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Lee Horsley

Related: pulp fiction - crime fiction - parody - pastiche


Lee Horsley is an American scholar and writer involved in the project http://www.crimeculture.com.

Parody of the Crime Film

From the beginning the whodunit was a self-conscious form given to self-parody. By the end of the decade, it had already become so well-worked that Monsignor Ronald Knox was able to draw up a list of its mock rules in 1928, a decalogue to be jealously observed by the Detection Club founded two years later’ (Alison Light, Forever England).

A genre so open to self-parody as the classic detective story has also over the years, not surprisingly, attracted a wide range of other parodic responses, as have the formulaic elements in hard-boiled fiction. Literary parodies abound: James Thurber, for example, in ‘The Macbeth Murder Mystery’, tells of an American woman encountered at a Lake District hotel who has picked up Macbeth under the misapprehension that it’s a mystery story (‘In the first place,’ she confides, ‘I don’t think for a moment that Macbeth did it’); Tom Stoppard's play, The Real Inspector Hound, parodies the enclosed world of the English country house murder. The figure of Sherlock Holmes, in particular, has been a magnet for parodists, as has the Bogart iconic private eye (most memorably parodied in Martin Rowson’s graphic version of Eliot’s Waste Land). Parody and its near-relation pastiche have been important ingredients as well in more’serious’ postmodern adaptations of crime fiction: the reassuringly 'low' genre of the detective story has been re-imagined as the anti-detective novel, an inverted form which, by avoiding resolution and frustrating the expectations of the reader, transforms a popular genre into an expression of sophisticated, avant-garde sensibility (in the work, e.g., of Auster, Borges, Robbe-Grillet, Nabokov and Pynchon).

It is film parody and pastiche, however, that have had the greatest popular impact. One thinks first, perhaps, of parodies of specific types of crime film: Sherlock Holmes is parodied, for example, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (Gene Wilder, 1978) and Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan, 1997); hard-boiled private eye films in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Carl Reiner, 1982) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988); police procedurals in the ‘Naked Gun’ series; Hitchcock films in Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety (1977) and Danny DeVito’s Throw Mama from the Train (1987).

Animated films as well have mined the possibilitties of crime film parody, for the purposes both of pure comedy and of satiric comment - whether in an 'adult' animated series like the early 90s cartoons about a disorderly private dick called 'Duckman', in a 'big budget' production like Nick Park's A Close Shave (1995), or in a short, minimalist animation like the following (from grimpictures.com), that uses an interactive Hitchcock parody to satirise a xenophobic foreign policy (NB - to navigate through the animation click on the buttons):

Parody, Pastiche and the Postmodern
Parody and pastiche of crime film conventions are also, of course, much more pervasive than this. Richard Martin, in Mean Streets and Raging Bulls, argues that, from the 80s on, the mainstream market has seen a growing tendency towards generic formularization and an attendant self-awareness – a phenomenon symptomatic of a cultural shift towards a postmodern preoccupation with style, surface, self-referentiality and playfulness. Generic knowingness and liberal borrowing (ranging from ‘homage’ to parody) have characterised the work of many of the best contemporary film-makers: the Coen brothers (in Blood Simple, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn’t There) have played in dazzling ways with the character types, plots and images originally associated with Hammett, Chandler and James M. Cain; Tarantino’s films (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown) have been highly distinctive reworkings of the formulas and materials of earlier crime films; amongst David Mamet’s films, we have his take on psychological suspense films in The House of Games, the Hitchcockian Spanish Prisoner, and his journey through the double- and triple-crossing streets of film noir in Heist. The last decade alone has produced dozens of other films that play with the conventions established in the first half-century of crime films – for example, The Last Seduction (John Dahl, 1994), Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994), Get Shorty (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1995), Bound (the Wachowski brothers, 1996), The Long Kiss Goodnight (Renny Harlin, 1996), Palmetto (Volker Schlondorff, 1998), Wild Things (John McNaughton, 1998), Goodbye Lover (Roland Joffe, 1999), Drowning Mona (Nick Gomez, 2000), Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute, 2000), One Night at McCool’s (Harald Zwart, 2001). Lee Horsley via http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/Parodies.html [2004]

The Noir Thriller (2001) - Lee Horsley

The Noir Thriller (2001) - Lee Horsley [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

What is literary noir? How do British and American noir thrillers relate to their historical contexts? In considering such questions, this study ranges over hundreds of novels, analyzing the politics and poetics of noir from the hard boiled fiction of Hammett, Chandler and Cain to the exciting diversity of nineties thrillers, with sections on the tough investigators, gangsters and victims of the Depression years: the first person killers, femmes fatales and black protagonists of mid-century the game-players, voyeurs and consumers of contemporary thrillers and future noir.

Twentieth-century Crime Fiction (2005) - Lee Horsley

Twentieth-century Crime Fiction (2005) - Lee Horsley [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction aims to enhance understanding of one of the most popular forms of genre fiction by examining a wide variety of the detective and crime fiction produced in Britain and America during the twentieth century. It will be of interest to anyone who enjoys reading crime fiction but is specifically designed with the needs of students in mind. It introduces different theoretical approaches to crime fiction (e.g., formalist, historicist, psychoanalytic, postcolonial, feminist) and will be a useful supplement to a range of crime fiction courses, whether they focus on historical contexts, ideological shifts, the emergence of sub-genres, or the application of critical theories. Forty-seven widely available stories and novels are chosen for detailed discussion. In seeking to illuminate the relationship between different phases of generic development Lee Horsley employs an overlapping historical framework, with sections doubling back chronologically in order to explore the extent to which successive transformations have their roots within the earlier phases of crime writing, as well as responding in complex ways to the preoccupations and anxieties of their own eras. The first part of the study considers the nature and evolution of the main sub-genres of crime fiction: the classic and hard-boiled strands of detective fiction, the non-investigative crime novel (centered on transgressors or victims), and the "mixed" form of the police procedural. The second half of the study examines the ways in which writers have used crime fiction as a vehicle for socio-political critique. These chapters consider the evolution of committed, oppositional strategies, tracing the development of politicized detective and crime fiction, from Depression-era protests against economic injustice to more recent decades which have seen writers launching protests against ecological crimes, rampant consumerism, Reaganomics, racism, and sexism.

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