seen as another view of BALLET (1995) about the American Ballet Theatre. “It’s not intentional, but it’s a reasonable retroactive comment,” Wiseman says. “For HIGH SCHOOL 2, for example, I just was interested in seeing what another kind of high school would be like, a quarter of century later.”

His latest film, BELFAST, MAINE is a study of a small working town, which encompasses many of the institutions that have engaged Wiseman over the years. Did he see Belfast as somehow old-fashioned, off the mainstream of America? “No, not at all,” he says. “I know the area well because I summer near there, it’s where I retreat to do my editing. There are lots of blue-collar workers, a good deal of rural poverty; it’s the essence of America.

“The film is about the nature of daily life and work”, he says, “and the work is defined by one sequence in a fish cannery, where we took four hours of rushes and edited it into one nine minute sequence. It’s got 270 cuts, which might be a record for a documentary.” 

Despite the dramatic nature of the cutting, the rhythm of work on a production line soon takes hold of the viewer, and the feeling of monotony and boredom soon follows. “I feel an obligation to present what went on,” Wiseman says. “Not just cut to the most profound, most humorous, or even most obtuse sound bite.
“My original view was that films could change things,” he recollects. “That seems naïve and pretentious now. It’s rare for any document to be that powerful.” How about UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, I suggest? “The exception that proves the rule.”

In the end, the essence of Wiseman’s America is defined the same way his films are defined, by the sensibility which knits so many ordinary scenes together. This is a virtue, and it can be a liability, especially for those to whom such a sensibility is alien, in the sense of what makes us human, not what makes us nationals. The French, who despite inventing chauvinism, appreciate such things; they would call it a concern for the human condition. For Wiseman, it is American life. There is no difference.

At Berkeley is shown in competition at the London Film Festival 12 and 14 October

Thursday, 3 October 2013

TOM CLANCY: THE GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obit of Tom Clancy is up at the Guardian online, you can link to it here; it should appear in the paper paper soon.

One thing that got left out was an examination of just how wealthy his writing had made him; at different times Forbes estimated his annual income at $46million and $65million. He diverted some of that money into sports ownership: Clancy was a part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, and a very active one, being Vice-Chairman of Community Activities for his hometown team.

In fact, sports ownership was one of the reasons his divorce was so acrimonious (the negotiations reportedly took a year). Clancy was in position to join the group buying the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, but because of the potential drain on his resources, or perhaps because he might have lost his share in the proceedings, he was forced to withdraw. A Clancy novel set around divorce proceedings might have been an interesting one.

I found it fascinating that he fell out with Robert Gottlieb at least in part over his films--mostly because he seems well-served by them; Alec Baldwin in particular brought a sort of intellectual tinge to Jack Ryan, which I'm sure is what Clancy intended, and I would guess he didn't like Harrison Ford because he lacked a similar edge to his gravitas. The Jack Ryan character is very much a fantasy figure, drawn up by a man who could not himself have the military career he might have desired; Ryan turns into a man of action, but he is primarily one who out-thinks those around him. Having said that, The Hunt For Red October might have made a good movie for almost anyone.

It is odd that as a writer, Clancy's legacy will be equally torn between his character Jack Ryan, a rather perfect pulp hero (note that none of his other characters, even in the Ryan series, have much traction), and his insurance agent's business sense--Clancy turned himself into more than a brand name, he became a virtual corporation, with low-budget outsourcing, a pattern followed by more than a few writers and publishers now.